The reach of the English language since the Second World War has been colossal. Particularly, its influence in scientific and technological advancement has been remarkably felt. Most discoveries made by scientists have been presented to the scientific community via the English language. With the advent of the internet, knowledge was mostly shared in the English language.

Basically, we all know that an individual who wants to make a mark in the world today needs a good command of English to do so.

In the business world, English began to play a prominent role in trade, banking, finance, economics, etc. Its use in the business world gave birth to what is known as “Business English” or “Commercial English”. The earlier stages involved mostly the study of business letters, indexing of correspondence, memorandums, reports, telegrams and advertisements. Over the past sixty years, other materials related to business such as statistical graphs, charts and tables; communicative tasks related to various business practices; description of products and services, etc., have also been included.

In order to understand and apply English in the business context, many have signed up for such programmes hoping to achieve a fluency in the language that will enable them to communicate better with the world. Such programmes run from 40 hours to 80 hours. It is even more hours if the need arises. Are such “Business English” programmes suitable for everyone who signs up? If the participant lacks the basics of spoken and written English, is he able to cope with the programme? Most providers will say that such “Business English” programmes are specifically designed for people in the business world with a fair command of the English language. The nitty-gritty of the English language will be taken care of during the duration of these programmes. In all honesty, such nitty-gritty is not dealt with at all during the programmes. If it were so, the 40-hour or 80-hour programme will drag without end.

Will a participant who lacks the basics of spoken and written English be able to contribute effectively to his organisation after the completion of the “Business English” programme? The answer is NO. Read my question again. I am specifically referring to the lack of the basics of spoken and written English of a participant. When your basics in spoken and written English are not strong, how can you possibly promote or present your company’s products or services? Still, I have come across situations where participants with little or no knowledge of English have been chosen by organisations to attend these “Business English” programmes. These participants have the delusion that they will be competent in “Business English” after attending such a programme. It is their notion that the 40- or 80-hour programme will equip them fully with their daily tasks at their workplace.

What these participants and the providers of “Business English” programmes don’t really understand are that the basics of spoken and written English of a participant are vital to the success of the programme. ONLY COMPETENT SPEAKERS AND WRITERS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARE CAPABLE OF UNDERTAKING A “BUSINESS ENGLISH” PROGRAMME. Only they will benefit greatly from attending such a programme and in turn be a benefit to the organisations that they are attached to.

I found it expedient to include a quote from the book MANUAL OF COMMERCIAL ENGLISH written by one Walter Shawcross, BA. This book was first published in 1946 by Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., London. The quote is from Chapter 1 – Introductory. This chapter gives details of why the rules of grammar, clarity and well-constructed sentences are important in such a programme as “Business English”. Whatever he wrote in this introductory chapter is still relevant today. Pay particular attention to the italicised words in bold (which is done by me).


“Yours of the 5th inst. to hand and same shall receive prompt attention.” That “sentence” is taken from a letter written by a commercial correspondent, and many similar “sentences” might be extracted from other commercial letters. The meaning of the sentence is clear and is expressed briefly. It is an example of what is often called “Commercial” English. The expression “Commercial” English implies that there is a special kind of English reserved for the use of commercial men and not to be used by poets, novelists and writers of textbooks. There is, in fact, only one kind of English, often called the King’s English. Its construction and use are based on fixed principles and are subject to definite rules, which must be obeyed by all who wish to use the English language correctly. It is true that the King’s English may be used by different classes of people for different purposes. The poet wishes to inspire his reader or to stir his emotions, the novelist to amuse or to arouse interest, the writer of a textbook to instruct. The man who uses the King’s English for commercial purposes has an entirely different object in view, but if he wishes to use his instrument – the English language – correctly, he must abide by the same principles and obey the same rules as govern its use by the poet, the novelist and the writer of a textbook. It follows that, although this book is called a Manual of Commercial English, and although English may be used for commercial purposes, there is no such language as Commercial English. Why should a commercial man be content with English which is imperfect, which does not abide by the principles, which does not obey the rules? Why should he use so often such perverted English as the sentence with which this chapter opened?

“Yours of the 5th inst. to hand.” The reader of that expression must make several assumptions. He must assume that “Yours” means “Your letter,” that “the 5th inst.” means “the 5th of July” or whatever was the month in which the letter was written, that “to hand” means “has been received,” and that “same” means “the letter.” Would it not, then, be much better to write: “Your letter of the 5th of July has been received and shall have prompt attention”? An attempt may be made to defend the inferior form on two grounds; first, that it is brief, and second, that it is the customary form for a commercial letter. Brevity in commercial correspondence is of great importance and we shall give it special attention in a later chapter, but brevity should never be attained by the sacrifice of correctness or propriety. Note, too, that the correct form of our example is only two words longer than the incorrect form. The second ground of defence – that such expressions are customary – it is the main object of this textbook to undermine.

We shall attempt to show that anyone with a knowledge of English grammar and the rules of construction, and possessing also a proper respect for his mother tongue, should avoid such expressions as the one we have quoted, however frequently they may be used by others.

We shall say more on the point later in this book, but we emphasize here that correct English always expresses the meaning of the writer more clearly than the spurious English so often described as “commercial.” As clearness is the chief quality which every commercial document should possess, the use of correct English instead of the customary “commercial” forms can be defended even from the business standpoint.

We have spoken of the rules by which the writing of good English is governed. What are these rules? In the forefront, as of the greatest importance, we place the rules of grammar. Our experience has led us to believe that most students of English for commercial purposes look upon grammar as a dry subject having no practical bearing upon their day-to-day work. They are often impatient of lessons on formal grammar and regard them as a waste of time; they wish “to cut the cackle and get to the ‘osses.” Such students make a great mistake. Many, perhaps most, of the errors in the writing of English are caused by ignorance of or neglect of the rules of grammar, and to avoid the careful study of them in the belief that more rapid progress will be made, will result only in more haste and less speed. We have, therefore, taken the rules of grammar as the starting point for our consideration of English for commercial purposes.

There are many fine points of grammar which are of interest only to specialists, but we have confined our attention to what we have called the essentials, and these should be mastered thoroughly by all students who wish to be able to write their business letters and other documents in clear, correct English.

The chapters on formal grammar are followed by a chapter on Vocabulary and Diction, and a chapter on Style and Construction of Sentences. The student should give close attention to these. We have already said that Clearness is the most important quality of a good commercial document. That quality depends mainly upon an exact knowledge of the meanings of words and the ability to arrange them well. We should always use words suitable to the subject on which we are writing, and rare or unusual words are quite out of place in a commercial letter. A diction suitable for the poet or the descriptive writer is quite unfitted for the subjects with which the commercial man has to deal. The student should always be adding to his stock of words, but he should make it his practice never to use a long or pompous word if there be a simpler or shorter word which clearly expresses what he wishes to say. A short word which fully expresses his meaning is, for the commercial writer, always better than a long one.

In Chapter VI the section which treats of the order of words, phrases and clauses is of great importance. The misplacing of a word or phrase may give a wrong or ambiguous meaning to a sentence. A well-constructed sentence may be defined as a sentence whose meaning is perfectly clear on a first reading. No matter how good the writer’s choice of words may be, if his meaning is not perfectly clear he has failed in his object. The attainment of clearness by the correct arrangement of words is largely dependent upon the rules laid down in Chapter VI, and to these the student should pay close attention.

To some of our readers such subjects as “Redundancy,” “Figures of Speech,” and “Direct and Indirect Speech” may seem to have little bearing upon the use of English for commercial purposes. They are, however, necessary preliminaries to the study and practice of précis writing, that most valuable exercise for commercial students. Although précis writing is “a cutting short,” there is no “short cut” to the acquirement of the art. Preparation is necessary and the student who attempts to write a précis before he has mastered the necessary preliminaries will certainly fail. “Rule-of-thumb” methods will not succeed.

In conclusion, we wish to emphasize that this manual is an attempt to raise “Commercial” English to a higher plane than it has occupied in the past. We wish to eradicate the idea so deeply planted that “Commercial” English is an inferior kind of English. We wish the commercial student to set for himself the ideal that every commercial document he may have to write should be a gem, a cameo of English, clear-cut, correct and precise.

Although first published in 1946, nobody can deny its relevance today. Mr. Shawcross hit the nail deep into the head with his introductory chapter. Many are good speakers in the English language. Not many are good writers in the English language. By attending a 40- or 80-hour “Business English” programme does not make one a competent writer in the English language. To write in the English language requires one to possess a different set of skills which are different from spoken English. To put one’s thoughts to paper requires one to know the different types of sentence structures prevalent in the English language. A study of these sentence structures takes time and effort. Most of all, a knowledge of grammar is indispensable before one proceeds to study these sentence structures. It is not something that you pick up and master within a 40- or 80-hour “Business English” course.

It is imperative that the person who teaches you is conversant in written English. If you do decide to enrol for a “Business English” programme, test the ‘trainer’ on his written skills in the English language. Have him write a 5 paragraph essay about 250 to 300 words long in clear and correct English on any topic given by you. Insist and demand the trainer to write it on the whiteboard at the start of the programme itself. If the trainer is a competent writer in English, query further on the various sentence structures and ask him to provide examples and explain the differences in those structures. If the trainer delivers those examples and answers detailing those differences without hesitation, then you are in safe hands. If otherwise, YOU ARE BEING TAKEN FOR A ROLLER-COASTER RIDE STRAIGHT TO HELL!

If the trainers can’t even write a 5-paragraph essay, then watch how they stumble! Watch how they ‘cook-up’ stories to manoeuvre their way out of the situation! They will deflect your attention away to petty and silly issues on how ‘communication’ is more vital in a Business English programme. This is done so as to hide their real inadequacies in written English!

If the trainers can’t even write a 5-paragraph essay, how can they possibly teach or train you to write in English? If they can’t marshal their thoughts on paper, how can they teach or train you to marshal your thoughts on paper? How can they possibly teach or train you to write formal letters, memos, business reports and company presentations?

Dear reader, would you trust someone who is not qualified to be a doctor to dispense medical advice? Would you entrust your money to someone who is not qualified to be an accountant? How can you entrust yourself to someone who is an IT, Business Administration, Chemical Engineering, Architecture or Psychology graduate to teach you the English language? to teach you Business English? It’s like asking a horse to teach a dog how to bark better!

There are cases of English Language graduates writing horrendous and atrocious English! Mind, some of them are graduates with degrees in the teaching and learning of the English Language from English-speaking nations! In a few instances, I had terrible nightmares working with them. Most of the time, they were just babbling GOD knows what?! They gave a whole new meaning to THE TOWER OF BABEL! They didn’t know how to tackle issues pertaining to the real learning and teaching of the English language. Only God knows what they were ‘communicating’?!

When an individual claims to be an expert in the English language, you must test that individual. The best way to test that individual is by insisting and demanding him to write a 5-paragraph essay from 250 to 300 words long in clear and correct English. It is plain and simple common sense. All the years that the individual put into the studying and learning of English must manifest somehow. That best manifestation is the writing of a 5-paragraph essay in clear and correct English.

If that individual can’t even do such a thing, all those years that he spent in the studying and learning of the English language were pure NONSENSE!

One can be a good listener and a good reader in the English language. One can even be a good speaker in the English language. But one can never ever claim to be an expert or a competent user in the English language when one can’t even write in the English language clearly and correctly.



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