I have spent the last eight years of my life trying to convince my students that there is no such thing as perfect English. In fact, there is no such thing as any perfect language. Language is always evolving and changing, new words and phrases are entering the many thousands of languages around the world every day. Perfect English simply does not exist.
Sadly, our education systems tell us that this way is the correct way, and that way is the wrong way. What is wrong here is that education tries to tells there is always a right way and a wrong way and if that was true, then the world would be a very boring place and innovation and inventions would never happen.
I understand why our schools and universities do this, it is partly because they need to be able to grade students and the most objective way to grade a student is to grade on the basis of a correct answer and an incorrect answer.
But back in the real world – the world of work and family and friendships, these right and wrong ways do not exist in language , or should not exist. We are not robots, we should make a few errors when we are speaking, we should start and stop mid sentence and use “ummmm” and “errrr”. We should do this because it makes us what we are – human. To quote the song from Human League “I’m only human, born to make mistakes.”
There is nothing more boring to me than to hear a presentation that has clearly been rehearsed so much, the speaker never makes a grammatical error or never uses an “ummm” or an “errr”. It sounds fake and I find myself thinking that the presenter is not really communicating passion or enthusiasm, but just speaking empty words they do not believe.
Chris Anderson in his recent TED talk spoke with passion and enthusiasm – it showed. It showed not because his grammar and sentence structure was perfect. It was not. It showed because his sentence and grammar structure was not always correct. He used “ummm” and “errr” and he occasionally stopped mid-sentence. His passion and enthusiasm was clear and it was that that made his presentation so good and so talked about. Nobody is saying “he made grammatical errors” – because it simply does not matter.
Take a look at the following clip from one of my favourite movies “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in this scene Hugh Grant’s character is trying to tell the woman he loves that he loves her. His English is no where near perfect, he stumbles, he starts words and sentences and then stops in the middle. But the message he wants to say is clear. He loves this woman and his message comes from his heart. If he had said to the woman “Carrie, I love you” instead, whilst Carrie might have believed him, the overall effect would not have conveyed the real passion and feeling he had inside his heart.
So, next time you are preparing your presentation, a presentation you have to do in English, stop worrying about your sentences and syntax structure, and start getting really passionate about what you are going to talk about. Your audience will forgive a few mistakes, but they won’t forgive you if they feel you are lying to them, and trying to tell an audience that you really love a product or a company when there is no passion or enthusiasm in your language is tantamount to lying.
Think Steve Ballmer and tone it a little