Communication is one of the most complex, yet indispensable tool we use daily. It is made even more complex when the language of, er, communication is English. To declare competence in communication means that you have the ability to do something successfully. And because perfection doesn’t exist, competence therefore implies a perpetual work in progress.

In his ‘Mark My Word’ column in the Saturday Nation, Philip Ochieng, a former editor with the Daily Nation keeps watch over grammar as used (abused?) in newspapers. Yet, he freely admits that English must be the most “difficult” language in the world. In his column on March 26th this year, he revealed that “English prepositions give reporters and sub-editors a great deal of grief. Even in countries where English is the mother tongue. Such is the complexity of the language.

English is a “difficult” language

Yet, despite this challenge, we cannot escape the fact that English is the official language of business communication, locally and internationally. We must therefore continually (not continuously as I learnt from Mr. Ochieng) strive to come to grips with it.

In my experience, the more common instances when English is murdered are when we say, me I, like for example, repeat again, severally (to mean several times, which it does not mean); and, my names are. Why does this occur? Because English is not a first language for most Kenyans. The mother tongue and/or Kiswahili usually are. And these influence written and spoken English. Borrowing from Chinglish (Chinese English) then, I contrive Kenglish to refer to spoken English that is influenced by Kiswahili and the many other languages spoken in Kenya. For instance, “Help me with your ID card,” is a direct translation from “Nisaide na kitambulisho chako.” The latter, is grammatically correct, but not so the former. It does not help matters when one’s English teacher (teacher of English?) pronounces alert as a rat, choose, juice or, art, hat.

Mother tongue influence

Pronunciation is not taught in school. It is assumed that the student will somehow know. Small wonder then that hat, hart, heart, hurt and hut are all pronounced as hat by most of us. And why not? Pronunciation is a factor of contorting the organs of articulation (lips, jaw, tongue etc.) to the rhythm of a language. Yes, every language has a rhythm. And two decades of working specific muscles of articulation in a specific way, it is unrealistic to expect the learner to flex them differently overnight. One might as well hope his pot belly will become a six-pack after lifting weights for an hour. One’s pronunciation can, however, change to a ‘six-pack’ through practice. As evidenced by the average Kenyan who has returned from the US after a year of being exposed to the North American accent. Or, one who learns his mother tongue as an adult. (By the way, why don’t Kenyans pick the Indian accent? Just asking)


And then there is punctuation. The semi-colon separates two independent sentences and is not interchangeable with the full colon. British English has the full stop inside the speech marks and American English, outside. These are the two anomalies I find most often with students with whom I interact .

Now then. The digital disruption did not spare communication. It is because of social media that hahaha became Lol!, you, u, and, one can insert a smile(y) at the end of a sentence as if it’s part of punctuation. Mercifully, there is spell check and predictive texting. This is a double edged sword though-on the one had it allows users to type faster and spell correctly. On the other hand, it is quickly becoming the remote control of written communication.

What to do?

What to do then, now that we must learn a challenging language in challenging circumstances? Joining an organization like Toastmasters, that is deliberate in improving members’ use of English is one way. Another, is to learn from Philip Ochieng’s Mark My Word column. A third way is to grammatically write your texts, chats and social media conversations, and a fourth, be consciously aware to deliberately reduce  the influence of mother tongue in your communication.

The edited version can be found in the Daily Nation here

If you would like to have your staff to communicate better, we can help. In order for us to do so we propose a free consultation meeting or a call. If in agreement please complete the form below and we will get in touch after receiving your details, none of which will be public. Thank you.

Views – 370

About Author

Related posts

How to sell in a crisis: a step-by-step guide. The case of Airbnb.

What if your product was mired in a scandal like Airbnb is right now? What would you do? Would you roll with the punches or throw in the towel? Would you rise to the challenge or, like an errant seller, sink to resignation, blaming the product and employer? “Na niliwaambia tu.” (I told them but

Read More

Is it the economy that needs fixing? Or, is it just you? Let’s find out.

“It’s not me, it’s the economy,” so you say. And, to justify your many misses and rare hits those in your corner energize you’re position: “It’s not you; it’s the prospects that don’t have money. The problem is the economy; this economy needs fixing by the government.”  Maybe. Maybe not; maybe it’s not the economy,

Read More
Stay ahead in a rapidly changing world with Lend Me Your Ears. It’s Free! Most sales newsletters offer tips on “What” to do. But, rarely do they provide insight on exactly “How” to do it. Without the “How” newsletters are a waste of time.