Did you know that speaking well equals more money? According to a post this year in Forbes’ online magazine, “fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions.” I was sent a link to this great article by my sister and fellow blogger, Karissa Wright of Simply the Good Life — a kid-friendly educational site that just so happens to teach a lot of the same soft skills that I do, only directed at parents. (Check out her most recent post, as of this one, detailing back-to-school time management tips.)
Forbes details how being well-spoken translates to success: Studies show that people who speak and write well in the U.S. are promoted more quickly in their chosen career paths. Poor English usage lowers your credibility and makes you seem sloppy, uneducated and unreliable.
So, what do you do if language isn’t your passion or a part of your innate skill set? Does that mean you’re doomed to be left behind?
Some good news is that mastering the English language is yet another soft skill that can be learned, for native and non-native speakers alike. Here are some tips to improving your grammar both verbally and in print:
1. Identify your common mistakes. It’s hard to know what to fix if you aren’t aware you’re using certain words or phrases incorrectly in the first place. Start with some questions you’ve always had (“I know there are three ways to spell ‘there,’ but I don’t know when to use which”; “how do I use the word ‘whom’?”) and check with the experts on the correct usage.
2. Look it up! When I was growing up, every time I asked my dad what a word meant, his reply was, “Look it up!” Although I hated hearing that initially, I grew to love our family dictionary and even asked for a pocket-sized one of my own for my 11th Christmas. (In our teen years, my sister Karissa bought me a reverse dictionary as a Christmas present — and we were both thrilled!) Today, I keep the Dictionary.com app on my phone and on my tablet, so I’m never without a resource at my fingertips.
Words and word usage can be found in the dictionary, but what about rules like comma placement, other punctuation and those elusive dangling participles? Where we used to turn to reference books on these subjects, too (another prized book gift was my full set of Strunk & White’s rules that I asked for and received as a high school graduation present), our friend the internet has put this information only a click away. In addition to numerous university websites on writing rules, such as the one linked in this paragraph, there are other helpful sites and apps you can bookmark or load for regular use. Dumb Little Man’s Tips for Life shares a slew of grammar resources, plus easy-to-read articles that help you remember the rules they contain. My hero, Grammar Girl, shares her take on the now-outdated Strunk & White’s Rules of Style, which for years was the Bible of grammar usage. She shares a lot of other helpful and memorable tips, too. Mac has the Grammar App, and for androids there’s English Grammar Book. Find your favorite resource or look at multiples sources as needed.
3. Practice. Once you identify and look up your grammar and vocab questions, don’t forget to start putting them into use in everyday conversation, as well as using them to punch up your résumé, LinkedIn profile and other social media pages. Reading aloud can also help you retain and understand these rules, especially if English isn’t your first language. Even if it is, practice reading aloud to improve your enunciation. This is also a great exercise for improving public speaking.
In my former blog, Beyond Talk, I posted regularly about what I term WOWs and POWs — Words of the Week and Phrases of the Week. Check out some old (but still relevant) posts to see if there are words you can add to your vocabulary.