Why be good at English?

Some of you will want to be doctors. Or physicist. Or fireman. Or magicians, or stand up comedians, or management consultants. You might look at any of these jobs, and think, “Why bother with English? How’s it going to help me?”

I can promise you, being able to write and communicate will be one of the most important skills you will ever carry with you through life. Whether it’s writing a letter of application, or the simplest email, having a mastery of the language, and being able to communicate precisely what you want, will serve you better, and make you seem better at your job, than virtually any other single skill.

Click through for more musings.

This came to mind recently because I was taking a look at Derren Brown’s blog. Now, he’s a magician, so one might think that that would have very little call for a mastery of the written word. But then I came across a delightful blog post, where he ruminates upon the state of corporate hotels (bland and ghastly) vs. the levels of service, and, generally being kind to your fellow man. And it struck me that one of the reasons that he clearly has got his position in life (to a certain extent – the man’s skills have great breadth) is a high level of eloquence. The subject is small, but the sentiment is great.

I am sitting in the bar area of a fundamentally depressing Novotel in Wolverhampton which is currently accommodating our little family. The Novotel is the epitome of the invisible hotel: you walk into a bland fug of white corners, cheap nineties’ bright sofas and pine-veneered tables, corporate banners advertising their Brand New Loyalty Programme and a wash of non-music that, if it were any more insipid, would fail to sound at all from the well-hidden ceiling speakers that are set into the uniform white foam tiles above you. The bleak hotel has been built to its soulless template next to an inexpressive roundabout just off a utilitarian dual-carriageway, next to which Wolverhampton itself seems to thrive and bustle with local character, curving charming alleyways and the hum and buzz of life and work. I remember once seeing a photograph of a similar hotel being built, an image which depicted the room units being dropped by a crane as a whole into place: each constituent of accommodation pre-built and inoffensively, mildly decorated; complete with dazzlingly worthless watercolour prints and waterproofed carpet with its practical, forgiving, busy design. All that was left for the staff to do, presumably, was to supply the miniature kettles, and the regulation two-pack of stem ginger biscuits. That and to check that the sheets are not large enough to tuck properly under the mattress, while making sure the duvet can be secured firmly thereunder on all four sides, making it a ludicrous act of strength and courage to get into bed: a process which involves standing and wrenching the quilt from beneath the heavy mattress, thereby bringing the inadequate sheet up and out with it, then continuing the course of action with the end of the bed so that you can at least get in and try to sleep on the flaccid, tangled sheets without feeling like a dog is lying on your feet; then, some time later, fight against your own weight while trying to kick the rest of the bedding free in order to have the breezy pleasure of exposing your legs to the dry cool-ish air being noisily rasped out by the room’s ineffectual air-conditioning.

Click through for the whole thing – it’s beautifully written, and a perfect lesson – something as simple as posting on a blog can, if done right, be an art form. Think of that next time you bang out a text message.

Via Derren Brown


~ by mrprestney on May 8, 2009.

One Response to “Why be good at English?”

  1. Mr Prestney, I came across your wonderful blog in a desperate attempt to find some way of engaging my 15 year old son with GCSE homework. This post was very engaging and I intend to look at your archives if my 50 year old eyes can cope with this black background. I realise that your intended audience probably all have better eyesight than their parents, but it would be a joy to read all of your posts if the text was black on a light background.

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