Georgina Guedes

Matrics, get it rite!

2013-01-03 15:25

Georgina Guedes

Every week on Facebook, I check up on my niece who lives in New Zealand. I have to restrain myself from fixing the grammar and spelling in her friends’ comments. Things like: “I like how your kind.”

Other editors and writers in my circle egg me on, but I don’t think that such activities would make me (or her) particularly popular, so I stay my virtual red pen.

Writing Matric...and everything after

These kids are the product of the supposedly advanced New Zealand schooling system. In South Africa we are trumpeting an increase of 3.5 percentage points in our national matric pass rate (with staggeringly low pass requirements), and the writing abilities of the children we are churning out are significantly worse.

Two recent matriculants I know of – one an erstwhile head girl, the other already in university – think nothing of penning this kind of atrocity for all to see: “Plz ma frenz, cum 2 ma hse 2nite.” I have to read these messages four times before I make sense of them, and even then I’m only guessing.

I’ve been known to abbreviate words in a tweet or ask “what you doing?” in an SMS to avoid the second-function hassle of punctuation on a BlackBerry. But I do it with the absolute confidence that I know how to use the tools of the language, and that the person on the receiving end has no doubt of this either.

I hear many protesters saying that if I’m doing it in certain contexts, why can’t the youth? That they know the difference between a Facebook update and a high school essay. At this, I waggle an upraised finger and say, with rising inflection, “not so mu-uch.”

Examples in the wild

Endless stories are emerging of people who receive CVs littered with SMS speak, who ask interns to send an email which later emerges to read: “Hi S. Plz cud u send us da docs dat we r wating 4.” True story. I’ve seen these myself.

This isn’t a second language problem, or a generation-gap thing. The written word is often the first (and only) opportunity you have to make a good impression. A badly written letter to the HR manager handling applications for your dream job will screw up your chances. Making a great first impression can change the course of your life.

So, my message to all the matrics celebrating today is congratulations on your achievement, but don’t let the hard work stop now. Coherent written communication is your key to success; please don’t throw it away.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer, editor and trainer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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