Results 1 to 6 of 6
  1. #1
    EngFan is offline Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Quechua
      • Home Country:
      • Qatar
      • Current Location:
      • Argentina
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    172
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    I Love Plain English

    I love plain English. The whole point of language is to communicate. So what better way than to do so plainly? Tung Chee--hwa does not speak plainly; the Civil Service does not speak plainly; a lot of people do not speak plainly. Yet, few of us protest enough. I like to start a campaign in Hong Kong to speak plainly--at least in English. We need to do this desperately because the standard of English here is poor. Trying to speak plainly will help improve our English. Do not let people tell you that simple English is not good English. It's the best English. Do not believe that formal English is better than informal English. Or that there is a"business" English. Or that conversation English should not be written. English is English. If there is any rule, it is that plain English is best.
    In speech, avoid using"I mean","I mean to say","actually","you know","well". Practise by writing short sentences--like what I am doing now. There was a very famous English judge called Lord Denning. He was my hero when I was at Law College. He was also a hero to a lot of people because he understood the need to communicate plainly. He cut through all the complicated legal language to defend individual rights. He appreciated justice, rather than the law, more than anyone else. I wished he was our Justice Minister. If you read his judgements, you will find that he only wrote in short sentences. And he was a very educated man. So don't be shy about writing short sentences.
    Also, when asked a question, answer it plainly. If someone asks you"Where are you?", you must reply by saying,"I am at......." But very often, we say in answer,"We are coming" or"We are on our way". This cannot be an answer to the question"Where are you?". This must be the most unanswered question in the world--and it is because we do not pay attention to plain English.
    Do not use big words. Being fluent in English is not about vocabulary. It's about use. You cannot learn English by learning from or reading the dictionary. You have to learn how to use the words together. And choose the correct word. Never, for example, say to someone:"You smell". As Dr Johnson, who wrote a dictionary, said,"I smell, you stink". I wished he was our Education Minister. And remember accents do not matter. Having a Chinese accent should not be embarrassing. Often it is nice to have an accent. Much more important is to speak in plain words.
    I speak English quite well. I promise you that if you begin to speak in plain English, you will improve your English. Everyone in Hong Kong wants to learn English--nothing wrong with that. But the teaching of English in Hong Kong is all wrong. It must be wrong because even the chancellors of Hong Kong universities tell me that their undergraduates' command of English is bad. They often do not understand lectures in English. That can only mean we have not taught our students properly. When I was at La Salle, I scored zero in English. I did not learn the language properly. I was not taught the language well. When I went to England, I could not speak a word of it. So do not expect your children to be taught well at school.
    The situation is made worse because with l997, we are all told to learn Mandarin.(Please note that the word"Putonghua" is not English. Neither is it Chinese. It is a word in an artificial language. So in English, we should avoid it. It is pretentious to use it.) I don't really understand why we are now asked to speak three languages in Hong Kong. If we value our independence, we should try to improve our Cantonese.(If nothing else, we need it for rhyming in many Tang Dynasty poems.) Mainlanders cannot then understand us. That would always be an advantage for us. If we are not careful, we could end up like Singapore--nobody speaking any one language properly. I call it Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm is reasonably good for a lot of things, but not good at any one thing. We don't want Tiger Balm in Hong Kong. Our humourless Government has already got rid of the Tiger Balm Garden, which should have stayed. It would have reminded us how ugly Tiger Balm is.
    So let's all start speaking and writing plainly. Shortening all your sentences would be a good start. Try writing in short sentences. This style of writing is known as"staccato". Staccato is the plucking of a string on the violin. As we all know, this can sound as beautiful as when the strings are played with a bow. So if we can be beautiful as well as plain, what more can we want?

    David Tang is the founder of the China Club, Shanghai Tang, Pacific Cigar and Cipriani in Hong Kong. He was born in Hong Kong and educated in Kowloon, Cambridge, London and Peking, where he taught English at Peking University. His column appears every other Monday.

  2. #2
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Interested in Language
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Posts
    10,024
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    He is mostly correct. One must master simple sentences before trying the more complex. But I think he is incorrect about accents. If one has a thick accent that prevents others from understanding his English, then one should work to correct that.

    Also, he is missing the subtext in talking about "Where are you?" If I am supposed to be at a meeting and my boss calls and says "Where are you?" he is not really asking for my whereabouts. He means "you are supposed to be here."

    So an answer "I'm on my way" is perfectly appropriate.

  3. #3
    samantariq is offline Newbie
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Urdu
      • Home Country:
      • Pakistan
      • Current Location:
      • Pakistan
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    1
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    Iam very much agree with the above person opinion about the plain English, because it makes really a good effect on other people. They will be able to understand the english. In this way there won't loose their confident. We should encourage those people who use plain english rather than other!

  4. #4
    5jj's Avatar
    5jj is offline VIP Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Retired English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Czech Republic
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Posts
    28,167
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    Quote Originally Posted by EngFan View Post
    Also, when asked a question, answer it plainly. If someone asks you"Where are you?", you must reply by saying,"I am at......." But very often, we say in answer,"We are coming" or"We are on our way". This cannot be an answer to the question"Where are you?".
    There is no 'must' about it. This shows a misunderstanding of how we communicate. Very often we convey a different message from that suggested by the words, as SoothingDave pointed out.

    If I call someone and say, "Where are you?", my message may be, "You said you would be here by now. What has happened?"
    The reply, "I am on my way" is saying, "Don't worry. I will be with you soon".

    Speaker and Listener understand the messages; there is true communication. To say we should speak plainly misses the point that we are speaking plainly, just not in the way the pedant would have us speak.

    A mini-dialogue such as the one following, is perfectly comprehensible to the people involved:

    A: How did the meeting go?
    B: Fred turned up.
    C. Right. Back to the drawing board.


    Both speakers know the situation. It would be unnatural and pointless to 'speak plainly':

    A: How did the meeting go?
    B: Fred was present at the meeting. He is, as we both know, opposed to your project. As a consequence of his opposition to your project at the meeting, plans to go ahead with it were dropped.
    A: In that case I must begin to consider new plans.
    Last edited by 5jj; 27-Jan-2011 at 11:24. Reason: typo

  5. #5
    JMurray is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Interested in Language
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • New Zealand
      • Current Location:
      • Australia
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Posts
    1,779
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    There are some good points in Mr Tang's article but I agree completely with the criticisms others have offered here. I also think he is too insistent on the use of a lot of short sentences. He would use six short sentences which make the text very stop and start, when three well constructed, longer sentences would make for a more fluent and pleasing read. Rather than being natural and simple, his groups of very short sentences can feel forced and stylized. If this is a newspaper column then a shorter sentence style is more usual, but it's not always appropriate in other contexts. Just my opinion of course.

  6. #6
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Polish
      • Home Country:
      • Poland
      • Current Location:
      • Poland
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Posts
    5,098
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: Do you agree with him? "Use Plain English"

    Quote Originally Posted by JMurray View Post
    There are some good points in Mr Tang's article but I agree completely with the criticisms others have offered here. I also think he is too insistent on the use of a lot of short sentences. He would use six short sentences which make the text very stop and start, when three well constructed, longer sentences would make for a more fluent and pleasing read. Rather than being natural and simple, his groups of very short sentences can feel forced and stylized. If this is a newspaper column then a shorter sentence style is more usual, but it's not always appropriate in other contexts. Just my opinion of course.
    But note that his objective was not to sound natural, fluent or pleasing. He says clearly that "the whole point of language is to communicate." We don't have to agree with this statement (I, for one, do not agree), but in my opinion his objective is achieved. I understand every sentence very clearly.

Similar Threads

  1. use of "plain sailing"
    By Unregistered in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 15-Sep-2008, 12:07
  2. "in plain air"
    By jctgf in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 09-Mar-2008, 21:41
  3. "agree to" vs. "is agreed to"
    By imchongjun in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 26-Feb-2008, 11:59
  4. Replies: 2
    Last Post: 25-Jul-2005, 13:11
  5. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 17-Jul-2005, 01:17

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •