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     Volume 4 Issue 22 | November 26, 2004 |

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Dr. Syed Saad Andaleeb

The quality of written English in various media in Bangladesh seems to reflect a deteriorating trend. Articles in newspapers, magazines, academic journals, or even simple letters to editors bear imprints of distinctively poor writing. Such writing, marred by errors and inconsistencies, is not only disturbing and distracting; it also diminishes one's interest in reading on. In addition, it evokes a variety of negative emotional reactions toward the writers, as well as toward those who publish such writing.

It is true that we are not an English-speaking nation; hence errors are likely to find their way into our writing easily. This problem may have been exacerbated by diminishing the importance of English in our education system, thereby substantially weakening our ability to express ourselves correctly and clearly. Reluctantly, and perhaps controversially, I must admit that I often find even the intellectual community of academics and researchers in Bangladesh demonstrating substantial deficiencies in the art of clear communication. Many in academé write so poorly, I wonder what their protégés write and whether their correctly written work is being mutilated by their gurus! I can attest to this deficiency, being an editor of a journal. Without naming names, here's one of numerous examples of poor writing that I routinely encounter: "Due to the non-accessibility into the Internet not only marginalization problem is being created in the society but also economic development of the country is hampering tremendously." And this expression comes from an exalted seat of learning!

Why is it so difficult to express ourselves clearly in written English?

I offer two conjectures. Primarily, our education system does not promote the growth and advancement of the English language (I suspect the high failure rate in SSC, HSC and degree examinations may be ascribed to failure in the English papers). The quality of the language that is imparted at these stages evokes the question, "Should these students even be taught English?" For years, when these hapless students continue to fail in English, finding it an insurmountable challenge, who is to blame? I believe their performance should be seen as an indicator of where our education system needs a fresh look. Perhaps the subject ought to be dropped for the vast majority of students and made optional. By doing so, resources could be concentrated on producing fewer but better calibre students armed with a foreign language skill they would be able to use. As long as English continues to be compulsory, given the abominably poor quality of teaching of this subject, we continue to waste resources by trying to reach students who neither comprehend the language, nor make minimal use of it. But, as a global medium for communication, the importance of English cannot be ignored. Hence, if its teaching is to be continued, it is vital that a periodic teacher certification program be instituted to ensure that teachers of the English language have the requisite qualifications. Eventually such certification should be extended to all subject areas. If we cannot certify the quality of our teachers, how can we certify the quality of our students?

A second conjecture about poor writing, I believe, lies with the writers. Many of them simply do not seem to care about the reactions they are likely to elicit in their readers through inaccurate or poor writing. Some of these writers may even be assuming erroneously that their readers will not be able to discern good writing from bad. Such cavalier attitudes, where they prevail, do immense harm, especially to those who really cannot differentiate between good and bad writing. In fact, writers should recognize the inherent role they play as educators. For example, people who read flawed writing may adopt similar styles and replicate the flaws. On the other hand, when writers pursue the art of lucid and vigorous communication, it can go a long way in helping readers develop the gift of good communication.

The art of writing is one that must be practiced diligently and crafted with care and patience so that the purpose of communication is achieved with ease and grace. It may surprise many of us to learn that even native writers in English-speaking countries spend enormous amounts of time evaluating their work consciously and conscientiously before placing it for public consumption. Writing, to them, is not only an art form, it is everything. Here are two quotes from writers, nay celebrities, that I'd like to share:

"Writing is very easy. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter keyboard until little drops of blood appear on your forehead." ~ Walter W. "Red" Smith

"I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add." ~ Gore Vidal

If such luminaries are so obsessive, how much effort should we devote to clear writing? How much pain should we endure to get our thoughts across accurately?

The purpose of writing this piece is to try and inspire those who write, especially in English, to do so correctly, simply, and gracefully. That requires writers to adopt the mantra of CQI (continuous quality improvement) introduced in the quality literature to help them in their quest to be the best they can be. Effort and determination do produce good writing. These qualities also enable writers to conform to global standards. Many foreign-born writers (some of them from our neighboring country), today, write lucidly and with superb clarity, earning prestigious awards and acclaim. When more Bangladeshis begin writing flawlessly, precisely and incisively, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best writers in other countries, it will be a source of great pride and inspiration for all of us.

Dr. Syed Saad Andaleeb is Professor of Marketing at Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College. He is also the Editor of the Journal of Bangladesh Studies.


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