Sorry, that was a poor joke in the heading.  However, it’s no joke that a recent survey has found that nearly one fifth of adults don’t know the difference between a noun, an adjective and a verb.

Now before we all start writing articles to the Daily Mail complaining that it’s all the fault of the schools, bear in mind that they do actually teach our children this sort of stuff.  Some don’t absorb it very well, or at all, but most have, at least, been exposed to the basics of English grammar.

Unfortunately, it’s actually a bit worse than the headline figure of one fifth not knowing about nouns, verbs and adjectives.  When the company that conducted the research (children’s stationery fim, Stabilo) asked adults to define an adverb, nearly one third could not do so.  Also, when asked if they could quote anything from Shakespeare, one fifth weren’t able even to recall “to be or not to be,” or anything else that the Bard wrote.

There was a lot more research showing people forgetting maths and geography or being unable to remember more than 10 elements in the Periodic Table.  However, we’re language people, so it’s the lack of knowledge of the basic building blocks of communication that concerns us.  Some may say it doesn’t matter and so long as people can convey the general sense of what they want to get across that’s all that required. But accuracy and understanding do matter: as my previous blog noted, the translation of the Japanese Emperor’s message to America after the US’s demand for unconditional surrender helped precipitate the dropping of the first atom bomb (and thus hastened the end of the War).

What really matters is not necessarily the reader’s ability to parse a sentence but the writer’s ability to form his or her sentences in such a way that the reader can understand clearly and concisely what is meant. This, of course, applies in spades when it comes to translation: conveying the exact same meaning, with all the nuances and inferences that may be contained within the text is an art as well as a skill.  It’s what we do at Global Connects, so if you have need of some razor-sharp translation (in any language) please get in touch.

Fiona Woodford, Head of Language Services, Global Connects