Slang in speaking, writing can hurt job hopefuls

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

When it comes to preparing for the world of work, it's a good idea to watch your language.

We're referring to the &#8220L” word: &#8220like.”

&#8220Like” is often used as a filler in young people's casual conversation, along with words and phrases such as &#8220umm,” &#8220you know” and &#8220oh my gosh.”

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What's fine while chatting among peers, however, can be a problem for a fledgling work force.

Over-indulging in the use of such words that can potentially curse young job hopefuls and college interviewees, career counselors across the country say.

&#8220It is so important students recognize the value of standard English. I tell our students, ‘If you don't recognize the value of speaking and writing proper English, there is always going to be someone else out there who does and is one step ahead of you,'” Dr. Jean Thompson, director of LBW Community College's Greenville campus and an English instructor, said.

Bess Nordgren, who teaches high school English at Fort Dale Academy, says teachers at the school are doing their best to eradicate the overuse of the word in formal writing and speech.

&#8220Fortunately, use of ‘like' isn't as prevalent as it once was, thank goodness. Compared to what it was like in the ‘80s, today, things are not so bad,” Nordgren said.

Whether she is battling the &#8220L” word or trying to break the use of colloquialisms in a student's composition, Nordgren's rule is simple. She takes the drill sergeant approach.

&#8220I'm strict. I grade papers in a very strict manner and that means counting off substantially when there is use of, for example, slang terms, run-on or fragmented sentences,” Nordgren explained.

&#8220The kids may complain – but that's the best way I know to get the point across.”

Ashley Jernigan, 15, a sophomore in Nordgren's composition class, doesn't think her teacher is expecting too much.

&#8220If you know how to write or speak properly, it gives people a more intelligent, sophisticated view when you are going to get a job,” Jernigan said.

Asked if she thought most young people entering college and the workforce are adequately prepared in the areas of writing and speaking, Jernigan replied, &#8220I'm guessing, probably not. I think they tend to underestimate the situation.”

No one should chance appearing stupid when they are looking for employment, Jernigan's classmate, Barry Boan, said.

&#8220(I think learning standard English is important) so we won't look like idiots when we go out to get a job,” Boan said.

While he'd prefer his teacher didn't count off so stringently, Boan said, &#8220I guess (the grading) is fair.”

According to Nordgren, a daily exercise all FDA language instructors participate in is the use of warm-up sentences on the board.

&#8220When the students walk into the classroom each day, there are two sentences on the board. These sentences will have a number of things wrong with them, including spelling, grammar, slang use and so forth,” Nordgren said.

&#8220We go around the classroom and give them a chance to make all the necessary corrections. Every grade does this, so it has cumulative benefits.”

According to Nordgren, every student who graduates from FDA is required to take speech and drama along with composition classes in addition to four years of grammar and literature classes.

&#8220I think that does give our students an advantage,” Nordgren said.

Nonnie Taylor, English, speech and drama instructor at FDA, said informative speeches in her classes were strictly graded for misspellings, grammatical errors and mispronunciations.

&#8220If for no other reason, this issue is important because you want to make the right kind of impression. That's what I tell students. It's about how you carry yourself and the way you speak and write,” Taylor said.

&#8220If you are talking to a prospective employer and you say, ‘Yeah, like I seen such-and-such…' that is going to turn that person off right away.”

Andrew Jones, a classmate of Boan and Jernigan, agrees with Taylor.

&#8220When you are interviewing for a job, you need to be able to speak clearly and show you are capable and intelligent…if you're a leader, you need to be able to communicate well,” Jones.

On the college level, mastering those skills is more crucial than ever, Thompson said.

&#8220My students must write a resume at the end of English 101…it is the only assignment where I ask perfection; it must be letter-perfect,” she said.

Students keep those resumes on disks &#8220so they can go back and add and change information as need be.” The school also offers an extensive list of books, videotapes, CD-ROMS and other resources to aid in preparing for a job search.

As with most schools, LBWCC offers a Career Development Center where students have the opportunity to videotape themselves during mock interviews.

&#8220We also give them pointers on how to dress and accessorize an outfit – how to look professional,” Thompson said.

&#8220I always tell students, you don't know how many people you are going to be competing against. Always put your best self forward.”

When push comes to shove, the reality of a tough job market often forces those who want to get ahead to improve their formal speaking and writing skills, Thompson said.

&#8220When they get serious about looking for a job, they will get serious about doing this.”