Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Actively Passive

As I learn format and language for writing press releases and broadcast news stories, I regress to an earlier stage in professional development. I'm not talking about the first business venture I ran out of my parent's basement (sharpening skis for neighbors), I'm talking about my Peace Corps service in Togo, West Africa.

Leaving the English language for French not only made me more aware of sentence structure, but also with how I use structure. For what seemed like the first time, I met the conditional tense, future imperative, and the present perfect, to name a few. Breaking down how I had been speaking years prior revealed my individual choices for communicating.

I found an overabundance of the conditional tense (expressing desire for something without knowledge of receipt). The conditional tense makes use of "would", "would like", "perhaps" and "can."

For speaking simplicity cultural appropriateness, I adopted the present tense. I went from vague politeness of "would like" to the more direct "want". Togolese also spoke predominantly in the present tense. French was not their first language, so the breadth of the vocabulary was not exercised. I remember feeling uncomfortable and even offended at times from present tense speech in my host country.

As time passed, I grew to appreciate the present tense more. It engaged me.

Back in America, I find myself sliding back into the conditional tense. I have to work a bit harder here and there to employ the present tense. And when I do, I carefully gauge if a request or expression comes across as strong.

It is amazing how culture influences expression. Writing in the present tense for news stories or press releases is part of the broadcast culture. Learning, cultivating, and employing active language not only aids the communication process, but creates synergy with recipients.

- Jared

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