Not for Amateurs !

 IMG_2433fpThe U.S. Deputy Consul General in Cracow Jeffrey Crawford Vick delivered his lecture entitled ‘Not for Amateurs !’ during ‘English Day’ organized by The Economics University in Katowice.





The puropose of this presentation is to pass on the benefit of 20 fairly successful professional years of communication in English’, declared Mr. Vick at the very beginning of his speech.

As he explained he had intended the phrase ‘not for amateurs’ to reflect the efforts people make to use the language as a means of communicating, precise intent …, in a professional sense. Then he described the ‘Realm of  the Amateur’ by giving the profound definition of this term which he found to be provocative.

Am*a*teur [m-tur, – tr, – chr, – tyr] noun 1. A person who engages in art, science, study or athletic activity as a passtime rather as a profession.

2. An athlete who has never accepted money, or who accepts money under restrictions specified under regulatory body, for participating in a competition.

3. One lacking the skill of a profesional, as in an art.

Adjective 1.Of or  performed by an amateur.

2. Made up of amateurs : an amateur cast.

3. Not profesional ; unskillful.

As he mentioned the late 18th century word 'amateur’ came from Latin 'amator’ – 'lover’, from 'amare’ – 'to love’. However it is not very polite to call sombody 'amateur’, the meaning of this word can also encompass passion in doing something what is highly respectful.

The third part of his lecture dealt with the issue of the business communications. Mr. Vick talked about several reasons to communicate, among them :

  • coordinating an organization’s operations,
  • conducting a transaction with another organization,
  • performing marketing and public relations functions.

Consequently, business communications is used to promote a product, service or organization. It relays information within the business or deals with legal or similiar issues. It is also a means of relaying between a supply chain.

In order to coordinate operations by sending instructions to staff, one must remember that those instructions, especially ones intended to be one way (i. e. directives), that people will act on them, interpret them, and enshrine them, often for posterity. Just look at some examples from the world of business :

‘As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks’, Fred Dales from Microsoft Corp. In Redmont in WA.

‘What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter’, Lykes Lines Shipping.

When performing public functions organizations have to use particular care in presenting their best image without gaffes and pratfalls. It is also connected with the tone and overall impression of messages communicated to customers. An excellent example of communicating precautions falls below :

‘Airline staff can ask you for something concerning smoking and we bag you to follow its advices and recommendations. If you possess strong will and are able to decline smoking during the flight, non – smoking passengers and the crew will appreciate your generosity and respect for them’.

IMG_2428‘Not matter what the function, the communications process is generally the same’, stated Mr. Vick. ‘The message is coded, transmitted, decoded, and hopefully received. One of the keys to encoding a message properly is understanding the culture of the receiver. Even though English is spoken as the official, or at least semi – official, language of many countries, it can be as profoundly different as the cultures that use it as a means of communication’, he added. That is why there are two the most important things that can make the message correct – consistency and style. He recommended sticking to one standard of English, e. g. American or British Standard English and using style manuals, e. g. The Chicago or The Modern Language Style Manual. Of course, certain individuals may use their own idolect.

Mr. Vick taught also the audience what is the best way to communicate with the Americans. Some of the details are listed below :

  • when the Americans want to be they are very direct people, so be direct, concise, use short sentences, and keep bottom line in front,
  • they prefer clearity and explicit comunication, so stay clear,
  • the Americans enjoy debating and stating a specific position, you are to do the same,
  • position in society is determined by one’s own achievements ; remember that the Americans do not have the House of Lords formed partly by hereditary peers, but elected Senate and the House of Representatives,
  • logic and communication skills are highly valued, not only what you say, but also how you appear and the idea which you use to communicate, e. g. visualising in the context of audience analysis are very important,
  • it is recommended having skills ‘spelled out’, so try to explain things in necessary details quickly, directly, and precisely,
  • there is a tendency to value written contractual agreements, not longer handshake is enough to make a deal.

’If you can follow those rules, keep them in mind, generally you will be successful’, assured Mr. Vick. But there is also one more thing he mentioned. English was invented by people, not computers. It reflects the creativity of human race. Learning English is not enough. When you cannot get to the level of the person you speak with your communications is completly in vein. In order to be fluent, and 'quack like a duck’ you must master cultural background of your interlocutor or trade partner and … such strange stuff like idioms, slang, jargon, euphemisms, metaphors, cliches, doublespeak, proverbs, oxymorons, and colloqialisms.

As Mr. Vick explained it was very important how to start, which channel to use, and how to end. He ended with an excellent joke : „Two guys are walking down the street in New York. One of them asks the person they are passing by : How do I get to Carnegie Hall ? Practice, pratcice, and … practice, was the answer’.

 Mr. Vick’s presentation was highly professional. It was all about using English to effect.

So, Dude ! don’t have a cow and don’t beat around the bush !. Breake the ice and speak English. You will receive the instructions how to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and become also letter perfect in speech stright from the horse’s mouth.

Communicating in English, not only in black and white, is somethnig to crow about !


 Maya Kowalczyk


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