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Lately I've noticed that my English is inefficient and it makes me sound inarticulate at best. (Uneducated at worst.) Here is an example. Today I told my younger cousin this:

You shouldn't make any commitments if you're not going to see them through to the end

And then I started thinking about it. A much more efficient and nicer sounding sentence would've been:

You shouldn't commit to things you won't see through

It's shorter, more articulate and conveys the exact same message. This happens almost everyday. I find myself getting stuck mid-sentence or re-thinking sentences after I've said them.

Some background: I was born in a Spanish-speaking country and speak Spanish fluently. However, I came to the US at age 4 and haven't left since. I consider English to be my first language. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood where people mostly spoke Spanish or broken English. My mom doesn't speak English fluently and my dad does but with a strong accent and occasional blips. I don't have a college education.

I'm especially looking for something like a book. I haven't been able to find one for "efficient English." If someone could recommend something I'd be very grateful.

  • Sometimes cousins need to hear the longer sentence to make a more lasting impression. ;-) – Kristina Lopez Feb 21 '14 at 15:47
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    There are a few contexts where "efficiency" is important in language use. In many contexts it is irrelevant, and in some it is undesirable (some redundancy is useful in a noisy environment, for example). You have shown in your question that you can come up with a more succinct form when you want to; but there is absolutely nothing wrong with what you said to your cousin. Indeed, if you look at how we talk to each other, a great deal of what we say is not directly to convey information, but to express relationships, emotions etc indirectly. I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. – Colin Fine Feb 21 '14 at 16:17
  • @ColinFine I understand your angle. However, I created this thread precisely because I'm in a situation where efficient English is very important. I regularly need to speak to executives for large companies, owners, managers, directors, etc. Most of these people are speaking to me because their business has lost communications. (I'm a Network Engineer.) So when I speak to them, I need to make sure the sentences come out in as articulate a way as possible. I can't clumsily explain to them that their service will be down another 24 hours. I also have to explain network designs to my team – Michael May Feb 21 '14 at 16:29
  • continued: so I'd like to be able to speak in an articulate way that conveys a professional and educated tone. – Michael May Feb 21 '14 at 16:30
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is a request for resources – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '14 at 18:07
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To be honest with you, the best way to improve your language is to merely read more. I recommend periodicals given the wide variety and short time commitment to individual pieces.

By reading the writing of others frequently, you will eventually begin to assimilate the styles and sentence construction of better writers. (Even if it happens unconsciously.)

Pick publications that have an interest to you, but that are written at the level which you wish to communicate.

For example, reading the New Yorker may expose you to writers who are more choosey about their prose. But, if you are bored to tears by the content, you will not find it easy to keep up with the habit. (I'm not knocking the New Yorker, it's a great publication. I'm just using it as an example.)

If reading the New York Times, on the other hand, proves more interesting to you, you will likewise be exposed to the high level of literary competence and be able to keep up with it.

I think the efficiency will come to you naturally as your level of literary competence improves. You may also find that with better constructed sentences, you will not need them to be more efficient.

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One of the reasons I write (besides the enjoyment) is that it helps me to clarify my own thoughts and opinions in a succinct manner, and should that topic arise when I'm chatting then I already know how I should best express myself. I use that self-critique fairly often when I’m forming an opinion on a political topic. Over time, I learned to do that as I was posting on social media, because I learned to do it quicker.

I write what I think and then, like you, I criticize it. I figure out what's wrong with it. I try to look at it from another person's perspective. I look for holes in the statement or my use of incorrect words or words that don’t express my thoughts exactly as intended.

Writing helped me to express myself better at work, whether it was through the written word or orally, and today I use it to make my opinions a little more difficult to refute should I express them on social media.

Obviously I only do this with topics that are important to me (which is a fairly wide range) or when I decide to rethink previous discussions and the opinions expressed by either side.

The question in your case then, might be "Do I find myself in conversations that repeat often enough that thinking about them on paper might help?"

Maybe it’s applicable at your work if you find yourself repeatedly dealing with the same issue with different customers. Working that out on paper may also provide benefits in other areas of your life as well, because it’s good practice.

Good luck and kudos for working on self-improvement.

  • Good approach to language from a communication point of view: I think your most important point is, _ I try to look at it from another person's perspective. _ I agree, appreciate and upvote! Please take an active interest in asking and answering questions at this website EL&U. – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 2:46
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Consider learning a basic programming language such as perl, c, lisp, or python. Economy of language for the purposes of readable code between programmers is of utmost import. The skill is at worst translated easily to application in English use and at best done so automatically.

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You're first sentence was fine. Few people would refine it as much as you did later on.

You write well. Don't worry. But yes, keep reading. Hanging around good native speakers won't hurt either. That's how you learn.

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To write parsimoniously is a valuable skill, even if not always necessary.

The best way to improve efficiency is practice. Find some writing (either your own, or someone else's published work) and attempt to rewrite more succinctly while retaining the same meaning. Writing haikus or other length-constrained poetry is another great way to curate this skill.

Good targets for word-sniping: passive voice, adverbs, relative clauses, qualifiers (e.g. kind of, really) and prepositional phrases.

It is easy to overdo this in and produce bland writing. Striking the perfect balance between concise and mechanical is a challenge even the greatest writers struggle with

  • it is common practice in programming to read existing source code with the intention of re-writing it to both perform and to read more efficiently. when you suggest doing the same thing with natural language, which i'd not thought of, i feel like "yes, that's so obviously a good idea, why isn't that one of the most standard practices in grammar school english class!?" etc.. – miercoledi Feb 22 '14 at 4:12
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If you can afford it take a private teacher. His task should be to show you how to use a good grammar and to understand it and how to use a good dictionary and to understand all the information a dictionary gives. The first thing is to understand the basic grammar terms.

Study with a teacher until you can use a dictionary and a grammar on your own. Then you should go on working with the teacher for a time reading and summarizing passages of a well-known novel, e.g. Hemingway, For whom the bell tolls. And you will find in the novel a lot of interestng grammar points you can try to solve on your own by using the grammar or you can discuss your grammar questions with the teacher.

And you should have the video. The film with Ingrid Bergman is outstanding.

PS Don't do stupid grammar tests such as TOEFL and the like. That is deadly, kills any interest in language and gives no insight into language and grammar things,

A good grammar is a description of how a language system works. And that should be a very interesting matter.

Unfortunately we are far from being able to give a good description of a language. Good grammarians are a rare species.

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