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A Grammarian Who Taught Me How to Lay the Bricks

The Journey of Language and Learning

This is not a blog. This is a tribute to a wordsmith who was sent into my professional life and equipped me with the necessary skills to become an outstanding communication officer, taught me how to write like a journalist, and pulled me out of a quagmire.

A wise man once said: “Anyone can twist a tongue and speak with a native accent, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to write effectively.” I would like to expand upon this: Just because someone can speak in an authoritative tone doesn’t necessarily mean their written word connects, much like not all effective writers are good orators. Speaking and writing are two different fields and crafts that cannot be interchanged.

My interaction with Arabic and English started at a very young. I come from an erudite family and grew up with parents who always treated language with utmost zeal. However, the traditional and rooted style of parenting had its own pros and cons. I was deprived of the opportunity to internalize self-discipline and this didn’t help my parents accept an impediment like dyslexia. I didn’t grow up as an avid reader, but my upbringing made me realize that if I develop a passion for language it might turn my stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Henceforth, I was ignited by a thought that fluency, intonation, accent, and proper pronunciation get better with usage and exposure.

Wishful thinking and pragmatism didn’t pull me down, and a moment of realization was met when I received an email on my second day of work at Cicero and Bernay that read, “The pleasure is reciprocated.” I was intrigued to know more about the person who constructed this sentence. I found out that was Spark Makki, the internal head of English content.

As I started working on things with Spark, our everyday conversations started instilling confidence in me and unveiled a box of tricks that included the bricks for developing a flair for writing.

He was kind enough to help me think of writing not as a way of freezing your thinking into words, but to know what one’s position and proposals are. As such, I saw writing as a means of growth, discovery, and exploration.

It’s scary being an explorer, but it is also fun and challenging.  Learning to write well is the same as developing the performance of any other skilled activity; like practicing strokes to be good at tennis or play the piano. Spark made me realize that as I gain more experience, some of the stages of the writing process will flow more quickly. It is worth noting that his impeccable copyediting is matchless, and I soon learned that he consolidated his position not only as a grammarian but as a polished logician as well.

For the past two years, I have independently drafted numerous press announcements and editorials that were published in highly esteemed publications. I am grateful for him, for pulling me out of a quagmire and helping me realize that as I spend more time doing this, some of writing stages will flow more quickly.

Focusing on shaping arguments in opinion articles and how one can think like an architect !

Just as there is no best way to build a house, there is no best method to structure an op-ed. In terms of editorial pieces, some luminary writers, like Thomas Friedman or David Brooks, take an inductive approach. While there are arguments and evidence from other writers that oppose this approach, journos of the ilk of Farid Zakaria at the Washington Post mostly adopt a deductive approach, starting with an idea or philosophical principle and moving on to a specific circumstance. He then concludes with why that circumstance is right and should be maintained, or the opposite.

As an architect will tell you, the make-up of a building ultimately depends both on the people who design it and its end-users. Similarly, arguments and ideations are no different, and, depending on your goals and your readers, you may need to establish a new style to empower your pen game.

Although no two styles are alike, they all comprise three basic structural parts, an intro, a body, and a conclusion, each of which performs a core set of functions that if left out, may risk collapsing the grand design of your configuration.

These are some intricacies that I’ve learnt. I am thankful to Spark and the agency for giving me this opportunity to not only grow in my specific area of expertise, but to work with highly capable people and become a versatile communications professional.

I always say this when I learn a new word, a phrase, or a grammatical tactic from Spark or any of the team-mates, “Every day is a school day. All you have to do is be ready to learn.”

Ahmed Malik is Senior Account Manager at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |