Partner An unnamed firm
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Getting better all the time?

21st May 2015
Partner An unnamed firm
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I can't be the only person who is nonplussed at the illiteracy of many accountancy trainees.

Even youngsters who have studied literate subjects at university seem unable to spell, punctuate or put together a grammatical sentence. Worse, they are often completely unaware that such a failure can jeopardise their careers.

This has been going on for ages and I see no sign of improvement. Things are probably getting worse from what I’m hearing.

Few would put down a music GCSE as a stepping stone to a career in the accounting profession, but news that three tracks from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are joining Santana, Haydn and Aaron Copland as exam subjects tells us all we need to know about where things are going.

Encouraging students to study books and music they find accessible is clearly a laudable goal. But at some point subjects requiring a modicum of intellectual rigour are going to be needed to challenge and educate those hoping to enter highly paid professions and moving up to become the next generation of industry leaders.

Every so often a fuss erupts when Shakespeare is dropped or demoted from an English literature syllabus in favour of the latest popular novelist, playwright or poet. There are some great contemporary writers. Following their lead would make a fine grounding for those who might ultimately need to write dull reports, communicate with HMRC or send letters and emails to persuade clients to pay ever-higher fees.

Yet the Bard knew a thing or two about the English language. Indeed, he created quite a chunk of it. As such, he is a perfect role model for anyone wanting to write with clarity and impact.

Some readers may call me a a fuddy-duddy for criticising the modern in favour of things that I hated at school - but they have helped me ever since.

Though the idea has its attractions, I’m not about to advocate a return to lengthy study of Latin and Greek. But occasionally our forefathers did get things right and surely Mozart, Handel and Schubert can still teach youngsters more about musical composition than Lennon and McCartney.

Similarly, Shakespeare, Dickens and Wordsworth could run rings around Roald Dahl and Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

There used to be a time when writing ability was the basic starting point for any career.

But if you take the literacy of graduates applying for jobs for granted, you’re likely to find yourself wasting time later rewriting basic documents and cringing at the disastrous errors that even the most intelligent are able to perpetrate with the aid of modern technology.

The moral of this tale is that in future, when interviewing prospective employees, remember to ask them about their musical and literary tastes as well as checking that they can add up a column of figures.


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By slipknot08
21st May 2015 13:44

I could not agree more

... albeit I am now very nervous about making glaring errors in this post, and thereby being held up as an object of ridicule - the grammar policeperson who doesn't know any gammar... (I'm not going to use the term in vogue on the web - it will just be subject to moderation - and might inadvertently upset someone).

The English language is complex and when used properly, infinitely entertaining.

I also have sought to explain to various trainees over the years that the basic ability to write a decent business letter - or report - or Instructions to Counsel - is a pre-requisite to performing well in their chosen careers, and that poorly phrased, ungrammatical or misspelled output just make the Firm look ridiculous. After all, our clients pay fees because we assure them of a quality of service and care: most clients don't understand the technical intricacies of what we do for them and the only yardstick by which they can measure us is the covering letter - if it is barely intelligible, what price then the return or accounts that go with it? I know that when I receive poorly written letters, rife with spelling and grammatical errors from businesses that I deal with in my personal life I just 'switch off': it doesn't matter how good their product might appear or how clever their idea - they will have lost me pretty much as soon as they (inevitably) get my name wrong.

I also deplore the current media (and Government) attempts to hold up those who are intelligent - or who enjoy intellectual pursuits - as somehow ridiculous, or elitist. It isn't elitist, it is something to aspire to, to be proud of your achievements - it only descends into inequality and elitism if you seek to put down others who may not have had the same educational or family advantages as you have.

Anyway, mini-rant now concluded, I'd better go and do some actual work...

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
22nd May 2015 11:46


I remember 20 years ago as a junior and getting roasted for poor letters.

Of course now my language skills are highly polished. Innit. 

I imagine some whit will come up with a quote from Roman or Greek times making the same lament. 

As for music, you are a snob sir. Classical music is a wonderful thing, but so are many things written  in the past 80 odd years. If your ears are deaf to it, this is very much your loss, as much as it is to those that close their ears to classical. 


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By edhy
23rd May 2015 08:49

Language skills in organizational setup

Alas, it is not illiteracy of trainees, I find many qualified accountants equally bad and it is not just English. Those who are poor in English are usually poor in local language (I am far away from England) and mostly poor in professional knowledge, more so in application of knowledge.

Spheres of human knowledge are many including music, literature and my interest – science. Each sphere has its own value. For an Accountant, I fully agree, good language skills are very important and so is numeracy and of course professional subjects.

Many people get away despite their language and professional weaknesses. How come?

A three year old child was writing something. His father asked him what he is doing. He replied that he is writing a letter to his two year old cousin. The father pointed to his son, “but you do not know how to write”. The child replied, “so what, my cousin does not know how to read.”

So your good skills are only as good as your boss’ skills ;)

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