《Ability, capability, skill, talent》
（文╱Robert Tolmasoff）Four words, very similar in meaning and easily confused, are ability, capability, skill, and talent. Below we will take a look at the differences between these terms, and provide some examples.
Let’s start with ability. The word ability can be used to describe what a person or organization can currently do. The most important word in this description is “currently”, because this separates “ability” from “capability”. Look at the examples below.
O: The new software has the ability to detect any security problems.
O: A frog has the ability to jump very high.
Now capability refers to the potential to do something. This does not mean that it has the current ability, but at some time in the future could do it. See the examples below.
O: Everyone has the capability to learn a second language. (not everyone does, but we could it)
O: I think she has the capability to become a good leader. (She has the potential to become a good leader, however, currently she is not a good leader)
Skill and talent are also often confused; however, it is fairly easy to determine which word to choose. Let’s start with “talent”. Talent refers to a person’s “natural ability” and it is often used more with the arts, sports, and other things people feel must come naturally and cannot be learned.
O: She is a talented signer and musician.
O: He is a talented baseball player.
O: She is a talented designer.
While with all things there is some learning, nobody can be a perfect signer or musician with learning, here the focus is on that the ability comes naturally for this person, thus the use of “talented”.
Now “talent” can also be used to describe a person in general. When we describe someone as “talented”, it just means in general this person has many natural abilities.
Skills, on the other hand, are things that we learn either through study or practice. See some of the examples below for the proper use of “skills”.
People are not born with engineering skills; this is something we learn from many years of study and hard work. Management skills are things that even top managers continue to work on throughout their careers; therefore, it is not a “talent”, rather a “skill”.
Robert Tolmasoff is a trainer, editor, and author based in Taipei. His clients include international companies as well as individuals looking to sharpen their communications skills. Robert’s last two books, 上班族完美英文e-mail輕鬆寫 and 1000 Essential Business English Terms, are available in books stores and from McGraw-Hill Taiwan. Have ideas for future columns or questions? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org