In this chapter, you have learned the importance of language. In this last section, we will discuss ways to improve your verbal communication skills. To be a great interpersonal communicator, it is extremely important that you also know how to use language in the most effective way.
Skills From an early age, you probably had words that you used most frequently because you were familiar with those words. As you get older and become more educated, your vocabulary has probably expanded to help you become more successful. Language is used to help express our feelings, intentions, and comprehension of others.32 An extensive vocabulary is a keen predictor of someone’s social status, education, and profession. Whether you like it or not, the words we use and the grammatical structure of how we use those words can impact our standing in school, work, and society. Here are some tips to help you improve your vocabulary.
First, be sure to use repetition. To become familiar with a word, you need to see it over and over again. Besides, you need to use it in conversations over and over again. The more times you repeat the word, the more likely you will memorize it, and it will become part of your daily repertoire.
Second, group similar words together. You should never learn vocabulary by looking at a list of words. Think of words as different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It doesn’t make sense to look at each piece of the puzzle individually. Rather, you need to fit them together to see the whole picture. The same thing should occur with words. You should memorize words that have similarities in some way. For instance, create a vocabulary around a theme, such as music, or an adjective, such as beautiful.
Third, it is essential to make vocabulary that is personal to you. Vocabulary can be defined as all the words understood by a person or group of people. As early as four months, a baby can start to distinguish between language sounds and other sounds. According to David Crystal, language acquisition happens quite rapidly:
That means your average infant to toddler is learning three to four new words every day. Infants are hardwired to learn a language. If you want to ensure your child can speak multiple languages, it’s best to expose them to multiple languages during this crucial developmental cycle. Even though we start as infants, we continue to improve our vocabularies right through middle age:
As you can see, most native English-speaking adults have fairly substantial vocabularies, but we do see a drop in new language acquisition as people enter into their middle age. As such, it’s important to keep learning.
One way to keep learning is to find words that have meaning for you. If you have ever heard a story about survival from someone who has gone through something life-changing, they probably used words that touched you and helped you to connect to the story. In the same fashion, you should find words that can relate to your story. When we find words that have personal meaning to us, we can use those words more effectively in our own vocabulary. Here are some essential tips for building your vocabulary:
Lastly, you should read regularly. It doesn’t matter what you read. As long as you are reading, you will probably come across words that you are unfamiliar with. When you do come across a word you don’t know, take the time to look it up. This practice is especially important when reading academic works because they are often full of ten-thousand-dollar words. Next time you read and run across a word that you don’t know, be sure to find the definition so that you can comprehend what is being said.
We would also recommend reading articles and books that stretch you. Don’t just read books like the Twilight and Harry Potter because those are written on a junior high or middle-school reading level.
After learning to improve your vocabulary, it’s also important to increase language awareness and adaptation. When we talk about language awareness, we are referring to a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language.35 For our purposes, we define language adaptation as the ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner. As such, it’s not just about being aware of language that leads to effective interpersonal interactions, but our ability to adapt our linguistic choices with different people to maximize the effectiveness of our interpersonal communication.
There are a couple of ways that people can increase their language awareness and adaptation. The first way is to engage in meaningful interpersonal communication with someone different from you. This person can be from a different country or different region of the country from you. When you speak to someone very different from you, you might notice how they use language differently or how they prefer certain words over others.
Another way might be to watch a foreign film. Check out different international films that have been nominated for an Academy Award. Most of them will be dubbed in English or have English subtitles. Pay attention to how the characters communicate with each other to create meaning. Does it give you an appreciation for how you speak?
Lastly, spend some time with a small child, preferably under the age of five. Pay attention to how the child communicates with you versus others (e.g., their friends, parents/guardians, siblings). Children under five are still acquiring words and learning to talk. When you communicate with someone who has a very limited vocabulary, it might help you see how you can adapt your language so that they will understand you.
As a speaker, you want to know that the receiver of your message understood what you said. This concept is also known as checking for understanding or verifying what has been said is also understood.36 Even if a person is smiling and nodding at you when you talk, it does not necessarily mean that they are paying attention to everything. They might be trying to be polite and/or friendly. The best way to check for understanding is to use the acronym: TAP. Think of communication like a tap dance; if you don’t hear any tapping, would it really be a tap dance? The same thing can be applied to communication. Did you communicate if the other person didn’t understand you or get what you were trying to say?
First, the T in TAP means to talk first. In other words, you explicitly present all the content. As you are talking, you are also trying to make sure that the other person is listening to you talk.
Second, the A in TAP stands for ask questions. After you talked to the person, try to ask specific questions. Rather than saying, “did you hear me?” or “were you listening, which are both yes/no questions, it would be more beneficial to ask, “what did I just say?” or “what did you hear me say?”
Third, the P in TAP means to be prepared to listen. Listen carefully to what the other person says. It is during this phase that you can see if they understood your message. Was the message correct? What emotions are they displaying after you said the message and asked questions? If we don’t ask questions, then we can’t be sure that the message was received effectively.