Friday, September 28, 2012

LIKE...Ummm Let's Learn to Communicate...Dude!!

 Communication matters, and while "like" is an integral icon, word, and concept in our language and culture, it is severely overused.

 On the one hand...
 “We're the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, you know, a long time ago!” ~ Taylor Mal
On the other...
"To speak and to speak well are two things.  A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks."  ~Ben Jonson
 "The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives."  ~Anthony Robbins (American self-help author and motivational speaker)


My husband went to Harvard University, his father went to Harvard and his father's father went to Harvard.  Our son did not.  Why? When he went to their information session (as a high school junior) he was aghast at how students 'communicated' the 'awesomeness' that is Harvard and decided this was not the school for him. While I hope these students were the exception and not the rule, they were chosen to represent this iconic institution.

So what happened? At this particular info-session there were, like, three students who, like, when discussing, you know, Harvard, their expressions of love and awe were, like, too disjointed, lacking, uhm, the force of language to, like, convey their content or conviction. Get the point?

And, if students from Harvard lack communication skills, what does this say about our culture, our kids, or our educational system? And even if these students knew 'how' to 'communicate' and were just trying to be cool - when speaking in public to high school students in the vernacular...they muddled what for many was an important message.  Given that speech directly reflects our thinking - is their thinking muddled or lacking in conviction too?

"The way we communicate is a reflection of the clarity of our own thinking." - Rav Agbby 

When you hear someone using the word "like" or "um..." or "you know?..." repeatedly in their speech, it should raise some concerns among teachers and parents.

When we confuse "who" and "whom" (which happens ALL TOO OFTEN), and when "if I was..." is mistakenly used for "if I were..." we sound that less educated, that less well-read. I further argue that accepting muddled communication is basically accepting muddled thinking. We should demand more of each other.

So what can parents and educators do?
 “Mend your speech a little, Lest you may mar your fortunes.” ~ William Shakespeare
  • Think before speaking:
    • Think about what you want to say
    • Thing about how best, most accurately, most succinctly to say it
  • Make sure you really have something to say before you say it. 
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” ~ Ben Franklin 
  • Say what you mean as clearly and succinctly as you can.  The shorter your 'talk' the more able your listeners will be to follow and incorporate your opinions. 
“A good speech should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest” ~ Winston Churchill
  • Practice expressing ideas and opinions. (See  Express Yourself which relates ways to do this). 
  • Discuss politics and current events at the dinner table, when commuting, or in the classroom. Listen to others.  IF one of the speakers uses 'um', 'like', 'you know', raise a finger or give her/him some cue of what s/he is doing.
  • Read a paragraph with your child and then practice paraphrasing it. Here too you may want to raise a finger or give the speaker some cue when s/he utters an 'um', 'like', or a 'you know'.
  • Critically edit written work which also reflects thought and relays conviction.  Attend to grammar, tense, and word choice.
  • Note of caution:  There are  many who are scared to express themselves so there must be a balance between reinforcing expression and monitoring/correcting it.  Sometimes, just get your kids to talk, particularly about what they are passionate about, and particularly with the reluctant speaker, you may not want to correct.  Instead, after that child is more confident speaking, arrange for 'practice speeches' where you intentionally just monitor the tone and word choice.
  • Make students more aware of their 'lack of conviction' when speaking and their over use of 'um', 'like', 'you know'.  Here is a game to help you introduce this:  "The Ummbrella Game"
Game of Ummbrella (compliments of Talia Hurwich):
Tell students/kids THE RULES:
"In this game, certain things go under the ummbrella and certain things don't.  What determines what goes under the ummbrella is a certain rule I have in my head.
The OBJECT OF THE GAME: is to figure out the rule.
The way to figure out the rule is by asking me if something belongs under the umbrella."

[Unbeknownst to the players - the RULE of the game is:  When asking if an item belongs under the ummbrella - if they ask, "Does _________ (any item) belong under the ummbrella?" the answer is "NO."
IF they ask, "Does ummm ____________(any item) belong under the ummbrella?" the answer is YES."]

IF this is going on too long and your kids are getting frustrated, when someone asks if "ummmm _____belongs..." answer "yes" and then ask the same person to ask if "______" belongs.  This should help them.

ONCE THE RULE IS DISCOVERED ASK:  WHY is this game called "ummbrella" - (note that the double 'm is intentional, I do know how to spell 'umbrella')? 
We normally think of the phrases we use based on their meaning, but there is more to a phrase than the meaning - there are the words and letters you put into the phrase and the pauses you use between those words that we may not be fully aware of.  This game and the final question will hopefully make them more literally aware of word usage and word choices when communicating.

In closing, two treats:

The first, an excerpt from poet/teacher Talyor Mali's Poem "Totally Like Whatever, You Know?" (the entire clip is provided below):
I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

The second treat before closing is an example of how "LIKE" SHOULD be used - complements of Ellen Toole Austin and Jimmy Gownley:

Thank you all for your time and your visit.  Before you leave, I want to thank Adam and Talia Hurwich for their 'inspiration' and suggestions . 
Please leave your articulated opinions - left with conviction -  in the comments. 


  1. Love this post! I just worked on a conference with someone who would think while she spoke and it drove me crazy. It wasn't that she didn't have anything to say, but it took her a long time to get it out. It was frustrating to wait for her to communicate her idea to me (us).

    Stopping by from the Favorite Thing Friday... April @ 100lbcountdown

  2. In my speech class, they told me "if you want to say 'like', pause and say nothing. A pause will sound more intelligent than a 'like'" I abide by that rule,no matter what, and have been commended on speeches {sans 'like', unless I truly LIKE it) throughout my career. Thank you for linking up with Super Sunday Sync!

    Check out my Mommy blog at:
    Visit anytime!
    {All follows are returned}
    Come play on Sundays @
    Super Sunday Sync!

  3. I think I will use that "ummbrella" game sometime! It's always sad when we are forced to listen to professors, even, who do not know how to speak.

  4. Ah Harvard. I would love to visit them once to see their library if nothing else. Where did your son end up going to school? Just curious.

    I'm visiting from the Sunday blog hop, but I've been here before and am happily already following. :)

  5. I enjoyed reading the story about Harvard and it has inspired to think about the words I use when I speak! Thanks for linking up for Mommy Moments Monday!

  6. I got your answer for the question on my blog. I can see the vast differences that could easily exist between the two universities, in every way. Glad your son found what was a good fit for him!

  7. First time follower through the hop.

    Thank you for sharing the Harvard story, I enjoyed reading it and you gave me something to think about.

  8., I really like love this post! LOL This is such a well-written, articulate post and I'd (like you know) like to share it with some of my younger students. Always a treat, Meryl, and forgive me, but I just couldn't help it! LOL

    abcw team

  9. Another great informative post ~ ah, if you know what I mean' ~ LOL ~ Brave New World ~ needs improvement ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  10. Sigh...what I disLIKE about Facebook is the glib use of the word LIKE. Sometimes it's not even appropriate. You might want to acknowledge something, but LIKE does NOT convey it.
    I LIKE getting comments on my blog, but I do post it to FB so it can be LIKED. I contradict myself; so be it.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  11. Like, what a great post dude! Just kidding Meryl. So true though. This lack of communication skills reminds me of the Miss America Pageant when one of the contenders in response to the question kept saying...."like" and "such as" and even when she said those words, it was filler that didn't even make sense. Like, such as, get the picture? lol

  12. How did the youngster survive when he announced," I am not going to Harvard?"

    1. We supported his choices. He found a fantastic school where he is thriving!!!

  13. Great advice! Verbal communication is not my strong point, hence why I started expressing myself through drawing and writing at young age. I try my best not to use "like" and "um" when floundering because I know how bad they sound, but often my brain just panics. Speech class in college was a nightmare.

  14. I cringe at how much I used to use the word "like" in my younger years! I wish I could go back and just remove that word from my vocabulary!

  15. Like, I totally get it...
    Sorry, I just couldn't resist.
    I'm afraid I fall into sloppy language more times than I should.
    Proper English never got into my head.
    Sometimes the teacher was at fault and other times I wasn't motivated to learn.
    The game you suggest is a lot like I like coffee but I don't like T(ea)

  16. 'You know' is my undoing! I enjoyed your blog. I agree that 'like' has become overused. I hear that 'innit' has been added to the English dictionaries because so many people say it now that it has turned into a word in its own right!

  17. So much good information here! I am so bad about thinking before I speak...SO BAD. I really need to get better about it, because it has definitely gotten me into trouble! Thank you for these tips and ideas

    P.S. Thanks for linking up to the GtKY Blog Hop! :)

  18. I find my most casual communications are in the comments sections of blogs... I know that I used to automatically speak with more accuracy, but that is no longer the case. This is interesting to think about.

  19. Like!!! very interesting.
    Thanks for linking up.
    Was trying to find you on facebook but had no luck.

  20. I love Winston Churchill's quote!

    Catching up with ABC. Got busy the past couple of days and just now have the time to visit entries.

    Leaping Chipmunk
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  21. I am following you now too:>

    Danielle @ Blissful and Domestic

  22. These are great suggestions! Saying "like" is a tough habit to break, but I agree that it's important for our kids to be able to communicate effectively as the grow older!

  23. found u thru the mom's monday mingle blog hop on naptime review's blog and now follow thru gfc!

  24. I like the Winston Churchill quote!

    Visiting from Friend and Follow