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')?
POINT OUT THAT:
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.