Dear Dr. Julie-Ann,
Do you think social media, tv shows, movies, and music have destroyed language? Just when I think I understand the latest slang, it is already out of style and I have to learn new words and what they mean. And don’t get me started on things like “ur” instead of “your” showing up in the emails from my students and their parents. And when did it become okay to drop f-bombs and the c-word in average conversations?
What advice to have for teaching my children to be good communicators?
I am right with you regarding the current state of our linguistic interactions. It seems to me that people are suffering from lousy, lazy language and say things that don’t really make sense, such as “have a good one.” For example, I was buying my lunch from the sandwich shop next door to my office recently. The total came to $7.53. I handed the young man a $10 bill and said that I also had 3¢ to give him. He responded, “No problem.” I’ll admit that, after having refused his persistent upselling once too many times, I was a bit snarky when I said, “Of course it isn’t a problem! It makes counting out change easier!” (I immediately felt guilty and apologized and he just looked at me as if I’d grown antlers or something)
And curse words, once only said in private, are now common in public discourse. Unfortunately, cursing had slipped into my language, too. Fortunately, a friend confronted me and told me that I was coming across as rather coarse instead of elegant. To say I was horrified (and grateful) would be an understatement. I vowed to clean up my language.
Conversation–It Does Matter How You Say It
As much as you’d like to think that the language you use doesn’t matter, the truth is that the words you use are an integral part of communication. But, in addition to the words you use, how you engage in conversation–both in person and via technology–matters a great deal. Your manner of speaking impacts your ability to get your ideas across and your ability to make friends. In essence, how you communicate shows other people the kind of person you are.
In Manners Made Easy*, midcentury mentor Mary Beery tells teenagers that good speech “depends upon the words you use, the distinctness with which you speak, your expression and quality of voice, and your pronunciation.” Let’s break those areas down:
- The Words You Use-You want your vocabulary to reflect your intelligence. But you also want that vocabulary to be authentic, not what you think sounds highfalutin. When I’m reading students’ papers, they often try to sound smarter by using big words. Unfortunately, they don’t always know what the words mean which leads to some head-scratching usage. Miss Beery encourages her readers to learn and use five to ten new words each day. Although it isn’t five words each day, I enjoy learning about words from Merriam-Webster’s Word-of-the-Day. I receive an email every morning with the word and background information about the word so that I am using it correctly. The added bonus is there is a link to hear how it is pronounced.
- How You Speak-Do you know how you sound to others? I used to think I had a loud, booming voice and so I would purposely speak softer. It turns out that I’m actually rather soft-spoken and people had difficulty hearing me speak. I encourage you to record yourself speaking in various environments. You may be surprised by how you sound. Things to consider are
- Variety of pitch–does your tone change or are you monotone?
- Diction–do you enunciate your words or are they slurred or mumbled?
- Confidence–do you have “a voice with a smile” or are you harsh, shrill, cold, or dictatorial?
- Phraseology and Grammar-Sloppy grammar, both online and face-to-face, reflects laziness and a lack of respect for those with whom you are speaking or writing/texting. The important thing to keep in mind is context. It is okay to take shortcuts in text messages or places where the number of characters is limited. Otherwise, it is important to use good grammar.
- Level of Familiarity-Along the lines of wanting to avoid sloppy grammar, it is important to show the appropriate level of familiarity with others. With the advent of social media, there is a mistaken belief that everybody is your friend. While I’m not sure there will be a return to the days when men stood whenever a woman entered the room, it is always better to err on the side of being more formal by addressing people by their titles and last name until you are invited to be more informal with them. Additionally, it is poor form to ask personal questions or share personal information about yourself with acquaintances. Save the questions and oversharing for your close friends.
Social media has created a new way to communicate and many believe it is destroying the English language. However, Emmy Favilla, a BuzzFeed editor and author of A World Without “Whom,” reports that the vast majority of the language we use is the same is Standard English we’ve been using for a long time.
One is Lousy and the Other is Swell
No discussion about language omits the very funny scene in an I Love Lucy episode where the gang decided to improve their language skills. The tutor they hired was encouraging them to rid their speech of slang.
The Modern Retro Woman Community’s Turn to Share Advice
What strategies have you used to help your children be good communicators? Share your suggestions in the comments section.
To Your Fabulous Technicolor Life!
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