Watch out for Wrong Worditis!
I came across an interesting book by Jan Venolia called The Right Word- How to say what you really mean. ( 2003)
The book is meant not just for writers who author and publish books but for all the people who write. Whether you accept it or not, all of us need help with words. More so, when you are not big into reading. I cannot recall a single blog post in the last ten years of my blogging experience that I have written without the use of an online thesaurus to find the perfect word that conveyed what I wanted to say. You may readily be able to identify a word in your first language that captures the idea, but to find a word in English that evokes the intended emotional response is never easy. So we pick and use a word that is closest in meaning.
Our inability to choose the right word is what the author calls Wrong Worditis.(Don’t you love the brilliant word play on the -itis suffix? Words that end with -itis indicate infection- appendicitis,tonsillitis, laryngitis,sinusitis). If you have a teenager at home you will agree when I tell you that it seems to be the most common infection that parents of teens seem to have contracted. Every word in your limited vocabulary that you have built over your adult years, will evoke a giggle from your teen who will know a new ‘ urban’ meaning to it.
Even if your readers are not teens, when you don’t use the right word, people draw their own conclusions from the text you write. Accomplished writers understand the importance of choosing the most specific words possible in order to get their ideas across effectively and clearly, because they know that general or vague language can lead to misunderstanding. In the long list of important things to do in our lives ( Note to myself: Time to draw up resolutions for 2014), how many of us really prioritize learning the meanings of words that we use? Every time we use a wrong word, we hinder comprehension and sabotage our communication. Wrong Worditis doesn’t only refer to incorrect choice of word when we write but also when we speak English. When you are verbose ( speaking long winded sentences, using too many words) and make pronunciation errors when you speak, you are exhibiting symptoms of Wrong Worditis.
Remember, when you choose the wrong word, nothing is communicated. Or worse, the wrong thing is communicated.
Keep your reader engaged!
If you think that all you need is flawless grammar skills to be a great writer or write interesting pieces effortlessly, you couldn’t be more wrong.
What is absolutely essential is your verve or style; or your flair for writing. I think most of what we write falls flat on its face because even though we have a lot to say to our readers, we don’t know how to say it. Or say it with panache. This post is about errors we make in writing style. You may argue that the errors in style are not really flagrant, but that is the whole point! When the errors are obscure, it becomes difficult to identify or correct.
If you have experienced a time when you wrote a piece of content, checked it for typo, errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, found it flawless and yet you knew something was amiss, then you know what I am talking about.
Here is what typically happens when you begin writing content. The sentences you write are initially extra long, round about or conveying more than one important point. So you chop the sentences to make them shorter and lose the essence of what you want to convey. Your editor finds sentences in passive voice, so you rewrite those in active voice and knock off a few more words. Upon revising again,you find some words in continuous tense and you know you have to keep it simple, so you revise it to simple tense and even shorter sentences. The content post these many revisions could be a bunch of disconnected group of words or sentence fragments, that do not make sense at all.
Before you write anything next time, reflect on the reasons why you like an author or a blog or an article. Does the content keep you engaged? Does the content ‘speak’ to you? Do you catch yourself smiling and nodding an agreement with what the author says? What about the content works for you? And then imagine yourself churning such engaging, thoughtful, super interesting content. Write like you are having a face to face conversation with your reader, across the table. The information you want to share should be conveyed in an engaging write up rather than just listless writing. And write with passion. When you do that, it shows!
Read this blog to see what I mean.
What is your objective?
There is a lot of content being written all over the web. When does a piece of content deliver what it was intended to? It does when it is written with an objective.
When you write content about products or services you have used, then the objective is to be informative. If you manufacture the product or are the provider of services, it is important not just to be informative but also consultative or authoritative to be able to influence your reader into trying out your product or service. What could be the objective of a piece of content that you write in your personal blog? It could be to share experiences or views or showcase talent or expertise.
Irrespective of how you want to approach your writing, you have to have an objective in mind. It is worth pausing here to note that readers have objectives too; in particular, the desire to gain something of value in return for their investment of time spent (in reading).
If you are a content writer, ask yourself these questions before you publish your article or story. What is the objective of the content? What is the goal intended to be attained? What is the purpose, the benefit or the reason you wrote that piece of content? It could be to give easy access to your readers,of facts and information about a product or service that you have used, it could be with an aim of convincing your reader about something that you want to sell, or to make your reader reflect on an experience that you have had or entertain the reader with a humorous post on your blog.
My first blog was a record of all observations and conversations I had with my toddler. The objective? I wanted it to be a record of her childhood memories. The objective of this blog post is to help you become a better listener, speaker and consumer of content! I write content on various blogs. Every piece of content I write has an objective.
For more tips on content strategy, stay tuned!
Does it really?
In the past, when people asked me “What do you do” I was never sure how to answer that question. Obviously, I did stuff but I did not know how to name it as any one thing to give it a title. A large part of what I did involved English grammar, even though I did not teach it (I cannot explain a subjunctive form or differentiate it from the infinitive!). So to avoid going to details I chose to tell them that I was a coach in Communication skills. Immediately people would go ” Oh, so how good is my English?”
I make a conscious effort not to judge people based on the grammar errors they make when they speak. I get a little restless when I read a blog or a piece of content on a website that could use better grammar but as non native speakers of the language, when you speak and are able to communicate your ideas, slights in grammar are generally ignored.
Some of us are better at writing than speaking in English. Even in written form, we make grammar errors because we ramble, repeat ideas and lose the focus of what we want to say. There are grammar nazis ( I have been called one at times) who believe that flawless grammar in the way you speak or write is extremely important. However, if you are attempting to get better with your English skills, I recommend that you speak it even if you are unsure of grammar structures. The idea is to let your tongue get used to saying words in English and your brain to make new connections related to the language. As you speak and listen to others speak, you will begin to realize your errors. If you listen actively and make conscious attempts to correct your errors, you will soon be making lesser errors.
Will end this post with a note. Grammar rules constantly evolve and what used to be ‘rules’ many years back, are not rules anymore.
One of the reasons why we struggle to speak English when we are expected to use it well is that we seldom use English to communicate with our co workers and team mates at work. (When you have co workers who speak the same regional language, it is natural that you use that to speak)
When we make it a habit to use English regularly, then we don’t have to struggle as much. During my training sessions, I ask people to use English to talk about what they read in the newspaper that morning, or review a book that they are reading or a movie they have watched. What I observe is that, many of them find it a challenge at the beginning and get better as they continue to practice each day.
It proves that if you continue to speak and use English everyday, the ease with which you use it gets better. Even if it means that you use English only to talk about a piece of news or an interesting email forward that you want to share with someone, go ahead and do that. When you begin using English everyday, you encourage your brain to think in English as well. When you think in English, you make lesser grammatical errors in speech.
Reading is another habit you have to inculcate. Reading will help build vocabulary. You will begin to understand how words are used contextually. Read anything that comes your way. Read blogs, articles and forum posts that interest you.
Share it with others by talking about it. See how it helps you build confidence – one step at a time!
Communication skill is not about how well you speak. What is the point of speaking well, If there is no one listening to you?
That brings us to this question – Are you a good listener?
When I conduct my training programs, I get people to read aloud a few stanzas from a book of their choice. When they are done reading, I ask them to summarize what they just read. Guess what happens nine times out of ten? The person who reads aloud is never able to summarize what he/ she just read! What was just read aloud, was never listened to, not even by the same person who read it aloud. ( It is a different story how they ask me time to read it all over again in their minds before they can paraphrase!)
What does that tell you about our listening skills? When we do not listen to ourselves, do you think we listen to others any better?
Here are three good reasons why you should listen to yourselves speak:
1) It helps you ‘catch’ the errors you make as you speak
2) It helps you speak without repeating yourself. Often times we repeat ideas, phrases and words without even realizing it.
3) It helps you perfect your listening skills when you have to listen to others!
By being better listeners, we become better communicators. How good are you at listening?
Listen to the rhythm of English
Although many of us in India are English medium educated and speak English well, there are times that we do not entirely comprehend what was said- especially when conversing with native speakers of English. (I have to confess that I never really comprehend English movies entirely and wonder why they don’t add subtitles to the screen when they show them in non English speaking countries!)
One of the reasons English sounds different when spoken by a native speaker is that, they stress a few words in any sentence they speak. English is a stress- timed language. This means some syllables will be longer and some will be shorter. While many other languages, like the ones we speak in our country, are considered syllable- timed.
What does that mean?
It means that, in English, we give stress to certain words (called the content words) while other words (called the function words), are quickly spoken. Native speakers spend more time on specific stress words while quickly gliding over the other less important words. It is important for non native speakers, to understand which words are generally stressed and which are not. As a rule, it is usually the nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs that are stressed.
The next time you have an opportunity to listen to a native speaker, concentrate on the stressed words rather than giving importance to each syllable or word in the sentence. You will soon find that you can understand and communicate more because you begin to listen for stressed words.
All those words that you thought you didn’t understand are really not crucial for understanding the sense or making yourself understood.