Words fail me. Words cannot express... I can’t tell you how... I wish I could say... I don’t know how to say this... I can’t say. Who can say? What can you say? Be careful what you say. There are no words for...Mere words, empty words, loose talk, psychobabble, happy talk, gibberish, false words, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, running my mouth. Watch your mouth! Don’t say another word. No need to say it. Did you hear what I said? I mean what I say. I don’t know what I’m talking about. What was he trying to tell us? You said what?
Language, such a imprecise tool! We communicate all day long, but we don’t always make sense, or say what we intended, or have words to say what we feel. We have many ways to express our frustration with language -- the disconnect between what we wish to communicate and what is heard.
How can we improve our ability to communicate? Knowing more words makes it possible for us to name more things, shades of meaning, emotions, things in the world. With a small vocabulary one is often reduced to saying, “You know what I’m saying?” That is leaving the listener guessing what the speaker means. Longer and better education increases vocabulary, but the best way to grow vocabulary is to read books -- lots of books, books on a variety of subjects.
The English language has around a quarter of a million words, possibly more than any other language. Our language has been very hospitable to other languages and continues to absorb useful words brought by immigrants. English also functions as an international language, although with a very reduced vocabulary. We Native English speakers are ideally situated for acquiring words for almost any purpose or expression.
I’ve noticed that people who never have much to say generally do not have many books in their homes. On the other hand, walk into a home in which there are walls of books and you know it is a place filled with rich conversation and ideas. What is the best thing you can do to make your children thinkers and communicators? Read to them as much as possible until they learn to read and then keep them well-supplied with books that will fire their imaginations.
I’m not much of a fiction reader -- my inclination is to read far more non-fiction. But I also read a novel every month or two and am the better for it. I also try to read a fair amount of fiction in translation to get a wider view of things than the narrow American one. I read poetry, newspapers, magazines, book reviews, blogs, comics. I take no credit for being addicted to reading because I was raised in a house filled with books. I was read to by parents and grandparents, given a library card as soon as I was old enough to get one, given books as presents and encouraged to buy books with my allowance. It would have taken a major act of rebellion on my part not to have become a voracious reader.
I could list a hundred reasons to read, but high on the list would be simply getting better at communicating the things we want to say, the things we need to say. I’m not claiming that just because I read a lot I can always find the words I need. Like most of us, I’ve resorted to many a Hallmark card on a birthday or anniversary. But when the words do come easily, I thank my reading parents, I thank Proust and Hemingway and Joyce and the authors of the pile of library books sitting on my desk, awaiting my eager eyes.
Causes Michael Lipsey Supports
Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Nature Conservancy