by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Go into any office in the world and its busy denizens will be emailing, leaving telephone messages, text messaging, etc. Each and every time they use these admittedly convenient devices, their necessary human to human communications skills are melting away. Tools that are supposed to help us communicate exact a terrible price for convenience; that price is the whittling away of our language skills.
Go into any home in the world and the same perilous, reprehensible trend is immediately apparent. The members of most families rarely function as a united, cohesive unit. Instead, they spend their time text messaging, emailing, leaving telephone messages and, when not otherwise engaged, they sit before their home entertainment devices alone, very much in their own worlds, the occasional grunt and interjection all that passes for conversation and togetherness.
Now consider the classic film “I Remember Mama” (released 1948). Here family is not a thing. It is everything. Each evening this Norwegian immigrant family, now resident in San Francisco, sits together at the supper table once the dishes have been removed… and they read to each other.
They read the great classics, adventure stories, mysteries, romances, travel, history… and they are expected to read well and to make every attempt (depending on their ages) to read clearly and to be able to discuss what they are reading.
You will say, but that is only a film, only fiction. But I shall say to you, most every family then spent most of their evenings so, even if the books they read were the King James Version of the Bible, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678), and a volume or two of “improving” stories and sermons; in English-speaking lands quite likely the works of William Shakespeare, too.
In those days when a family was a family, people read to each other. And they derived a plethora of benefits, immediate and long term, to wit, how to
* pronounce words properly
* discover the proper definitions of words and so increase vocabulary and language usage
* read for greatest personal understanding and the greater understanding of all auditors
* learn all the nuances of language from its greatest practitioners
* use language to make yourself completely clear and comprehensible, using the right word at the right time
* “read” your audience as you read to them
* make a presentation that influences people
* read at the right speed
* perfect daily language use
* talk to people, not at people.
Even merely perusing this list of benefits establishes just how far we have descended from the far more literate ages preceding our own. They spoke more clearly, read more clearly, and wrote more clearly than most people today, despite the trillions of dollars we spend on education generally and human communications skills particularly. Education, in this regard as others, has manifestly failed; as a result we have millions of people who have passed through the public (and private) educational systems (with graduation certificates to prove it) who are daily humiliated and shown to be completely inadequate at their own language.
If you are satisfied with this result, with producing children with less verbal dexterity and understanding than you and far, far less than their grandparents, then do nothing. Clearly you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Otherwise, resolve to save your children, with or without the help of our schools. Most of these will advance a million “reasons”, or more, why reading aloud is impractical. The extent to which they do so is the extent to which they, too, are part of the problem, sabotaging the solution.
But let us begin, if only like the characters in “I Remember Mama” at the kitchen table… it will do just fine.
1) Start now. If you wish to save whatever communication and language skills remain, act at once to do so. Remember, they are at peril.
2) Read this article to your children before starting. It will help them understand the negligence of the schools, their own at risk position, and the need for as much of their cooperation as they can give.
3) Tape your sessions. No one can ever believe without such irrefutable proof that they read quite as badly as they do.
4) Keep sessions to 60-90 minutes. Even that, I admit, may seem unreachable, but what are goals for, after all, if not to challenge and set a clear objective representing improvement?
5) Select material which is interesting. Remember, you are competing against thousands of distractions which have been expertly developed by folks to steal your children’s attention and keep it squarely where they wish. So, select something decidedly interesting.
6) Keep a check list of things which can be improved. Keep a note pad at the ready so you can recall good things needing praise… and bad things needing attention.
7) Ensure that all participating (and, remember, it needn’t be just children) have the opportunity to read aloud each session. This is a hands-on event, and no one should be just “audience.”
You must have procedures in place for maximizing results. Here are some suggestions:
1) When the reader doesn’t know a particular word, do not give the definition yourself. Keep a dictionary at the ready and have the reader look up the word in question.
Idea: you can also ask the participants to write down what they think the definition is, then check the dictionary. Make this a game. No dictionary in your house? Get one at once.
2) Do the same where the reader trips over the pronunciation of a word. Here the dictionary is again invaluable.
3) Keep close attention to the speed at which the reader reads; odds are, it will be too fast. That must be eradicated. You’ll find yourself saying “slow down” often, and quite right.
4) Make sure the reader doesn’t sit stiffly but instead naturally. The pose the reader adopts will influence the entire atmosphere. Calm and amiable are good objectives.
5) Make sure the reader learns the art of looking up from time to time, thereby establishing and maintaining complete audience contact.
What is great about learning how to read aloud is that the benefits will resonate through your entire life. They are crucial, aiding you in your educational endeavors, employment, relationships, and more. Our schools have let your children down… don’t compound their problems by failing to do what you can. From this very moment.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc. providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. He is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee of The Income Zone
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