The most common method of thinking in the Western world is verbal thinking. We have a range of intelligences including numerical, musical, spatial, emotional, verbal and kinaesthetic intelligences yet it is verbal intelligence that we depend on most. We tend to think and express ourselves in words. Mastering the use of words is the most important skill we develop because acquiring further skills depends on our comprehension of language. A tremendous proportion of the early learning for an infant is in developing verbal skills – learning to speak, to understand speech, to read and to write. Whether a baby is brought up in Beijing, Sydney or Moscow it will surely spend thousands of hours acquiring expertise in its native language. He or she will become proficient with the amazing range, power, complexity and sophisticated subtleties of language. However, once a certain competence has been acquired most people stop developing verbal skills.
Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between people’s abilities with words and range of vocabulary and with success in their chosen fields. People who can express themselves clearly are perceived as more intelligent and of higher status. They are accorded greater respect. So why do we not continue to enhance our verbal skills? Why do we stop doing what we spent most of our early years doing? The trouble is that we take our verbal abilities for granted. Once we have mastered reading, writing and speaking we move on to other things. We have acquired the most important tool in our mental toolbox. We depend on it for all sorts of tasks but we rarely take time to sharpen it. It makes better sense to maintain, enhance and extend the tool. Here are some ways we can do that.
1. Get a good dictionary and thesaurus
Two of the most loyal companions on your desk should be a dictionary and a thesaurus. Use the dictionary to learn the meanings and derivations of new words you encounter. Also use it to check the exact meanings and spellings of words that you are unsure of. The thesaurus is very helpful whenever you are writing and need an alternative to a word in order to avoid repetition or to achieve a variation in meaning.
In the modern world we are so busy with work and we are bombarded with so much information by TV broadcast, telephone and the internet that reading books and articles can be squeezed out of our agenda. Reading the works of really good writers is one of the best ways to develop our abilities with words.
3. Capture new words
There is a regular feature in the Reader’s Digest magazine entitled, ‘It pays to expand your Word Power’. It is sound advice. Whenever we bump into new words we should turn to the dictionary and spend a moment learning the meaning and derivation of the word. It is easy to skip new words and race on through the text so we need discipline if we are not to lose this opportunity.
4. Write, rewrite and edit
We all write, whether it is a text message on a cell phone, an email message or a novel, and we can all improve our writing. A good way to improve your writing is to read over what you have written and ask yourself these questions:
a) Does what I have written express exactly what I mean?
b) Will it be clear and comprehensible to the reader?
c) Can I make it more concise or more accurate?
5. Play with Words
Children learn language by playing with words, testing, experimenting, making mistakes and being gently corrected. We should adopt a playful attitude towards words and treat them as friends. Word games will increase your verbal dexterity and intelligence rating. Many standard IQ tests use word puzzles. Anagrams, cryptic crosswords, code-breakers, word searches, dingbats (also known as rebuses) and other verbal conundrums are excellent mental exercise.
6. Listen to Yourself
In just the same way that you critically review your draft writing in order to sharpen it you should try to do the same with your speech. If it is possible try to view some video clips of yourself speaking. This is particularly useful it you are rehearsing for an important talk or presentation.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.’ They can paint amazing images, inspire and intoxicate. If you continually work on developing your range of words and skills with words then you will reap the rewards.
Paul Sloane is the author of How to be a Brilliant Thinker