Remember how you first learned to talk?
Back when you were a toddler, your parents probably pointed to your teddy bear – or a picture of one in a book or on a screen – and repeated the word “bear.”
After you’d heard it enough times, you could say it on your own.
They might augment the pointing with actions and sounds, for example, miming putting your head on the pillow and snoring, then saying “bed time.”
If you mispronounced the word, your parents might say it again, stressing the sound you needed to fix.
When you cried or kicked instead of talking, they probably said something like: “Use your words.”
Soon you discovered that words helped you get what you want. They also helped you play with other people.
When your parents talked or read to you, they not only pointed to pictures that represented new words, but also used sentences that demonstrated how the words fit together.
This sentence structure was trickier than repeating individual words. Your first sentence may have been, “Me no want dat.”
To help you master this higher linguistic level, your parents would reply, “You mean ‘I don’t want the carrots.’” If you repeated the sentence correctly, they may have rewarded you by removing the carrots from your plate.
Because your parents continued to point out the correct way, you built your ability to express yourself. If your parents did not correct your mistakes, as some blindly doting parents prefer, your progress was slower. Same if they finished your sentences for you or did not listen and respond.
If your parents spoke well, you probably learned to speak well too. If they used bad grammar or nasty words, you said them too.
Fortunately for everyone, book and television characters, babysitters and other teachers were also role models.
So what can business people who want to communicate more effectively learn from toddlers and their teachers?
As learners, toddlers can show you how to:
- Have fun.
- Appreciate what effective communication will enable you to do.
- Practice without worrying about making mistakes.
- Imitate others.
- Listen and learn.
As teachers, parents and other role models demonstrate why you need to:
- Match pictures, actions and sounds with words.
- Repeat, but not too much.
- Correct instead of criticizing.
- Mix in love and fun.
- Be aware of how you are modelling effective communication to other people.
Of course today you are far more eloquent and your audience more sophisticated than when you were learning to talk.
But by revisiting the wonder and thrill of your early efforts, as I’m doing with step-grandson Max who is pictured above, you can uncover the lively basics that may have been buried by time and education.
Think back to how you learned or how you taught your children and you can revitalize your talking and writing.
Now where did we put the fuzzy rabbit book?