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September 23, 2019

Why improve communication skills

Communication skills are the abilities to convey our ideas, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, wants, needs, knowledge, etc. in a precise and lucid manner in accordance with the intention of the person communicating the message, either in the spoken, or written form, face-to-face or via communication devices, such as phone, e-mail, and video conferencing. Since communication is usually a two-way interaction between two or more persons, one must also include listening and reading skills among the communication skills.
Communication is not just merely using words. Spoken communication also involves the use of a variety of features to express different nuances of meaning such as, body language which include facial expressions, posture, gestures; tone of voice; eye contact; proximity between speaker and listener, etc. On the other hand, written communication exploits choice of word, order of words, sentence patterns, the sound system of the language concerned, the organization of texts, size and design of letters of the alphabet, etc. to gain specific communicative effects. In addition, interpretation of human communication is made more complex due to the fact that more than one meaning can be conveyed by a single utterance, and indirectness is frequently used to communicate different shades of meaning including the opposite what is said. Moreover, such non-verbal features as the style and colour of one’s clothes and hair, and for women and some men, the use of certain kinds of jewellery, makeup, lipstick, perfume, etc. may be employed to subtly convey information about the personality of a person.
There are many reasons for communication skills to have come to be regarded as a vital life skill in the 21st century. Firstly, it would be extremely difficult to fulfil even our most basic needs and wants, as anyone who has had the experience of travelling in a foreign country whose language he/she does not know will attest to. Secondly, just as our appearance creates the first impression, so does the way we speak and write. Thirdly, communications skills are important in our social dealings both within the family as well as with friends, acquaintances, and strangers as they can improve relationship or worsen it. Fourthly, good communication skills are required by many jobs, especially those that relate to dealing with the public, whether it is the position of a salesperson, or that of a CEO, as seen from the many job advertisements in newspapers. Fifthly, the higher the position of a person, the more expertise he/she will need in communication, as he/she has to interact with a wide spectrum of people, including those from other countries and cultures, in different situations.
In Myanmar, with the advent of market economy, expansion of small and medium enterprises, growth in employment opportunities, increase in young people pursuing higher education both at home and abroad, and greater interaction with foreigners and foreign countries for business, tourism and other purposes, effective communication, including the ability to use a foreign language, especially the English language, and the ability to translate and interpret, has risen to the forefront of the skills much in demand these days. On the other hand, with more parents going out to work and reduction in the number of extended families, there seems to be less opportunity for young people to communicate with people of different generations or to receive their guidance on how to converse appropriately. This situation is compounded by the fact that a lot of young people in cities spend more time with their cell phones playing games, and surfing the net, than talking with other people. It is my impression that young people need to be trained to overcome their shyness and reticence to talk with persons of different generations and to make appropriate use of the polite forms traditionally used in conversing with older persons and more formal contexts.
Some people have the gift of effective communication, but some people do not. However, this does not mean that it cannot be developed.  The place to begin training young people to develop communication skills is the home. It is important that parents talk with their children as often as possible, not only to stay connected with them but also to develop their language skills. Through parental talk, children can enrich their stock of vocabulary and sentence patterns and at the same time, develop critical thinking, satisfy their curiosity about their surroundings and expand their knowledge about the world around them. When children are old enough, parents should begin teaching them to use more polite language.
The goals of schools and universities should include the promotion of effective communication, as it is not just a vital life skill as pointed earlier, but because it is also a skill that will bring academic success.   Communication skills can be taught as part of the Myanmar and English language courses, or it could be integrated in all the subjects that students have to study.  The latter has the advantage of giving more opportunity to use communication skills by students across the curriculum and also strengthening linkage among knowledge, cultural norms, thinking and communication which are vital not only for students but also for those in employment. Below are some of the prerequisites to develop communication skills:
1.    overcoming shyness, brevity and reluctance to talk, so that one can interact with both people one is familiar with as well as strangers
2.    being aware of the audience – age, job, status, interest, education background, knowledge, etc., to adjust the style of one’s language and topics
3.    being aware of the setting, the place and occasion where the interaction is taking place, to make one’s communication appropriate to it
4.    having relevant knowledge, vocabulary and structure to interact on a wide range of topics
5.    making one’s communication informative, so that it will be worth paying attention to
6.    being aware of how much time is available, in order to  adjust the length of one’s interaction
7.    making one’s communication relevant to what the topic being discussed to maintain the attention of one’s audience
8.    making one’s communication well-organized to make it comprehensible to the audience
9.    giving turns to talk to one’s listener(s), so that one will not be regarded as dominating the interaction too much
10.    giving examples, relevant to the topic and participants, and injecting a bit of humour, when and where appropriate, to make the interaction interesting
11.    using polite language to show one’s regard for one’s audience and to create rapport
12.    using appropriate tone of voice, body language, gestures, and posture to enhance the interest of audience
In order to promote the above mentioned qualities in students to enhance their communicative skills, schools and universities will need to give sustained attention to their development. Schools will need to create a culture of interaction from the very first day students enter school. Teachers should begin their training on communication at the lower primary level by asking students questions and by answering their questions patiently and maintaining young children’s eagerness to talk. When students get to the upper primary level and are old enough to participate in group work, they should be assigned to talk on simple topics such as one’s family, or pet or friends. The aim at this stage is to promote fluency rather than skillfulness, so students should be freely allowed to express themselves, without teachers correcting their mistakes. Reading begets knowledge, and knowledge facilitates interaction and development of thinking skills. When students are in the lower secondary level and are able to do independent reading, they should be assigned short extensive reading tasks, so that they will acquire a wide range of knowledge, a large stock of vocabulary and a variety of sentence patterns. To get use to speaking in front of an audience and overcome shyness, students should be asked to perform short role plays, tell short stories, or do brief presentations on what they have read, in front of the whole class. To instill communication skills, all teachers, whatever subject they teach, should have a few minutes of discussion with students at the beginning of class on the previous lesson and end the class with a few minutes discussion or question answer session, giving students opportunity to express their views and to satisfy their desire for more information. As students get to the high school level, more challenging activities that require preparations, such as impromptu talk, poem and essay competitions, and poster drawing and newsletter production and presentation contests should be conducted, as they are interesting ways to promote effective communication.
At the university level, communication skills of students should be promoted in a more formal and systematic way. As many opportunities as possible should be given to students to discuss among themselves as well as with their teachers, and group activities should be utilized as much as possible to provide all students in the class the chance to communicate.  At this level, communication skills and academic studies should be well integrated. Students should be trained to integrate the knowledge they have gained from prescribed courses with what they have learnt from their independent studies and be able to communicate the information to others effectively. Regarding this matter, in addition to written tutorials discussion should also be held. To familiarize students with different types of communication situations, students should be taught the different formats, styles and purposes of different communication events, such as presentations, chairing meetings, reports, negotiations, giving instructions, debates, etc.  In addition, rather than wait for students to develop effective interaction by themselves, higher education institutions should give practice to their students to communicate effectively in specific communication situations relating to their specializations, such as, interaction in courts for those studying law, product promotion for those doing business studies, giving instruction for those training to be teachers, interacting with library users for those studying library science, interacting with patients for those studying medicine, etc. Teachers need to also train students to use the right tone, the right speed of delivery, body language, gestures, postures, visual and audio aids, and wear clothes appropriate to the occasion. They should also be made aware of the need to complete their interaction within the set time.  Moreover, they should be trained to given careful attention to their audience and adjust their interaction in response to the reaction their listeners. Finally, students should be led through the different stages of preparation for their talks and written communications to make them as interesting and effective as possible.
There is no doubt that communication skills are the fundamental skills necessary for daily life. They are also skills that can achieve personal as well as organizational success. In addition, they are related to other important skills such as thinking, social and academic skills.  Communication skills are also double edged as they have the power to create harmony as well as discord, generate better understanding as well as misunderstanding, and convey truth as well as create deception. It is therefore the responsibility of parents and education institutions to create the right conditions to develop the communication skills of our young people, so that they can become effective communicators not only for their own success, but also for the benefit of their society and the organizations they work for, and to encourage young people to make proper and effective use of their communication skills.
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