“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
― Pablo Picasso
This example appears in several places online and has several available graphics. It is attributed to Gary Provost from his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.
It is a great example for speech students because while the rhythm of words is important in writing, we could argue that it is vital in speech. The variety of sentence length keeps the speech interesting and the audience tuned in — too many short sentences and the speech can feel rushed and unprepared, too many long sentences and the speech can feel written or memorized and out-of-sync with the audience.
This example could be used as a visual aid in class or developed into a demonstration by having students read the various portions of it and comparing their reactions as audience members to hearing the speech in various ways. For a longer activity, wait to show this example and instead have various groups of students write similar examples to compare and then follow up with this example in the debriefing.
The Simpsons: Season 3, episode 23
In this episode, Lisa orders Homer subliminal tapes that are meant to help him lose weight with no effort. The tape supplier sends “vocabulary builder” tapes instead. Homer is discouraged that the tapes are not working, but they actually are.
One portion of the clip is now available here. It is a nice illustration of the difference between using language that is accurate and language that is clear.
Jeff Haden at Inc.com offers “10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say.” While this list is not directed toward students, it does include several mistakes that students often make. Along with listing each mistake it also explains why it is a mistake and what to do instead.
This would be a good addition to a class web site or to cite as backup, especially regarding how to treat visual aids.
Gavin McMahon of MakeAPowerfulPoint.com explains the difference between verbal spice and verbal grit — language techniques that make even dull information more personal and interesting versus language that further slows a dull speech.
The post also has a simple comparison chart that would be a great visual aid to share with students.
Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes explores the idea of climbing up and down the “Ladder of Abstraction” with your language as a speaker. The article provides multiple examples and would be a great resource for students struggling to understand why a speaker’s language choices are important.
This graphic from Joshua Katz at North Carolina State presents a fun look at language variations for some common terms in different regions of the U.S. You could select parts of it to share with students as an in-class example or use the entire graphic as additional information on a class web site:
Atlantic Video has created a 4-minute video that presents this same information in an entertaining way. It is available at vimeo.com:
The “Darmok” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation has many applications when teaching language. I have shown parts of it to show the process of understanding language from context cues, and I know of other professors who use it as well.
The premise is that the crew encounters an alien race that they have trouble understanding despite their electronic translators converting the alien language into English. The trouble is not with the words, but the alien’s use of images from their history and legends rather than straightforward descriptive speech. The episode is written well so that you can understand their language by the end.