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Guide to Life: Be Articulate

At its most basic, being articulate simply means communicating well. Understanding words and how they work is essential part of the equation; once you learn linguistic basics, the rest will happen automatically — like buying nice pieces of clothing will make you a better dresser.

No, Alec. Always. Be. Orating.

To understand how to be articulate, it’s important to know what being articulate actually means. It’s not a fancy thing; it’s not an upperclass thing or only for people with multiple degrees. It doesn’t necessarily mean having the ability to speak in paragraphs or expound at length about astrophysics. Nor does being articulate require using big words. It means using the correct words to clearly express an idea — any idea, be it the fall of the Roman Empire or why you prefer blue cars. At its most basic, being articulate simply means being able to communicate well.

Understanding words and how they work is an essential part of the equation. Once you learn linguistic basics, the rest will happen automatically — just like buying nice pieces of clothing makes you a better dresser. The journey to being articulate is comprised of three legs: Vocabulary, Comprehension and Application.

Good Speeches From Bad Guys

Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood

Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

Walter White in Breaking Bad

1 Expanding your vocabulary is the first step. The goal here isn’t becoming a verbose poet, but rather acquiring the ability to choose the right word at the right time and to know how to pronounce it. Online vocabulary games like FreeRice.com are actually fun, and, since that one donates grains of rice to hungry people for every question answered (correct or not), you’ll be doing good simply by learning a new word or two in your free time. Additionally, apps like Vocabology introduce one new word each day and reinforce lessons with a quiz game.

2 To improve comprehension you’ll need to know when and how words are used to communicate ideas. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that it’s easiest to learn to speak a new language when you immerse yourself in it. The same applies for honing your native tongue — surround yourself with articulate speech and you’ll quickly become a pro. That means listening to people who articulate well: NPR programs, audiobooks (yes, Harry Potter definitely counts), speeches (here’s one worth a thousand views), even well-written films are great resources for developing an ear for refined speech.

3 And then comes application. Understanding how words are used and being able to translate an idea you’ve heard or read into your own words is essential, and you may be surprised to find you already do this a great deal. Retelling a story you’ve heard, relaying the plot of a movie to friends or explaining anything to a young or inexperienced person — all these force you to be careful with your speech and simplify concepts. Re-reading an email (even a text) before sending to make sure you’re being clear and organizing your thoughts before having a conversation are easy, everyday ways to practice speaking effectively and eloquently.

Another tip: don’t become hung up on speaking quickly and fluidly, either. “Um” and “er” are part of our natural speech and are, contrary to what you might think, somewhat essential to maintaining focus while talking. Some of the most articulate people in the world mutter those placeholders (and even other verbal tics such as “like” and “ya know”, called discourse markers while reaching for the perfect thought or word.

On the road to being articulate, the biggest favor you can do yourself is to simply listen. Listen to well-spoken people, sure, but listen to yourself too. It’ll ensure you choose your words carefully and appreciate your newfound silver tongue.

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