Words – choose yours carefully, always.

  • Words – they’re vital for success in life and business – and when I wrote about how to become a better writer, one comment on LinkedIn from Chris Arnold about words resonated …

“Words have the power to move, to motivate, to destroy, to connect emotionally. Instead of hiring another agency negotiator to ‘strengthen’ a sales culture, hire a writer to ‘inspire’ potential vendors!”

Welcome words and Chris’s response got me thinking more deeply about words.

When our son, James, was born in 1999, a sage friend advised us to do something we’d never considered – put a cloth book in his Moses basket to encourage the turning of pages, the act of looking at pictures and words. It’s superb advice and one I’ve oft repeated to friends, ex-pupils when they have children. They have children who are bookworms too.

Reading books is vital – and from birth.

It extends vocabulary, feeds imagination in a brain that is rapidly developing.

Cloth books led to bath books, picture books to short stories and novels, pop-up books to classics.

Ok, nature – nurture, you’d expect children of an English and French teacher to have a natural inclination to words, but we’re certain the nurturing habits we encouraged impacted greatly too.

Books still play a big part in James’s and Ruby’s daily lives and they are both excellent communicators – in speech and writing and both have an extensive word arsenal, and are creative and accurate writers.

Vocabulary from an early age can be an indicator of success.

I remember teaching in the 90s about case studies of linguistic development in Alaska. Poorer families had limited vocabulary banks so much so that when their children started primary school, they knew a tenth of the words that more privileged children knew. They had something like 1,000 words in their armoury, whereas the others had over 10,000 I seem to remember.

It’s why league tables for schools are so unfair and using contextual value added measures was equitable. Judge a cohort’s ability at entry (whether that’s year 1 or year 7) and measure again in year 6 and 11 to see what impact the teaching has had on their progress, rather than use crude comparators of Level 4 or 5 percentages.

Schools serving deprived inner city, coastal or rural communities have a much bigger mountain to climb than those schools serving wealthy or indeed fee-paying public school communities. Value added is the true measure of a school’s success not its 5 A* to C headline figure.

Now this is not a statement about stereotypical class perceptions.

They are generalisations.

My wife and I are both from Northern working class backgrounds, as are millions of others, and we don’t have a limited lexis, just as millions of others don’t: your background is no indicator of word capacity.

What the Alaskan study discovered was that the academically weak children at 4 years old had a domestic word environment of mainly negative command words: no, don’t, stop, put that down, get off.

So at four, they had something of a battle to keep up linguistically and academically with their peers.

Still the case here at home, in the UK, or anywhere.

Words, as Chris, says do have the power to move, motivate, destroy.

Choose yours, as leader, father, mother, employer, very carefully.

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