Man's instinct is to seek the company of others, and that association immediately calls for a means of communicating thoughts. The normal means of communication and of self-expression is speech, which is also one of those faculties that distinguish man from the brute. The footballer who can produce only inarticulate gibberish when asked to “say a few words” is, alas, all too common. Indeed, it has been said that conversation is the last of the social arts to flourish in any civilisation.
English pronunciation is notoriously difficult, mainly because it is so unpredictable. Nonetheless, to mispronounce words that are reasonably common marks a person as uneducated. The same may be said of grammar. Although it is becoming more and more common bad grammar is likely to make you appear somewhat ridiculous in educated company.
Slang And Bad Language
There is such richness and variety in the English language that there is no reason why many people should be addicted to slang . It may, of course, be argued that some of the more picturesque words and expressions that now have dictionary status were once slang terms. But when all that is allowed for, it must still be acknowledged that an educated person will exercise restraint and a sense of propriety in the use of slang or any sort of unconventional language.
The danger in lowering your standards of speech even by nothing worse than slang is that you may imperceptibly slip into vulgarity. The coarse and vulgar expressions that are so often heard are unworthy of a Christian. The thing to remember is that no one can compel you to adopt the low standards that you may find around you.
A Catholic who has learnt the meaning of purity and honour and, moreover, has received on his tongue in Holy Communion the One who is to be his Judge will surely not sully that tongue with any form of impure speech. Our ideals in this matter should be high, so that we always shun obscene expressions, doubtful stories or off-colour jokes. Not only should we never indulge in this sort of language ourselves, but we should never encourage it in others by listening to them. There would be no bad language if there were no listeners.
Art Of Conversing
Conversation can rightly be called an art, since it demands a certain measure of skill as well as the observance of rules and standards. It is obvious that unless you have a store of information and some ability to adopt a point of view you will have little to contribute to the conversation of intelligent people. Good talk comes from a well-stocked mind and a keen interest in life and the people around us. Reading is an easy and effective way of supplementing whatever natural gifts you may have as a talker. Even if you do no more than read the daily newspaper discerningly, you will at least be familiar with topical matters and have some opinions to offer to your friends.
No conversation is justified if it offends against truth or charity. The lying, malicious tongue is bad, but even milder personal remarks are often offensive, such as referring to another's physical peculiarities or vital statistics. These comments are nearly always in bad taste and frequently hurt the one who is the subject of them. Even when no harm is intended, you may offend others by remarks that are tactless.
Avoid the habit of exaggerating in conversation. If you are “absolutely amazed” half a dozen times in ten minutes people will soon refuse to take you seriously. The constant use of superlatives is a mild form of deception which indicates a poor vocabulary or a weak, impressionable mind.
There is one subject on which you may know a great deal but which you should talk about sparingly, namely, yourself. If you really want to please others and make them appreciate your company, talk about them and their affairs, and not about yourself. This is one of the easiest ways to pay a compliment.
If, on a rare occasion, you find it necessary to interrupt a person who is speaking, be sure to say “Excuse me” or “I beg your pardon”. The latter phrase is also the correct one to use when you do not hear what is said. The blunt “What?” deserves to be completely ignored by the speaker.
Good conversation is never more effectively killed than when someone tries to monopolize it. You may have had the most extraordinary dreams, travelled to the most fascinating places, met the most unusual people and had the most critical operations, but you have no grounds for supposing that others want to hear about them. There is no greater menace to social pleasure than the bore - the nagging, insensitive, unendurable prattler whose terrible garrulity can empty a whole room, although he himself does not seem to notice.
Some persons, on the other hand, are bashful and diffident and find it hard to enter into a conversation. But such a one can still play a necessary part by being a good listener. The good listener pays a compliment to the speaker, and unless he is really obtuse, his tongue will soon be loosened as a result of the courteous hearing he has given the talk of more gifted people.
You may take it as almost certain that occasions will arise in your life when you will be asked to address an audience in a more or less formal way. It may be a business meeting, a club gathering, a dinner, a wedding reception or any one of the numerous social events when custom demands that someone “say a few words”. What terror that apparently harmless invitation can strike in one who is not accustomed to public speaking or is simply afraid of the sound of his own voice! To be able to meet an occasion like this and carry it through with poise and confidence is a valuable social accomplishment.
The telephone is a convenient, but impersonal means of communication, and for this reason there is a greater tendency to neglect the ordinary courtesies of speech when using it. In the first place, when answering the phone, it is better to give your name or number than a meaningless “Hello”. If the person asked for is not immediately available, some word of explanation to the caller is necessary. Do not leave him holding the line not knowing if he is to be connected or not. Some, when requesting the caller to wait, are in the habit of saying “Hang on”. A much more polite formula is “Hold the line, please” or “Would you mind waiting a moment?”
Before demanding peremptorily, “Who’s speaking?” it is polite to inform the person who answers the telephone who you are first since you have burst, unannounced, into their home.