The other day I passed a young man shouting loudly into his mobile phone. Nothing unusual about that I suppose, but I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and I could hardly ask him to turn up the volume.
It’s a poor do when one can’t eavesdrop one half of a shouted conversation, but the reason I couldn’t make him out was his appalling diction. The guy could not emit a single sentence of reasonably well articulated words. He slurred everything into an incoherent, staccato mess of exclamations and expletives. I'm not even sure about the expletives - that's how bad it was.
Maybe he only needs his voice for shouting, but I wondered if anybody had ever tried to pass on to him the lifelong value of verbal fluency.
Verbal fluency seems to be one of those social skills taught largely by parents and the general social milieu, yet we don’t seem to place a high value on it. Or at least we do place a high value on it, but we seem to do it in a somewhat covert way. It's rather like not farting in lifts - you work it out for yourself from various social cues.
I don’t recall being taught verbal fluency in school for example. English, yes, but not fluency. It was somehow assumed that one would acquire fluency along with an appreciation of literature and a knowledge of grammar and sentence construction. It wasn't explained quite how important fluency would be - far more important than knowing how to identify an object clause for example.
So nobody ever told me how essential it is to be verbally fluent. I just knew, or worked it out, or maybe my mother told me at some point. It’s possible that she did and I’ve forgotten, because it was one of those things she would certainly have understood herself.
That young man will go nowhere without it. Shouting is only half the battle. Ask Gordon Brown.