After reading this article you will learn about the meaning of Communication Skills:- 1. Meaning of Communication Skills 2. Code and Content of Communication Skills 3. Stimulus and Response 4. Effective Speaking Guidelines 5. Pronunciation Etiquette 6. Phonetics 7. A Self-Assessment 8. Closing Tips on Improving Speaking Skills.
- Meaning of Communication Skills
- Code and Content of Communication Skills
- Stimulus and Response of Communication Skills
- Effective Speaking Guidelines
- Pronunciation Etiquette of Communication Skills
- Phonetics in Communication Skills
- A Self-Assessment of Communicating Soft Skills
- Closing Tips on Improving Speaking Skills
1. Meaning of Communication Skills:
Communicating effectively is the single most important soft skill one must possess today. The main intent is to convey messages to other people clearly and unambiguously. Communication is also about receiving information that other people send. Thus, communication is a two-way process.
It establishes a link between the sender of a message and the receiver of that message. This process is completed only when the sender and the receiver of the message are certain that the actual message conveyed by the sender has reached its destination, the receiver.
Communicating a message is akin to marketing a message. First, one should have a product (a particular message) that he wants to sell (successfully transmit or convey) to others. The product (the message) should be attractively packaged so that it can be accepted by the buyer (the receiver of the message) without any difficulty.
Just as one needs to have strong marketing skills to sell a product, for maximum effectiveness, one needs to be proficient in all aspects of communication skills.
Communication skills comprise the following:
1. Speaking skills
2. Listening skills
3. Non-verbal communication or body language, etc.
Due to its high criticality, It focuses on the most important skill of the above: speaking skills. The other aspects, of listening skills and non-verbal communication. Communication is a two-way process. It has two parts—to convey messages, and to receive messages.
The communication process thus consists of the sender who is the source of the message, the encoding process, and finally decoding of the same by the receiver.
To ensure effective communication, it is important to follow pronunciation etiquette. For this, it must be kept in mind that English is a ‘stressed language.’ Understanding the phonetic symbols from the phonetic chart of the International Phonetic Association (IPA) is of great help when it comes to learning to pronounce English words correctly.
‘One symbol for every sound and one sound for every symbol’ is the mission of the IPA.
In addition to understanding the phonetic symbols, acquaintance with the stress and rhythmic pattern of the English language is also necessary. The ‘intonation pattern’ of the English language, also referred to as the ‘music of the English language’, is of utmost importance when it comes to speaking and understanding.
2. Code and Content of Communication Skills:
Any human communication system involves the production of a message by someone, and the receipt of that message by someone else. To encode a message, one must possess the necessary encoding skills.
Languages are codes.A code may be defined as any group of symbols that can be structured in a way that is meaningful to another person. The English language, like any other language, is a code—it contains element that are arranged in a meaningful order. A code has a group of elements (vocabulary) and a set of procedures for combining these elements meaningfully (syntax).
Next is the message content, i.e., the message that is selected by the source to express its purpose. Content, like codes, has both element and structure. When more than one piece of information is to be presented, they should have some order or structure.
An individual may sometimes be identified by his characteristic way of structuring messages. This is because the individual communicates in a way that is distinctive to him. He uses a distinctive way or method, which has become his habit by constant use.
3. Stimulus and Response of Communication Skills:
Stimulus and response are the two terms that are frequently used in any discussion on the communication process. A ‘stimulus’ is anything that a person can receive through one of his senses. In fact, it is anything that can produce a sensation. And a ‘response’ is anything that an individual does as a reaction to the stimulus.
These two terms, stimulus and response, are ultimately connected with the whole learning process. The communication objective of the source is to bring about a change in the behaviour of the receiver.
The whole communication process, as shown in Fig. 3.1, consists of the following:
1. The sender—the source of the message
2. The encoding process
3. The channel used
4. The decoding process
5. The receiver—the person who receives the message
At each stage of the communication process depicted in Fig. 3.1, there is a possibility of error. Communication skills help avoid such errors, so that the message can glide easily through all the stages of the process and reach the receiver.
The source, in any communication process, is the most critical part of the communication process. The message has to be planned and prepared for features including articulation clarity, amplitude and modulation, pauses and pitch.
The sender must be conscious that non-verbal components of the communication are also transmitted through the channel. The source of the message has great responsibility. He should have an idea about the receiver. It may be also that he wants to convey his message to a group of persons. Finally, at the end of the communication, he must satisfy himself that the intent of the communication has been met.
b. The Encoding Process:
As language is a code, the encoding process is of vital importance. What the sender wants to covey must be encoded correctly. He must have a good vocabulary and good knowledge of grammar and syntax. Any flaw might distort the meaning of the message he wants to convey.
c. The Channel:
Messages are conveyed through various channels. Any written communication such as emails, organization memos and formal letters are examples of channels. Face-to-face meetings, video conferencing, telephonic conversation, PC-to-PC communication, .webcast etc., are different communication channels.
d. The Decoding Process:
Just as successful encoding is a skill, so is successful decoding. Here the person decoding the message through a particular channel such as a letter, e mail, telephone, etc., must be capable of deciphering or understanding that message. He must have enough knowledge to understand that message.
e. The Receiver:
The person receiving the message should be prepared for the message. Often, the receiver, upon receiving the message. Fig. 3.2 Visual reaction to a message takes on the role of a sender and responds. At other times, the receiver of the message may show his visual reaction to the message through non-verbal communication (as shown in Fig. 3.2).
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s saying that English is India’s window to the modem world is proving to be spot-on. English is the only window through which we can appreciate the progress being made around the world in different domains, such as science, technology, economics, etc.
However, one problem is poor English. Although English is an official language in India, not everyone speaks it well enough. There are strong variances and heavy bias of local accents that don’t facilitate effective communication in the workplace.
Even HR managers in software/IT services firms rank lack of speaking skills as one of the top three handicaps of engineering applicants.
Here is an excerpt from McKinsey Quarterly :
‘As a result, proficiency in spoken English has come to be a must for every aspirant for a bright career in industry. Today, those at the helm of industries want their young colleagues to be proficient not only in spoken English but also in all aspects of communication skills.
And the crunch is felt by young graduates coming out of the engineering colleges. At least to some of them spoken English tends to become a bugbear. The main question is how to solve the problem. Only right effort, in the right direction with determination can be of help in acquiring proficiency in spoken English.’
4. Effective Speaking Guidelines in Communication Skills:
Some guidelines for speaking skills are given below. The theme of these guidelines is simple.
Learning speaking skills the natural way:
(i) Practice speaking in English. Don’t allow initial difficulties deter you. Don’t give up—practice, practice and practice.
(ii) Listen to English as much as possible. It may be English films, preferably with sub-titles, television and radio programmes in English. Viewing and listening to these will gradually acclimatize your ears to catch the subtler nuances of the English language.
This may take time, but it never fails. When you first watch an English movie, you may not be able to catch all the words. But gradually, when your ears get tuned, you will find it much easier.
(iii) While watching the movie (in a theatre or on TV), carefully mark the lip movements of the speakers. Then imitate them as much as possible. Listen to the sound and at the same time watch the movement of the lips as the sound emanates.
(iv) A tape recorder or a camcorder of your own is of great help. Just sit before the tape recorder and start speaking anything you like. For example, narrate what you did during the whole day. Speak fluently. After that switch off the recorder and play it back to listen to what you had recorded. Be your own teacher. Find your own mistakes.
(v) Get a group of friends whose pronunciation is reasonably good and start conversing with them in English. This way they will also be benefited.
(vi) It is always better if there are native speakers of English or at least people who are well versed in English around you when you speak. In this case, they will be in a position to correct your mistakes and make you aware.
(vii) To be a good communicator, you should look into the eyes of people when you talk to them.
(viii) Stand at an appropriate personal distance—neither too close not too far.
(ix) Speak clearly and slowly.
(x) Be aware of the situation you are in so that you can use appropriate language befitting the occasion.
(xi) You should moderate your communication style depending on the following:
Are you talking to a friend, your boss, or a first-time acquaintance?
How well do you know the person?
Where are you having the conversation, in your house or in your office?
5. Pronunciation Etiquette of Communication Skills:
To develop proficiency in speaking skills, proper attention should be given to pronunciation etiquette.
Some key attributes of pronunciation etiquette are given below:
i. Make eye contact while speaking. This will not only give you confidence, but also will also inspire others to listen to you.
ii. Try to make your voice sound pleasing and soft.
iii. Don’t speak in a monotonous voice; this might have a soporific effect on the audience. Change the modulation of your voice occasionally.
iv. Even if you feel nervous, never show it to the audience; just slow down your speech and remain calm.
v. Don’t mumble. Speak clearly.
vi. Use words the meanings of which are absolutely clear to you. This might save you from any embarrassment later.
vii. Use proper body language to show your interest in the ongoing conversation.
viii. At the end of the conversation, don’t forget the customary etiquette of thanking the audience for listening to you patiently.
ix. All through the duration of a conversation, never do the following: think in your mother tongue what you want to say, then mentally translate it into English and finally speak in English. This will spoil the flow of your speech.
6. Phonetics in Communication Skills:
The fastest way of learning how to speak the language fluently and correctly is to have a clear idea of English phonetics. Phonetics is the study of speech. It is the study of how the sounds of a speech are produced and how they are used while speaking.
It also tells us how we can record sounds with written symbols, and how we hear and recognize different sounds. This subject might be quite complex to some, but we shall only introduce the theme here.
We will explain some elementary terms such as syllable, stress, and the intonation pattern of the English language, which forms the basis of phonetics. Along with the above, knowledge of the phonetic symbols would be of great help in improving one’s speaking skills.
a. Phonetic Chart:
Why do we need phonetic transcription?
When it comes to learning to pronounce English words correctly, you can find the correct pronunciation of words in any dictionary. But it is given in phonetic transcription after each word.
So if you are not acquainted with the phonetic alphabet it would not be possible for you to know the correct pronunciation. Knowledge of the phonetic transcription enables a learner to get precise information on pronunciation just with the help of a dictionary.
This is even more necessary because the spelling of the English language is irregular, that is, the spelling and sounds of words do not always match. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system of phonetic notation created by the International Phonetic Association in 1886. It was founded in Paris with the mission to set out one symbol for every sound and one sound for every symbol.
Naturally phonetic symbols are of great help when it comes to learning to pronounce English words as they should be pronounced. In fact, understanding the phonetic alphabet can greatly simplify the learning process.
Here is list of some words. Try to get the correct pronunciation of these words with the help of the phonetic chart and write the correct pronunciation of each word in phonetic alphabet by its side. Don’t see the correct answer (keep it covered by placing a book over it) before you write.
English is a stressed language, while many other languages such as French, Italian, etc., are syllabic. Thus, English pronunciation focuses on specific stressed words or syllables while gliding over the other non-stressed words.
In a syllabic language each syllable has equal importance. What is a syllable? A syllable is a fundamental and important unit. It is actually the basic unit of a word. It is a particular unit into which a word may be divided, containing a vowel sound and one or more consonants.
Some obvious examples are as follows:
English being a stressed language, word stress is extremely important while learning English as a second language. Stress means giving extra force or emphasis to a syllable or word. Good pronunciation comes from stressing the right word. Proper pronunciation implies that we do not say every syllable with force or emphasis.
Only the syllable that is to be emphasized gets the stress, while the other syllables are pronounced lightly.
For example, let us look at the following three related words:
These three words, though related in meaning are pronounced differently. This is because the stress is on different syllables of each word.
In the first word, ‘Photograph’ (Pho – to – graph), the stress is on the syllable ‘Pho‘.
In the word ‘Photographer’ (Pho – to – graph – er), the stress is on the syllable ‘to‘.
In the word ‘Photographic’, the stress is on the syllable ‘graph‘.
Knowledge of the stress is sure to enhance the quality of your pronunciation. When speaking, the stress should be on the principal elements in a sentence, which are called ‘content words’. The speaker can quickly glide over the less important words, called ‘function words’. The quality of gliding over the less important words is referred to as ‘connected speech’. Finally, ‘determiners’ are words such as the, a, some and a few.
Nouns, principal verbs, adjectives and adverbs are all content words.
Non-stressed verbs are called functional verbs.
However, it is important to note that the stress pattern is not always fixed. There are many two-syllable words, for example, with identical spelling, which are different from each other in stress placement.
This is mainly because the same word may be used as a noun, adjective or verb. When the word is used as a verb, the stress or accent is on the second syllable. But if the same is used as a noun or adjective the stress or accent will be on the first syllable. Here is a list of some such words. (The stressed syllables have been capitalized for quick comprehension.)
The differences can be understood from the following pair of sentences:
An INcrease in salary is welcome.
Is it possible to inCREASE production?
I gave her a birthday PREsent.
I preSENTED her something she wanted.
In addition to stress, another important aspect to be considered is the rhythmic pattern of the English language. Accent is the vocal stress or emphasis given to a particular syllable or word. Knowing when and where to put the accent mark in syllables and words is very important for pronouncing a word correctly.
The commonly accepted English accentual pattern is what is called ‘received pronunciation’ (abbreviated as RP). But this is today considered archaic. Now a particular type of accent is widely used by newsreaders and announcers on BBC and independent television broadcasting channels.
It has come to be known as BBC pronunciation. However, it has to be remembered that there are many different accents in England and they are not inferior to BBC pronunciation.
Rhythm is just a regular repeated pattern of sounds. English speech has a rhythm that allows us to divide it into more or less equal intervals of time called ‘feet’. English is a very rhythmic language. The key to pronouncing English clearly, naturally and fluently is ‘Rhythm’.
In English the accented syllables occur at regular intervals. Let us carefully note the accent and rhythm of the following short sentences. You will find here accented syllables, followed by unaccented syllables, at regular intervals.
So the rhythmic pattern of these sentences can be symbolically demonstrated as:
Here are a few examples:
ti tum ti tum
For better comprehension, an accent mark (‘) has been given to each accented word or syllable
The ‘night is ‘long.
The ‘book is ‘good.
The ‘fruit is ‘sweet.
The ‘sum is ‘hard.
Now let us consider some examples where the rhythmic pattern is a bit different. The rhythmic pattern here is like this:
ti tum ti ti tum
Here an accented syllable recurs at regular interval followed by two unaccented syllables.
The ‘bus may be ‘late.
I ‘want him to ‘go.
The following is another form of rhythmic pattern:
ti tum ti ti tum ti
An example of the above pattern is the following sentence:
He ‘went to the ‘market.
Note that ‘market’ has two syllables, of which the first one, ‘mar’, is accented while the second one, ‘ket’, is unaccented.
Another form of the rhythmic pattern is as follows:
tum ti ti ti tum ti
An example of the above pattern is the following:
‘Thank you for the ‘money.
‘Take me to your ‘teacher.
Thus, stress and accent play a very important role in making English a truly rhythmic language.
Stress and accent play a very important role in ‘intonation’, which may be termed the music of language. Intonation is the name given to what is called sentence stress. Some long sentences contain a regular pattern of stressed and un-stressed words.
While speaking, the voice tends to rise and fall or remain flat depending on the situation or depending on the mood of the speaker. Those whose mother tongue is not English and who have a different intonation pattern may find it difficult to clearly understand English when spoken by a native speaker of English.
‘Tone’, which is the movement or level of pitch that is used, forms the central part of intonation. When we are engaged in normal speaking, the tone and pitch of our voice constantly changes depending on our mood to express what we just mean to say.
Here the pitch of the voice says a lot. For example, if you are angry while speaking with somebody, you can express your anger by just calling his name in a very high pitch. The same sentence can be said in different ways, which would indicate whether the speaker is angry, happy, grateful or just indifferent. The intonation, therefore, clearly conveys the feelings and attitude of the speaker.
Here are some guidelines:
When the speaker is asking a question and is genuinely interested in the answer, he uses a rising tone.
Here are a few examples:
However, if he is not at all interested, and is indifferent, the falling tone is used.
In questions where the speaker expects a positive answer, the rising tone is used. For example,
However, if the speaker already knows the answer and now only wants a confirmation or agreement, the falling tone is used. For example,
The rising tone is also used with request, polite statements or when apologizing. For example,
The rising tone is also used in very simple questions such as the following:
Here is another intonation pattern where the falling tone is followed by a rising tone. Here a statement is followed by a qualifying clause. For example,
Let us now consider intonation pattern of sentences with question tags.
Here are two sentences with question tags:
In the first sentence, the speaker really wants to know if today is really a Monday. Hence the sentence is said with a falling tone followed by a question tag with a rising tone. However, in the second statement the speaker definitely knows that today is Monday and so he is not really asking a question. He only wants the person to agree with him. Hence both the statement and the question tag are in the falling tone.
Another intonation pattern is the rising tone followed by a falling tone in long sentences such as the following:
It may be noted that there is a slight pause between the two parts of the sentence. this rising falling intonation is one of the most important intonation patterns.
7. A Self-Assessment of Communicating Soft Skills:
It is also important to realize that what and how we speak reflects our soft skills. Here is a self-assessment exercise. Responses that reflect soft skills that are valued are stated at the end of the exercise.
Read the items A, B and C and then mark the one that describes you:
A. I always use these expressions.
B. Only occasionally I use these expressions.
C. I rarely use such expressions.
1. A. I like to use polite expressions like ‘Thank you’, ‘Please’, ‘You are welcome’ etc.
B. Only occasionally I use these expressions.
C. I do not like using these expressions because it makes me look weak.
2. A. If I disagree with a person, I first listen to him, ask questions for clarification and then give my considered opinion with reasons for my disagreement.
B. When I disagree with a person, I curtly tell him that I don’t agree with him.
C. When I disagree with a person, I just remain silent.
3. A. I cross my arms over my chest while listening to a person.
B.I lean back and close my eyes while listening.
C. While listening, I lean forward and make eye contact with the speaker.
4. A. While listening, I get distracted by things happening around me.
B. While listening, I try to understand and ask questions for clarification.
C. While listening, I don’t bother about what is being said.
5. A. While discussing a point, I always focus on the positive side.
B. While discussing a point, I always focus on the negative side.
C. While discussing a point, I never give my opinion.
6. A. I do most of the talking when conversing with others.
B. While conversing with others, I generally keep silent.
C. I freely participate in the conversation while conversing.
7. A. I try to remember names of other people and use them in appropriate places.
B. I remember the names of important people.
C. I don’t care to remember the names of other people.
8. A. When someone relates a sad experience, I remain silent.
B. When someone talks about an unfortunate happening, I keep silent.
C. I show empathy and express my feelings when someone tells me about his misfortune.
9. A. I always try to avoid starting a conversation.
B. I like to ‘warm up’ conversation with light talk.
C. I don’t like light talk; I like to jump into a serious topic.
10. A. I frequently look at my watch to end a conversation.
B. To end a conversation, I just stand up and leave.
C. I make some closing statements to end a conversation.
Answers reflecting best soft skills:
1. A, 2. A, 3. C, 4. B, 5. A, 6. C, 7. A, 8. C, 9. B, 10. C
8. Closing Tips on Improving Speaking Skills:
Finally, here are a few tips to improve your speaking skills.
a. Get rid of any fear of making mistakes. Remember, you cannot learn any language without making any mistake in the initial period.
b. Do not attempt to speak like a native speaker of English from the very beginning. That will only cause frustration.
c. Be acquainted with the phonetic chart and the phonetic alphabet. This would be of great help if you want to learn the sounds and pronounce the words correctly.
d. Be conversant with the rhythmic pattern of the language. It will help you speak clearly and pleasantly.
e. A thorough knowledge of the English intonation pattern would be of great help in your endeavor to speak English fluently.
f. Try to understand when the other person is speaking by carefully observing his lip movements.
g. When speaking, be cautious about your pitch, tone of voice and rate of speaking.
h. Lastly, practice, practice and practice!