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It is too often remarked by embittered men and women of an older generation that us millennial/Generation Z types have absolutely no idea how to communicate to one another in a format which does not consist of emoji-laden rubbish. Given the wealth of young writing talent coming through the ranks, one cannot be sure that this is criticism is entirely valid. However, the inadequacy of much modern day teaching means that a skill has been lost on many. The ability to communicate ideas in a way which suggests understanding, succinctness and a willingness to debate the contentious issues surrounding your idea. In short, far too many of us lack the ability to speak with any clarity.

This is not to say that one does not understand the ideas which are at the centre of the discussion. Noam Chomsky (in his role as a first rate linguist as opposed to a third rate political theorist) recognised that the human brain has hardwired potential for learning language skills and acquiring knowledge. It may be that you have an expert-level of understanding on any given topic. But humans are unable to read minds. Speech is the way in which we signal whether or not we understand phenomena. It is impossible to tell the difference between a genius mute and an idiot who has nothing to contribute to the conversation.

There is a reason why Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard see such a high proportion of debaters from the British public schools enter their undergraduate cohorts each year. It is not because the art of debating lends itself to automatically intelligent people. In many ways, debating is simply a more self-masturbatory form of acting. Any competent debater will tell you that you do not need particularly high levels of original thought in order to succeed. Often it is less about the validity of what you say and more the ability of what you say to convincingly fit a given narrative (basically does it sound plausible, as opposed to whether it is plausible). However, the key skill that all good debaters manage to learn is the ability to construct a coherent chain of arguments which are delivered under time and competitive pressure. This is something that is both desired by interviewers in top universities, and not taught well enough in schools.

You may be wonder what on earth you, as an individual who is intent on breaking down the barrier between you and the university of your dreams, can do about this difficulty. Luckily for you, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Debate is not the only way in which you can develop a good ability to communicate to people clearly. There are a number of very simple things that you can change about your everyday life which means that you can develop the skill over time. The first thing that you can do is to make sure that you read as many short news and commentary pieces as you can. Take those 5 minutes whilst you are waiting for a pesky younger sibling to read a summary of the news. This exposes you to how professionals are able to condense information in a format which is universally understood. Also ask your parents or an adult who is interested in your subject to talk to you about that subject, but you are only given two minutes in order to provide a summary for that topic. This will teach you the concision and clarity necessary to succeed at the very highest level.

With this practice and a better understanding of your discipline, you ought to be able to learn the vocabulary and the skills necessary in order to communicate your thoughts effectively. Now to make sure that you actually know enough about the subject to impress…

 

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