Handling Illiteracy

Have you ever tried to read the instructions on a package and found you couldn’t understand them? Did the person who wrote them have a confusing way of communicating or were the words they used too hard to understand? Both of these are examples of illiteracy. Literacy is all about your ability to understand written and spoken communication. Understanding what words mean and how to use them properly will help you to become more successful in life.  

Different jobs have different literacy requirements. A lawyer or even a secretary would need to be more literate than a salesperson, for example. But a truly literate person would be able to communicate to others in words that they could understand. Have you ever tried using your college vocabulary on a small child? They don’t even pretend to understand, they just ignore you. You might be surprised to find that many times when a child is disobeying its parent they are doing so because they don’t understand what the parent means. A child learns vocabulary at an amazing rate in its first years but it might be foolish to expect him to understand what you mean if you tell him to “dispense with the belching” when “stop burping” would be more effective. Literacy greatly affects our ability to get along in life and to have successful relationships. Illiteracy is a widespread problem that affects people of all ages and all stations.  

Have you ever communicated to someone but didn’t understand the words they used? If this were your boss for example, this could cause you trouble. Some people take great care to understand and may even ask what the word means or even look it up in the dictionary. This is a good practice and will build up your vocabulary allowing you to improve your literacy. It isn’t something you should be embarrassed about and actually demonstrates that you are truly interested in what the other person is trying to say.  

Sometimes you might experience someone who uses big words but uses them incorrectly. Have you ever seen a child read a book that had impressive vocabulary only to find out they couldn’t tell you what it meant? In this example the child simply had excellent phonetic abilities. This may sound impressive but when used around someone who really does know the correct meaning, it could make you look stupid or even silly. If you would like to use a word then look it up in a dictionary, learn it and use it in a few sentences until you really understand it. Then you can practice using it in real life until it becomes a natural part of your vocabulary.  

Another thing that is a sign of illiteracy is the number of misspelled words or incorrectly structured sentences in a person’s writing. I remember receiving a letter from a relative  and I was shocked and saddened about how poorly their writing skills were and had I not known them personally I would have thought of them as ignorant or stupid. Most of our communications had been on the phone and the difference in understandability was huge. I couldn’t believe it was the same person. Many times a person’s first introduction to someone is in some written form. It could be a letter, blog entry, forum post or even a job application. First impressions can open or close the door to future opportunity. A person who writes well demonstrates that they are a successful and articulate professional. That may be out of place working at the local burger joint but in the corporate world it is expected.  

Literacy is really a numbers game.  It’s all about the size of a person’s vocabulary. The more words and symbols you understand the more potential opportunity you have. In the beginning you learn the most basic meanings and as you learn those you should take the time to practice using them by reading books, communicating to others and by writing, just as I am doing right now. As you are doing this, you will start to see how the same words you already know have even more meanings allowing you to be more exact in expressing your ideas.   If you really want to build your vocabulary, make the dictionary your best friend. If you find the dictionary explains things in words you don’t understand then try a simpler one. By using a dictionary that you DO understand you will be able to maintain your interest and desire to learn new words. If you have difficulty with grammar a simple children’s book on the subject can help a lot.  

A person cannot be forced into literacy. It is a personal goal that can only be achieved as one desires to understand. When one understands the full effects of illiteracy and the advantages of literacy, only then can they choose to improve. One way that you can help a person become more literate is to help them understand the value in being able to communicate well.  Align it to their own interests so they can see that better reading and writing skills are tools to help them accomplish THEIR goals. Gradually introduce new vocabulary.  A steep increase in vocabulary can make understanding what they are reading seem too hard and they might give up.  If they can increase their vocabulary without losing the pleasure and enjoyment while doing so then they will be successful at improving their literacy.  

 Literacy does require self discipline. Little details like checking your work, using spell check if you are working with a computer, reading it again from the readers viewpoint can make a difference. The main point is to be able to communicate verbally and in writing in such a way as to relay an idea to another person exactly as you intended. Communication is an expression of ourselves and our creativity. In that sense it is a spiritual thing. Many people consider communication to be an art in itself.  The best part of improving ones literacy is that it can be done at any…it’s never too late to start!