Since language is the vehicle of communication, the better your control over it the better will you be able to communicate with people. It is a sheer delight to read what a master of language writes — irrespective of the subject on which he writes !
If you are serious about success in this field — and I am sure that you are — then you should develop a definite strategy to improve your language. Even if you already have a good mastery over English or any other language in which you write, you must not stop here. Using language is an art, and there is no stage at which a person can feel that he has reached final perfection. Even the greatest wordsmith can afford to improve his expressions further.
Improving one’s language is a vast subject, and it would require a full-length course in itself, but in this lesson we are concerned only with the basics.
Improving Your Language
“Good language” might mean different things to different persons. For the person interested in reading it might mean a language that keeps him absorbed. On the other hand to a vain writer good language might mean language in which he displays all the high-sounding words in his vocabulary, even if the reader is unable to comprehend the head or tail of it. We will therefore lay down the characteristics of good language, and will then lay down some guidelines for developing this kind of language.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD LANGUAGE: Good language shows at least three characteristics: simplicity, spontaneity, and accuracy.
Good language is, first of all, simple. The reader does not have to struggle unnecessary with the vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation to arrive at the meaning. Just as most of the day to day communication is simple, not unnecessarily complex, the language of a good writer should be simple.
Simple does not mean childish or immature. This kind of simplicity is not the product of an infantile mind, but the product of a mature and experienced intellect. Some of the greatest thinkers and scholars write in such a way that even the non-expert is able to understand the general flow of thought.
Simplicity does not come merely by employing kindergarten vocabulary. It results when a keen person grasps a subject thoroughly and the expresses the thought in as simple and straightforward manner as possible. This requires considerable effort on the part of the writer, and that is what every sincere writer should do ! Whatever the subject on which you write, your reader should be able to exclaim, “oh, he writes in such a manner that even I, a non-expert, is able to enjoy the subject” !! Work hard at it. Soon you will be able to express yourself in such simple manner that you will be attracting even the most uninitiated reader !!
The second feature of a good language is spontaneity and naturalness. We all speak without much premeditation, and that makes our language “natural”. It even gives a special colour to everyone’s language. The way your uncle speaks is different from the way your pastor, friend, or business associate does. The same should be the case with written material.
Most beginning writers become self-conscious and tense when they try to write, and this tends to make their language artificial and contrived. The spontaneity seen in their day-to-day language becomes lost, and the tension becomes obvious in their writings.
Writing naturally and spontaneously requires, first, that you develop a special mindset about your writings. Instead of viewing them as something placed on a pedestal high above the readers, consider them as a simple and straightforward communication with your audience. Speak to them in writing as you would to them orally.
Work on your manuscript and rewrite it till it attains a way of expressing things that is natural. Further, reading great writers of all times will give you an insight into how THEY did it. Books written by the late C. S. Lewis are a good example. Books written by Charles R. Swindoll (Chuck Swindoll) are another good example. Consult Christian periodicals like The Christian Reader, Moody Monthly, etc. Consult secular periodicals like The Reader’s Digest or the Woman’s Era. They discuss vital subjects related to the spiritual or the secular realm, but you wouldn’t have to struggle with their language. They are written naturally. There is such a spontaneity in many of them that readers automatically identify with the subject or the characters there. Study what makes them natural.
Do not become overly conscious about your language. Write from heart, and fast. Don’t pause to fabricate sentences. What flows from the heart is often sufficiently natural. The rest can ironed out when you revise it. Work on the manuscript till it attains life, and you will soon able write naturally and spontaneously.
The third characteristic of good language is accuracy. A language that is free from errors and ambiguous expressions. Accuracy requires you to use the best possible word for expressing a thought. A “near fit” will not do when a “perfect fit” is possible needed. Accuracy also demands that you do not overuse words. English speakers/writers often use the same word to express different (and even opposite) ideas. Thus the word “fix” now has acquired hundreds meanings, and so are word like get, put, and fit. This kind of overuse, where one word can mean a hundred things, makes your expressions inaccurate and ambiguous.
Acquire a good Thesaurus and use it constantly to express yourself accurately and without ambiguity. Your language can be called good only after you attain an accepted level of accuracy and clarity.