What Do You Mean?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

You see an abstract painting on the wall in a museum. The seemingly random assortment of swirls, shapes and colors leaves you puzzled and intrigued. One onlooker says it reminds her of a sinking ship. Another comes along and says it must be a garden. A small inscription on the wall indicates that the painter wanted to illustrate a busy city street. Who is right?

I like to think that every form of communication consists of at least two aspects: intention (what the speaker wants to convey) and reception (how the listener interprets it). I use speaker and listener as general terms, but the pair could also be artist and viewer, author and reader, etc. In an ideal world, intention and reception would always be equal; the speaker would give a message, and the listener would understand exactly what the speaker meant. However, very rarely does it work this way in the real world. Too often, the speaker says one thing but the listener takes it to mean something completely different. It is like a constant tug of war between the two aspects; sometimes intention holds more weight, and other times reception is more significant.

Intention Matters

I believe there are times when what the speaker has to say is way more important than anyone’s interpretation. For example, art can very subjective because of its connection to the emotions, and its ability to disguise meaning in symbols and metaphors. However, art can also be very concrete. A sculpture of a fruit basket can simply be a representation of a fruit basket. An engraving of a monarch created during his reign can have very specific references, styles, or symbols pertaining to that particular time period, nation, etc. Many of these references would be meaningless without the proper context.

For another example, take one of William Shakespeare’s works. Many of the words he used have very different meanings today; the “nothing” in his comedy titled Much Ado About Nothing was, among several meanings, slang for “lady parts” (see “Double Entendre & Innuendo in Much Ado About Nothing” on Study.com for more). What use would it be for today’s readers to read his works and give them blind modern interpretations? Without context, we would never get at what he was really saying and we would miss out on the genius behind much of his work.

Reception Matters

On the flip side, there are also times when the way a message is taken by the receiver can take precedence over what the sender meant. This is the case especially when it comes to social interactions. Our ideas of what is proper, preferred, or offensive are heavily dictated by our culture and personal experiences. Since this varies from person to person, it can be very easy for misinterpretations to arise.

Let’s say Jack often tells Jill, “You’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” and Jill takes it to mean, “I have feelings for you.” Jill might get excited at the thought of Jack wanting to be romantically involved; or, she might get offended that Jack appears to be hitting on her when she’s already in a committed relationship. Jack’s intentions may have simply been to be kind to Jill, but he did not consider that, for Jill, receiving frequent compliments from a guy must mean he’s interested in her.

In situations like these, “good intentions” are not necessarily enough. The listener has the right to present her interpretation to the speaker, even if she was totally off the mark. The speaker could then reevaluate what he said and consider taking some responsibility, even if he “didn’t mean it like that,” in order to restore peace or clear the air. Sure, there are people out there who are hypersensitive and get offended too easily, no matter how careful you are in expressing yourself. Nonetheless, it’s usually safer to address people with an attitude that says “if one of us was wrong, it was probably me; how can I fix this?”

I believe that the key to making sure intention and reception agree with one another is to get feedback. Switch up listener and speaker roles often; if they are constant, then you may have to ask yourself, “Is this a dialogue or a monologue? Are we having a conversation, or  a lecture?” After someone has said something to you, there is nothing wrong with replying, “So what you’re basically saying is…?” and reiterating what you believe the message was. Another option is to ask your listener, “So what do you think of what I just said? Does it make sense? How do you feel about it?” Think of all the arguments, misunderstandings, and mistakes that could be prevented if we just took the extra time to get and give feedback.

Have you ever said something that someone took the wrong way, or vice versa? How was the misunderstanding resolved? What are some ways you practice giving or getting feedback?

S.O.S.

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Do you ever feel like you have no one to talk to? That even if someone were there to listen, they just wouldn’t understand?

I have been haunted by this loneliness from time to time, but I know deep down that there is no such thing as “no one to talk to.” It just takes way more effort to reach out to someone than to stay to myself and sulk.

This semester has been getting progressively more difficult. During the past week in particular, I realized that I was operating in “burn-out” mode. My days started early and ended late; I did not sleep as much as I would have liked; assignments were sneaking up on me and piling up. As a result, I was very physically, emotionally and mentally drained.

Who could I reach out to? Although I had so many friends and family around me, it felt as if talking to them would be futile. They all had problems of their own–why sadden them with my sob-stories? And even if they were willing, could they really afford to stop and listen to me? After my bad attitude had ruined one of our evenings together, it became clear to me that even my own fiancé, Angel, could handle only so much of my mess. I spitefully considered never opening up to anyone again–but then, who would that hurt more: me or them?

Fortunately, taking initiative would not have to be my responsibility all the time. My high school friend Erie texted me the other night, just to check up on me. I opened up to her, explaining how alone I felt. I even mentioned that I was considering going to therapy. Her responses were considerate and attentive. She gently chided me for not talking to her about it sooner. Our conversation really alleviated some of my distress.

Two days later, initiating a face-to-face talk with my long-time friend Cassandra was also very helpful. She and I have very similar upbringings and personalities, so she has been like a big sister to me for most of my life. She understood my rambling and personally identified with my conflicts.

People are not perfect, needless to say; even your confidants might miss your call, or misinterpret what you are attempting to express at first. Yet, once they are ready, they are all ears and all heart. They are quick to listen and give you time to breathe before offering their advice.

I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me overcome personal struggles, including family, teachers, friends, and Angel. One single person may not have been available all the time, but collectively, they have generously offered support, wisdom, counsel and love.

The next time I am tempted to shut down and cut myself off from others during a crisis, I will remember that communicating will only help me in the long run, even if it is painful. There is nothing strong about simply hiding weakness; strength is courageously making yourself vulnerable, knowing that none of us can handle this life alone.

Who do you run to when you are in a crisis? Is opening up about personal struggles a challenge for you? Why or why not?

Learning the Ropes: Communication in the Entertainment Industry

by Robine Jean-Pierre

I am majoring in Entertainment Technology here at City Tech, and I have spent the last three years getting to know the entertainment industry. I have remarked that it takes a team to put on any production or performance; there’s hardly such a thing as a “one man show.” Think about the credits at the end of a movie; all of those names represent someone who contributed in some way, whether as an actor or a makeup artist.

Because it takes a team of people who specialize in different fields, all working together to make one big project come alive, communication is very valuable to this industry. My major requires me to take four semesters of Technical Production, a course that allows me to experience what it’s like to work on a real crew and put on real productions in our school. This is the class where I have learned most of the communication norms and standards we use on site.

Danger!

Being in the entertainment industry can actually be dangerous. We are often dealing with ladders, heavy objects hanging in the air, electricity, and power tools, just to name a few things. The primary need for effective communication is to protect everyone’s health and safety.

For example, above the stage area of the Voorhees Theater hang two long, lattice-like structures called trusses. These trusses are attached to motors which enable them to be raised toward the ceiling or lowered all the way to the ground. They are used to hang lights or other equipment. Since the trusses are huge and the motors are very powerful, the person operating the motors typically alerts everyone in the vicinity by saying in a loud and clear voice, “We’re going to be lowering (or raising) the truss.” That would be the cue for everyone else to move out of the way. (Generally, the other crew members shout back “thank you” as a courteous gesture.)

Moving Heavy Objects as a Team

the Yamaha PM5D mixing console on a stand

courtesy of SoundBroker.com

Sometimes it takes four or five people just to move one piece of scenery or equipment. Take the huge Yamaha PM5D sound mixing console, for instance. Just opening up its protective road case and lifting it up and out onto a table can take five minutes. Our professors, Erica Stoltz and John Huntington, kept repeating to us that before we did anything, someone had to take initiative to be the leader, announce the method of lifting/moving, and then count it out (“on three… one, two three”).

One method we often use (perhaps unofficially called “up and over”) means lifting an object straight up and then sliding it over horizontally to its desired location. It’s important to first state the method and also count it out because if everyone is in sync, the job will be accomplished more smoothly, but most importantly, the chances of someone getting hurt will be reduced.

Ask for Help

One thing I have appreciated about the professors in the Entertainment Technology department is that, for the most part, they do not believe in “dumb questions.” Many of them are accomplished technicians with loads of experience and knowledge; as intimidating as they might at first seem, they are not shy about sharing it. In my Technical Production Skills and Health and Safety courses, we were constantly reminded to ask for help if we needed it. It is way safer to consult the teacher or a fellow classmate on how to use a radial arm saw, than to just wing it and risk losing a finger!

What are some other industries or disciplines you can think of in which communication is crucial? Do you feel as if communication is very significant in your major? How so?

Do You Speak Sarcasm?

by Robine Jean-Pierre

Growing up, sarcasm was practically my native tongue. I spoke it most fluently with my siblings. It was something we naturally did to mess with each other, without giving it much thought. I can hear my older brother and sister saying mockingly, “Nooooo…. Really?” in response to what they deemed was an obvious, redundant statement on our part.

As I got older, however, I gradually decided to minimize my use of sarcasm. I felt that I was being unnecessarily condescending and rude by primarily using sarcasm to mock my younger sister and cousin. It had gotten so bad that when I did stop, they had to keep asking me, “Are you being serious or sarcastic?”

Another factor in my decision to reduce, if not altogether eliminate, my sarcastic comments was the fact that “sarcasm is not universal.” (While it can be argued that the use of sarcasm actually is universal, its uses may vary from culture to culture. If you are interested in more, see this LanguageLog post on irony and sarcasm.) This phrase was repeated at Camp Rising Sun all summer, which I attended during high school. The camp consisted of about 60 girls from all over the world, so it was a potpourri of cultures, interests, and preferences. Many of the international girls were uncomfortable with a New Jersey camper whose sarcastic comments they took literally, not knowing any better.

A similar awkwardness initially infringed on our friendship when I had realized that my fiancé, Angel, did not fully understand sarcasm. I’ll admit, the discovery was a little disappointing; I would not be able to tease him (or subtly express an offense) in the way I best knew how. In spite of this, it still slipped out with him sometimes, especially when I had a bad day. For instance, if I said something like, “Wow, I overslept and the trains are running with delays. Isn’t that just wonderful?” rather than scoffing with me, Angel would nervously reply, “No, that’s not wonderful, honey…” and try to lighten the mood.

On another occasion, Angel had been texting me all about how an event had gone that morning, and how happy and “fired up” all of the attendees had been. I, on the other hand, had not been there and was waiting impatiently to tell him how I was doing. Feeling peevish and “salty” (as they say nowadays), I texted him, “My morning was great too, thanks for asking.” As you can imagine, he was not very happy about this, and I told him what was on my heart. I realized then that, in most cases, it would suffice to be straightforward and honest, not passive-aggressive.

Now I save sarcasm for the situations that would least likely cause offense. I crack sarcastic jokes on the MTA all the time, and even Angel chimes in now and then. (He’s learning!) I still say “oh, great” or “that’s nice” at times when I literally mean “this is awful.” And naturally, I am more likely to use sarcasm with people who also use it, so that there is a mutual understanding (which is the key to all communication!).

How do you feel about sarcasm? Do you use it or understand it? Why or why not, and when? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.

Personality Plus: An Ancient Idea with a Modern Flair

by Robine Jean-Pierre

My fiancé Angel and I can say that our initial friendship deepened as a result of some important exchanges. To name one, I introduced him to the world of contemporary Christian music, and he unlocked the door to the library of positive mental attitude (PMA) books. One of the first books I saw him read was Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. I made it very clear to him that I was curious about it, and he made it clear that it would change my life. Once I got a hold of it, I dove right in.

In short, the book did change my life. It introduced to me the idea that while there are plenty of things that make people unique and distinct, we all naturally tend to fall into certain identifiable patterns and habits. It becomes way easier to understand ourselves and communicate with others when we take these patterns and habits into account.

Throughout history, there have been various studies that expound upon these distinct sets of patterns and habits. This book specifically addresses and builds upon the ancient Greek idea of the Four Temperaments. Littauer describes them as Popular Sanguine, Powerful Choleric, Perfect Melancholy, and Peaceful Phlegmatic. I’ll offer a simplified summary of each below.

Popular Sanguine
People with this temperament tend to be bubbly, talkative, friendly, and outgoing. They are often considered “the life of the party” and “the center of attention.” They often struggle with forgetfulness, following through on a commitment, and can swing between emotional highs and lows pretty quickly.

Powerful Choleric
These people are often considered “natural leaders” because they have a bold, straightforward demeanor and a strong will. If a task needs to get done, they most likely will take the initiative. At the same time, they can be bossy, stubborn, and, as the name implies, they can have a bad temper.

Perfect Melancholy
Those who fall under this category are “the thinkers.” They can be quiet and reserved at times, but their minds are brimming with intellect and creative talent. On the negative side, they can be too hard on themselves and others because of their perfectionist mindset. Their emotional cycle of highs and lows tends to be more intense and slower paced (it may take longer to recover from an offense).

Peaceful Phlegmatic
These individuals are very mellow and “chill.” They make great listeners because of their passive nature, and they do not waste time making decisions because their answer will usually be “either one” or “I don’t care.” At the same time, they are more likely to procrastinate because they sometimes lack self-motivation to make more important decisions. They can also come off as indifferent because they do not express their emotions easily.

Similarities and Differences
The temperaments within themselves share certain similarities. For instance, Perfect Melancholy and Powerful Choleric tend to be more intense, independent, “task-oriented.” As a result, they may at times come off as emotionally detached, or too serious, but their determination and resolve can definitely be beneficial. Someone of either temperament might isolate herself in her room until she is finished with her homework, for example. On the flip side, Popular Sanguine and Peaceful Phlegmatic are more “people-or
iented.” Either one would be willing to drop whatever they are doing to help a friend. They are more likely to let emotions influence their decisions, which can be helpful or harmful.

These relationships are further explored in a similar theory, the Disc Model, developed by Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston in the 1920’s (learn more in the Disc Personality Testing Blog).

a diagram comparing and contrasting personalities within the DISC model

taken from Discovery Report

 

Keep Calm and Read On
Now, I know some of us are skeptical and do not like the idea of putting people into boxes. Rest assured, the summaries above have certainly been oversimplified, and the truth is that most of us exhibit characteristics that fall under all of the temperaments (or perhaps, at the very least, two). I can’t say whether the temperaments are the best personality model, or why they exist (if only in our minds), but I can say that this knowledge has improved my understanding of myself and others. For example, knowing that Angel is primarily a Popular Sanguine, I’ll be more understanding if he forgets to bring me something because he was wrapped up in conversation along the way. (As for me, I’m predominantly a Perfect Melancholy. I may elaborate on my experience more in a future post.)

If you are interested in taking these theories into consideration, I would advise you to use them as a guideline, rather than a standard. If you know of any promising personality quizzes, please feel free to comment the links (and/or results) below!

Lost in Transit–and Translation

by Robine Jean-Pierre

a subway station filled with commuters

provided by PREP blog

Have you ever been approached by someone who does not speak much English, asking for help or directions? Have you ever felt flustered as you searched for the right words to convey your response clearly, looking desperately into that person’s eyes for a glint of recognition and understanding?

This occurs rather often for me; living in New York City, I frequently come across people from all over the world, especially in the subway. As my fiancé Angel loves to say, “The MTA brings people together.” I enjoy helping others in general, particularly travelers wanting to know MTA-related information; I figure that if I’ve lived here all my life, I owe them at least that much! However, when language becomes a hindrance in reaching that goal, it can certainly be a challenge, but I do not give up easily.

One night, Angel and I were returning to Brooklyn after babysitting for my sister in Harlem. After some late night service changes complicated our initial plans, we found an alternative route to the nearest train station. I had just finished adding money to my MetroCard when I noticed a man accompanied by two women standing at the adjacent ATM machine. He held out a MetroCard and five dollar bill to me, asking, “Can put money on card?” He had already failed a few attempts at doing it himself, having tried to dip the MetroCard rather than sliding it in and letting the machine grab it.

I took both from him, but the next problem was unexpected: when I inserted his card, the screen read, “Card invalid. Please remove your card.” I was puzzled; it had not expired yet, and it did not have any apparent distinctions from a regular card.

“It’s not working,” I said, partly to myself, partly to Angel who was watching over my shoulder, and partly to my guests. Swiping it at the nearby card reader machine did not make the problem any clearer. Angel and I searched our personal belongings for an extra MetroCard but could not come up with one. Unfortunately, they would have to buy a new one.

“This card is not working… do you have one more dollar?” I gestured, but they cluelessly responded, “No… English.” I knew some French and Spanish but I could only guess that they spoke neither, so I didn’t offer a “Parlez-vous français?” or “Hablan ustedes español?” I likely would have been too nervous to speak coherently anyway.

Determined to help them get on their way, I quickly got my wallet out. Once more I tapped away at the touch screen, chose the “New Card” option and manually typed in $5.00, but we hit yet another roadblock: apparently, $5.00 was not a valid option. Really, MTA? I thought. What’s wrong with five dollars? Haven’t you troubled us enough? I went back to the selection menu and chose the cheapest preset option, $5.50, and now the grand total was $6.50.

Finally, I inserted the money due and handed the gentleman his card. One of the women immediately handed me back two dollar bills, to my surprise. I had given the $1.50 freely, not expecting them to give it back to me; but I did not want to appear rude or cause any further delay by refusing. He took his card, still hesitant and nervous, and they left the station (grateful, I’m sure, even if though they did not say so).

I felt a lot of compassion for them, imagining what it must be like in a new area, not knowing the language well and trying to navigate a complex and unfamiliar system. I’m grateful they knew just enough English to make their request known. Plus, it may have been indirect and delayed, but they did come to the understanding that $1.50 more was required of them. After all, who can go wrong with numbers? They saw me pull out the money and I’m sure they saw the big “$6.50” that appeared on the screen of the ATM machine.

I find the situation memorable in that, despite the language barrier, the task at hand was successfully completed. Because of this experience, I have an increased appreciation for all the ways we can communicate–not just with words but with images, objects, sounds, body language, etc. It’s wonderful to know that when one method is limited or unavailable, there is always another option; hope is never lost.

Did You Get My Message?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

You send a message to a friend, eagerly awaiting a reply. Hours go by and you don’t hear any word from him, until later in the day when you see him in person. He doesn’t bring it up, and this forces you to ask, “Did you get my message?” to which he responds, “What message?”

With instant messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, a message typically goes through three stages while traveling from sender to recipient: sent, delivered, and read. In this scenario, the problem could have occurred at any of these stages. Maybe you were in a tunnel on the train and the message never sent because you lost signal. Maybe it was never delivered because your friend’s phone was on airplane mode. Or maybe it was never read because he overlooked a notification, or did not have his phone close by.

Communication, whether inside or outside the digital world, is complicated. The more steps there are between you and your recipient, the more garbled your message can become—just like a classic game of “Telephone.” It starts with a thought, and depending on your articulation skills (or the lack thereof, as many of us would readily admit), your own mouth might betray you. How many times have you said, “In my head it sounded right, but it didn’t come out how I wanted it to”? Furthermore, the words you deliver have to go through the eyes or ears of your recipient, and they will often be interpreted according to that person’s bias, preconceived notions, hearing, mood, etc.  

I have learned the hard way that intention is not enough when it comes to effective communication. “Meaning well” does not always guarantee that the person you are talking to will understand you. I doubt technology will ever equip us with the means to read each other’s minds, but we can take measures to prevent painful or awkward errors in communication. What are some things you can do before expressing a thought, or responding to someone else’s?

One step that works 99% of the time is to pause. (It’s interesting how people tend to use the word “pause” only in the humorous way, to bring attention to provocative innuendo or double entendre.) Pausing is an important part of any conversation, not just for dramatic or comedic effect. Pause before you say something (so you can think it through first), after you say something (so you can consider the gravity or validity of what you just said), and definitely before responding to someone else. If it’s a text message, proofread before you send your own, and reread the other person’s message a few times.

Pausing before responding to someone else is one way you can ensure you are using logic, rather than emotion or whim, to formulate an answer. My fiancé Angel’s brother, Andre, said something once that stuck with me. To paraphrase: “When someone says something to you that triggers your emotions, the closer to home it hits, the longer you should wait before responding.” In the same vein, Angel likes to remind me that “emotions are indicators, not dictators.” They can make you aware of how something has affected you, but they do not have to influence or determine your decisions. Letting them air out for even a few seconds can keep you from lashing out or saying things you don’t really mean. In this way you can “respond” rather than “react” (another point Angel likes to make).

Another important thing to go along with pausing is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you know someone well enough, you can read a text message in his/her tone of voice, and this might help you contextualize whatever he/she said. The words “I can’t stand you” in a text message might initially be a slap in the face, unless you recall that your friend tends to say this all the time in a joking manner towards the people he/she loves. On the other hand, your friend might have genuinely meant it in a serious, irritated tone; if so, instead of flaring up and getting offended, ask yourself, “What might he be going through right now?” or “What did I do to make her upset?” If the answer is “nothing,” then “don’t take it personally” is valid advice because, nine times out of ten, you are not the problem; the person has acted out for reasons that have very little to do with you. You do not have to excuse or justify the person’s behavior, but you can choose not to make it about you; be gentle, understanding, and proceed with caution.

Here are some other tips which I hope you find helpful, especially when it comes to texting:

  • Study how someone uses or reacts to certain words; one word can have a totally different meaning to you than it does to someone else
  • Take advantage of punctuation, abbreviations, emojis, GIFs, or stickers to add a tone to otherwise bland, vague or harsh sentences (“We can talk about this later” vs. “LOL, we can talk about this later :P”)
  • If you cannot meet in person, send video clips, voice notes, or make a phone/video call if this will get your tone across better than just text
  • Be very unassuming, even if it means being redundant; ask questions like “What did you mean by that?” “Can you elaborate?” or “Do you understand what I mean?”

Overall, weigh your words because they hold a lot of power, whether they are spoken, written, or typed. If disposing of words as freely as the air you breathe has never gotten you into conflict, then by all means, do what works for you; but for those of us who have been on either end of a misunderstanding, being more careful about how we verbalize our views can save a lot of trouble.

Reviving Grammar: A Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Many of my peers would agree that we rarely studied grammar throughout most of our years of primary education. Grammar was a ghost that introduced itself somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, only to never be seen again–and yet our teachers would expect us to remember all that it entailed through high school, and maybe even into college.

My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Snyder, took it upon himself to teach us all that we had missed out on, knowing that our previous teachers had done us a disservice. Before we got into building our vocabulary and writing analytical essays, we started with the basic building blocks: parts of speech. To help visual, synesthetic learners like me, he associated colors and shapes with each one. I will walk you through what I remember from his class.

Nouns

I always knew a noun to be a person, place or thing, but it wasn’t until this class that a fourth option was added to this iconic phrase: a person, place, thing or idea (also known as an abstract thought). Our teacher circled nouns in red marker. In a sentence like “Joe tried to hide his disappointment as he waited on a bench in the park,” Joe is a person, the park is a place, the bench is a thing and disappointment is an idea; these are all examples of nouns. When it’s not so obvious, you can generally identify something as a noun if you can count it, if you can put “a/an” or “the” in front of it (these are called articles), or if it ends in something like -tion, -ness, or -ity, for example, action, sadness, and unity.

Pronouns

These take the place of nouns. Imagine how clunky and awkward it would be if every time you talked about someone, you had to use that person’s name: “Angel said Angel is on Angel’s way, so wait up for Angel.” This next sentence is a lot more concise: “Angel said he is on his way, so wait up for him.” He, his, and him are all pronouns which are replacing, and referring to, Angel. We have a good number of pronouns in English: I, me, my, mine, myself; you, your, yours, yourself; he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, itself; one, oneself; we, us, our, ourselves; they, them, their, theirs, themselves; this, that, these, those. This may sound like a lot to remember, but we use them all the time without even realizing it.

Verbs

Next are verbs, which Mr. Snyder underlined in green. Verbs are usually referred to as action words, such as “eat,” “sleep,” and “breathe.” Since something or someone (the subject) has to perform the action, verbs tend to follow right after nouns. If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you have had to learn all about verb conjugations; depending on the subject, some changes would be made to the verb. In English, the change is simple for regular verbs: just add -s at the end if the subject uses the pronoun he, she, it or one (i.e. second person singular). For example: I jump, you jump, he jumps, etc. Our most irregular but most common verb, “to be,” does not follow this pattern at all: I am, you are, he/she/it/one is, we are, they are. (This holds true in many Latin-based languages like French and Spanish.)

Adjectives

These words, which he boxed in purple, describe nouns, giving you more information about them. If your friend is telling you about a new crush, the conversation will be oozing with adjectives: she’s so smart, funny, talented; he’s handsome, dreamy, confident. Adjectives include colors, numbers, size, quality, and other attributes. You might find these anywhere in a sentence but they can also come directly before the noun they belong to: the cool breeze or the delicious pizza.  

Adverbs

Our teacher made an orange triangle around these. Whereas adjectives describe or modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. They tend to answer the question  “how?” and they often end in -ly. In the sentence “She entered timidly, quickly taking a seat by the door,” timidly and quickly are the adverbs, and they are describing the way she entered and the way she took a seat. Other adverbs not ending in -ly include often, just, much, and so. We use these all the time, if you haven’t noticed.

I don’t remember the color coding for the next three, and they are also not as frequently talked about, but they are good to know:

Prepositions

These include some of the smallest, most frequently used words in our language: to, at, in, on, by, for, out, from, etc. Longer ones include under, between, through, and alongside. Their name, made up of “pre-” and “position,” give a hint as to how they are used: they tend to indicate direction or placement, and can easily answer the question “where?” when grouped with a noun: “I’m at the park on West 4th street by the pizzeria.” 

Conjunctions

These connect words or parts of sentences to each other. They include and, or, but, because, whereas. Conjunctions establish a relationship between two or more elements. Or tells you that one out of several options is to be selected, not all of them: “Either I will be babysitting that night or doing my homework.”Another example: “You can only choose one color: red, green, or blue.” And may indicate that several things have something in common: “Nick, Joe and Kevin have black hair.” But tends to highlight a contrast: “It’s raining outside but I don’t have my umbrella.” Because has the word cause in it, and indeed links two clauses to create a cause-and-effect relationship. “I didn’t knock because I thought you were sleeping.”

Interjections

These words express emotion and for this reason tend to be exclaimed, for example: “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Gee whiz!” “Ouch!” It is interesting to note how these change from generation to generation within the same language (no one really says “gee whiz” anymore, unless it’s with a touch of sarcasm), and also vary from culture to culture.

I hope you found this helpful in learning (or relearning) the eight parts of speech, and that it wasn’t too difficult to follow. We shouldn’t take English for granted just because it’s our native language. The better we understand it, the better we can communicate.

The Language of Love

By Robine Jean-Pierre

There are hundreds, if not thousands of languages spoken, written and articulated in the world today. Not all of us will be able to say we learned Swahili, Chinese or Urdu in our lifetime, but there is one language that we can all speak, one language alone that can unite us: the language of love. And no, I don’t mean French or Spanish.

a man in suit and bow-tie holding a martini glass and winking

© David Niven 2017

“No man is an island” (the title of a poem by John Donne). Unless you have spent all of your life in solitary confinement, you have connections with people around you. What we often overlook, even though it may seem obvious, is that these deep rooted relationships require maintenance. Your loved ones have standards that you need to meet, and vice versa, in order to keep the relationship afloat. That might mean phone calls, keeping the house clean, gifts, visits, etc. The thing is that we all set those standards in different ways, and that’s where the specific love languages come in.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that there are five main ways we express and receive love. They are: acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and quality time. He goes on to point out that each of us has a primary love language; we feel the most loved through it and express it toward others the most. I will explain in my own words and give some examples below.

one man holding a door open for another man

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Acts of Service

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when someone helps you. You are always willing to lend a helping hand to others as well. It warms your heart when someone holds a door open for you or offers to do the dishes when it was your turn. Conversely, it really “grinds your gears” when someone does not offer you a hand, whether by outright refusing, or by failing to acknowledge your need. 

For these people, actions speak way louder than words. If you love them, you will be willing to show it, and to do whatever they are asking of you with a sincere heart. This might be doing the dirty work, like taking out the trash without being asked. This is definitely my mom’s love language, and not just because she is a mom. I have seen her offer herself wholeheartedly, not just for her children, but for people who, frankly, do not even deserve it.

two young male friends, one with his arm around the other's shoulder

photo by Vishvanavanjana

Physical Touch

You love to give and receive hugs, pats on the back, an arm around the shoulder and firm handshakes. You find massages incredibly enjoyable, and holding you while you cry is the most compassionate way someone can console you.

People might be suspicious of you because they are not as comfortable with touching, or they suspect that you are just trying to “make a move” on them–but that’s not true. Physical touch is not limited to affection exchanged between lovers. This is my fiancé Angel’s primary love language, and I realized early on that his touchiness was not simply flirtiness when I observed his interactions with family and friends. He was all hugs, all the time, and still is that way.

Words of Affirmation

a text message conversation in which one person expresses his/her feelings for the other

from Pinterest

You value words of praise and encouragement. One compliment has your mood lifted for the entire day. Love letters are the quickest way to your heart. On the other end, hurtful words inflict a wound like nothing else can.

If you know individuals like this, it is crucial that you constantly boost them up with the power of your words. Don’t dismiss them as being vain or conceited when they fish for compliments. Tell them “I love you” often, because even if you hit all of the other four love languages, they might not feel certain until you say it. Don’t just think good toward them–be very vocal about your appreciation and generous with compliments. Be careful, even when joking, about what you say to them.

 

Receiving Gifts

You feel most loved when someone gives you a gift. Whether something small like a flower or expensive like new sneakers, just the fact that someone thought of you means the world to you. Someone’s presence is also a present to you; you would be greatly offended if your significant other got you nothing on Valentine’s Day, but also if your best friend did not make it to your birthday party. 

a man embracing a woman to whom he has given a gift

Vogue (http://www.pulse.ng)

I feel as if this can be mistaken for being materialistic, but there is a difference. From what I have observed, this is my younger sister’s primary love language, and it took a while for me to realize that she wasn’t just being greedy whenever she asked me to bring her something on my way back home. Her attention to detail when choosing and packaging gifts for others also says it all. Because of this, when I have the money and time, I am less reluctant to pick up a Snickers bar or buy her something she’s been raving about every now and then.

Quality Time

You are an unofficial event planner, always coming up with a new idea for a date with your friends, family or significant other. You value long conversations, especially with an engaged listener. If you had one complaint in a relationship, it would be, “We never spend enough time together!” You give your phone a side-eye when someone does not reply back to your messages quickly enough or answer your calls.

a father reading a picture book on the couch with his daughter

Photo courtesy of United Way of West Alabama

This is definitely my primary love language. Nothing hurts me more than a missed opportunity to see someone I love, especially Angel. It drives me crazy when he’s not texting me, even if he has a very legitimate excuse, like work. I can spend a whole day with him and still feel disappointed when we have to part ways. This was true even with my best friend Marsha when we were younger; I often cried whenever I had to leave her apartment, and we lived in the same building.

People like me need as much time as you can afford to give. Make sure that in the midst of all your responsibilities, you don’t make a “quality-timer” feel as if he/she is at the bottom of your list; we are more likely to get jealous of things (e.g. work, sports, video games) than people. Set aside time for dates, phone calls, etc., and as a tip, it’s not enough to just be in the same room together–make sure that the activity requires you to give each other undivided attention.

Get Out There and Love Someone

Chapman explains that each of us has a love tank that needs to be filled. Often times, people act out, complain, or are unhappy because their tank is not filled. Marriages often crumble because two people are working hard to please each other in the way they know how, not in the way their spouse wants. The main way to fill the tank is to show love in that person’s primary love language.

If you are wondering what your primary love language is, think about which one you show others the most, and what bothers you the most (and see the quiz online). I highly recommend you get a copy of the book for yourself and take the quiz. Just as a final word of advice, the goal here is not to win people over, but to love them for the sake of love. If something is to be done, it might as well be done right. Do you want a boring relationship or an exciting one? Do you want nagging parents or happy parents? Love people wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return, and this world would be radically redefined.the cover of "The 5 Love Languages" book by Gary Chapman

The Right to Speak Up

“I am speechless, but I can’t keep quiet
And I am wordless, but I can’t stay silent”

-Lauren Daigle, “Wordless” on her album How Can It Be

Have you ever been so overcome with emotion that you were completely speechless?

We often put ourselves in others’ shoes, imagining what we would do if we were in their situation; but when it happens to us, somewhere between the realm of the hypothetical and reality, we lose our thoroughly-thought-out, immaculately articulated responses.

There will be times when, frankly, life will shut you up. Something so shocking, painful, or nerve-wracking will leave your lips locked and your tongue tied. Choosing to speak up will not be the easy, automatic thing to do, but you will know that it is the right thing to do.

Two weeks ago, in my blog post The Right to Remain Silent, I talked about how silence can be a constructive form of communication. On the flip side, there are times when keeping quiet hinders more than it helps. It is imperative to know when to break the silence. 

a broken brick wall exposing a partly cloudy sky

Getty Images (Vkyryl)

Speak Up against Injustice

Victims of injustice often have a hard time seeking justice on their own. The stigma, pain, and residual feelings of weakness stifle their attempts, and they remain silent because it seems to be the only reasonable option. This is especially the case for victims of sexual assault, violence, and harassment. Nevertheless, whether you are the victim or you know one personally, speaking up about it might be uncomfortable, but it is the only way to initiate change.

City Tech has taken a stand against crimes of that nature by providing mandatory When Yes Means Yes… Sexual Assault Training for Students and  Title IX Training for Employees. The goal is to make more people aware so that the excuse “I didn’t know” evaporates. Bringing the issue to the light affirms the victims, exposes the perpetrators, warns potential offenders and calls the bystanders to action.

Speak Up about Secret Struggles

If you are anything like me, the worse a problem gets, the less willing you are to tell people about it, especially if it is an internal problem. By internal I mean something going on inside of your mind, a struggle in which you are battling your own thoughts, emotions, or habits.

a man with his arms crossed in a pool of dark ink, refusing to receive help from the many hands reaching out to him

Art by Katherine Choi (NY Times)

To give one example, I am guilty of being too much of a perfectionist at times. If I am running late to school, I would much rather it be due to delays and packed subway cars, rather than my oversleeping or not being able to find my glasses. I end up red-faced and teary-eyed on the train platform, angry at myself for making the same mistake over and over, angry that I did not get to bed early enough so that I could wake up comfortably and early this morning, angry that the reason I stayed up is because it took me hours to complete an assignment that other people could do in just one… Next thing you know I’m angry at myself for being angry and making such a big deal over nothing.

It can be a simple character flaw or a clinically diagnosed disorder, but whatever inner struggles you are facing, I encourage you to speak about it. If you were able to handle things yourself, then you wouldn’t be battling yourself. So what will keeping it to yourself do, except make things worse? Reach out to counselors at school, a trusted friend, a professional, a spiritual leader, family member–any confidant can make all the difference. Sometimes you need to hear a voice other than your own, but first, someone has to hear yours. (Please check out my fellow blogger Samantha’s post on a similar topic, Virtues from Motherhood: Needing Help Will Never Make You Weak.)

Speak Up and Get “Greased”

Have you ever heard the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? This means that if you have a need, you should make it known. As a college student, and especially a transfer student, I have often felt lost in a sea of demands. I have had to fill out dozens of applications, and I did not always know if I was doing so correctly.

It can be very nerve-wracking to have to go to an office and ask questions, especially if you don’t even know where to start, or if the clerks appear to have a bad attitude. Even so, there are countless resources at your disposal, both on and off campus, to help you with whatever you might need (if you are a City Tech student, see our academics site and student services site). And all of those intimidating officers and professors, guess what? They are paid to help you. When I was at NYU and facing plenty of financial conflicts, one particularly helpful bursar officer gave me his card after an appointment, and repeatedly encouraged me to come back and ask more questions because that was why he was there in the first place. So please take my advice; as the song says, “For / no one can fill / those of your needs / that you won’t let show” (“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers).

Speak Up and Be Yourself

one red game chip among dozens of blue game chips

istockphoto.com

On a lighter note, it’s not always a matter of being in need. It is important to speak up just because you have the natural born right to do so. We are all entitled to have our own opinions and to express them freely (and respectfully).

We live in a time where the lines between fact and opinion are often blurred. Sometimes opinions are given even more importance than facts. People will think you’re crazier for saying “I think Trump makes a good president” rather than “the moon is not real, it’s man-made.”

What’s more, everyone goes around saying “be yourself,” but the fine print under that statement reads, “as long as ‘yourself’ fits into this mold, or is popular, or is politically correct.” You might feel pressured to keep quiet because you are afraid that people will disagree or look down on you. My response, in short, is so what?

As a reserved Christian, my opinion is almost always in the minority, but “minority” does not mean “negligible” or “does not exist.” If you think a certain way and have taken a firm stance on something, no one has the right to silence you.

I encourage you, reader, to do something different today. You can even start small, and work your way up. Raise your hand in class if you don’t understand what the professor just said, rather than nodding absentmindedly. If you think that the person next to you is wearing an awesome shirt, tell him so. Tell your sister that she really hurt your feelings, because she might have been totally oblivious. I dare you to break the silence, because you are most definitely worth hearing.

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