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Mike Fleetham Mike's Thinking Classroom Blog


On Wasting Words

Don't waste words or jump to conclusions,

Carved into the wall of a cave, tucked in a fellside, deep in the English Lake District. Author: Millican Dalton, 19th century founder of 'outdoor adventure'. A self-exiled city refugee Dalton exchanged a life in insurance for life in a cave. He invented 'holidays' for those tempted by the outdoors but not feisty enough or hardy enough to fully commit. In the harsh lonely beauty of the Lakes you can empathise with his pithy advice.

I first saw those words aged 6. I've always believed the intent but rarely manifested the action. I read the words I write (these included) and watch recordings of those I've spoken. I marvel at the padding, the repetition, the repetition and the needless adjectives, connectives, instructions that I use. What a waste.

And this is why I continue to be enthralled by British Sign Language (BSL): its economy of syntax; efficiency of grammar; clarity of meaning and dynamic, evolutionary, emergent nature. BSL doesn't waste words, it distills out just enough of them for effective communication, just enough. It cuts to the chase of what one human wants to tell another. 

I spent 2 days last week learning with Oak Lodge school for deaf children (Outstanding BTW). I picked up 30-40 words and several useful phrases in BSL - nowhere near enough to teach a lesson or run a staff meeting (7 years to become a qualified BSL interpreter and that's just the start). But I did have a wonderfully creative interpreter by my side most of the time who didn't bat an eyelid at new vocab - Multiple Intelligences/Metacognition/Mindset, for example.

The process of learning to work with her was fascinating. My speech slowed and became clearer; my thoughts focussed and became sharper; my communication simplified itself and became more genuine. The dynamic between us caused me to reduce the number of words I waste and thoughts I squander. I lowered my linguistic/cognitive footprint.

If language and thought are intimately and reciprocally linked, then using BSL as a mode of talking surely creates efficient, precise, direct and clear-headed thoughts? When you are not wasting words you are not wasting thoughts.

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