The expression “talk is cheap,” could not be further from the truth. Effective communication is one of the most important tools that people need to succeed. Being able to listen well and speak clear Standard English is necessary for life. Not only do most employers require such skills, more high schools and universities are looking for proficient communicators.

As our children mature, it is critical they learn how to communicate with the masses, those they communicate with every day and those who hire for professional positions. Below are some of the most fundamental ways children can become better at listening and speaking.

Knowing when to speak Standard English

There was and still is controversy over whether or not Ebonics-non-standard English combining African-American slave dialect with Standard English-should be taught and/or tolerated in the classroom. While the issue still remains a divisive one, many teachers recognize that there is a time and place for Ebonics. While it may be all right to speak to a peer using non-Standard syntax-“I ain’t gone walk home today”-it is not OK to speak to an employer with words and phrases like, “ain’t, finna, and gone be.”

Standard English is the language of those in power (employers, admissions officers, etc.), and we must use it in order to understand and be understood by those from whom we earn degrees and jobs. Therefore, help teach your children the grammar rules of Standard English and reinforce them at home. Also teach your child to code-switch, identifying when and where to use Ebonics and Standard English.

Listen actively

We assume our children listen to us each time we lecture to them about cleaning their room, doing the laundry, or taking out the trash. However, many of our children allow our comments to go in one ear and out the other. They don’t fully take in what we say. At their best, they may stare at you and watch your lips move, but how often do they nod to show understanding, ask questions about what you tell them, or paraphrase what you say? Effective communicators are also effective listeners. They not only hear the words you speak, they understand them.

We must prepare our children to listen aggressively so that they can truly take our words to heart or negate them in order to come up with their own opinions. In order to do this, have your child restate what you say to them. After you finish speaking, have them summarize your most important points. If they cannot, repeat it, and have them do it again until they get it right. Make them ask questions when they cannot rephrase what you say. This will allow them to become active listeners and true participants in conversations.

Speak with authority

Few of our children speak with carefully planned and researched words. They often end statements with, “You know what I’m saying?” or blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Although this is a skill most adults still haven’t grasped, children need to start developing it early. Teach your children to choose their words wisely. Have them write their statements in advance if this is necessary or say it in their heads before they say it aloud.

Many of our children, who know little about world issues, speak mostly about their neighborhood and popular television. To push students into conversations with a universal thread, encourage them to read the newspaper and watch the news in order to learn more about current events and social issues. Time for Kids is a great resource your children can utilize to learn about current events in kid-friendly language. Also sit down and watch the news with your children. Question them on local and national news stories. Soon you’ll find that your children have more to talk about with you and their peers than just popular videos and happenings on your block.

Effective communication is a necessary skill for our children to master. In today’s society, their education and career depend on it. Therefore, supply them with the strategies and opportunities to listen well, communicate with others, and speak clearly about current events.