3.4 Improving Verbal Communication

Learning Objectives

  • Examine ways to improve your vocabulary and verbal communication skills.
  • Increase your awareness and adaptation of language.
  • Realize the importance of checking for understanding.

In this chapter, you have learned the importance of language. This last section will discuss ways to improve your verbal communication skills. To be a great interpersonal communicator, it is extremely important that you also know how to use language most effectively.

Improving Language Skills

You probably had words you used most frequently from an early age because you were familiar with those words. As you get older and become more educated, your vocabulary expands to help you succeed. Language is used to help express our feelings, intentions, and comprehension of others (Khan, 2015). An extensive vocabulary is a keen predictor of someone’s social status, education, and profession. Whether you like it or not, the words we use and the grammatical structure of how we use them can impact our standing in school, work, and society. Here are some tips to help you improve your vocabulary.

Use Repetition

First, be sure to use repetition. To become familiar with a word, you need to see it repeatedly. Besides, you need to use it in conversations over and over again. The more times you repeat the word, the more likely you will memorize it, and it will become part of your daily repertoire.

Group Similar Words Together

Second, group similar words together. You should never learn vocabulary by looking at a list of words. Think of words as different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It does not make sense to look at each puzzle piece individually. Rather, you need to fit them together to see the whole picture. The same thing should occur with words. You should memorize words that have similarities in some way. For instance, create a vocabulary around a theme, such as music, or an adjective, such as beautiful.

Build Your Vocabulary

Third, it is essential to make vocabulary that is personal to you. Vocabulary can be defined as all words a person or group understands. A baby can distinguish between language sounds and other sounds as early as four months of age. According to David Crystal {2006), language acquisition happens quite rapidly:

  • By age 2, people can recognize and speak 200 words.
  • By age 3, people can recognize and speak about 2000 words.
  • By age 5, people can recognize and speak about 4,000 words (Crystal, 2006).

Your average infant to toddler learns three to four new words daily. Infants are hardwired to learn a language. If you want to ensure your child can speak multiple languages, exposing them to multiple languages during this crucial developmental cycle is best. Even though we start as infants, we continue to improve our vocabularies right through middle age:

  • Most adult  test-takers range from 20,000–35,000 words
  • Average  test-takers of age eight already know 10,000 words
  • Average test-takers of age four already know 5,000 words
  • Adult  test-takers learn almost one new word a day until middle age
  • Adult test-taker vocabulary growth stops in middle age

As you can see, most  English-speaking adults have fairly substantial vocabularies, but we do see a drop in new language acquisition as people enter their middle age. As such, it is essential to keep learning.

One way to keep learning is to find words that have meaning. If you have ever heard a story about survival from someone who has gone through something life-changing, they probably used words that touched you and helped you to connect to the story. Similarly, you should find words that can relate to your story. When we find words with personal meaning, we can use those words more effectively in our vocabulary. Here are some essential tips for building your vocabulary:

  • Keep a journal of words you do not know.
  • If you don’t know a word, look it up in a dictionary.
  • Learn to recognize both the Latin and Greek roots of words.
  • Play vocabulary games (e.g., anagrams, Wordle, crossword puzzles, Scrabble, etcetera).
  • Make synonym and antonym word lists.
  • Take a writing and/or editing course.


Lastly, you should read regularly. It does not matter what you read. As long as you are reading, you will probably come across words that you are unfamiliar with. When you do come across a word you do not know, take the time to look it up. This practice is critical when reading academic works because they often contain ten-thousand-dollar words. Next time you read and run across a word you do not know, find the definition to comprehend what is being said.

Increase Your Awareness and Adaptation of Language

After learning to improve your vocabulary, increasing language awareness and adaptation is essential. When we talk about language awareness, we refer to a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language (Svalberg, 2007).

Language adaptation is the ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner. As such, it is not just about being aware of language that leads to effective interpersonal interactions, but our ability to adapt our linguistic choices with different people to maximize the effectiveness of our interpersonal communication.

People can increase their language awareness and adaptation in a couple of ways. The first way is to communicate meaningfully with someone different from you. This person can be from a different country or region of the country from you. When you speak to someone very different from you, you might notice how they use language differently or prefer certain words over others.

Another way might be to watch a foreign film. Check out different international films that have been nominated for an Academy Award. Most of them will be dubbed in English or have English subtitles. Pay attention to how the characters communicate with each other to create meaning. Does it give you an appreciation for how you speak?

Lastly, spend some time with a small child, preferably under five. Pay attention to how the child communicates with you versus others (e.g., their friends, parents/guardians, siblings). Children under five are still acquiring words and learning to talk. Communicating with someone with a very limited vocabulary might help you see how you can adapt your language so that they will understand you.

Check For Understanding

As a speaker, you want to know that the receiver of your message understood what you said. This concept is also known as checking for understanding or verifying that what has been said is understood (Rauschenbach, 1994). Even if a person is smiling and nodding at you when you talk, it does not necessarily mean they are paying attention to everything. They might be trying to be polite or friendly. The best way to check for understanding is to use the acronym TAP. Think of communication like a tap dance; if you do not hear any tapping, would it be a tap dance? The same thing can be applied to communication. Did you effectively communicate if the other person did not understand what you were trying to say?

First, the T in TAP means to talk. In other words, you explicitly present all the content. As you are talking, you also try to ensure that the other person is listening to you talk.

Second, the A in TAP stands for asking questions. After you talk to the person, try to ask specific questions. Rather than saying, “Did you hear me?” or “Were you listening,” which are both yes/no questions, it would be more beneficial to ask, “What did I just say?” or “What did you hear me say?”

Third, the P in TAP means to be prepared to listen. Listen carefully to what the other person says. During this phase, you can see if they understood your message. Was the message correct? What emotions are they displaying after you sent the message and asked questions? If we do not ask questions, we cannot be sure that the message was received effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Ways to help you improve your vocabulary include using repetition, grouping like words together, building your vocabulary, and increasing your reading.
  • Increasing awareness involves a person’s ability to be mindful and sensitive to all functions and forms of language.
  • Enhancing adaptation of language involves the ability to alter one’s linguistic choices in a communicatively competent manner.
  • Three basic steps to ensure understanding include T (talk first), A (ask questions), and P (prepare to listen).


  1. Review the various key terms within this chapter. Did you know all of the definitions before reading this chapter? Which terms did you find difficult to understand? Why?
  2. Reflect on a recent interaction with a friend or a client in your practice area. Were you able to utilize the TAP Method for understanding? How easy was it for you to understand the other person? Why? How did it feel to use the TAP method? Were you effective during your interpersonal interaction? Why?


Crystal, D. (2006). How language works: How babies babble, words change meaning, and languages live or die. Harry N. Abrams.

Khan, T. (2015). Improve your vocabulary: Enriching word power the fun way. V & S Publishers.

Rauschenbach, J. (1994). Checking for student understanding: Four techniques. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 65(4), 60–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1994.10606900

Svalberg, A. M-L. (2007). Language awareness and language learning. Language Teaching, 40(4), 287–308. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444807004491

Attribution Statement

Content adapted, with editorial changes, from:

Wrench, J. S., Punyanunt-Carter, N., & Thweatt, K. S. (n.d.). Interpersonal communication: A mindful approach to relationships. Milne Library Publishing.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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Professional Communication Skills for Health Studies Copyright © 2023 by Chute, A., Johnston, S., & Pawliuk, B. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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