How do we communicate?

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJul 9, 2023

Source: Google photo of how people communicate

Synopsis: It is important that people understand you when you speak but now the technology influences how you talk to people making what you talk about less important. But before the technology, people talked to each other face to face and enjoyed doing so. The technology has its place in our society, but it can never supplant the old ways.

We humans think that we are unique, but we are not. So, what differentiates us from other living beings that makes us think that we are unique in this world? It is this notion that we have developed ways to communicate with others by taking advantage of technologies that we have developed.

The animals also communicate with each other and with other species of animals. Birds, mammals, fish and insects all communicate with others of their kind, but some are known to learn to communicate with humans through the sign language like Koko the gorilla did. Some parrots, mynahs or cockatoo are the natural mimics, so they learn to speak like humans and also understand when spoken to like Einstein the parrot. Dogs can communicate with their owners and perfectly understand numerous commands, so we are not the only ones who communicate.

It is now possible to communicate with anyone anywhere anytime using the modern technology that has replaced the need for face-to-face communication using oral skills that previous generations used to effectively without any help from any technology.

I can go back to the pre telephone era when people could talk to someone face to face to sort out various issues that plagued the humanity like various domestic issues or numerous social issues that needed sorting out. Some used the public forum while others used the print media to say what they wanted to say on certain issues to reach the larger public. Writing letters, publishing articles in newspapers or writing a book were some of the means of communication people used and still do but now the technology permits us to communicate to the global audience to have a far greater impact on others that we could have never imagined.

Now we have all the means at our disposal to communicate with others globally if we want but do we really communicate with each other on serious issues? Now almost everyone has a cell phone of some kind that can connect you with others through the Internet. You can talk to others anywhere and see their video as well and they can also see you. You can send text messages or photos or videos to others and receive them as well, but do we really talk to each other?

What two people talk to each other perhaps depends on their gender so the girls may talk about the crushes in their school or in their neighborhoods while boys call their girlfriends to know if they are ready for a date with them. But do they really talk to each other on serious matters?

When we were children, we had no such gadgets, so we talked to our friends or to others who wanted to be our friends so direct communication was the norm. We communicated in our mother tongue but as we grew up, we learned another language like English in college, so we used it to talk to students who did not speak our language. We were encouraged to speak, read and write English fluently so it opened up the whole world to us through this ability.

The teachers often used the black board to communicate with us directly so everyone in the class could understand what was written on the black board based upon which we could take notes, ask questions or answer if the teacher asked us a question. This was the most effective way of communication because it was direct that left no doubt in our mind what the teacher wanted to say or wanted us to understand. This was long before the lap top computers the students brought to the class and the teachers used the electronic touch screen giant board where he could write or erase it with a touch of a button, make graphs or colored pie chart etc.

But we did not have such gadgets, so we took copious notes to study later. We took dictations that improved our skill of hearing and writing it down fast because often the teachers were irritated if we could not take the dictation properly or did not know the spelling of some words, but we improved our skill as we practiced more.

Now we find that the college students have a hard time taking dictation and are clueless as to how to spell words, so they search Google in their laptops or copy and paste certain articles using the Internet to pretend that they wrote it as a term paper, but it fools no one. The teachers understand computer better than you.

The communication between two people is less risky than communicating with hundreds of people in a classroom where a wrong thing said has a wider multiplier effect that the teacher must correct. Some teachers influenced by their radical ideas can communicate wrong ideas to the students that has much wider social consequences, but the students cannot make counter arguments due to the gap between a teacher and students that is due to the age difference or the level of education or knowledge. This is prevalent in most religious schools where dogmas are emphasized that cannot be questioned.

We can now return to the very basic level of communication that takes place first at home when we sit around the dining table while Ma serves the food while we listen to what our Dad has to say on some subjects. But now this sort of communication has given way to the siblings constantly looking at their cell phone screen to see who is sending text message. They pay less attention to each other or to their parents who may want to say something to them.

I often see in the Hollywood movies how siblings and their guests sit around a Thanksgiving dinner that their Ma had spent many hours in preparing but they break out in nasty comments or arguments upsetting everyone, so all communication fails. Each person then pulls out his cell phone or waits eagerly to finish the meal so that they can get away leaving the parents in shock. The gadgets and the apathy that it breeds, stops people from really communicating with each other in a pleasant manner because the new technology makes people more self-centered and self-conceited that prevents them to be congenial towards each other.

There was a time when people were required to dress appropriately at the dinner table and to follow protocol that meant listening to what the parents had to say before talking to each other. Now if the father comments on the slovenly dress of the daughter or very revealing clothes, this makes the daughter aggressive who then may use crude language or walk away to spoil the mood of everybody. It also says something about the present generation that shows no reverence for the parents and the protocol, so they become argumentative with them or with their siblings. I also understand that it may be a cultural issue that may vary from country to country.

When two people are talking to each other in their native language, it is assumed that they understand each other well and reply accordingly but I have noticed that here in this country where I live, people talking in their own language often misunderstand each other that leads to all sorts of problems. It comes about when people have poor store of vocabulary that makes proper communication difficult. To speak and understand in a language that is not your own like English makes it even more difficult if you do not have a proper grasp of the language and the fluency it requires to follow it. This also leads to the misunderstanding and a break in the communication process.

You may have noticed that some political leaders have tremendous charisma and have excellent communication skills that makes them great orators, so this ability sets them apart from those who are always searching for words while trying to communicate with the audience using filler words or sounds like ah, umm, etc.

Indian prime minister Mr. Modi is a good example who is a tremendous communicator who talks directly without the aid of a teleprompter to his audience of hundreds of thousands of people who listen to his every word and respond to his questions that he frequently asks of them. He knows his subject well; does his homework and memorizes the data he presents during his speech. Thus, he connects with his vast audience because of his special skill and charisma while others make boring speeches reading from the teleprompter that makes the audience eager to leave.

Admitted, we are not all born with this gift or skill of oratory, but we can try to speak slowly and with passion that can have an impact on the listener. This is the hallmark of excellent motivational speakers who have mastered the art of communication and are invited to speak to large audience. They speak each word slowly but succinctly so that people can understand completely and absorb its meaning.

So, you have to learn to speak well before you can talk to someone. It is just like any other skill like driving or typing that can only improve through practice. If you are speaking in a language that is not your native tongue, then you have to work very hard to overcome your MTI that is the mother tongue influence and learn the correct accent and the pronunciation so that listener can understand you well.

Often the accent is less important than the pronunciation although it is the pronunciation that makes the accent. So, it is very hard to overcome the influence of the MTI because you cannot pronounce certain alphabets and certain words. Those alphabets do not exist in your own language. The Japanese have a hard time with L words, the Thais with R words and the Filipinos have problem with many alphabets. Their own grammar is also responsible for the way they speak English. Other languages follow a similar pattern.

Hindi has 52 alphabets as compared to only 26 in English so you cannot expect a native speaker of English to pronounce certain words in Hindi because he does not have those sounds in his language. Now some people are very good in imitating, so they learn to speak like a native speaker or try to, but I am sure they too have to overcome the challenges that MTI makes for them.

I had a teacher in my communication class in California who one day made an experiment. He told a student a short story with limited words and asked him to tell it to the next student who in his turn told it to the next one. When the last student had heard the story, he was asked to tell it to the class but this was where the fun began. He told a story that was completely different from the initial story, so the class broke up in laughter. The teacher said when something is said to someone who then passes it on to the next person, something changes that leads to tremendous misunderstanding. This is the root of the malicious gossip among women who slightly change what they hear before they pass it on to the next person who does the same.

A good communicator understands this phenomenon and takes care to speak in a way that everyone understands and responds en masse to his questions. You cannot answer a question that you cannot understand to begin with.

My topic of communication is a lot more than making speeches in a public forum. It has to do with what two people talk about and how they do it. Some people are shy, so they hesitate to talk about their fears, their obsessions, their dreams or their aspirations so they become introverts and have difficulty in talking to people. Others are more extroverts, so they talk about anything, but communication is more than talking about your boyfriend or girlfriend, your latest gadgets or your escapades. It is about connecting with people using your language as a bridge to make an impression. It is about understanding and making yourself understood well.

I had a classmate in high school who was one day asked by our English teacher what he understood in the lesson. He could not answer so exasperated the teacher asked him the meaning of the word understand. To this he promptly replied, “To stand under Sirr “. We all broke up in laughter, but the point is that you can laugh at others for their shortcomings but are we all born with super IQ?

What we communicate about and how we communicate are both important so we have a lot to learn before we can make ourselves understood in a civilized way.

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Originally published at on July 9, 2023.