Multitasking (is) For Dummies

multitasking

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

The ability to multitask is usually portrayed as a badge of honor. On the job seekers website Indeed.com, there is actually a category titled Multitask Jobs.

LoveToKnow.com, provides this description of a multitasker:  “People who are able to multitask have the ability to perform several tasks nearly simultaneously. If you watch someone who is a multitasker, you’ll notice that the person has a certain rhythm to her work and is capable of changing tasks without a break in that rhythm.”

Well, gosh. Who wouldn’t want to hire THAT person?

Much like an urban myth, multitasking isn’t a reality. It’s that we’ve heard it talked about in such a positive way for so long that we’ve just come to believe it’s a good thing.

Study after study now shows that we don’t really perform multiple tasks at the same time; we simply shift our focus from one activity to another, and then back and forth. One expert calls it a “green light/red light” switching activity done over and over again.

There are many problems associated with this constant shifting of focus. A primary one is that when we fail to focus on just one activity at a time, productivity suffers. When we temporarily stop doing activity A to do part of activity B, there is lost time as we make the switch. Then when we go back to A, there’s another loss of time. It may not seem like much but think about a typical workday that is spent starting/stopping between multiple projects. Listen to how we speak to ourselves when we switch: “Now, where was I?”

People believe they’re getting more done by multitasking when the science says not only is less done but it also produces lower quality work.

In his book Learn Better, Ulrich Boser advises that multitasking while trying to learn something hinders your ability to absorb the new information because it “drags on short-term memory” and keeps us from gaining an understanding. So it’s a bad idea for kids to listen to music (or text or check social media) while doing homework or studying for a test. Boser also cites a study where adults who took online classes WITHOUT any background music absorbed 150% more of the information than those who had background music playing.

This ties in with my own public speaking recommendation regarding PowerPoint or other visual aid. When (as the presenter) you show a slide to the audience and you’re still talking, the audience is hovering in that no-man’s land between listening to you and taking in what’s on the slide. Asking our audience to multitask means either they don’t hear us or they can’t absorb the slide 100%.  My best advice is to shut up and let the audience soak in the meaning of the slide. Then change the screen to black as you resume speaking.

About the only time we can do two things at the same time is when one of them is passive, one is mundane, and there is no risk involved. Here’s a good example: I listen to fiction through earbuds while I’m standing at the sink peeling potatoes. The task is mundane, the listening is passive, and I’m not going to hurt anyone with my potato peeler.

My word counter tells me that when I completed that last sentence, this post was at 586 words. Since Mr. Boser says we learn better in smaller doses, I’m going to continue this topic in part two on Tuesday.

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Great article by Molly Fletcher

Self-test on switchtasking

Article from Entrepreneur.com

Article from Forbes.com

Article from Inc.com

Deserve To Win

deserve to win

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

For nearly a decade when I was in my 40s, I was involved in the Virginia segment of Business and Professional Women Clubs, Inc. (BPW). Unbelievably, the group was founded way back in 1919. The tagline of the current iteration of the group is, “Developing the business, professional and leadership potential of women.”

Back then to me, our mission was simply this: women helping women. We taught classes in finance, public speaking, networking, mentoring, professional image, and leadership. Working tirelessly in fundraising, we established scholarships for high school senior girls.

While I was active in the group, my best friend Betsy (likewise in her 40s) was enrolled in a community college in Pennsylvania. She saw a flyer announcing that the local Pennsylvania affiliate of BPW was offering a $500 scholarship for a winning essay on being an older student in continuing education.

Betsy wrote her essay and was the oldest of three winners. She was invited to accept her prize at the club’s next meeting, and the instruction was this: Be prepared to give a speech. So my friend considered carefully what she wanted to convey.

As you may recall from Saturday’s post, an acceptance speech graciously thanks the giver and helps the audience feel good about having this person chosen as the winner.

Speaking as the first of the three winners, Betsy spoke from the heart. She told them that the prize money was important to her as the coal mines had recently closed down and her husband was temporarily out of work. But more importantly, winning was good for her ego. She hadn’t worked outside the home for twenty years except for volunteer and church work. Living in a small town, she hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the world at large. As she offered her sincere thanks, Betsy shared that knowing her words in the essay moved the committee to choose her as a winner really pumped her up.

As Betsy returned to her seat while the audience applauded, a woman leaned over and whispered to her, “That was wonderful. But I would hate to be one of the other winners following you!”

And unfortunately for them, the other two winners had NOT come prepared and simply offered some sort of generic thank you.

Most of us were brought up to say a proper thank you. I want you to remember that the next time you accept an award or prize.

 “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I Don’t Deserve This

Accept Award

Image courtesy of WikiImages on Pixabay.com

Have you ever considered the impact of an effective acceptance speech? Too frequently we watch people accept an award who don’t have a single clue on what to say. I have seen recipients mumble “thanks” and race back to their seats, and I’ve seen others who blather on and on without saying anything of substance.

Being recognized for something we’ve done is a fantastic life event! And an appropriate acceptance speech should follow the award. It’s not that difficult to turn an acceptance speech into a memorable, appropriate short speech.

The two main purposes of an acceptance speech are to express gratitude and to help the audience feel good about having you chosen as the winner (even if the audience present didn’t actually have a say or a vote in the choice).

Here is my best advice on how to make that happen.

  • Assume you are going to win and prepare a speech ahead of time.
  • Just as in any speech, begin with something amazing. Don’t start by thanking the person who presented the award to you or talk about the organization’s goals (as recommended online by QuickBooks). Have a good “hook.” (See my prior post on hooks.)
  • Know the requirements for winning to help you draft the speech.
  • Comment on your “journey” to the winner’s circle by telling a story with examples of how “meeting the requirements” helped you grow or enabled you to help others or some other positive outcome.
  • Actually say “thank you.” Express positive feelings about the award without gushing.
  • If you are aware of other candidates, you may say something gracious such as, “It was an honor to be included with those who were considered for this award.”
  • If others truly helped you meet the requirements, you can thank individually by name if less than three people. But if it’s more than three, group them by saying something like, “I’m so fortunate to have a talented customer service team, and I want to thank them for their support in helping me win this award.”
  • Never ever say something like, “There were others who are certainly more qualified than I am.” Or “Gosh, I really don’t deserve this.” They picked YOU, so be grateful. Don’t lead them to wonder if they made a mistake!
  • Be genuine. Be humble AND realize you do deserve this!
  • When the audience applauds at the end of your speech, smile and nod once or twice as you mouth the words, “Thank you.”
  • Don’t lessen the award by cute curtseying or bowing. That smacks of insincerity.
  • Take your seat.

See, that wasn’t so hard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anderson Cooper tags this as the “best acceptance speech ever” from the 2013 Emmy awards show. Umm. No. Please don’t do this.

 

A Book By Any Name

Book

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

My little town has been blessed with an independent book store on Main Street. The Old Town Open Book had a soft opening last Friday.

They sold 1700 volumes in six hours! The store was so busy it couldn’t even close on time; the local online paper reported the store stayed open an additional 90 minutes to finish ringing up customers.

What a wonderful problem!

The actual grand opening occurs this Friday evening and over 1000 people on Facebook have indicated they’re going.

I love my Virginia town of Warrenton and its people. Frankly, I’m not in the least surprised by the outpouring of support for our new bookstore.

On the site SeriousReading.com, there is a post called 30 Reasons to Read Books. Check out their post (link below) to read the other 27 benefits of reading a book besides figuring out a new skill, reducing stress, improving vocabulary.

When I used to interview job applicants, I consistently slipped in the question, “What was the last book you read?” Typically, I’d get the deer in headlight stare as a response. Occasionally, someone would answer “Uh, the Bible?” But they would phrase it in such a way to indicate they weren’t quite sure, and perhaps I knew the correct answer.

My public speaking students receive instruction from me on where and how to research a presentation topic. When I reach the point where I include a public library, I’ve actually had people laugh. Recently someone blurted out, “Do they still have those around?” That is just sad.

I encourage students to check out their local library because not only are there books, magazines, and DVDs to help with their research, but also modern libraries have an amazing array of electronic resources to help the public.

Many people, it seems, believe the only way to research a topic is by typing G-O-O-G-L-E.

Having just finished a recently published book titled I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel, I was reminded how vital books are to the human race. Maybe the lack of reading is one of the issues causing so many problems in our world. I wonder how many members of Congress read as a pastime? Mr. President?

Please…get a copy of this book and read it. But no—put down that phone or computer mouse. I don’t want you to order a copy online. I want you to find a bookstore, the smaller the better. If they don’t have it in stock, very likely they’ll be happy to order it for you. And yes, you can tell them Norma sent you.

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SeriousReading.com link

The I’d Rather Be Reading book site

 

If You’re Happy And You Know It…

happy pope

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard the wisdom of finding a vocation that you love.

If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.      — Marc Anthony

Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. — Henry David Thoreau

I like the thought behind that premise, I really do, and I also recognize that it’s not always practical. Sometimes we end up in a career and we’re good at it, but not quite sure how that happened. It’s not what we intended at the beginning.

Then the thought of chucking away the years we’ve invested, the built-up salary, the four weeks of vacation….losing all that can be intimidating enough to keep us in place.

Maybe if you feel you’re stuck in a job or a career, you can do what I did for many years: Make your dream vocation a part-time job or your hobby.

Throughout my years in finance, I taught and spoke on my own time. I became engaged with organizations that offered opportunities to do so. It wasn’t every week or even every month, but it was enough to satisfy the longing for fulfillment of the purpose I felt was my true calling.

In Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness he posits that to truly lead a happy and productive life, we should do work that encapsulates and makes strong use of our five greatest character strengths.

Dr. Seligman is associated with the University of Pennsylvania and the site noted at the end of this post offers various free psychological assessments. Figuring that I already knew my strengths, I decided to confirm them by taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths questionnaire.

Because most of us DO feel we know ourselves, right? We’re typically not blind-sided by taking online personality quizzes.

But this is not a pop personality quiz. At 240 questions it takes about 20 minutes. The test results rank a total of 24 strengths from high to low. The higher number the strength, the more you need to incorporate it into your work to be happier.

Since I felt I knew myself, I assumed my top strength would be creativity (actually #8). Or maybe optimism (#11). Leadership? (#9).

My results left me looking like a dog who hears a sound he can’t identify. I stared at my results, head tilted, eyes squinting.

My #1 strength would leave me either relatively unemployable OR I would need to usurp the two men currently holding the only positions that would make my #1 strength a strict job requirement. Since my #1 strength is forgiveness and mercy, I figure I would need to replace either God or Pope Francis.

Because when I Google “What career requires forgiveness and mercy” (in quotation marks meaning that EXACT word search), there are no results found. Substituting vocation or job brings up the same zero findings.

Eliminating the quotation marks brings up job openings at Our Lady of Mercy or an application to become a nun at Sisters of Mercy. Since I’m not Catholic, I’m married, and I don’t like wearing black, the nun gig will not work out. Also, would they even allow my hound dog at the convent?

Enough kidding. (Humor was #12.) I DO want to understand how forgiveness and mercy can help me be a better speaking coach.

As any of us travels the road of forgiveness and mercy, we come to a place of transformation. Because forgiveness is transformative. It’s this tremendous letting go of a weight within your heart. Even if the person being forgiven isn’t aware that he/she had done something that needed to be forgiven…even if the person is aware but isn’t sorry…even if the person is no longer in your life. Yes, even if whatever scenario you can imagine.

So as I’m encouraging people to find their own voices to tell their individual stories, I will remind them to be kind and merciful to themselves as they learn. That when they’re watching the videos of their presentation, to be forgiving of whatever flaws show up, note what they want to change, and take the positive steps to be a transformed speaker.

And as always, I will encourage each student to be a good audience member…forgiving the flaws in other speakers and offering mercy by applauding first and the loudest.

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Authentic Happiness site

 

It’s Not Always About a Happy Ending

Happy ending

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In wrapping up the preparation of a workshop for later this month, my presentation close is, appropriately enough, about endings.

Endings are a big deal: We end our babyhood by learning to walk. Our little kid stage ends on the first day of kindergarten. High school or college graduation may be seen as the end of our formal education. (Although I encourage you to be a lifelong learner.) Our first job with a paycheck and the accompanying first apartment end our years of being financially cared for by others. Retiring is the end of a connection to the actively working world.

All are big deals, indeed. Endings have a sense of significance if done right.

But I have seen and heard speakers reach the end of a speech or presentation and unceremoniously announce, “That’s all I have.”  OR “That wraps up what I wanted to tell you.”

I call that type of ending the Porky Pig close — “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

Effectively closing a presentation is one more relevant way to engage your audience so they will remember your message. That’s because we human beings have a tendency to recall endings which can help us connect to the main message.

Daniel Pink’s book WHEN, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing details fascinating studies about endings and how an ending of significance helps us recall more of the event and makes it more satisfying.

Lest you think I forget what I’ve written about, yes, I have mentioned this book before in my post Time is Not the Enemy. And yes, his book is THAT good to deserve multiple mentions from me.

Here’s a fascinating idea: Our speeches and the stories we share don’t necessarily have to have a happy ending to be well-received and long-remembered. In fact, says Pink, a more satisfying ending contains an element of poignancy which he defines as a complex emotional mix of happiness and sadness.

Online dictionaries couch poignancy in these terms: “evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret…something that deeply affects the emotions…sharply emotional.”  Indeed, the root word origin is the Latin pungere, meaning to sting or pierce.

I like Pink’s understanding best…that bittersweet, roller coaster ride of emotions that wash over your heart where you’re laughing or smiling or gently nodding your head yes even as tears fill your eyes and the lump in your throat makes it almost impossible to swallow.

A perfect example of an ending filled with poignancy is the last five minutes of Toy Story 3. The boy Andy is all grown up and leaving for college. The remainder of his favorite little boy toys (unexpectedly including Woodie) are boxed up, and he delivers them to Bonnie, a little neighborhood girl.

“I’m going away now and I need someone really special to play with them,” Andy tells Bonnie, as he hands over ownership.

Go ahead and watch the ending on the YouTube link below and try not to feel anything. I double-dog dare you.

Daniel Pink says, “…the most powerful endings deliver poignancy because poignancy delivers significance. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it.”

We may think we want a happy ending; after all, we’re programmed for it as in, “And they lived happily ever after.”

But Pink goes on to say, “The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer—a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”

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Porky Pig

Toy Story 3 ending

 

 

Make It A Banana

Banana

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

In 1998 I had the good fortune to attend a presentation given by psychoneuroimmunologist Joan Borysenko.

(Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interaction and connection between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.)

The mind and body are connected in ways you may not even imagine. When you care for one, you are also caring for the other. For example, eating well, getting enough sleep, and getting some exercise (which we consider primarily as doing the right things for our body) are all caring for our mind as well.

And when you are hurting one, you are also hurting the other. For instance, letting anxiety consume your thoughts or refusing to forgive someone harms not only your mind but also your body.

I was, and still am, a huge fan of Dr. Borysenko’s book Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. It’s remarkable that this book that I read in the early 90s can be such a useful resource in my public speaking classes.

I finished teaching an eight-session class today and closed this final lesson with a story from her book.

Using a large, pumpkin-like gourd, hunters in Southeast Asia can easily trap monkeys. Leaving the gourd intact except for a small hole, the hunter hollows it out enough to slip in a banana. The monkey comes by, smells the banana, and sticks in his hand to grab the goodie.

At this point, the monkey is trapped. He wants that banana and doesn’t have the awareness to realize that if he would just let go, he could be free to find another banana. Dr. B writes, “The monkey quite literally is a prisoner of his own mind.”

We might smile at this story and think, “Silly monkey.” But how many times throughout our lives do we hold on to something that keeps us a prisoner?

Someone may be unkind to us and we hold on to the memory of that injustice for how long? We replay the story over and over in our heads becoming more unhappy or mad or upset with each replaying.

We may have had a negative experience in public speaking, and we hold on to that experience as though it defines us as a person who is totally inept at giving a talk.

In our quest to find the perfect someone with whom to share our lives, we may be unjustifiably hurt by betrayal or lies. We hold on to that indignity, letting it color future relationships in ugly shades because we don’t want to be hurt again.

There’s a common theme here…holding on. Just like the monkey and that doggone banana.

The next time you find yourself holding on to a negative thought, idea, or feeling, I want you to remember the image of that monkey, sitting forlornly, his hand inside the gourd, and remember that he has trapped himself by refusing to let go.

And then take this advice concerning your negative thought, idea or feeling: Make it a banana and drop it.

 

 

 

 

Transitioning from Point 1 to Point B

Transition

Photo courtesy of Mathew Schwart on Unsplash

Transition can be defined as an in-between state. It’s a journey, a passage, from one stage to another.

In architecture, a transition is a connecting space between two confined areas. For example, a foyer serves as a transition by connecting the entryway to a living area space.

In life, we may say people are in transition when they’re between life stages such as having just graduated from college but not yet working.

A company may be in transition as they move from one ownership and management style to another.

In the theater, we may be prompted to recognize a transitional state by a change of scenery or by the use of music or light.

So yes, it’s a passage from one state to another, moving from A to B.

The proper use of transitional words or phrases is vital for anyone who performs training or does any type of public speaking. Our audiences (whether in a classroom, boardroom, meeting room, or a large venue) need to be able to follow us if they are to learn from us.

Perhaps, as an audience member, you’ve found yourself out of sync with the speaker and asking yourself, “Is the speaker still on point 3 or has he moved on?” That means the speaker has not done a good job of transitioning.

An effective speaker will leave many breadcrumbs and road signs throughout a presentation or talk. Our audiences need to be able to follow us if they are going to understand, believe, and remember our messages. Here are some ways we can help our listeners follow us.

  1. If naming your main points, be consistent in how you name them. Unlike the title of this post which is purposely misleading, if you use numbers, stick with numbers. (Point one or First) If using letters, stick with letters. You may be saying, “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but I often hear speakers mixing them up.
  2. It’s not necessary to actually name the points. You can use phrases such as another action item is, moving on to the next idea, a similarly interesting factor is, OR that takes us to the final point. What IS necessary is letting our audiences know we are moving on.
  3. When you provide supporting material for a main point, use transitional phrases such as these to let the audience know you’re not just giving your own opinion: as an illustration, to demonstrate this point, let me show you, to emphasize the importance, experts have noted that, as recent scientific studies show, and other similar phrases.
  4. Time sequences need to be noted; otherwise, our listeners may become confused. If a speaker is covering several time periods, it’s vital to clarify the timing. Say, “That summary was our company’s focus for the first five years. But in 2015, we moved our attention to…. Then last year, we targeted improving employee retention.” These timing transitions help the audience to move right along with the speaker.
  5. The final transition I’ll mention today is the close. Do you see how I set that up? By saying, “The final transition…” I let you know that this post is coming to an end. Endings are meaningful but are often overlooked. I’ve heard speakers cover their last point and then abruptly say, “That’s all I have.” OR “I’m done. Thanks.” Endings may be what your audience most remembers, even if they really liked the entire talk! So let them know you’re transitioning to a close by using phrases similar to these: before I close, in conclusion, in summary, finally, as we come to the end of today’s workshop.

May all of your transitions be both smooth and easy to follow.  

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Good idea words from John A. Dutton e-Education Institute

 

What Are You Listening To?

Listen

Photo courtesy of Couleur on Pixabay.com

As part of a warm-up routine before giving a presentation or talk, I suggest students use music. Once I asked a class if they were already in the habit of including music—either listening to or singing along—before speaking. A man we’ll call Theo raised his hand. He said, “Yes, I play Whenever You Come Around by Vince Gill a couple of times and sing along in the car on the way to an event where I have to speak.”

Now this gentleman had some major fear issues related to speaking before a group. You can hear it in how he worded his response of “where I HAVE to speak.” He was filled with speaking anxiety and could find no joy in sharing his message; it was just something he had to do as part of his job.

Our conversation went on something like this:

Me:             Theo, I think you need a better song choice.

Theo:          Why?

Me:             I do believe the chorus of that song goes something like: “I get weak in the knees; and I lose my breath. Oh I try to speak but the words won’t come I’m so scared to death.”

Theo:          Yes, that’s right.

Me:             The idea of using music before speaking is to influence ourselves in a positive way. With that song you’re setting up yourself to have shaky knees and no voice.

Theo:          But I really like to sing that song.

Me:             Great! Here’s what you do. AFTER your next presentation, find a place that has karaoke, sign up, and when your turn comes, belt it out. But find something else to sing as part of your warm-up routine.

As part of our presentation pre-game routine, we need to think like a motivated athlete. Let’s pump it up and not wallow around. Be in the YES attitude, not the WELL, MAYBE attitude.

You may be asking yourself right now, “What’s on your presentation pre-game playlist, Norma?” I’ll share a few at the bottom of this post, but I don’t want you to just use mine since this needs to be personal. What speaks to you? What motivates you?

There are so many musical genres and my list is wide-ranging. It includes French organ music (Widor’s Toccata), soul man James Brown’s I Feel Good, and several inspiring religious songs such as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

As my good friend Marybeth likes to say, “You are what you listen to.”

So please be sure to exclude all those sad country songs from your playlist. And yes, before you ask, that includes Willy Nelson singing Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.

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Widor’s Toccata

James Brown

Josh Groban’s version of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

Oh OK. Here’s Willy crying in the rain

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Just the Right Word

Original word

Photo courtesy of Gavin Allanwood on Unsplash

Do you repeat yourself? No, I’m not inquiring whether or not you tell stories repetitiously. (“Say, have I ever told you about the time I….”)

Instead, I’m asking this: Are you word lazy? Many of us are. We get in a rut, using and overusing the same small vocabulary of words.

In a coaching session last month, I pointed out that a client used the word “thing” seventeen times in a fifteen-minute talk.

She uttered phrases such as, “The number one thing we need to watch for is…” and “The important thing to do first is…” and “Which thing has the most impact?”

I’m fond of speech coach Patricia Fripp’s take on the overuse of the word thing. Fripp has been quoted as saying, “Specificity builds credibility.” When we refer to issues, problems, and solutions as “things” we’re being overly non-specific and so we come across as lacking credibility.

Personally, I overuse the word great. I use it so much it has lost its meaning:  A great meal, a great visit, a great time, a great movie, a great friend, a great idea, a great TED talk…..”How are you, Norma?”  I’m great, thanks for asking.

Great is beginning to grate on my nerves.

Thanks to the online site Thesaurus.com, using the section of synonyms, I’m now building my own list of words to substitute for great. Although it’s not listed as a possible synonym for great, I like the word spectacular.

Listening to yourself is a rewarding experience as I wrote about on March 6.   I understand that can be a daunting exercise. Maybe as you work up your courage to try that, start by paying extra attention to yourself while you’re speaking. See if you can hear/find your own word laziness. Then use the synonym search tool to replace the word.

Note: If you’re hearing too much swearing (as some of my students admit to!), you should cut that out anyhow. You know who you are.

Stuck on a nonsense word or phrase like a parrot? Examples are “Gotcha” and “Right, right,” as your go-to response to let someone know you’re following what they’re saying.

How many words are there? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are “full entries for 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.”

Figures are all over the place for the vocabulary of the average American. Links to some articles are below. Do we know 20,000 words?  40,000? 70,000  or more words? But how many words we KNOW and how many words we USE are two different categories.

Let’s step away from our word laziness and use a wider variety of words to tell our stories.

That will be a great thing.

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Article on how many words are there in the English language

Here is one test for how many words average American knows

Here is a test you can take