“Language arts” as a subject and formal class name, in middle school especially, is familiar to most of us. It’s the class that’s equivalent to “English” and “Humanities,” and its name may change form depending on where you live and go to school, along with your grade level. It’s the class where we read, write, and occasionally give presentations in front of everyone. It’s where we might be introduced to classics like To Kill a Mockingbird or Fahrenheit 451.
Often, though, we don’t consider what the course name and content truly entail: expression of the English language and of self. How we communicate with those around us and the outside world–from lengthy formal written essays to casual conversation at a social gathering–is us expressing, hopefully, our best self through language. And language expression is absolutely an art–one that can be developed and refined. It includes both writing and speaking, which is why most language arts classes include a speech or class presentation unit (though this generally accounts for a fraction of the curriculum, as most of us aren’t big fans of public speaking). Essays, emails, love letters, short stories, novels, speeches, texts…they’re all vessels for human to human communication. The words we choose and the order we arrange them, sentence length, and overall organization of our written mission come together to express our literal selves through the English language.
Then there’s art within the art. Punctuation is an invaluable tool in adding style, cadence, and overall readability to your writing. A well-punctuated piece of writing flows, almost lyrically, from line to line, effectively taking the reader from beginning to end. You’re actually lessening the burden on the reader, and a solid command of punctuation marks beyond periods, commas, and question marks will improve your writing (and grades!) dramatically. We also punctuate our speaking by way of voice inflection (tone and pitch changes) and body language. Observe some of the great political and social orators of history: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Margaret Thatcher, along with contemporary motivational speakers, the vast likes of whom include Oprah Winfrey, Robert Kiyosaki, Will Smith, and Steve Jobs. And my personal fictional favorite, Rocky Balboa. Look them up. Note how they communicate and inspire. How they pause, make eye contact, emphasize.
The “language arts” designation once irked me. I wanted it named something more specific and academic, like “English Composition,” or just “English,” even in the earlier grades. But, I’ve long since warmed up to the naming convention because the expression of the English language, in both written and spoken form, most certainly is an art, and its refinement will carry us through a lifetime of skillful, robust communication with the world around us.