Practice Breeds Competence, Competence Breeds Confidence

by Alejandra Figueroa, Speaking Fellow ’16

I wasn’t always as comfortable as I am now with the prospect of public speaking. During my 8thgrade valedictorian speech, I read off my paper the entire time. College student me would have scolded 8th grade me for that ( I would have told myself to use an outline with bullet points).

The point is, no one grows up feeling confident speaking in large crowds. It takes time to develop those skills and that confidence. That’s why I wanted to share this article I recently came across on, which mentions some popular names in the media and the difficulties they had with public speaking.

We may all think of Julia Roberts as a fantastic actress, but little did we know that she had stuttering issues as a child, and received speech therapy. Now she’s speaking at the Guild Awards! Same goes for Warren Buffet, who was so uncomfortable with public speaking when he was younger that he purposefully avoided college classes where he might be required to make presentations. With diligent practice, he overcame this fear. Same goes for Winston Churchill, who was a lisp and would freeze up early in his political career. Again, what got him through it was diligent practice.

What do these individuals have in common? They practiced! That’s the key to mastering public speaking. As the article concludes, practice breeds competence, and competence breeds confidence.

Certain individuals tend to underestimate how much practice can help us in overall improvement of daily interactions. For instance, I practice in trying to reduce the amount of fillers I use in my everyday speech. There are always aspects that we can improve upon.

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Weird English

A reading I had for class: the introduction of a book called “Weird English,” by Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien. 

“In immigrant communities where weird English is exclusively an oral phenomenon, pidgins and misspellings may have meant a lack of education or fluency. But for weird-English writers, the composition of weird English is an active way of takin’ the community back” (Ch’ien, 6). Ch’ien references recent writers who are combining English with another language or languages to write works rich in reminders of multiculturality. (There’s some weird English for you.) Lois Yamanaka, Irvine Welsh, Jonathon Safran Foer, Derek Walcott, Touré… some of the authors leading this new genre of “weird English.”

“1. Weirding deprives English of its dominance and allows other languages to enjoy the same status; 2. Weird English expresses aesthetic adventurousness at the price of sacrificing rules; 3. Weird English is derived from nonnative English; 4. The rhythms and structure of orthodox English alone are not enough to express the diasporic cultures that speak it” (Ch’ien, 11).

But this is hardly a new genre. The best writers in the English language mess with the English language. Whether it’s from another language or slang or n’importe quoi or ничего, it’s all u n o r t h o d o x.

The opening lines from A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess): “What’s it going to be then, eh?” There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days….

The opening lines of Finnegan’s Wake (James Joyce): riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

So what do rules mean in literature? Are rules reserved for academia? Is the orthodox version of English for those who wish to only use English for communication? In that case though, what are we trying to communicate at places like Barnard/Columbia? If we are trying to learn how to think, shouldn’t our writing be a reflection of the multiplicity of influences that exist in all of our lives? Americans have such a reputation of being unable (or at least unwilling) to learn new languages. But English is such a rich language, if we are willing to push its linguistic barriers. As a language, it is extraordinarily tolerant of foreign words. carpe diem spaghetti pistol au revoir chai gesundheit…

Не знаю. Может быть это ничего ещё раз.




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Writing Fellows Meet Erica Mann Jong ’63

Barnard’s home page posted three reflections today written by Writing Fellows Claire Daniels ’15, Gabrielle Davenport ’15, and Katy Lasell ’15 about meeting Erica Mann Jong ’63 of our Erica Mann Jong Writing Center this semester. Check them out:

An excerpt from Katy Lasell:

“In blue velvet cat shoes, and armed with her trademark wit and candor, Jong shared with us stories from her own undergraduate experience at Barnard (“if a man was in the room, there always had to be one foot on the floor” – what, I wondered, could that possibly stop from happening?); advice on how to engage with those who proclaim themselves not to be feminists (“okay, so you want less pay than men? That’s fine.”); and tips on how to be photographed for 10 minutes without losing your mind. (“Breathe. Deeply.”) We also were lucky enough to hear an excerpt from her new novel, Fear of Dying, in which a woman confronts her fading sexuality and her mortality. I assumed these would be exclusively grim topics, but Jong had us laughing on the first page.”

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Considering Baltimore: Write-In/Speak-In Reflection Space

Last Wednesday (4/29), the Writing and Speaking Programs sponsored a “Write-in/Speak-in Reflection Space” on Lehman Lawn in response to recent events in Baltimore—and in partnership with the Collective Advocacy Project. At this event, students (hopefully including you!) had the opportunity to speak and/or write about what’s happening in Baltimore from student perspectives. Thank you to everyone who let their voices be heard.

Below are just a few of all the submissions on display on the second floor of Barnard Hall in the Writing and Speaking Center. Please stop by the Center to continue reading each others’ responses and sharing your own. The submissions box will be here until the end of the Spring semester.

We believe this Reflection Space is an opportunity to highlight the political value of student voices and the acts of writing and speaking as mediums for dialogue and political change. We hope you will contribute and be heard!


The Barnard College Writing and Speaking Programs
The Collective Advocacy Project

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Calling All Barnard Students

Co-Authored by Danielle Owen ’17 and Zoe Ehrenberg ’17

Who are the peer tutors who staff the Barnard College Writing Center? To many students, the Writing Fellows are an elite group of white English majors; they wear wide-rimmed Warby Parkers, snobbishly correct their friends if they dare to confuse “there’s” and “theirs”, and provoke uselessly pedantic debates regarding the Oxford comma.

This misperception of the Writing Center is caused by an unawareness of what Writing Fellows really do, and subsequently, why English majors are certainly not the only ones qualified for the job. Following their acceptance into the program, Writing Fellows take a three-credit training course called “The Writer’s Process”. In this class, we do not spend hours memorizing over-scrupulous grammar rules, nor do we simply dissect essays in search of smooth transitions and captivating topic sentences. Grammar rules are a topic of discussion, but we also consider how they may enable elitism and privilege by discrediting the validity of someone’s thoughts. We think about the relationship between identity and all forms of communication. We begin to understand why it is that writers struggle to say what it is they want to say, and what kinds of questions we should ask in order to help them say it. We learn that we can help students with their First-Year English papers, even if we’ve never personally done a close reading of Paradise Lost—knowing nothing about the subject matter of a student’s paper is an advantage. It allows us to ensure that the writer is clearly articulating her ideas to the reader. There is nothing about what we learn or do that necessitates being an English major.

The Writing Center pedagogy is centered around inclusive, collaborative learning. Accordingly, the Fellows themselves should represent the inclusivity central to our mission. All Barnard students write, regardless of major. The process of selecting new WFITs (Writing Fellows in Training) is currently underway. Any Barnard first-year or sophomore who is passionate about writing—about communicating and creating knowledge—has the potential to be a Fellow, regardless of her stance on the Oxford comma.

Who are the Writing Fellows? We are students who often struggle with writing, just as you do. We are empathic and non-directive and we want to enrich your work—not by pointing out grammatical errors (unless you want us to), but by investing in your ideas and thoughts. Our main priority is helping you figure out what it is you want to say, and how to communicate it clearly. The Writing Center is a resource for the Barnard community, and it is essential that Writing Fellows are reflective of the diversity that exists within our student body.

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Apply to Become a Writing Fellow

Check out the below, inaugural video — “Breaking Down the Writing Center” — made by current Writing Fellows about what it means to be a Writing Fellow.

Writing Fellow applications are due by 5PM tomorrow (Friday, 2/27). Please visit to download the application. We hope all eligible first-years and sophomores will apply!

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Last Week’s Cicero Speech Contest

by Jenny Singer, a Speaking Fellow, ’15

At 6:05pm on Thursday, November 13th, the James Room on the 4th floor of Barnard hall was filled with people milling around in search of unoccupied folding chairs, last-minute sparks of genius, and Insomnia cookies. Every person had arrived to watch Barnard students engage in a sport that requires little special equipment or physical strength: public speaking. Hosted by the Barnard Speaking Fellows, the Cicero Speaking Contest entered its second year with a successful evening of persuasive and impromptu speeches judged by Barnard professors, administrators, alumna, and trustees.

The festivities began with a welcome from the head of the Speaking Program, Professor Daniela Kempf, who challenged the Barnard community to more fully welcome the art of rhetoric into their daily and academic lives. Kempf was followed by Barnard Senior Claire Bouchard, who read remarks from President Spar and welcomed the judges for the persuasive category, including Professor and Vice Provost Patricia Denison, Dean Christina Kuantsu, and Barnard Trustee Jyoti Menon. The six Barnard students who followed these introductions were given the opportunity to speak persuasively for five minutes on topics of their choosing. Each speech was uniquely exceptional and reflective of immense preparation, passion, and eloquence. Nicole Javorsky’s pathos-filled speech drew from personal experience and hard statistics to describe the damage public school health programs inflict on students’ wellbeing. Gabriela Aroca gave a stirring call to action for the change of the Barnard policy on transgendered students. The winners, in first and second place respectively Paymaneh Parhami and Becky Santora spoke about men’s roles in the feminist movement and the human rights crisis in Tibet.

The short intermission that followed this gave participants in the impromptu category time to prepare remarks on the prompt, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” The break found participants and audience members alike posing in the photo booth holding signs finishing the sentence “I speak up for…”, debating Trans equality and Tibet, and of course, eating Insomnia cookies. The fast-paced impromptu competition, judged by Professor and chair of the Physics department Timothy Halpin-Healy, Professor Kristina Milnor, and alumna Zahava Moerdler, featured contestants refuting and challenging traditional standards of femininity. “I am not a lady,” declared Jacey Kinnaird. Rathna Ramanathan, who took first place, compared her subversion of social expectations to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, and second place winner Ade Ajanaku cited Rosa Parks as one woman whose refusal to behave struck a match in the civil rights movement that became a beacon for equality. The evening ended with a raffle drawing which included prizes like President Spar’s book Wonder Woman, signed by Wonder Woman herself. As the room cleared and the final cookies were consumed, a group of students stood in the photo booth holding a sign that said “I raise my voice for…the Speaking Fellows.”

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