Learning and understanding language seems an ongoing process. It was a tremendous learning experience for me to serve for two years with incredible elementary reading teachers. These women were so knowledgeable about their craft that half the time I thought they were speaking a foreign language. They used terms like phonemic awareness, chunking, schema, visualization, anchor charts, text elements, text features, text organization. Then they would start chatting about the best assessments to determine student fluency and comprehension: DRA, BRI, DIBLES, STAR... I desperately didn't want to appear as ignorant as I felt, but I kept hoping someone would notice my deer in the highlights look and start breaking some of this information down into terms I could understand. Have you been in a conversation like that?
To tell you the truth, I was feeling downright stupid because I didn't know the language. Then I watched one or two, or several, in the Star Wars series. Maybe you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek. They all incorporate unique languages or vocabulary. Mr. Spock even threw in a hand sign with his salutation, 'live long and prosper'. ( I'm very proud to say I can salute you with both hands.) Funny thing is, I don't remember seeing anyone holding a flashlight and translation dictionary in any of those movies, and yet, for the most part we understood what was being communicated.
In the melting pot we celebrate as America, there are probably more dialects or at least regional connotations, than can be counted. When my family first moved 'up north', my mom ordered a Coca Cola at a snack bar one summer day. The waitress look baffled, but not wanting to risk a tip, dutifully brought Mama a cup of hot cocoa. Do you pull into the drive-thru to order a soda, a pop, a soft drink? Being the transient society we are, I'll bet you can think of some confusing colloquialisms of your own.
Ruby Payne, the author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, writes and speaks about 'ranges' we typically use, in any language depending on audience; or how we use inflection, vocabulary, syntax to communicate. Not only does Payne explain the changes in our language between meeting with boss in the conference room on Tuesday morning and hanging out with friends at the local bar and grill, she also addresses how language can be a barrier to success. Maybe that's why we have the term 'effective communication' in our vocabularies.
All that makes me wonder how often our interactions use language as a weapon or defense mechanism. Raise your hand if someone has ever used language to try and patronize you. Don't raise your hand if you've ever used language to patronize someone else. What about persuasion or coercion? How about to soothe or comfort? Far too often, I forget the power of language, for good and for bad. Perhaps I need to choose my words, and everything that goes along with them, more carefully.
How do you use your words to validate and empower others?
When I read great literature, great drama, speeches, or sermons, I feel that the human mind has not achieved anything greater than the ability to share feelings and thoughts through language.
James Earl Jones