Worlds Are Created From Words

From the late 1950s through the 2000s, enrollment in foreign language programs at the university level grew steadily. After 2009, language class enrollments began to drop.

Leigh Jones, from WORLD Radio, interviewed several professors to find out why college students are less interested in learning a foreign language. Julianne Bryant, who teaches Spanish at Biola University, attributes the decline, in part, to the recession in 2008, which led students to pursue degrees that might lead to better pay. Students perceive language-learning to be too hard, and they often don’t see the payoff in acquiring that skill until they are out in the work world.

The bigger concern of Bryant and other professors is not economic, but cultural. English is the lingua franca today, even though most of the world doesn’t speak it (only one in five, actually). Students have adopted the widespread cultural assumption that English is the only language that really matters. If you’re privileged with English as your native tongue, why put in the time or effort to learn a different language?

The answer has more to do with personal formation than merely the ability to communicate. Donna Summerlin, head of the department of language and literature at Lee University, sees language learning at the heart of a liberal arts education. “We live in a global society and people to be truly educated need to know something about the world beyond their little corner of it.”

True. That’s why it’s ironic to see the number of people who speak other languages increasing in the United States at the same time so many language programs are closing. Jones’s report showed that, due to the need for bilingual people, some professionals find better compensation as translators than teachers.

Languages as Worlds 

Not long ago, I picked up the new book from Gaston Dorren (a famous polyglot who speaks six languages and can read nine more). Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages opens with a quote from Alok Rai:

“Language is such an intimate possession, something that one possesses in the same measure that one is possessed by it. Language is bound up with foundations of one’s being, with memories and emotions, with the subtle structures of the worlds in which one lives.”

Language is tightly connected to how we perceive reality. We inhabit a world of language. For example, in Romanian there are two major words for tree: pom and copac. One refers to fruit-bearing trees, and the other to any tree. There is overlap with these synonyms (and many times they are used interchangeably), but in order to use them with dictionary precision, one must become an expert on identifying types of trees. Another example would be the more than a dozen words for snow in Central Alaskan Yupik.

When seen in this light, language learning becomes more than just doing diagrams, memorizing vocabulary, or figuring out the right verb tenses. The more fluent you are in another language, the more you realize that some words are virtually impossible to translate accurately. You come across concepts and shades of meaning that find no one-to-one correspondence. You have to live within the world of the language before you can fully grasp the meaning of a word or phrase.

This is why Bible scholars make the claim that “all translation is treachery.” It’s not that we can’t translate well, but that we can’t translate all. Words do not always capture all the particular shades of meaning when going from one tongue to another.

Benefits of Being Bilingual

What’s more, languages provide different structures of thought. Speaking another language is learning how to navigate a different world, with its own expressions, colloquialisms, and linguistic logic. For this reason, the benefits of being fluent in two or more languages go far beyond the “ability to communicate.” Over time, you find you can switch mental tracks in your mind. You think differently when you can enter into another linguistic world and view things from a different mental superstructure.

A few years ago, I wrote about the “brainy benefits of being bilingual,” and I included an excerpt from Time magazine that explained a few of the cognitive benefits of knowing another language:

Research is increasingly showing that the brains of people who know two or more languages are different from those who know just one—and those differences are all for the better. Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. 

Learning another language stretches our minds and opens up new windows of imagination. It also gives us more words with which to praise our King. O, for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise! (Might we at least try for two or three?)

Turnaround? 

Perhaps we will see a turnaround in language learning on university campuses. Surely we need more people who can see the world from various angles—something that fluency in another language makes possible.

Perhaps we will also see renewed enthusiasm among church leaders for learning the biblical languages. One of the best ways to bridge the gap between the cultures of the biblical authors and our present-day circumstances is by entering their linguistic world and engaging their inspired words on their own terrain.

We lose something precious when we lose the desire to speak another language. Let’s hope this trend reverses itself soon.

> Read more from Trevin.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
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Do the Words We Use Limit the Solutions We Create?

Uncaging vision involves meticulous articulation. 

Every single word, metaphor or story that drives your vision must be carefully created if you want to have a stunning impact.

As Deborah Mills-Scofield, writing in HBR.org recently said:

Language is paradoxical.  In some ways, it doesn’t keep pace with the rate of societal and technological change (e.g., TV show, carbon copy) and in others, new words are created almost daily in response to our fast-changing world (e.g., selfie, MOOC).  There is a balance between using the past to understand the present and guide the future, on the one hand, and on the other, creating something fresh that leaves the old behind.  We need analogies to understand the new (e.g., horseless carriage) yet they also hold us back by it constraining our thinking (e.g., horseless carriage).

So I have a challenge for you. Watch your language and the language of those around you.  See what words you are using and how you’re using them. Do they help you and your organization move forward? View the world differently? Open your mind to new possibilities? Or do they constrain how you view the world?

And when you change the words, does the world change as well?

Recently, I ran into a new church planter in my hometown Starbucks. He thanked me again for writing Church Unique and was enthusiastic to share the results of their arduous process of walking the Vision Pathway found in the book. I was stunned by the clarity and eloquence of his mission to “make true disciples by being true disciples.” The name of his church is “One Life Church” and their living language vision is spearheaded by the rallying cry
“Now, we really live.” I left that day greatly encouraged that another “everyday” pastor was pressing into and wrestling through the art of word choice. Another pastor was becoming a skillful visionary.

My favorite way of capturing the thrust that language matters is found in the phrase: “Words create worlds.”

So if the words we use as leaders do indeed create worlds for our followers, what, may I ask, are you saying?


Want to learn more about the importance of language in communicating your vision? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.

Read more from Will here.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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Words Create Worlds – The Language We Use Shapes the Culture We Lead

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle tells the fascinating story of some experiments that Stanford psychologist and author Carol Dweck has conducted with fifth graders in multiple settings.

The fifth graders were put into two different groups and given the same tests. After completing the first test, the first group was told, “You must be smart at these problems,” and the second group was told, “You must have worked hard at these problems.”

The subtle and small difference made a big impact.

In preparation for the next test, the children were asked if they wanted to try an easier test or a more difficult one. As a group, those affirmed for their hard work wanted the more difficult task and the opportunity to learn. Those affirmed for their intelligence wanted the easy test. Likely they believed intelligence was the chief value, and they feared losing their good standing, their identification as the smart ones. In another round of tests, more difficult in nature, the children who were affirmed for their intelligence gave up much more quickly than those who were affirmed for their hard work.

The students returned to the original test, and the “you must be smart” group scored 20% lower than they did at first. The “you must have worked hard” group improved their scores by 30%.

The point, according to both Coyle and Dweck, is the language “you must have worked hard” fosters motivation and a growth mind-set, while the language “you must be smart” fosters the belief that intelligence is fixed. The small change in language makes a profound impact.

In organizations, in churches, and in families, language matters. Many have said that “words create worlds,” and I have found the phrase to be true. As leaders, the language we use helps shape the cultures we lead.

The words you use to articulate your mission, values, and strategy are essential. You can use language as a powerful tool to bring clarity and direction to the teams you lead and the people you serve. Or you can, as many do, underestimate the power of language and create confusion without careful attention to the words that describe the direction of your organization.

 Read more from Eric here.

Would you like to learn more about using language as a powerful tool to bring clarity to your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
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The Way You Use Words Determines the Culture You Create

Words create worlds.

Words are powerful, and the way you use them determines the culture you create. It’s true in a business organization, it’s true in church life, and it’s true in the home. I am recognizing more and more the sheer power that language plays in all these arenas, but this weekend I became more acutely aware of the “home” area. But we weren’t at home this weekend. We were camping.

And, admittedly, I’m not a great camper. I’m trying to learn how to be because my oldest son is, in fact, a really great camper. But by the time I got to night 2 with my 3 kids, staring down a night in the 30′s, with everyone drawing their energy from hot dogs and just a few hours sleep, my patience was running thin. And because it was, my words were running thick. I said some things that I shouldn’t have said.

It was one of those moments when, directly after a statement is made, you wish you could have it back. I knew it was too much, too direct, and the way I knew it was by how good it felt. I felt so righteous and so justified, and I know my heart; the vast majority of the time when I feel that way something has gone haywire.

But words are powerful; you can’t take them back no matter how much you wish you could. Once it’s been said, it’s been forever said. And words have a way of lodging themselves in our memories. They set up camp deep inside our minds and stay there.

So what do you do when you can’t take the words back?

You recognize the power of words, and you use them again.

James wrote about the power of words in chapter 3 of the book that bears his name:

Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison (James 3:3-8).

Though James was instructing us about the negative potential of words, the power works both ways. Granted, a positive use of words might not necessarily be equivalent to the negative, but the power still remains:

Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21).

When you can’t take the words back, make sure the next ones are ones you don’t want to:

“I’m sorry.”

“Please forgive me.”

“I was wrong.”

These are words that flow so much harder from the tongue than the ones of impatience and anger, but these words have power, too. Don’t neglect that power while you’re mourning what’s already been said.

>> Read more from Michael.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.