What was your favorite subject in school? I mean, besides phys ed and lunch? Mine was math, but I also liked history and English. Looking back on it 30 years after high school, it’s a wonder I did as well as I did, considering the idiosyncrasies of the English language.
It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to learn English as a second language, though millions of people have done so. Take the word “their” for instance. Using the same pronunciation we also say “there” and “they’re.” Not to mention “to,” “too,” and “two.” Or “your” and “you’re.”
Imagine you grew up speaking Spanish, Russian, Chinese or Swahili. Then you begin to learn English, and you find out that each of the following words have at least two different meanings (depending on vowel pronunciation or which syllable you emphasize): wound, produce, refuse, polish, lead, desert, present, bass, dove, object, invalid, close, does, sewer, sow, wind, row, tear, subject and intimate. Confused yet?
How about homonyms – words that sound the same, but are spelled differently? Like meet and meat; so and sew; affect and effect; air, heir and err; altar and alter; ant and aunt; won and one … and many, many more. Had enough, yet? Let’s talk about spellings like “ough,” that can be pronounced several different ways. There’s “oo” as in through; with a long “o” sound, as in though; “uff,” as in tough; “aw,” as in bought; or “off,” as in cough … just to name some.
It’s no wonder communication is such a challenge in our world! Whether between co-workers, spouses, in-laws, neighbors, races, cultures, ethnic groups, or even between parents and teens (now there’s a communication gap, huh?) … we have to be intentional to really hear what people are trying to say. And we have to be just as intentional to say what we want in such a way as to get our thoughts across, and understood.
You might be surprised to know how much the Bible has to say about how we talk to one another. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29) is not only talking about cursing. It goes on to say “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” Colossians 3 encourages us to avoid anger, slanders and lies. Other verses about how we speak tell us to keep from deceit (Psalms 34), put away devious talk (Proverbs 4) and slander (Proverbs 10), and to not gossip (Proverbs 11, 16, 18, and 20).
It would be naïve to think we could solve all the world’s problems merely by learning to communicate better. But what if we start with our own sphere of influence? What if we were “gracious in [our] speech … to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down?”
After all, it’s probably easier to do that than it is to conjugate verbs and memorize all the exceptions to the rules.
Editor’s note: Larry Ambrose is the pastor of Manning First Assembly of God Church.