Recently I began working for a company to teach English to children in China (VIP Kids). In the educational realm it is referred to as an ESL teacher, or English as a second language. Going through the application process taught me a lot about the way we talk and how it impacts how others hear and interpret what we are saying.
English is the tongue of commerce and business across the world. While it’s not law, even pilots are highly encouraged to speak and understand English, or at the least aviation English.
In teaching ESL, the difficulty comes when we speak with heavy accents, when we speak very quickly with complex sentences, and use incidental language.
Whether you are a young student across the world, or a pilot in the open skies, if English is not your first language these speech traits make it difficult for you to understand.
Now, flip this to the Church and her interactions with the world. How often do we use incidental language that makes it hard for those outside the church to understand? In Revise Us Again, Frank Viola calls this “Christianeze.” What about our speaking speed and the complexity of our speech?
Incidental language is made up of idioms, words, or expressions picked up from knowing a particular language. The longer we are active in the body of Christ the more we pick up on these particular language tidbits.
When teaching ESL, incidental language makes it difficult for the listener/learner to comprehend what you’re saying. It’s all the extra nuanced words that don’t fit into the curriculum. It probably sounds like the teacher on those old Charlie Brown cartoons, “wha wha, wha wha, wha wha.”
Our incidental Christian language can just go over some people’s head. It’s all those little Christian buzz-words we use in our talk.
Speaking Speed, And Complexity
When you’re a native English speaker it’s easy to speak and listen to other native English speakers. The speed and complexity of their vocabulary is easily absorbed, and you can communicate without issue (for the most part).
For a non-native speaker the faster and more complex the sentences, the less and less they understand. Already I’ve had a few instances where I spoke a little fast for a student, and they just stare like a deer in the headlights.
When Jesus is a second language, or even a foreign language, it’s difficult to grasp when Christians start talking at light speed about complexities of Christ, Calvin’s doctrine of salvation, of the mystery of the hypostatic union.
Being among the body has made Jesus our new native language. The dangers of “speaking Jesus” for a long time, is that our speech gets faster and more complex making it difficult for others to learn the language.
TPR stands for Total Physical Response. It’s the concept of using your total body: hands, face, big smiles, and shoulders to communicate the word or words you are teaching.
In speaking Jesus we have to use TPR with our life. The habitus of our life has to communicate louder than just the words we say. When we are native Jesus speakers it’s not just enough to say the words, but we have to have a total physical response to the Gospel.
When we are trying to effectively communicate the story of Jesus, it’s a native language to those who are among the body, but to those that are not native “Jesus speakers” it is a completely foreign language. They may understand a few words, like I only understand a handful of words in Spanish, (half of which are “bad” words), but they don’t comprehend the language.
You are speaking a foreign language to a world that is dying. You are the fragrance of life, and so is your speech. Jesus is your native language, but Jesus is a second language to much of the world around you. Speak clearly, smile, use the TPR of your life to help the world learn the language of Jesus.