You have no idea how crazy you actually sound until you have a translator staring at you as if to say “Were those words actually english?” Or the time the translator spoke for four times as long as you did and then explained that he had to explain the words I was using and half way through explaining figured out what the words were.
Yesterday I also received an email from someone proof reading something of mine for a website and his comment was ‘What does the last sentence mean… or am I just not post modern enough’
There are moments in the life of a cross cultural traveller when it becomes very clear that the words you are using aren’t being understood and need to be simplified.
And this is that moment where we get to choose to serve people who we are speaking and writing to… and change. Or arrogantly go on, expecting them to learn our slang. (Some of which is easy to learn… I.E i will never stop using the Australianism “Heaps” because it is visually logical)
We need to know who we are speaking to. For many reasons, but that main one is – because we serve. The communicator is a servant. Communication doesn’t end with the speaker/writer giving their message. The understanding of the listener is the main reason the communication is made. (more on that later)
But a few situations that are made more effective when one knows your audience.
1. Explaining things outside of ones worldview is difficult. Use tangible pictures and examples.
– This has been huge in my life the last half decade. Its hard for some people to understand what happens on outreach when you leave the city and head to villages in Asia and Africa. The culture, the spiritual atmosphere and time priorities are completely different to urban Canberra. So to serve your audience the best, you use different words.
Standing up there and proclaiming ‘and we saw and demon manifest and come out of this woman, and the shrieks were terrifying’ would be true, but unhelpful if the listeners spiritual experience is literary at best. Not there are limits to this part of the example, because people need to hear these good stories. But over the last few years I have found there are ways to present the ‘stranger’ parts of the holy spirits movements, and there are ‘unhelpful ways’ that usually end up in endless round-in-circles theology debates.
Poverty is another one. Certain photographs and stories don’t do justice to the peoples lives that we interact with, so certain details can be left out or reworded. It is interesting in the organisation i work in, because we have long titles for certain things so we shorten most of what we do to 4 letter abbreviations. Standing up in front of non-YWAMmers and saying you just got back from DTS outreach with and SBS team just before going to the NLM… isn’t quite clear what you are talking about.
The opposite is true too. If you are in front of the initiated, use all the shortenings you can. Super appropriate and quicker than all the other things.
2. If a word is offensive, don’t use it unless you are trying to offend.
– When Europeans come to Australian christian communities and casually use the F word… Or if Australians go to the American south and damn everything Hell, or say Satan in Scandinavia.. or call someone fat… or be racist or sexist… even if its funny (to you) ITS NOT HELPFUL TO YOUR MESSAGE.
I love offending people in some contexts. Offence softens people to certain things. Offence also gets rid of awkward mask wearing. You can’t be offended and fake. But I have also learned that sometimes one doesn’t want to offend and therefore shouldn’t use certain words.
3. If a CONCEPT is offensive in the context you are in… don’t talk about it.
– Alcohol, certain TV shows, certain sports teams, certain political issues – etc – close people down. I now refuse to talk about Israel with certain humans. I don’t talk about the hunger games. I don’t talk about beer with certain people or on certain networks because there are places in the world that consider it unhelpful for truth to spread across the planet. Wars have been fought for less reasons than a falling out about two opposite and passionate convictions.
One would not get up in front of a conservative dry church and talk about the awesome wine you drank the night before. One shouldn’t get up in front of a preschool class and give a detailed run down of Game of Thrones. Because somethings aren’t appropriate for anyone and somethings aren’t appropriate because of the listeners convictions and as the communicator you can honour all parties by avoiding or rewording stories.
4. FASHION / COLOUR.
The one i have fought long and hard. But if you are dressed like a hobo, most will receive you, the speaker as a hobo. If you have a fluro green background on your blog, most eyes will be offended by the look and ignore the words. If your formatting or grasp of language is all over the shop (not looking at anyone….) or if you use “then” instead of “than” constantly. it makes it harder for the receiver of your message.
Think about your audience. Know your audience. Serve your audience.