The Confusion of Language

Nimrod or God?
From Wikipedia: “The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 CE), recounted history as found in the Hebrew Bible and mentioned the Tower of Babel. He wrote that it was Nimrod who had the tower built and that Nimrod was a tyrant who tried to turn the people away from God. In this account, God confused the people rather than destroying them because annihilation with a Flood hadn’t taught them to be godly”.”

Words are powerful
They can turn us toward God or away from God. Toward each other or away from each other. Words can bring greater understanding or greater distance and hurt. They can bring about all sorts of emotions. They can scatter us or draw us closer to God and each other.

Merriam-Webster defines babel as “A confusion of sounds or voices. A scene of noise or confusion.”

Words. They matter.
Maybe you are at language school or at a foreign country you have gone to serve. Called to SHOW them Jesus. To TEACH them to love the Word of God. Or maybe you are  in high school or college trying to learn a new language in preparation for your future. And it all seems overwhelming. Too difficult to understand. Too hard to get the correct pronunciation. It helps to go for a walk. Take a break. Come back refreshed and realize words matter. Take the time. It will be worth it. I promise.

Hurtful words
Maybe you are gun-shy from stinging or disrespectful words aimed at you. Sometimes it helps to just take a break from each other, so you both can get a better perspective. Pray for wisdom for both of you. On the mission field, words can sting even deeper because of the added stress of being away from your normal support systems. That is when you make a conscious decision: Look to Jesus. He is your new support system.

Words. They can be spoken or in writing
Email, text, tweet, voicemail, snail mail, etc. All sorts of ways to bring joy or sadness to another. Too many words or not enough words. Words can hurt or they can heal. What is a person to do?

Innocent words can hurt unexpectedly
My sister was newly married and had visited her husband’s family in another area of the country. They had a teenage son. First meeting. He told her she was “tough”. She tried to smile nicely but didn’t know what to think. It was an unkind remark from her point of view. TOUGH.  Turns out,  he meant something good. He meant “pretty”. Who wudda figured? But it was a painful start in a new family relationship. (Remember: In-laws. First meeting! ) Who wudda figured that you would need a West Coast ENGLISH dictionary when you are from the ENGLISH speaking East Coast. Yup! Amazing.

Missionary challenges
As missionaries, or even as business-people dealing cross-culturally, words matter. I remember one of my BIG goofs while in Costa Rica at Spanish Language School. We had an Spanish speaking empleada at the home where we lived. And I was invited to her daughter’s wedding. I wanted to take a gift so I asked what she suggested I get for la novia (the bride). BUT…instead…I asked what I should get for la vaca (cow). Gloria (empleada) got an odd look on her face and then–as she noticed my quizzical look–she suddenly laughed right out loud. She then explained. Oops! Obviously, I had a long way to go in learning the language. I STILL don’t know how I thought of vaca for novia! A mystery!

Context matters
Because of the context of our conversation, Gloria knew what I had meant to say, but WOW I was so embarrassed when I realized what I had done. Months later, as we prepared to leave Costa Rica for Haiti, Gloria and I had a good chuckle out of remembering my multitude of language and cultural “goofs”. It had been difficult having to only speak Spanish in the home with her. But it was wise to be immersed like that. Learning the language was a necessity for survival!

Guess what?
Suddenly, as we are leaving, Gloria began speaking perfect English. She had watched me struggle all those months and never once “rescued” me by speaking English. Was she mean? No! She was a strong and wise woman who really wanted me to be prepared for my assignment. I  was stressed and confused a lot at the time, but I am very grateful now.

The confusion of language
Whether you are English speaking and talking to an English speaker–or English speaking and talking to a Spanish speaker–or attempting any other language combination, there can easily be confusion and misunderstandings. But, in taking the time to truly understand each other, there is joy. Taking the time is the key. And most of all, continuous prayer for favor, wisdom, and understanding of the language and of the culture, is a spiritual “weapon” for success.

Nimrod or Gloria?
Which would you choose? Nimrod encouraged the people to build the “Tower of Babel”, hoping to turn them away from God. And the people went along with it–hoping to be like God, I guess. Of course, we know it did not work out the way everyone had planned.

But, Gloria wanted us to learn that we needed to depend on God; and out of love, she would not make it easier OR rescue us from the pain of the language learning. It made us stronger and more confident that we could do it. We believed we had no other options. We learned we could actually lean on God and survive. AND even thrive in new cultures with new languages.

The secrets

  • You CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
  • You CAN learn to be content even when things are hard.
  • You CAN be joyFULL each day.
  • You CAN learn to laugh at yourself. At your mistakes. You can embrace the process.
  • You CAN rejoice because you KNOW He is with you every step of the way!

Do you have a story to share?  I’d love to hear from you…
Frustrated with language learning? I can help you learn to embrace the challenges…

Until next time,

God bless you bunches!Button-Contact-Pam
Awaiting His shout,

The MomCourager™


The Confusion of Language — 2 Comments

  1. Oh God, you really did put us in your place when you confused us with language and customs. It causes so many misunderstandings. I have seen powerful people reduced to quiet wall flowers due to laguage difficulties. I have also be prevledged to communicate with a few special people using more the laguage of love (your laguage) than the laguage of mouth. For that I give you thanks for helping me grow to understand you better. I give you thanks for special people who have helped me to understand that: Gloria, Ceci, Maricica, and Ghita.

    • Pam Taylor, The MomCourager said:

      Well said, Ellen! Thank you for taking the time to share your observations and experiences. And for naming and honoring the special people that God has placed in your life along the way!

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