Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Making Ourselves Understood

Words are a writer’s most important tool, more important than our computer, our cat, or our hot chocolate. Without them, books and articles can’t exist. And we can’t use just any old words—they have to be just the right ones, and completely understood.

On Thursday, I embark on a new challenge. There is a great need for languages in our ward, and we will be offering English, sign language, Spanish, and Portuguese as part of our literacy program. I’m the literacy leader, and appropriate calling for an author. My friend and I are tackling the English class. We have no special training and neither of us know the languages of our students, other than a vaguely remembered smattering of high school Spanish (and for me, high school was long, long ago.) When someone pointed out my lack of credentials to teach ESL, I pointed out that I was much cheaper than the classes taught by professionals, and that there are waiting lists for those classes. I’ll do until they can get a better teacher.

We are using the Book of Mormon Stories as the text for the religious half of the class. Since they’re meant for children, I thought they would be easy to teach. However, because a number of our students will not be LDS and a number don’t speak any English at all, I’ve realized this is harder than it seemed.

It’s easy to teach some words. Put up pictures of men and women, say the words as you sort them, and they will understand what the words mean. But then you get to sentences like this one: Many churches claimed to be true.

Many is doable, more or less. Churches can be shown. But what about true? You can’t put up a picture of the word true. I know what it means. I use the word all the time. I can define it—if you know enough English to understand the definition. But in an EFL class to brand new English speakers? The word true is challenging. What do you do with the word prophet, when you’re teaching it to people who don’t know what a prophet is and don’t have the words to understand the explanation?

Words are powerful tools, but they are more complicated than I really understood. When I sit down to write, I am beginning to more greatly appreciate those tools, and the importance of making my meaning understood, no matter what level of background my reader might have for the topic on which I’m writing.

1 comment:

Anne Bradshaw said...

This is such a worthwhile calling, Terrie. Quite the brain taxer, by the sound of things--even for a writer. But the blessings coming to those who learn to read are enormous and eternal.