In today’s world it is certainly an advantage if you can communicate in more than one language.

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My grandchildren (ages 9 and 12) are bilingual. They were born in Tokyo and lived there until 18 months ago. Consequently their first language is Japanese although they are very fluent in English. A couple of years ago my grandson said he wanted to learn Chinese. When asked why he replied, “When Mom and Dad don’t want us to know what they are saying, they speak in Chinese.” There are many reasons for wanting to be fluent in more than one language.

In a couple of weeks those grandchildren and their parents are moving to Spain to live for at least a year. Their English and Japanese, or the parents limited Chinese, will not be of much value to them in this new country, especially when the children enter Spain’s public schools. They will quickly learn that the ability to speak and understand Spanish would be a definite advantage.

I took three years of Spanish in high school many years ago. Recently my wife and I participated in two 10-week Spanish classes. I know a little about conjugation of verbs and recognize a lot of words and phrases but I cannot communicate very well in Spanish. The primary reason- I don’t use the language in my daily life. Most of what I learned a long time ago has been lost due to the failure to use it on a regular basis.

Of course words are not the only way to communicate. Language is not always verbal. A smile can speak volumes. An embrace or a thumbs-up can be very affirming. Listening attentively to another person’s expressions of grief, frustration, anger, or dreams can be therapeutic.

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As a matter of fact, words sometimes are the least effective means of communication. They are often perceived as being empty and meaningless, and sometimes they actually are. The effort to verbalize may in fact obstruct communication.

It has been said that actions speak louder than words. Of course, deeds don’t actually create sound but they can clearly demonstrate understanding, caring, and compassionate in ways that words alone cannot. The Apostle Paul said, “If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1, Common English Bible).

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St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” There is a lack of evidence that indicates that he never actually said that. However, in his instructions on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching, he said, “All the Friars … should preach by their deeds.” Essentially he is saying make sure your deeds match your words.

 

Of all the languages we might learn and “speak”, perhaps the language of love is the most important. It always includes words and actions.

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Jamie Jenkins

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