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Speaking Their Language

Speaking Their Language

Lost in Translation

Every time I hear the song “Good Life” by OneRepublic I’m immediately taken back to our Disney family vacation last January. It was one of the best and most memorable vacations we’ve ever had, and it seems like now anytime a Disney commercial comes on anywhere in the house my family collectively begins singing the song. You know the song… “Oh, this is has gotta be the good life. This could really be…” It’s the kind you can’t get it out of your head once you hear it.

“… a good life, good life.”

Not long into our first day at EPCOT, I began to realize just how much of a global phenomenon Disney World is. Looking around, you couldn’t help but appreciate all the different races, nationalities, and most of all… languages being brought together there.

I wasn’t the only one in our group who picked up on the different languages, my daughter Grace was intrigued by them as well. It didn’t take long before my outgoing Grace, decided to engage another guests in conversation while standing in line for a ride. It was apparent they didn’t speak English, not one word. Every attempt Grace made to communicate in English was reacted to with a look of confusion. Seeing that she was making no head way, Grace opted to change her approach, and before I could intervene, decided she would try to speak to them in their own language.

Last time I checked, my nine year old daughter doesn’t speak Mandarin, but she gave it her best shot. Wow, just wow. That was an interesting one. Thankfully, for our family and Chinese-American relations, this person was incredibly gracious and simply smiled at Grace’s sincere attempt.

Speaking Their Language

As I think back on scene of miscommunication at Disney World, it strikes me that the current landscape in Student Ministry might not be too different. In a day when many students are starving to experience healthy relationships, the need to communicate love well and in a way in which they’re able to receive it is critical. Students need to hear that they are loved – most importantly loved by God, but also by others. Too often, our attempts to communicate that seem to fall flat.

When it’s done right, a timely compliment, a well thought out note, an appropriate hug, even a simple smile can often communicate deep belonging and love. But too often these small well-meant gestures fall on deaf ears because we have not taken the time to speak in a language the student understands.

The Love Languages

In his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman identifies five primary ways we tend to express and interpret love. Whether we realize it or not, each of us speaks in a native dialect of love. It’s what we’re familiar with, what we understand, and ultimately what we use to express our love for others. The language we express our love in is usually sincere, but may not always be understood by those around us. The following are the five major primary “languages” we use to give and receive love.

The Language of Verbal Affirmation

For those who believe actions always speak louder than words…. that’s not always true. For the student who is verbal affirmation, words mean the world. One well placed compliment can make their day or even week. Just the same, a hurtful word will often leave devastating effects.

The Language of Acts of Service

Words… just get it done…! Often, these words are heard from students who display the language of acts of service. Does taking out the trash, helping jump start a car, showing up to help mow the lawn show love? Absolutely!

The Language of Extended Time/ Quality Time

These students just simply want your time. Often it doesn’t need to be anything special… just your presence… and time. The longer, usually the better.

The Language of Gift Giving

In a nut shell, these people love giving and receiving gifts. These individuals take advantage of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and any other reason they can get their hands on to give you a gift.

The Language of Physical Touch

The physical touch person often communicates through hugs, holding hands, pats or slaps on the back, appropriate touches on the arm or shoulder, and even playing with ones’ hair.

What language do you speak?

It is important to clarify your own language before to trying to understand others. Which of these five languages do you find yourself using when trying to care for others? We tend to show love the same way we want to receive it. When another person shows love to you, in which language do you most enjoy receiving that love?

Once you know your own language, it is now important to become an expert at identifying the languages of your students. The temptation for all of us is to simply love our students in our own language, rather than observe, pinpoint, and then speak to them in their native tongue… Be intentional, recognize love is often communicated one conversation, one act of service, one smile at a time.

Keys to Remember

  • every student speaks a different language
  • what fills one student up, drains or possibly offends another
  • care for students in their language , not yours
  • slow down, take notice, be actively present in observing how each student best receives love
  • make a mental note when you see a student bristle at the wrong language being used. for example – a non physical touch person receiving a hug, awkward!
  • be intentional

The other day, Grace happened to mention our trip to Disney World. She laughingly recalled her silly attempt to speak Mandarin, but then paused for a moment before adding, “I really wish all of those people who spoke different languages could have understood me!” As a proud papa touched by her sincerity, I leaned down to her, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Someday, with work, you’ll be able to speak their language”.

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.