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January 8, 2014

Why sounds matter in proclaiming God’s Word

by Dave Malnes

The words from our mouth can define who we are. Our dialect reveals to people where we are from.

The New York Times recently released a short quiz online that attempted to pinpoint the location of a person’s dialect. (take the quiz here) It is stunningly accurate.

I grew up in Seattle and lived on the west coast before moving to Minnesota. After ten years living in the upper Midwest, our family settled in Boise twelve years ago.

The dialect quiz revealed that I sound like a person living in Salt Lake City with strong influences from northern California and Seattle. Minneapolis registered a slight blip.

My words are like a living map of where I lived and how much I am influenced by its culture.

People are defined by the sounds they make.

I once taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to adults who immigrated to America from Vietnam and China. English is a very difficult language for Asians to learn and to speak properly. It can be painful for American ears to listen to a Chinese person trying to speak English. In the same way, the Chinese and Vietnamese language is widely considered the most difficult language for Americans to learn. It’s equally as painful for their ears to hear an American try to speak their language.

There is a reason for this.

To speak American English clearly, a person must produce sounds by using their tongue and muscles around the roof of their mouth. In my ESL classes, I taught my students how to use their tongue so they can be more easily understood by Americans.

During this time, I attempted to learn the language of my students. It was an immense challenge because Vietnamese is a tonal language. Speaking Vietnamese is not just about learning new words, but learning how to communicate new sounds. Every vowel has five to seven different tones. Each tone of the same vowel speaks a word very distinct from each other. To make the appropriate sound requires using muscles around your throat while keeping your tongue frozen in its place. This process requires training muscles to be used in a way they have never been used before.

It takes many months to train your voice muscles to make the right sounds. And, you have to be willing to look foolish and fail miserably to learn.

After months of training and learning, I attempted to speak Vietnamese to a man who recently arrived in America. While speaking, I was very confident I was using the right words. However, the Vietnamese man simply stared back at me with a very confused look. He had no idea what I was trying to say. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was attempting to speak Vietnamese. It might as well been speaking Swahili.

It’s not the words that matter as much as the sounds to produce the word.

I was using the right words in my own head, but I was not using the right sounds.

Sounds matter if you want to be understood

Words matter if you want to understand.

No wonder there is power in God’s Word.

It His way to communicate to the world.

He is the Word. We are its sound.

God’s seal of approval has been imprinted on our soul — our very being. We are His marker. We represent His authority. Christians – those who place their trust in the promises of God – are called to place his seal on the world. Not just through our actions of a life set apart from the world, but by our words – our sounds – that testify to the presence of Christ within us.

What sounds are you making for Christ?  Here are three ways to consider:

  • Take time out today to ask God how to be His sound and look for specific opportunities to plant the seeds of His Word. Be careful. You might stumble over that opportunity that has been right in front of your feet this whole time.
  • Be committed to read and study His Word. This is your fuel, your marching orders, your way of being His Sound.
  • Stretch yourself and exercise your faith. Consciously and prayerfully place yourself in a position where you are rubbing elbows with those whom God wants His sound to be heard.

 

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