Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 18, 2013

Speak with a forgiving heart

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — A woman recently said she was having a difficult time thinking before she speaks to her newly-minted adult sons. She would pop off with a comment that wasn’t well received and the discussion would go downhill from there, while her husband could more calmly carry on a more productive exchange with the two young college men.

“Try thinking of English as a second language,” I suggested. We may actually have to give that much thought to what we are going to say, what words we will use, or what inflection is employed for it to be better understood and received.    

I can think about it in the reverse — as if I were trying to speak French. It would take me forever to deliver the message I wanted to impart or ask a question if I had to parlez-vous Français. Actually if I had to say it in French, I couldn’t. My friends and I were texting in a group message the other day and they started texting in French. Both majored in the language in college and are relishing the fact that they have a friend who can speak it. Two years of high school French more than 30 years ago — I couldn’t understand much.

The group of women gathered that day when I suggested an ESL approach to communication have children of all ages — adults, younger teens, tweens, elementary age and toddlers. No matter the child’s age, we recognize the way we say something can impact how they feel about themselves, how they feel about us (and our credibility), and how they’ll receive our advice, input, request or question. Especially if it is negative in nature, we have to be mindful of how we say it.

One of the women says she is blunt and just speaks before she thinks and says things that may not be helpful, may be too harsh. We all nodded knowingly. We all do it.

But I had a rare example of a moment just the day before where I kept my cool when confronted with misplaced homework, a missed bus and an unscheduled car ride to school before I’d even had a cup of coffee. I’ve been known to freak out over a messy bedroom or nag about forgotten tasks, but I just went with the flow — probably too sleepy to respond otherwise. And my charming daughter chatted with me the whole way to school, making it more than worth it to spend the extra 20 minutes together before sunrise.

So, when the woman said she has a hard time because she just blurts out what she’s thinking that’s when I said, “Stop for 10 seconds and try thinking about it as ESL, English as a second language. Think of a better way to say it. As if you have to use a different language than your first language.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way before but it made sense to me. Then I learned about Second-language acquisition (also known as second-language learning, or L2 acquisition) which, according to Wikipedia, is the process by which people learn a second language. Second-language acquisition can be divided into five stages: preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency and advanced fluency. The first stage, preproduction, is also known, ironically enough, as the silent period. Kind of like that 10 seconds we’ve heard about before — take 10 before responding to something or someone upsetting you.

In preproduction, a learner understands about 500 words, but doesn’t know how to speak the language yet. This silent period could last three to six months, apparently. Since we don’t have that much time to respond to our kids, we’ll have to learn more quickly.

The second stage of language acquisition is early production, where the word knowledge jumps to about 1,000 and learners are able to speak in short phrases, maybe memorize chunks of language. The third stage is speech emergence, where they can use about 3,000 words and ask simple questions or use easy phrases, possibly making grammatical mistakes, but still able to be understood. This is may be a good goal for parents. But those who excel can continue to intermediate fluency with use of 6,000 words and more complicated sentence structures. At this point, learners are “able to share their thoughts and opinions,” which is ideal for parents of adult children. The final stage is advanced fluency, which is typically reached between five and 10 years of learning the language. So, ideally, we have this figured out before we have a tween but, in reality, the game changes at that point and it seems you are needing to learn another new way of communicating, a third language, in effect. You may be close to a “native speaker,” as Wikipedia puts it, but now you are thrown into a new country.

Maybe we should stick to speaking our child’s “love language.” Gary Chapman has written numerous books on the five love languages. They are physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. However, they may change every few years as children mature, as well.

So maybe it is even simpler than second language acquisition or figuring out the five. Just remember that you love that person standing in front of you and that they need your love desperately. And speak to them from a kind and forgiving heart, while employing a discerning mind. But it never hurts to count to 10, no matter what language you use.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at