Keep It Simple

“…I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” – 1 Corinthians 14:19

Recently, veteran missionaries Bob and Brenda Himes (Bill Rice Ranch Missions) invited me to speak for the 7th time in their annual Deaf camps. Also, I spoke in several days of training with educators in a conference hosted by missionaries Drs. Chris and Carol Woodley. On the trip, it was exciting to talk with Deaf people from all across Luzon. As in the past, several Deaf people expressed their frustration with trying to communicate in English or an English-based signing system (SEE/LOVE/PSL). Once again, I was reminded of the need to keep all teaching and preaching as simple and easy to understand as possible.

It is the speaker’s responsibility to make the lesson or message clear. One speaker said, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant” (smile). Here are some teaching principles to help avoid miscommunication. These are especially true when crossing languages and/or cultures.

1. Realize that not everyone knows what you know. Students of any subject, including the Bible, often assume that other people also have knowledge. Your listeners may come from many different educational and religious backgrounds. Know what your audience knows and what they do not know. Use what they do know to teach them what they do not know.

2. Teach people, not only words and facts. Just because you say something does not mean that others understood. Sometimes parents must ask a child to repeat instructions back, to confirm they understood. While working as an engineer for the Lockheed Skunk Works, Kelly Johnson formulated the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle.* This is an encouragement to make things so simple, that anyone can understand. No one enjoys listening to a complicated, boring lecture.

3. Choose the right communication level. After one interpreter signed very quickly, a Deaf person signed, “Wow! That was wonderful, fast signing. It was beautiful to watch, but I did not understand. Do not seek to impress people with big words, fast signs, or deep ideas. One teacher signed English words to a Deaf student. The student then turned to his hearing friend and asked what was being said. The friend used signs without words to clearly sign the message. The Deaf person replied, “Why didn’t the teacher just say that?” Evaluate the people in front of you and sign, teach, or preach using language they understand.

4. Talk clearly and to the point. Try to present only one point at a time until it is understood. Albert Einstein said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”** Communicating simply does not mean the speaker is ignorant or stupid. It is a compliment when someone says he understands you, especially with deep subjects. It takes more wisdom, skill, and effort to communicate complex ideas in a way that all can understand. In my experience, speakers who use too many words or too much time to express their ideas may reveal that they are not truly prepared.

5. Present ideas logically. When a speaker jumps from idea to idea quickly, listeners may find the message hard to follow, especially when the ideas are not logically connected. Presenting ideas chronologically (time) or logically (if this, then that), helps listeners understand and remember the message.

6. Teach so you can be understood. Adjust your way of communicating to their way of understanding. Missionary Bob Himes says, “If they do not understand the way you teach, then teach the way they understand” (1 Corinthians 14:19). One day he was trying to express the concept “deny,” as in “Peter denied Christ.” After Bob’s long and somewhat unsuccessful explanation, one Deaf student said, “Oh, you mean Peter dropped his friend.” From that day forward, Bob signed “deny” as “drop friend.”

Sometimes it seems that many Deaf teachers and preachers tend to imitate the way hearing preachers communicate. Maybe that is a result of being trained by hearing people. Many messages prepared for hearing people tend to have points beginning with the same letter (alliteration), and are based on English words. But, messages to users of ASL can be prepared and presented using ASL signs, pictures, and dramas. Several historically-accepted “Deaf” methods of presenting, including ABC Stories, Name Handshape Stories, ASL Poetry, and 3-D Visual Effects, can help ASL audiences understand, respond, and remember the message. Always present in a way your audience will understand. This “KISS” method can help everyone learn.
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