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  • Eldon Peterson

Communicate in Ways Others Understand

If you have traveled overseas you understand the challenges that you can face when you don’t speak the language. No matter how slow or loud you speak, if you are not speaking their language it will be difficult for them to give you what you want or need. I experienced this once when I was traveling to Hong Kong to stay with some friends. On my previous visits, I had taken the bus with them from the airport to their apartment so they suggested that I take the bus by myself to their place. Simple, right?

I easily found the bus, but because it was night and I didn’t really know where to get off I told the driver that I wanted to get off near the end of the line. He didn’t speak English and assumed that I must be looking for the university so he motioned for me to get off. I did and immediately realized my mistake. Fortunately, a student who knew English also got off and I was able to borrow her phone to call my friends. I hailed a taxi, tried to explain that I wanted to go to the end of the bus line, but he couldn’t speak English either; thought that I wanted to go to the next stop. Once again, I got out and found myself lost.

I found a pay phone and called my friends to tell them that I didn’t know where I was. I then grabbed another stranger on the street, convinced him to talk to my friends, hailed a cab and had him give the driver the destination. A little while later, I arrived at their building — one bus, two taxis and two good Samaritans later. My inability to speak their language made it impossible for others to help me get where I needed to be.

I believe my experience illustrates a similar problem we all have with communication in our relationships causing us to speak a foreign language to our hearers. While we are expressing our love with words and actions, our listeners don’t understand because they speak a different language. Let me explain.

Gary Chapman, in the introduction to his book “Five Love Languages” says, “Seldom do a husband and wife have the same primary emotional love language. We tend to speak our primary love language, and we become confused when our spouse does not understand what we are communicating. We are expressing our love, but the message does not come through because we are speaking what, to them, is a foreign language.” According to Chapman, the five primary love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

Just as it is important to listen to learn a foreign language, so must I listen to others if I am to learn their love language. As I make it my goal to speak love with words or actions that will be understood it is less likely that I will be left at the wrong stop wondering what went wrong.

For example, if I desire to express my love to my children, I need to express it in their love language. One of my children’s love language is physical touch. While they may appreciate the other expressions, nothing speaks my love more clearly to them than a hug. Because my daughters live in other states, I seek to keep in contact with them by phone calls and occasionally emails. However, I have learned that the most meaningful way to communicate my love to one girl is by sending her a handwritten note.

Only when I understand another’s language can I speak it clearly. It may feel foreign and awkward, but if I desire to express love in a manner that they can understand, then I must try. For me this means that I will need to write more letters to my daughters and be free with hugs for my children. Jesus was a master at expressing love to others in a manner that they could understand. He showed love by touch, by words of affirmation, through gifts, by service and by giving of his time. He always expressed love in a manner that his listener needed.

It is likely that those you care for will speak a different love language than yours. Are you willing to learn and speak their language? If not, you risk being delayed in reaching your destination and may be needlessly tempted to give up on the journey.

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