Simple language is best

I was reminded of the power of simple language the other day after I taught a BODYVIVE 3.1 class. One of the people who participated said to me they enjoyed the fact that I kept things simple, and broke things down so that they were easy to follow.

How does this relate to te reo Maori?

Well, I believe good communication is not only a matter of being precise with one’s words, but being able to communicate and convey information. Communication, in my view, is a two way street involving both speaker and listener. There is a sort of negotiation that goes on. The listener uses the vocabulary they know to decode what the speaker is saying, and the speaker encodes their message in a way that the recipient, the listener, can interpret.

Reflecting on my experiences with Maori language a comment I frequently hear is that older native speakers are easy to follow and understand compared to younger speakers. My own observation holds this to be true – the language used by older native speakers is quite simple, lacking obscure words, and spoken with a flow that is melodious, flowing and easy on the ear.

In contrast, younger speakers tend to go for more obscure words and speak stoccatto. Part of this is fed by the desire to keep the language rich in vocabulary – a noble goal. But sometimes this can be off-putting, not only to other learners but native speakers as obscure words are used. An example is jargon around the weather. There are many different types of rain and they have specific names however older native speakers today tend not to be that specific or precise with weather terminology. And so a simple weather report can be incomprehensible because the terminology the speaker is using is not known/familiar to the listener. This can be really annoying and telling someone to crack open the dictionary is quite condescending.

But if you can communicate to them in language they know, and better yet, using language they know educate new words to them, it becomes an enriching experience for them. You help them grow their language and they will give you respect in return.

The benefit in keeping it simple, especially as a second language speaker, is that you don’t over complicate your message. It allows you to be direct, concise and communicate across exactly what you are thinking and feeling. Best of all, by using simple language you make it easier to speak the language for yourself, and for others, native speaker or not, easy for them to grasp what you mean. After all, the end game is to communicate with language.

When one uses simple language effectively it can be powerful. You can lead people, and conversations, to places they didn’t think they’d go, or get to, on their own.


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