Student Ministry

Breaking The Teen/Adult Language Barrier

Folks, breaking news here.  This just in!!!  Teens (and adolescents for that matter), speak a different language than adults!

I just realized this a few weeks ago when we sat down to play a game called Apples to Apples™ .  It is basically a word association game, where, yep, you guessed it, you’re supposed to compare apples to apples.  However, I quickly realized that I had no chance whatsoever in winning the game, because there were more non-adults playing, than adults!  Two words could be presented, that 9 out of 10 adults would associate, yet if the kid was picking, they would never, ever associate.

That’s when it hit me.  I wonder how many times we (as adults, youth workers, teachers, communicators) attempt to explain or teach something to students, yet they never get it, or understand what we’re saying because they speak a different language!  Of course, I’m not talking about us speaking Greek, and them only understanding English, I’m talking about the words we use, the illustrations we use, even the examples, cliches, idioms, or catch phrases that we understand so well as adults, yet when it comes to non-adults, they never quite get it!

So, here’s how we break the barrier:

  1. Awareness.  Clearly, if you’re not making a conscious effort to speak in a language that students understand, then they will not comprehend even the most powerful, life-changing truths you try to tell them!
  2. Get a translator.  No, I don’t mean literally have someone by your side every time you speak to students, but I have discovered that it helps if I can communicate something to an older student who might “get” or understand what I’m saying, and then have them go and repeat it to others, that might not readily comprehend what I’m attempting to explain, in their own language.
  3. Learn their language.  Be careful here with this one!  Don’t force it.  If it’s not natural, they will readily pick up on it, and will tune you out.  They’ll know you’re an outsider or foreigner, so proceed with caution.  Nevertheless, it can be done.
  4. Teach them your language.  At some point, students will have to grow up.  In fact, they will eventually need to know how to speak the language that us adults speak.  This is becoming more and more difficult due to our teen’s obsession with technology!  Have you noticed how the ability to spell is in rapid decline?  Why?  Because their primary means of communication is texting, and texting is its own language!  Everything is abbreviated and shortened!  I mean really!  Do you have to shorten “Ok” to “K”!?!?!?

Let’s hear from some public educators, or other communicators that may have some expertise or experience in this area!  Share you thoughts in the comments section below.