OPINION: Language barriers are a problem – keep it simple

Since being wrapped in the so-called ivory tower since 2007, I honestly thought that complicated language was the mark of wisdom.

And why not? After all, I was spending untold days dwelling in the words of philosophers, historians, the Shakespeares, and the Austens. So, long winded and confusing language was the way to go…right? Besides, it went so well with my love of speech, which has never been in short supply.

But I’ll never forget that crystalizing moment in the Huron College Library on a cold November in 2013. As I was ripping through piles of scholarship in pursuit of the perfect quotes, my perspective was forever shattered thanks to a single English professor.

This was my first experience in swimming through the pages of Pulitzer Prize winning Harvard professor. I was so shocked by his effortless writing that I actually wondered, “Is this even academic writing?” In hindsight, I can’t believe I stuck up my perspective was of the field I was being raised in. Thankfully this was the time my perspective of education started shifting.

Thankfully, the deeper I have dug into university the more I was told by my friends and professors to just “spit it out”. And it stop there.

Recently I was browsing through Harvard’s campus when I stumbled upon their “Ed[ucation] Magazine”. The magazine’s featured article was entitled “Keep it Simple” by Lory Hough, the Communications and Marketing Editor in Chief for Harvard’s Graduate School in Education. Although Hough points out that education is a highly complex process, Hough insists that sometimes we require simple ideas to overcome our biggest issues. This is why simple language is so key, especially in understanding our governments.

Our government policies are riddled with inaccessible language that leaves its citizens in the dark on many issues. Just the other day, I was sitting down with a friend as we were sifting through a local by-law. With our almost 4 degrees combined, it took us about 30 minutes to “unlock the mysteries” behind a part of a single by-law. What is wrong with this picture?

Although there are many solutions to these issues, here is one. It may seem a little random, but it’s far from it.

We need to spend quality time with our children and youth by responding to their questions; especially the difficult ones. If you don’t know the answer, consult a friend, a teacher, an expert, or even Google it.

Over my 8 years of service with children and youth, I have learned that the most complicated questions can be phrased in the most simple of ways. And since children and youth are always paving our future, we must give them clear responses to unlock more doors in their lives.

A good friend of mine once told me that “we’re always in a state of learning”. This has stuck with me ever since.

So let’s do our future a favour by keeping it simple. After all, jabber is just a disguise for our own ignorance.

Mark Henshaw
Mark Henshaw

Mark Henshaw is an Associate Analyst for the London Institute, an MA Candidate with a thesis on ending violence against women, as well as a Quantitative Analyst for the Avon-Maitland School Board. As an Ontario Educator, his past roles include a Network Assistant at the Knowledge Network, and he has worked with children for 8 years in the London region.

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