I Don’t Have the Language for That

The Main Barrier to Understanding

Nearly every day I find myself in conversations where the main barrier to understanding is language. Every area of knowledge has specialized language that must be mastered to truly understand.

Let me offer some examples:

  • Medicine – “adrenocorticotropic”
  • Engineering (Mechanical) – “draft”
  • Engineering (Electronic) – “impedance”
  • Math – “quadratic equation”
  • Philosophy – “ontology”
  • Athletics/Cricket – “wicket”
  • Theology – “soteriology”
  • Software – “LAMP Stack”
  • Financial Markets – “derivatives”
  • Law – “habeas corpus”

If you will begin to observe the times that you struggle to understand something, you will notice that the problem is usually not that you are not smart enough. It is usually that the speaker is using a specialized vocabulary that you do not yet possess.

I say usually because there are some concepts and fields of study where the ideas themselves are abstract enough or complicated enough that rare intelligence is required. For everything else, though, I am arguing that language is the key to unlock the doors.

It may be that learning is really about words. It may be that education is simply starting with a very basic vocabulary based on the ABCs and then continually building that vocabulary. Of course, I am not saying that we must just learn words. The words that we learn must be understood, else they will produce no meaning and we will forget them. These words must be connected to concepts. The words are abstract symbols that stand-in for the concepts.

I recently sat in on a two hour meeting with electronics engineers doing a schematic review. I am not an electronics engineer (EE). Let’s analyze the situation. Three of the people in the room shared a common background and a common language. They all studied engineering in college and have now been working in electronics circuit design for decades. That common background includes immersion in math and science. It also includes expertise in electricity and micro-electronics. They all understand the computer-based tools they use to design their circuits, and they also understand the way the electronics will be manufactured. About the only thing I share with them is that I understand the manufacturing side. So I sat in that meeting for two hours in wonderment at how much I do not know. I had fun just trying to make a note of all the terms I did not truly understand. I was inundated with terms and acronyms that I could not define.

This leads me to appreciate that in any field of study that I want to understand, I must be committed to learning the language. However, it is not just leaning the lingo, it is actually understanding the words, terms, and acronyms. There is a recursion that has to take place to really understand a new term. Recursion means “the act or process of returning or running back.” If a new term is a specialized twig way out at the end of a limb, I need to use recursion (go back) to first understand the limb it is attached to. If I don’t understand the limb, I keep going back to the branch, then the trunk, then the roots. At some point I find the concept that I already understand. If that point is at the roots, then I start building back up to the trunk, branches, limbs, and finally to my specific twig. This is the way language and understanding builds.

This is the reason that I respect all disciplines. To function at a high level of understanding we all had to build our knowledge. Whatever your field of knowledge, you have invested time to master the language. If you decide to learn something new, it starts with language.

In recent years I have become unashamed to say to someone “I don’t currently have the language for that.” I then recursively explore the language with them to arrive at knowledge.

Do you have some examples where your field of expertise has specialized language that is a barrier to understanding? Have you run up against a language barrier that you had to overcome to achieve a goal? Please share these in the comments section.

Ah, boys, boys, You can make up your own minds but first stock them. Are you listening to me? Stock your minds and you can move through the world resplendent.

– Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes quoting Hoppy O’Halloran, master at Leamy National School.

Angela's Ashes (Scribner), p. 288

Tweets of the Week: Recipes, Cooking, Health, Nature & More

Week of June 14, 2015

twitter-bird-3Saturday is a good day to recap the activity from our Twitter feed from the past week. Not sure what Twitter is all about? That’s OK. Neither are we (or at least it remains somewhat mysterious to us). There is no denying, however, that there is some very valuable information shared on Twitter. That is what this weekly feature is all about. Click the links below to check out the good stuff. Here are my Top Tweets from this past week, great for retweeting (whatever that is). If you missed these, follow Forward Story on Twitter.

By the way, if you are wondering what the @ and # signs are all about, these are Twitter’s way to identify the Twitter handle (@) for the person who tweeted (for example, ours is @forward_story) and to allow for an indexing or categorization of the tweet by using one or more hashtags (#). Feel free to ignore these and just follow the link for the content we are sharing with you.

Here are a few recipes from people we trust:

Danielle Walker ‏@againstallgrain Cashew Milk Recipe #paleo #glutenfree #againstallgrain http://grainfree.ly/1Iz2v4V

Civilized Caveman ‏@CookingCaveman Fluffy Blueberry pancakes that are going to change your life. http://civilizedcavemancooking.com/recipes/breakfast/gluten-free-pancakes/

Maria Emmerich ‏@MariaEmmerich Sunflower Seed Crackers http://buff.ly/1SmO99w #LCHF #keto #lowcarb

JJ Virgin ‏@jjvirgin Add a dash of #lemon juice, a pinch of #salt, and some #seasoning to your EVOO for the perfect #salad #dressing. RT



Mark Hyman, M.D. ‏@markhymanmd Take back your kitchen & embrace the act of cooking #realfood. http://buff.ly/1GLoIuh


 Some great information related to health:

Experience Life ‏@ExperienceLife Full-Spectrum Eating: 5 Tips for getting more Phytonutrients from @fxmed http://j.mp/1AnP0zI #nutrition #health #phytonutrients

Sara Gottfried, MD ‏@DrGottfried Morning Yoga Time It’s almost the weekend… Dr’s orders: Try to do this neck release 8x per day — it helps so… http://fb.me/7ltP3srhC

Health Wire ‏@MyHealthWire The “Fab Five” of Fermented Foods @CavemanDoctor http://www.myhealthwire.com/news/diet-nutrition/1079/ #probiotics


We all need recreation and nature

Michael Hyatt ‏@MichaelHyatt Today’s New Post: 9 Reasons You Need More Fishing in Your Life. Read here: http://mhyatt.us/1IololA

My aunt, Susan Adcox, discusses Nature Deficit: Susan Adcox ‏@grandparent I’m a podcaster! Listen to my advice for grandparents about giving advice @RoundAboutChat: http://traffic.libsyn.com/parentingroundabout/PR_Round3_052015.mp3


Learn to Program

Khan Academy ‏@khanacademy Learn programming with us in our #SummerOfScripting. We’ll send you weekly emails & contests! http://khan.co/1Ty3uWe


Books to make your summer more entertaining and enlightening

10 weird but wonderful book recommendations from the super successful by @entrylevelrebel http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/10-weird-but-wonderful-book-recommendations-from-the-super-successful.html via @Inc

How Do You View Time?

Back in 2010 I shared a video that I found to be very intriguing. Since I am writing a chapter in my book on time right now, I revisited the video and found it even better this time around.

I am bringing it back for an encore in this post. There is much in this presentation by Professor Philip Zimbardo that is thought-provoking, but what he says about young men, video games, and education is especially interesing to me.

After you watch the video, I would like to hear your thoughts about the various points he makes about how different perspectives on time can define the way we live our lives and the culture in which we live.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments area.