Replacing confusing words with your careful speech welcomes international students into the conversation and opens doors for their understanding of the Bible and God’s love for them instead of blocking and befuddling them! Here are 3 tips to help clarify your communications with international students:
Tip 1. Choose common words
When followers of Jesus talk about some topics in the Bible, sometimes it sounds like they are speaking a different language: “Christianese.” Christianese comes in many forms: common clichés, references from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms. Some call it “Bible talk” because the concepts are based on words and phrases in the Bible. Christians routinely use words like “sin,” “becoming Christian,” “missionary,” and “the Gospel” without realizing these words don’t have much meaning to anyone who is first hearing the words, or could even be loaded with negative meaning in another culture!
You do not need to ditch these key Christian words or concepts but can bridge the gap by using more common words to explain the same ideas. The question we should be asking is, how can you communicate God’s truth in clear ways rather than confusing someone with Christianese?
Here are suggestions of how you can translate several common Christian words:
- Gospel → Good news
- Grace → Free gift
- Become a Christian → Follow Jesus
- Disciple → Mentor
- Evangelize → Share about Jesus
- Missionary → Someone who serves in another country
- Sin → “Rejection of God” or “selfish choices”
- Faith → Trust
- Repent → Turning back to God
- Saved → “Forgiven” or “rescued”
Don’t feel you have to copy these suggestions. Instead, why not come up with your own language for communication about Jesus and the Bible? What is important is to be understandable. Learning to explain these terms in plain English could also be a good exercise for any Christian as we think through what the words we often skim over really mean!
Tip 2. Share an easy-to-read Bible translation
Even if you are able to change how you speak and avoid confusing Christian words while talking with your international friends, you may come across many difficult words when reading the Bible together, such as “justification” (when God has declared you to be made right with him by faith).
If you must try to define or illustrate every single unfamiliar Christian word, it will likely become time-consuming and gives a feeling that following Jesus is something foreign and complex.
Consider sharing an easy-to-read Bible translation with your international friend. One English option is the New International Reader’s Version (NIRV). Here’s what the NIRV says about itself:
“God has always spoken so people would know what he meant. When God first gave the Bible to his people, he used their languages. They could understand what they read. God wants us to understand the Bible today too. So we have worked hard to make the New International Reader’s Version easy to read and understand.”
There are also some easy-to-read versions in other languages, such as the Chinese New Testament: Easy-to-Read Version (ERV-ZH). While helpful, these translations need not replace use of other contemporary language translations, such as the Chinese New Version, Simplified (CNVS). You can let students choose which translation they prefer.
Enabling your international friends to clearly understand the Bible when they read it will help them as they try to understand your faith and who Jesus is.
Tip 3. Start a Discovery Bible Study
Many Bible teachings in America include a lot of Christian terms, local slang, and sometimes different accents. It can be easy to forget just how challenging English is to comprehend and to speak. International students may have learned English only from non-native speakers and may have had limited opportunity for conversation.
Rather than focusing on sharing online English Bible teachings with your international friends, consider starting a Discovery Bible study with them.
On a website about the Discovery Bible study method, it describes it as “A safe place to see for yourself what the Bible says.” We want to help our international friends come to a personal understanding of who Jesus is and what He says in the Bible.
Consider facilitating a group discussion of some part of the Bible. This study method focuses on each person putting the Bible into their own words, which helps to ensure understanding.
Encourage students to ask questions, and include pauses to allow students to process what is being read or discussed.
Speaking in simple, clear words communicates God’s truth to international students in an approachable way. Often, the best way to share is just to tell about how God has worked in your life! Let us seek God’s guidance about how best to communicate while also realizing that He can work, even through our mistakes.
How can you check if students are understanding the Biblical terms you are using? When students can put the Biblical concepts into their own words, they understand them.
Which steps might you take to better communicate with your international friends?