Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sometimes, Nice Is Not Good Enough

Well, I'm back from my twenty-four day mission to Vietnam. I just bought groceries from my neighborhood WAL-MART and the young lady ringing up my bill told me she hadn't seen me in a few days- I WAS MISSED!!! My sleep cycle is way off and I actually woke up from a nap this afternoon not knowing where I was but that wears off in a day or two. It was a terrific trip and I will share some stuff over the next couple of weeks. I am still trying to process everything which is not easy for me as time gets tangled up for me over there and the days blend like a kaleidoscope- it keeps shifting on me!

One of my primary tasks on this mission was to help with English conversational skills. I am not an English teacher but a teacher who teaches in English, as many of you are. I have discovered the past two summers that English is a fascinating language and often makes no sense, particularly to non-speakers. This July, I focused on pronunciation which is often very poor in Vietnam. They have no one to practice with so they are learning from teachers with very pronounced accents which makes me popular! Very few of the kids can make the th sound which is the start of many, many common words; the there their that they them. Often the th sounds like a d and sometimes the h is left out as think being pronounced tink. The young lady in the picture above accepting a book from me is named Xoan, maybe my favorite of the kids I worked with in the classes in the English school. When Xoan tried to pronounce a th word, she would contort her face into all sorts of shapes and it was endearingly cute! Believe me, the problem is reciprocal as there are sounds in the Vietnamese tongue which I cannot get right- I mentioned last year that I don't say one of my student's names because it comes out of my mouth sounding like a profanity. 

Another point of emphasis for me was using phrases which while not technically incorrect could be worded better. For example, several young ladies commonly answered questions with the phrases of course and sure. I pointed out yes is the more appropriate choice. You know, what Jesus said, in flawless English, I'm sure, 
'let your yes be yes and your no be no.' 
In the same vein, I noticed a number of folks who I interact with in Can Tho use the word nice with the word good interchangeably. It most often comes up with food, that something to eat is nice or very nice. I've never spoken up because I know what is meant but to me, good and nice are not synonyms. They might live in the same community but they are not next door neighbors.

I've learned that translating is tricky. One summer in China, I worked with Lavender, my translator, who was trying to pass the TOEFL, an English proficiency exam. In going over one of the scenarios in her curriculum, it described a shy girl at a party by using the word spineless. In no universe can shy be defined by a word we would all consider insulting. Neither can nice be plugged in for good and I think we do that, even in the way some view scriptures. My belief is that some look at Jesus as a nice guy who did some miracles and that is it. In other words, he was pleasant. No, He was good. Jesus didn't die for me and you because He was nice- He suffered for us because He was good. I love talking to my favorite translator, the wonderful Yanping Cheng, about translating. Her English is almost flawless but every so often, and it is a rare occurrence, you can tell it's her second language. Much of our usage of words and the context comes from a lifetime living in a culture and learning words from a book, while the first step, can never replace experience. In Luke 18:19, Jesus posed this question to the rich young ruler who addressed Him as Good Teacher:
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone."
Don't get me wrong; nice is a word which is perfectly allowable but it lacks one thing- power. God is all powerful.... and good. And Jesus is God. That's good enough for me.

Applicable quote of the day:
"You taught me to be nice, so nice that now I am so full of niceness, I have no sense of right and wrong, no outrage, no passion.''
Garrison Keillor

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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