Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Reading (01/25/07)
By Suzanne R
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My friend, Grace, sits opposite me. I’m gritting my teeth, clenching my fists, surreptitiously looking at my watch every 15 seconds and breathing shallowly. Scripture isn’t meant to have this effect. The dark-haired woman is plowing her way through the Bible, reading aloud. Her reading is punctuated by regular thumps of her forehead and groans of ‘Oh dear!’
‘Flying Goddess’ sits next to me, her eyes heavy. Her head droops and finally falls but she jerks it back up quickly, takes a sip of tea, twirls her pen, then her head droops again. ‘Flying Goddess’ is my language tutor and she is listening to me read aloud a very long and rather boring newspaper article. She has no choice – she is paid for her pain.
Learning to read … it can be torture, both for the learner and the teacher. Students of Chinese have to learn to read, not letters, but pictures! Students of English can often sound out words but English words are nowhere near as fascinating as illustrations.
Take the word, ‘to read aloud’, for example. 'Du' (to read aloud, or to study at university) is made up of three parts. On the left is the radical for ‘speech’, on the bottom right is the figure for ‘head’, and on the top right is a component meaning ‘scholar’.
As somewhat of a scholar myself, I’m widely enough read to know that ‘du’ isn’t all there is to reading. In fact, as a language learner, I can attest to the fact that after reading aloud for fifteen minutes, my mouth has been busy, I sound impressive, but not much has gone into my head at all!
Other skills involved in reading use quite different parts of the brain, I'm told. Skimming and scanning are valid reading skills and ones which I actively teach students like Grace.
In Chinese, the word ‘kan’ depicts a wider, broader reading, or indeed, looking at just about anything. The pictograph for ‘kan’ is clearly a hand shadowing an eye. You can almost see the watcher shading his eyes with his hand as he scans the horizon.
Even more importantly than how one reads, the reader must understand what he reads. The Chinese word for ‘understand’, ‘dong’, is made up of three parts. The left hand side is a heart, the upper right is grass and the lower right means ‘again and again and again’. Thus if we truly understand something, through constant repetition, we will engage our heart (not just our head), we will put down roots and make the content firm in our lives.
When we read our Bibles, do we ‘du’, engaging our mouths and heads and luxuriating in scholarly pursuit? Do we ‘kan’, holding our hand over our eyes and taking a broad sweeping view of Scripture? Both methods of Bible reading have their place. Regardless, what is most important is that we understand the Scriptures – that we 'dong' what we read – that we engage the heart, that we root the Scripture deep inside us.
Grace continues to regularly read aloud three chapters of the Bible. Unlike those piercing moments when Scripture speaks to us, this does not involve heart surgery type pain. It is more like the old Chinese water torture.
“’… and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch*’ … Teacher, what is ‘eunuch’?”
‘Um … a man who … er … just check the Chinese translation.’
Grace giggles in embarrassment as her eyes flit across to the other side of her bilingual Bible. We both take a deep breath and she continues.
“’Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading…. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
“’How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?’*”
Grace might not absorb what she is reading aloud in English. In her young life, though, she already has years of repetition of studying God’s word in her mother tongue and applying it to her heart, letting it take root in her, becoming established and growing in it. Now she works hard to pass that heritage on to her own people.
I want to improve my Chinese so I can build into the lives of people like Grace. Grace wants to improve her English in order to gain access to resources in the west. We both experience pain as we learn to read again.
It is worth it!
* Acts 6:27, 30, 31 NIV
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