There are a few barriers where study is concerned. Here is the first one...

Barriers to Understanding
#1 The Misunderstood Word

Learning How to Study

If you have gotten this far into my links you will already know that I am building this site from a Christian viewpoint. Yet I hope that the things I have covered so far will show that the applications are far reaching and can be used in whatever your field of study is. With this said I would like to tackle what is probably the biggest stumbling block in whatever field of study you are now taking... the misunderstood word.

The idea behind leaving a note, message, manual, book is for the author to convey information. The words that he/she uses can be general or specific to a particular field of study. If the meaning of a word is not understood then all that comes after it will not be understood. We will attempt to construct within our minds what we believe the author is telling us, yet our minds begin to shut down as error builds on error and we begin to go unconsconcious.

It is hard enough sometimes to grasp what someone is saying without compounding the task with misunderstoods. When the mind encounters a misunderstood word it begins to work even harder trying to make sense of what it is receiving. Physically if you run a race you will begin to get tired and slow down. After much work you rest for just awhile and then fall asleep even if this wasn't your intention. In the same way your brain is affected when it works hard. If a runner were to carry a large rock when he ran we wouldn't expect him to get very far nor get there very fast. Misunderstood words have the same effect. Though a runner can simply lay down the rock and run much more freely.. the misunderstood word remains until its meaning is made clear.

Example #1

Feeling the heat of God's anger to my sin I went and stood in the umbra of the cross and found rest for my soul.
(or for non Christians)
Feeling the heat of the sun I went and stood in the umbra of a tree.

For those who do not know what an umbra is you will try and guess. Depending on how good your guess is will determine your understanding of what has been written. But! Do you really know what I am writing. Exactly where is this umbra, or what is it? If I were to continue on, your mind will be partially stuck in this picture. Now things can get really confusing if I continue to build on this umbra image.

By the way... umbra is the darkest part of a shadow being cast by an object. Does this make a little more sense now...

Feeling the heat of God's anger to my sin I went and stood in the shadow of the cross and found rest for my soul.
(again, for non Christians)
Feeling the heat of the sun I went and stood in the shadow of a tree.

Why then don't I use the word shadow instead? Because shadow still doesn't quite grasp the idea of the "darkest part of" the shadow.

Authors will use whatever word they want to convey meaning to others. Some purposely use words not understood by some so only those who are a part of the group will know what is being said. Many times Christians themselves will use words that are not understood by non Christians. Why use these words to keep people in the dark when you want to show them the light? Though in these cases it is not intentioanal... I hope.

The problem gets worse when the author doesn't understand the true meaning of the words he is using. Only he is not confused but whoever reads it becomes confused. a/ Those who do not understand the word's meaning do not understand what the author is saying. b/ What is worse... those who do understand what the word means are still confused because the word's usage is wrong.

I must admit though there is an exception for a/. When everyone has the same wrong definition of a word... they in fact have created a new definition and it is then understood.

So I must be talking only about strange words... wrong! Even everyday words can trip someone up.

Example #2

Sam, bring me the plate. (or) Sam, bring me a plate.

The is specific. A is general.- How many times has a wife asked her husband to get a plate and when he does bring a plate she says "no, not that one, the fancy one with the trimming". She should have said "the" plate. When my wife is cooking a turkey dinner she can ask for a plate and I can bring anyone of them. But when she asks me for the plate I know she is being very specific and is refering to the big turkey plate we use for serving.

What happens when we put this into the written form? If we confuse the two articles (a, the) then how is one to know what is actually meant. Now multiply that by all the little "easy" words we use each day. Believe it or not some do confuse these two little words.

Now what does this mean for the Christian?... if you don't understand the words your pastor is using, or the words as they appear in the bible... how will you know what is being said? Too often conflicts arise because the word being used is not understood the same way that the other person does. Ask a group of Christians what do the words: grace, love, lust and humble mean to them and you may be surprised by the varying answers.

The same can be said using words in every field of study. That is why dictionaries were made to give definition to the words that all may be able to understand. If you are studying something and find yourself going to sleep and/or getting confused... STOP!... go back to where you understood... check the words out to find the one or ones you guessed at... get a dictionary... look up the word... read the definitions until you find the one that applies. Then use it in context... You may surprise yourself and wake up.

Of course the saddest thing is when the author or speaker is using words that he/she doesn't understand... the only solution for that is to get rid of the speaker or toss the book aside. They may tell you a lot but there will be confusion at every point where a word was used incorrectly and generally will put your mind to sleep.

Most people would be a lot brighter if they would just go back and clean up those misunderstood words. Do yourself a big favour... check those words... your mind will thank you for it.

J Raymond - 26 june 99

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Website Administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada