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Reader's Corner: Language development matters

In a recent Elevate Branson newsletter, a piece about “language register” caught my eye. I had not consciously thought much about that term since college, except briefly in the context of a former job which involved helping facilitate ministry to various cultures in the United States. The newsletter reminded me that, while my parents weren’t wealthy, a middle-class home where language development was encouraged was something I likely took for granted.


In “formal register,” the speaker or writer gets straight to the point with correct English grammar and usage, along with the respect due the listener or recipient. “Casual register,” on the other hand, involves going around the issue before (or instead of) getting to the point, typically using a lot of body language and often colloquialisms or slang. (Think “Good morning, Senator. Thank you for attending our meeting,” as opposed to “Hey bro, wassup?”) There is also a sort of “neutral register,” used in more familiar contexts but still correctly worded—for example, at an office party with regular acquaintances but not necessarily close friends, or when conducting business at a store.


Ministries and nonprofits such as Elevate Branson recognize that, unfortunately, a majority of children in poverty do not have access to formal register at home. That lack influences their ability to get a well-paying job, succeed in testing, or write a financial aid application for higher education. Such organizations may provide practice job interviews, as in the Elevate Work program, or access to tutoring and other services.


Regular readers of this column have likely figured out where this is going: The importance of reading! Age-appropriate reading material at school, supplemented by support and encouragement at home, can give children valuable exposure to correct usage, accurate and engaging description, and more, using the power of story to keep their interest.


Another part of “formal” or even polite “neutral” language often involves awareness of the situation and context, “reading the room” rather than just focusing on one’s immediate need. Progressing from early reading levels into middle school and high school levels increasingly exposes children to interaction between characters in the story or book, which demonstrates good or poor ways to assert oneself or navigate a social situation. This is made even more valuable by class or family discussion about what has been learned.


Get involved in what your children or grandchildren read at school. Read stories and books together as a family. Take advantage of summer reading programs at local libraries. Check out Dolly Parton’s “Imagination Library” program of free books for children from birth through age five []. If you are aware of families in your neighborhood whose challenging circumstances make it hard for them to access resources, think about how you might be able to help. Access to language development can change a life.

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