People are complicated, but language is powerful

Today’s post in celebration of World Literacy Day is written by Deborah, Programmes Manager at Your Consortium. Debs has a real passion for literacy and we wanted to hear about why she thinks it is an important skill to have.. 

Literacy, the ability to read and write, the power to communicate specific ideas with all the emotion and nuance of human nature.  Language really is a powerful magic.  As we grow and learn, we can increase our individual magic through learning new words and phrases – by becoming more literate.

I love words (being concise is hard for me!), and I love reading.  Did you doubt me when I said language is a powerful magic?  I bet you can recall a book or story that ensnared your imagination, and transported you away from the real world to make new friends, explore new worlds, and experience adventures you wouldn’t have had otherwise.  And even if you prefer fact to fiction, by choosing the right words, examples and case studies can really come to life.

What we learn whilst inside these narrative worlds can be life changing.  In fact, that’s what I spent much of my final year of university researching – how books can have a significant impact on our lives.  I spoke to many people who could identify specific books that changed their view of the world.  For some it was books in which we expect to find meaning, such as the Bible.  For others it was fiction.  This rings true for me, too.  When a character we identify with works through a challenging situation or sorts through complicated feelings, we too can explore these as examples of things in our own lives.

Often in books, we are presented with both sides of an argument, which we can’t often get in real life.  One of my favourite authors, Terry Brooks, once delivered a Ted Talk about why he writes about Elves, in which he explains that setting a story in a world far removed from our own can make it possible to explore some of the more difficult aspects of our lives.

Sometimes a book can teach us the life lessons in the most unlikely of ways.  This week I came across an example of something we often discuss and explore at YCL – the Why.  In this book, a head-strong teenage boy is adamant that he can help with a very important and dangerous project, but everyone around him insists that it is better that he doesn’t and that he instead focus on learning a specific skill.  How frustrating!  He is so certain that he knows better, that he goes right ahead and does what he thinks best, ultimately leading several of his friends into perilous danger and starting a chain of events that leads to the death of someone dear to him.  Oh, it was emotional!  If someone had just told Harry Potter why Occlumency (learning how to stop other wizards reading his thoughts) would prevent something like this happening, then so much pain could have been avoided.

I’ll admit, the story might have been a bit boring, but if you want commitment to a course of action, you need to communicate the Why.  Help your audience to gain a thorough understanding of the context behind your idea – if it makes so much sense to you, explain that sense to your audience.  Provide the arguments for your view clearly and articulately, and they are the tools to counter any opposing ideas.

Being able to read and write helps us to access a wealth of information, through books and the internet.  I firmly believe it also gives us the tools by which to understand the world around us away from words.  Language shapes how we think – or how we think shapes our language.  Grammar and sentence structures vary across languages.  This may be due to the culture in which the language originated, or it may be that the language in some way shape the culture as it developed.  Either way, it does suggest that to understand a culture, and how different people think, we may need to pay special attention to how they use their language.

People are complicated, but language is powerful, and literacy can have a big impact on individuals and therefore society.


Thank you Debs for writing such an interesting blog post about the importance of Literacy! Keep your eyes peeled for more content written by our wonderful staff members… 

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