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Taking Language to New Heights…..Literally

Language continues to develop well into the teenage years. Even teens can (and should) continue to expand vocabulary through everyday conversations and their less frequent adventures. My kids love to “tweezle in the trees”. You might be thinking “Wait……What? Tweezle? What in the world is she talking about?”

As adults when we hear a word or read a word that is unfamiliar we instantly begin using the context to take some guesses at what the unknown word means.

In this instance there isn’t much of a context. However, we would most likely think it’s an action based on the grammatical structure of the given sentence. It’s a bit hard to come to a logical conclusion beyond that because there isn’t much kids can actually DO “in the trees”…………is there? I could be wrong about that. I could probably come up with quite a few verbs if I give it some imagination time. The word “tweezle” is actually a noun that my family misuses in a number of ways to talk about climbing the obstacle courses up in the trees.

You may have seen or even experienced these adventure places. Now that you have a visual you have a lot more context to narrow down a guess to the word meaning. Better yet if I give you a grammatically correct sentence. How about this? “The people who work at the climbing place teach you how to use the tweezle before you can go on the course.” This should begin to give you more of a context even if you don’t know exactly what the word means.

A tweezle is a locking device climbers use to lock their safety ropes onto a closed obstacle course in the trees.

a tweezle

I chose to sit out on this particular day’s adventure. My children surpass my climbing ability anyway so it’s not as much fun for me as when they were younger and we climbed together. They are also at a teen stage where I can embarrass them without even trying so I thought I’d spare all of us and just relax in an Adirondack chair.

As I sat in the woods this particular day I heard and saw all different kinds of communication strategies. It was entertaining to hear different levels of patience or lack thereof. I listened to some incredible teamwork, lots of clarification, rephrasing of ideas and a mix of some choice words with a great deal of problem solving. It was an interesting linguistic environment and I’m fairly certain that I was the only one there thinking about that.

As a participant I had always seen this activity as a purely physical challenge. As an observer I realized it is quite a communication workout as well.

When you are 20-30 feet apart from each other, communication requires some pretty clear and concise verbal directions to make sense. For some, it was one frustrating experience.

One man on the ground was desperately trying to guide his elementary-aged son 30 feet up in air:

Father: Let go of it and pull it over the top.

Son: Let go of what?

Father: The thing in your right hand.

Son: This thing?

Father: No, your other right hand!

Son: What?!

Father: The metal part that opens.

Son: What’s that going to do?

Father: I’m trying to get you to untangle the ropes.

Son: oh, never mind, I got it myself!

There were various verbal exchanges all over the park. Some were clearly pained by frustration, anger, and the agony of defeat. Other exchanges were funny, loving, and at times just ridiculous all depending on how comfortable the particular individuals were while they were literally hanging out in the treetops. The interesting part was that the language skill wasn’t always based on age. Some of the adults were communicating worse than the younger kids.

The effectiveness of the directives wasn’t all about the actual vocabulary used. Although a working and shared understanding of words like tweezle, D-ring, harness, and zipline would have been helpful in the following example:

Older brother: Put the thingy on the thing that closest to it.

Younger brother: If I knew how to do that I wouldn’t be stuck here! Can you say something that makes sense?

Older brother: It’s right in front of your face. What’s the matter with you?

Younger brother: What in the world are you talking about? Just go and tell the guy I am stuck!

It was especially important for the person giving instructions (or even just some words of encouragement) to be able to take the other person’s perspective. This is probably why these types of adventures make such great team building experiences. It’s all about communication, tolerance, and recognizing what the other person needs in order to understand the verbal message.

So, the next time you are hanging out in the trees, give some thought to the language and communication skills in use. Have a listen to the messages going on around you……really listen…..there’s a lot to learn from listening to how people communicate with each other. Remember, language continues to develop well into the teenage years. Look for opportunities to advance your teens ability to communicate with precision and sophistication.

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Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.