Last week at Mission Training International (MTI) we spent more time looking at the way language works and how we learn to communicate through a language. Our main language teacher is both wise and experienced—he first learned and then helped write down the language of the Jeh people group in Vietnam. He has developed a language learning method and during our first two weeks at MTI we got to put it into practice. With the help of native speakers, we went through a few of the many language projects we will be able to implement on the mission field.
The method is not magic. Nor is it quick and easy. But with time, effort, and perseverance it can and does work. We experienced as much as we each got put into groups studying one of Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mandarin, or Bulgarian. These were languages which were different from our target language since the focus was on learning the method, not the language itself. Nevertheless, we did pick up a few words as well. So if you had stopped in on one of our sessions you might find a group of us repeating, “I go to the washroom” over and over again in broken Russian.
We were also given advice on preparing a language learning schedule and what to expect while in the language learning stage (naps!). All of the teaching staff here at MTI have experience in learning a language in a foreign country so it has been quite informative to hear from them. They have reminded us time and again that learning a language is so much more than mastering vocabulary, grammar, and speech. Rather, it is learning to communicate meaning, and ultimately learning to communicate the gospel to a people who speak with different words and sounds than we do. It is also learning the culture, history, and worldview of a people so we can identify with them and effectively and clearly teach them the truth about the Creator and Redeemer of the world. And, of course, this is the reason we go in the first place—to share the good news of Jesus and help others walk in his light.