So how does one go about learning a new language? Does immersion mean that you slowly soak in the language without too much effort? Perhaps you are wondering what we do all day since we are not doing “real ministry” yet?
First off, let me say a quick word about why we are taking over a year to focus our time on language learning. Is not the gospel urgent? Are sinners not lost and doomed? Yes. But God is sovereign and he teaches us to do his work faithfully and with wisdom. Rushing into a new language and trying to communicate the gospel as soon as we have learned a few words is not always wise, nor faithful. Certainly, we can take too long trying to get all our words exactly right, but we also need to be careful that we are communicating accurately. Additionally, we want to listen and understand what the other person is saying. This takes time and a thorough knowledge of the language.
There is a simple metaphor for why we take time to learn the language well. Right now, we are busy digging a deep well of both language knowledge (ok, so it’s not that deep yet) and relational knowledge (getting to know people). This deep well will serve us in the future as a reservoir from which to draw time and time again. If the well is shallow, we may run the risk of drying up and burning out. So, we seek to dig deep. And that takes time.
So, what are we doing to learn the language? Here are a number of different ways:
This is the most obvious way to learn a language. It certainly has its shortcomings (raise your hand if you felt like you learned next to nothing in your high school French or Spanish class), but in the end it has a lot of benefits. For myself, it gives me structure and accountability. Every morning for five days a week I know I will be in class studying Spanish with a teacher who is committed to my learning and will take the time to listen to me stumble through a sentence and correct all my mistakes afterward. Not everyone has the patience to do that!
Instead of language school, Annemarie has a lady come over about once a week to help with Spanish. They spend about two hours together and work through different exercises and games. Or they just talk. She knows some English and can help translate difficult words or phrases and is able to give us insight into cultural nuances. In addition, we have a nanny come every morning five days a week. This is a huge help, both with child and household care (freeing some time up for Annemarie to do some language learning during rest time), as well as providing someone to converse with every day. The children and Annemarie are reaping great benefits from this blessing.
Friends and Acquaintances
A lot of language learning is simply getting the language from your mind to your mouth. In other words, you need to speak. You also need to find people who are willing to listen and put in the effort to understand you. If you have ever tried talking with someone who knows very little of your language, you will know how difficult it can be to patiently listen until you have understood. So, it is nice to have people who we know will do this with us: the elderly couple at the market, the café owner, the guy at the park selling flowers, the ladies at the gordita stand, the broom vendor, etc. The added benefit of learning this way is that we begin to build relationships with people and it’s nice when people start to recognize you and will give you a smile or a wave.
Podcasts, YouTube, Apps, etc.
Thankfully, there are hundreds of resources for learning Spanish. If we were learning Nahuatl it would be a different story. If you are interested, some of our favourite resources are:
- Doorway to México
- News in Slow Spanish
- Why Not Spanish
- Spanish with Paul
- Super Simple Canciones
- Peppa Pig (and other kid’s cartoons)
- Google Translate (of course!)
- Clasicos para Niños (classic novels adapted to about a Gr. 5 level that we adults enjoy reading)
- Various kids’ books in Spanish (e.g.: Eres mi Mamá?)
We’ve also enjoyed watching a couple classic Mexican T.V. shows on YouTube. El Chavo del Ocho (The Kid from 8) and Chapulin Colorado (The Red Grasshopper) are both slapstick style comedies so even if you don’t understand the Spanish you can have a good laugh. The sound quality is lackluster which makes it a bit harder to catch what they are saying, but we are making progress. The fun part is that as our Spanish improves, we understand more of the jokes.
Besides spiritual nourishment and Christian fellowship, church is a fantastic place to practice Spanish: singing, listening to the sermon, and socializing afterwards. There are also the church related events which give us more exposure to the language.
Tried and true. Flashcards are definitely beneficial. We’ve used them mainly for learning verbs or specific vocabulary.
LAPS and GLUES
One of the most useful benefits we received from our pre-field training at Mission Training International was their language-learning resources. There are 42 activities to work through, as well as 58 possible conversations that one might want to have. At MTI they spent two weeks explaining the theory behind these techniques so I won’t go into detail, but essentially, they are designed to help a learner learn like a child, except accelerated. The exercises are targeted at specific situations, rather than random, like a child who only learns whatever they are exposed to. MTI also provided us with countless ideas and techniques for learning – for example, carrying around a notebook and writing down everything you want to say but can’t. Or, one we haven’t tried yet: Telling a stranger how you brush your teeth and then asking if you said it all correctly.
Above we have listed all the ways we intentionally work on learning a language. There are also many incidental ways we learn by being immersed in the language. Every day we are forced to read, listen to and speak Spanish: Street signs and advertisements, playing at the park, buying gasoline and groceries, radio, communicating with the landlord and repairmen, communicating with utility companies, going to the doctor, going out for meals, etc.
We hope this blogpost helps you get a better idea of what keeps us busy from day-to-day. Language learning is not all that glamourous and exciting (although it can be at times). It is often very frustrating and humbling, and can feel like we are not accomplishing much. But we trust that God is at work even at this stage in our work and so we press on and look forward to the day when we all will stand before the throne and praise the Triune God in a vast array of languages.