I realize this post is not really applicable in a personal way for everyone. I have been thinking a lot lately about my many friends in language school. Language school is a trying time in the life of any missionary wife. Learning the language is a must, of course we all know this but it is also very hard. Hard even for the most motivated missionary.
I wanted to share just a little thought with other fellow language learners. Seven years ago a elderly missionary man approached me at a church service here in North Africa. I was new to the country and new to Arabic. He told me he had been watching my husband and I from across the room. He looked down at my 11 month old and asked me how many words she knew. I kinda laughed and told him that she was an expert whiner but she was not forming too many words yet. He then said, “Don’t worry that is natural.” He then really got to his point, “Learning a language is a journey. You will never really be done learning. We are all still learning our mother tongue. We could read a dictionary and discover all sorts of unfamiliar words.” To me the idea of learning a language being a journey just made sense. What a great comparison. The experienced missionary gave me several hints to help me learn as a mother of two small children.
1. Leave the TV or radio on all day on a local channel. One day you will be dusting the furniture and be shocked to discover that you are actually listening and understand the program.
2. Just make sure you are learning something new everyday. Not just going over your lessons but actually learning something new.
3. Use your children as examples to encourage you.
You may remember those adorable little pronunciation problems your 4 year old had when he was 2. They were cute but they are long gone now! Now he can quote every line word for word from his favorite show or song. Then there is your 8 year old… who knew a child could talk so much. Progress does not happen overnight. It does happen. Though our pronunciation errors are anything but adorable (though they may be mysteriously comical to many of our national friends), we will improve!!
The thing that helped me the most in the beginning was finding friends who would correct me. This is still key to this day. In the beginning I made friends with a girl who worked in a small clothing booth. I knew she would be there everyday. After language school I would grab the stroller and strap on the baby carrier and head over to chat with her. She wasn’t going anywhere so she enjoyed the company. As a bonus to her more people visited her booth to check out the foreign babies.
As time went on we had our ups and down with my progress in language learning. For example, I will never forget the time she took her finger and tapped it very hard on my forehead saying, “You are so stupid. Wow, your head is so hard. It won’t let any words in. Come on I have told you how to say that like 1000 times.” Needless to say I wanted to remind her she couldn’t even say 1,2,3 correctly in MY language. In then end she helped me so much. I was able to share the Gospel with her on a number of occasions.
We all need encouragement when it comes to learning a language. We all need to LEARN the language! We cannot just be content with getting by. It is an awesome privilege we have been given and we need to take it very seriously. With or without kids we can do it. So can they. Though it is very humbling we have to remember it will get better. If we think of it like a journey we can learn to appreciate the twists and turns and ups and downs.