Question about Daily Life Overseas for missionaries:
"What is the best way for me to learn a language for ministry?"
A language school addresses both the language and the culture and usually provides a disciplined timeframe, something most of us need. Many of us feel it is false economy to rush too quickly into ministry opportunities before receiving an ample grounding in the language we'll be working in. (Also, some of us take longer than others to become adequately fluent!)
First, it depends on the nature of the language. For example, Spanish is not nearly as difficult to learn as some other widely spoken languages. Because Spanish is easier, many learners can make considerable progress using tutors, language helpers, or even LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical). But other learners beware: Do not treat all languages the same. Not all languages are easy to learn, and anyone who advocates one method for all the languages spoken on earth is failing to understand the differences between languages.
Second, consider your individual personality and natural ability to learn. The approach you choose should also take into consideration your learning style, which usually has to do with how your mind processes new information. Understanding whether you are an auditory, visual, or perhaps an analytical learner is a plus. Similarly, and more importantly, your ability to learn a foreign language (expressed as "language aptitude") must also be taken into account. I recommend that you take a good language aptitude assessment in order to understand how you learn languages.
Newer methods suggest that you spend more time working with an individual language helper or assistant. This way, you receive personal input rather than just listening to speakers use large amounts of vocabulary you don't know. Then, spend more time talking and interacting with a small circle of friends rather than parroting memorized phrases quickly to a large number of people.
I remember hearing about an older woman who'd been a missionary for years in Africa. She consistently bungled the language those people had been trying to teach her, but she thought she was doing a wonderful job. One day a young African man had the boldness to correct that woman's language. She drew herself up to her full height and looked up at this tall Nuer man. She said, "Young man, I was speaking this language before you were born."
Don't follow that woman's example. Instead, ask people to correct your language, your manners, and your way of life, because there will be all kinds of new manners you're going to have to learn. Identify with people whenever possible in order to eliminate distractions. I am tall, white, blond, and blue-eyed. The Indians in the jungle of Ecuador are not tall, white, blond, or blue-eyed. There was no way I could change those things, but in every other possible way, I tried to identify with them. The first thing I did was to wear Indian dress, a simple navy blue skirt and a checked blouse.
Check out the options for training in language acquisition available from Missionary Training International in Colorado, Mission Prep in Toronto, TRAIN International in Missouri, and Center for Intercultural Training in North Carolina. Also check out the Institute for Cross-Cultural Training at Wheaton College in Illinois.
After completing such training, you won't know how to speak the language of your host country, but you'll have the skills to make a good start at learning the language(s) once you arrive. Such skills are especially helpful for those entering a community that has a distinct dialect for which specific language-learning materials are not available or may steer you in the wrong direction. But the training is also helpful for those planning to learn any kind of language.
See also The Everyday Language Learner, which includes links to many great articles online.
You might also enjoy Fun Ways of Learning a Foreign Language as a Family (Missionary Coaching and Support Center/Expat Hub).
Were these answers helpful? Pass it along:
Subscribe to the AskaMissionary Newsletter
More information and a sample issue can be found on our newsletter page.