I was never the smart one. I always stressed over memorizing. School wasn’t easy for me. Learning to read was a chore well into middle school.
When an 18 year old just graduated me was thrown onto the mission field in Haiti. After 6 months of Spanish classes, I was scared out of my mind about learning their French based language.
I never believed I could do it. For months I hid behind translators and only spoke to other foreigners. Language felt like a mountain that I wasn’t fit enough to climb.
Then, after six months, something extraordinary happened. I began to learn!
Maybe you are at the very beginning and don’t know where to start. Or maybe you have been struggling for months with a language and feel like you are getting nowhere. I get it. I was there too.
Here are 5 tips from one student to another:
1. Don’t Bury Yourself In Books
Books are great, don’t get me wrong. We glean so much of our knowledge through reading and studying written words. However, they shouldn’t be our only source of learning. Cultural immersion and experiences are the very best language teachers. As a friend of mine who is fluent in 5 languages once said “If you bury your head in a book maybe one day you will be able to write a book, but if you stay in this room, you will never actually speak the language.”
2. Look For Opportunities To Be Uncomfortable
It can be nerve wracking to go out into a community where less than 15% of the locals speak some form of English without a translator. Trust me I know! Yet, the greater the necessity to figure it out, the greater the progress you will make. Avoiding embarrassment is a big incentive to work on pronunciation and vocabulary!
3. Hang Out With Kids
Children are amazing at teaching without judgement. One of the first things you should learn in a language is how to ask “what is this?” and “how do you say?”, then find a group of kids and have fun with it. I guarantee you will find some sweet friends in the mix and learn a lot.
4. Don’t Compare Your Progress To Others
Maybe another missionary started speaking after just 3 months in your mission base country and you are going on 6 months with barely any vocabulary. Don’t get discouraged! There is o right or wrong timeline to become fluent in a language. When you are constantly looking at others you lose the joy of the journey and the stress dampers your learning. Just breathe, you’ve got this.
5. Remember Why You Are Learning
Is it just to be smarter? Or is it for the purpose of sharing the gospel in the heart language of the people you are serving, for teaching, as a tool to help you carry out Yout specific calling on the mission field, and to form relationships with locals? Remembering why you are doing what you are doing, will help you do it.
6. Don’t Give Up
Fluency is possible whether you feel smart enough or not. The same God who opened the doors for you to go, will open the doors of your mind for you to learn all that you need to learn to accomplish the mission. Sometimes fluency is right around the corner but we get discouraged and stop short. Don’t!
Now fluent in Haitian Creole, in my sixth year of speaking, reading, and writing it, carrying out all ministry activities entirely in the language, and communicating with my husband exclusively in my second language, I can attest that you can learn!
Take heart. <3
The mountain of language learning is hard to climb, but the view from the top is well worth it. Keep on climbing!