Missions usually involves working with people whose native language is different from yours. One May Rev. Daphne and I took a 10-day trip to Italy. On the way, we spent 2 days in France. During nearly 2 weeks we visited places where most people spoke Spanish, Italian, and French. For those of us used to life in the U.S., an experience like that is rare. But with many countries in Europe so close together, it’s not hard to find Europeans who are fluent in 3 or 4 languages.
When I lived in the U.S., I wouldn’t have liked the thought of dealing with so many languages. But with God’s help, Daphne and I found ways to overcome language challenges and have fun learning in the process. We rely on resources like smartphone apps Duolingo and Babbel, the computer program Rosetta Stone (they also have an app, but I haven’t used it yet), and conversational language for Christian workers courses published by Logos Language Institute. Using one of these programs for a few minutes a day enables us to interact with native speakers on a very basic level.
It often surprises me how a little phrase spoken to a person in his or her own language can open wide the door of the heart. One night during our May trip we had a light dinner at a quaint café in southern France. We used our basic French to order food and communicate how tasty the meal was. The faces of our waitress and cashier lit up. They even gave us free dessert.
In Italy, we visited a small cheese shop. We did our best to tell the ladies behind the counter that my grandmother was ethnically Italian. We told them that, when I was a child, she fed me a certain type of cheese that was sold at their store. They really seemed to enjoy our few minutes together. When we find people who are open like this, the Holy Spirit shows us how to connect with them and share God’s love and the Gospel.
Learning another language is not a must for missions. Some foreign countries are English speaking. But it’s much more enjoyable to be able to communicate with people you’re trying to reach. A foreign land and its people open up when you speak their language. It’s an adventure and a real joy.
HOW TO LEARN A LANGUAGE
1. Prayerfully decide which language you want to learn, if you don’t already know. Has God ever led you to study a specific language? Do you have a certain country on your heart? Ask the Lord to guide you. And if you don’t get a specific leading, start learning a few words in any language. You can always change to a different one later. I’m fluent in Spanish, but I’ve also learned some phrases in French, Italian, and German.
2. Decide how fast you want to learn. If you’d rather not commit much time and money, download a smartphone app like Duolingo. Set it up to spend 5 minutes with it each day. However, if you are ready to go all out, sign up for a language class at a local college or adult education program. You can do it!
3. Find someone who speaks the language you’re learning, and practice. Step out, be bold, and have fun! It’s OK not to be perfect. People will appreciate that you’re trying. They’ll see your interest. Try to use words you know. Ask them how to say something. Have them help you with your pronunciation.
Whatever we do in life, we’ll be more successful if we can communicate with a couple hundred million more people. That’s especially true with Gospel work. We must share the truth about Jesus with a dying world. Let’s learn another language so we can tell more of them!