Is there anything more frustrating than language learning for cross-cultural workers? My brain has been permanently addled by the languages I’ve studied. I’m a French teach who no longer speaks French. I used to be a totally fluent Spanish speaker, but now I stumble a bit. I’m more comfortable speaking Turkish.
My experience with Turkish goes back 13 years. I remember my first teacher, a 65 year old lady who peered at me through glasses that magnified her eyes. She would make me repeat the same words and phrases 20 times, even when I had no idea how I was saying it wrong. I had to repeat everything until she was satisfied I’d gotten it. After 13 years I still find myself stumbling through Turkish word order and prefixes. I have to think back to how I started a sentence in order to finish it, and often everything comes out garbled, but people understand me anyway.
Language learning can be a headache for many reasons. Sometimes there’s no language school; perhaps the language you’re learning is extremely different than your own. (Spanish was much easier to learn than Turkish, but I’m glad I don’t have to deal with Arabic or Chinese.) Parents of small children barely have time for language study. It’s especially frustrating to live in a country several years yet still struggle to speak the language.
Suggestions for the Journey:
Keep a Positive Outlook
Enjoy as many things as you can about your new country even though you may not know the language perfectly yet. Resist the temptation to constantly evaluate yourself in terms of your progress in language learning. Relax, and be patient with yourself. Remember that you’re God’s child, and He loves you and has great plans for you, not matter how well you speak Farsi or Spanish or German.
Don’t Play the Comparison Game
It’s tempting to compare yourself with others who speak better than you do, especially if they’ve been living in-country for the same amount of time you have. Everyone has different gifts and callings, and God can use us all, regardless of our language skills. I’ve met workers here who barely speak Turkish, but manage to share God’s love effectively.
Think Long Term
Remember that language learning is a marathon activity, the fruit of patient diligence over years. Sooner or later you’ll get it.
Do a little every day, and be consistent. Even if you are caring for small children, purpose to set aside a half hour for study each day. Try 15 minutes of reading or watch one half hour of television. Small steps over time lead to big improvements. Slow and steady wins the race.
It you are juggling home schooling or caring for small children with language learning, you deserve a gold medal, so pat yourself on the back. Join me next week for more ideas about language learning.
What has your experience been?
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