The Honest Truth: On Language Learning

More and more, I’m realizing just how much freedom I feel when I can fully express myself in a shared language with someone else. This is not a huge surprise and yet, it is still difficult to navigate the challenges to communication in this particular season. Two weeks after arriving, we jumped into language study. While some people wait 2-3 months to begin language study, we see a calendar with days being marked out before Baby Girl arrives and we realize that this is our first window of opportunity.
For those who are trying to wrap their minds around what our family ‘does’ all day, let me let you in on a little secret: Language Study is a full-time job. In what I’ve learned so far, it would take someone studying language 25-30 hours over a two year time period to reach a level of fluency where they could feel competent having meaningful conversations about a wide range of topics. Let me let you in on another secret: With Tony and I sharing Sam responsibilities to give the other time to study language, we don’t ‘each’ have 25-30 hours/week right now set aside for language study. In taking turns with language study and Sam duty, we are slowed down some in what our pace could be if either a) we didn’t have a young child (which I’m thankful that we do!!!) or b) we had full-time childcare help. We are hoping that a woman with a beautiful heart, Kendra, will be joining us in the winter to help a little with our children so we can expedite our currently slow language learning studies. But for now, it is all about taking turns!


Language learning can include: lessons with a private teacher, time with language helpers, formal study at language school, etc… Our plan is to use all of these at various times in our learning depending on our family needs and restrictions. I can provide a schedule of what this looks like if anyone is ever interested, but I won’t bore you now with unwanted details. 🙂

For those who have traveled to different parts of their city where their primary language is not the dominant one or those who have traveled over the seas like us, you may have experienced moments where you feel completely helpless in navigating basic, everyday questions or conversations. For us, we have to make fools of ourselves in hopes that those around us will offer grace and understanding that while we are not yet ‘fluent,’ we deeply desire to be able to speak in the primary language spoken here. The great temptation, for those who set out on the language fluency journey, is to reach a level of language that merely helps you survive and then decide that that is enough. And for some people, that is enough. There is no judgment from us if thats exactly what you need when living over the seas and it fits your particular goals or the realities of your season in life. But for us, we would not ‘thrive’ with survival language abilities. We want to be able to belly laugh with our neighbors and share tears of sorrow with friends in this beautiful country. We want to be able to listen well and grow in our understanding of people’s stories in all of their brokenness and beauty. I still want to emphasize that that’s just us – not necessarily the ‘right’ outcome for everyone. 


We have a long road ahead of us in this endeavor. My road will feel longer than Tony’s road due to the demands of a sweet, precious newborn arriving in our arms this Christmas. And yet, we get to encourage one another and be shaped by the incredible difficulties that are ahead. And for that, I am deeply thankful. I will attempt to juggle my calling as a mother with my calling to love those around me through language learning. At times, I know I will feel like giving up… but about that time, I trust God will bless me with glimpses of the future relationships yet to be experienced and enjoyed once I get there. I’m not going to lie – I already struggle with motivation on a daily basis to put in the time and energy necessary to improve my understanding in this new language. When you have to start over with basic vocabulary words (i.e.. table, chair, cat, apple, etc) and start in the present simple tense, the idea of reaching fluency seems so daunting!! One day at a time, right?!


It is interesting to see the ways that a lack of language hinders one’s full personality to be expressed in a new culture/context. I remember meeting nationally recognized pastors from other countries who were studying in California. They humbled themselves in this new culture and language by serving as a janitor while fully knowing that the world they left behind was one in which they lead a church of 5,000 members and had the highest respect in their home culture. I wonder what the stories are of the refugees and foreigners living in your culture/context and if you will be blessed to hear them – not in a condescending way –  but in the way of sitting at the table and sharing stories as fellow humans who are all on a journey together. It is a beautiful gift we have been given to share life with those who are not exactly like us. That said, we may discover that we have more in common than we realize. It may take more work but I think the experiences will be much more rich than we can even begin to imagine.


1 comment
  • Kristi - Thank you for sharing the honest perspective! May God give you the encouragement and motivation that you need at the right times to persevere on this uphill journey. 🙂ReplyCancel