Rapid language learning

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To speak the language of the people you are trying to reach is absolutely vital and a major principle of missions. Language learning is tough. Some people are very gifted at learning languages. Others struggle mightily.

Yet, all of us have the ability to learn one language and speak it fluently!!!! We all speak our native tongue. So it is not impossible to learn a second language. For the most part people have had terrible experiences of learning language in school and academic settings and this is a massive barrier for people when it comes to placing themselves in missions situations.

How to Help People Learn Languages

  • Choosing immersion: this is the best way to learn, that is to be dropped right into a place where only the other language is spoken. We learnt our mother tongue aurally! So this is most likely the best way for us. If there is no immediate opportunity for immersion, expect language learning to take much longer.
  • Overcoming embarrassment: When we make mistakes when we speak, misunderstanding others and being misunderstood we can feel incredibly foolish and embarrassed. Feelings such as these can paralyse our language learning ability. Help people overcome embarrassment by
    • Encouraging them to leave behind the trauma of school language learning
    • Encourage them all the time!
    • Share your own difficulties
    • Exhort them to become childlike! The lack of shame a child shows and the eagerness to try is one way they learn so fast.
    • Help people to feel comfortable to make mistakes - Jus cos make me misteks not does meen you understand not meaning my.
    • The goal of language is to be understood not to speak it perfectly. Most native speakers of a language make common grammatical errors in their daily speech. We call people pedants if they try to correct such mistakes!
  • Beating fatigue: Language learning is very tiring indeed. Be aware of the extra needs your staff have when language learning and give them space and encourage them to take it. Avoid leadership responsibility if you can, especially if you are moving into a new role. Learn the language before accepting responsibility as it is VERY HARD to concentrate on both.
  • Memorisation skills: Although children have very absorbent minds when learning languages and that facility seems to decrease with age, adults have a great advantage: they know how to learn! See Below.
  • Understand the process of learning a language. Dr Krashen, an American expert in language acquisition has some very interesting findings about learning a language.


How to Learn Things

  • Memorisation: The key is moving something from our short term memory to our long term memory. Items placed in the short term memory fade quickly.
    • Group things: Learn all the colours together, greetings, words for car parts, farmyard animals etc.
    • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Choosing to remember something over and over again places it in our long term memory. When actively learning something, learn it then review it after 10mins, 30mins, one hour, each day for a week and then weekly. You will find this works well
    • Writing it out helps
    • Learn a little, use it a lot: when you learn a new phrase try it out again and again on lots of different people. This helps it to stick and gives you a context for the responses others make. Much of conversation is repeated phrases.
    • Search around for memory techniques and find what works for you.
  • Word association: The German for caterpillar is Raupen: imagine a caterpillar with a rope tied around its middle! The French for Heavy and Light are Lourd and Léger: Imagine an English Lord suspended in the air by a light negligée! We find it hard to forget strong images like this.
  • To improve your vocabulary reading the Bible in another language is very helpful. The familiarity in your own language helps understand new words in context. However, beware of using an old translation as you may find you introduce strange anachronisms into your speech.
  • Guess a lot: try to make a logical guess about what a word you hear might mean!