Language learning is ministry. Not only are you portraying the love of Christ for the people in your learning as they see your respect for them and their culture, but every day’s efforts are serving Christ and are a sacrifice pleasing in His sight. Your daily language learning activities are a real way to love Christ and love the people, even as you are investing in future fruitfulness for the gospel among them.
Dan Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible
My husband and I have been language students in East Asia for nearly two years. Each day we have classes at the university, one-on-one time with a tutor, and personal study time. A large chunk of each day is devoted to spending time in the local community practising our speaking and listening skills, whether that’s going out for lunch with people, hanging out in a student dorm, or chatting to shop owners.
But how does it feel to be a language student?
Let’s see….when you realise you’ve just described the entire plot of Jurassic Park 4 to a friend using the language, it feels really good. When you can talk to someone and actually understand them, and they understand you, it’s a real confidence boost. And when you’re able to pray with someone or share about Jesus with them, it’s the best feeling in the world.
But those moments are few and far between.
Usually it’s uncertain, stressful, discouraging, tiring and pressured.
It’s the uncertainty of living in a culture that does not plan ahead – often invitations are immediate and made on the day, and can also be changed or cancelled that day too.
It’s the stress of not feeling in control – what you think is just a lunch invite with friends turns into an afternoon and evening full of activities where you’re expected to attend.
It’s the discouragement of not understanding even the simplest things people say to you, and wondering how on Earth you will ever learn the language.
It’s the awkwardness of being unaware of the social cues and the ‘meaning behind the meaning’. Making silly mistakes and laughing them off is one thing, but unwittingly shaming your friend in front of their friends and family is seriously embarrassing.
And then there’s the pressure we put ourselves under – pressure to ‘perform’ when we’re with our friends, to be a good host, or to be a good guest – to say the right things and give the right gifts, to be good company and to avoid doing anything that would cause people to lose face or that might damage the relationship…it’s pretty tiring!
Honestly, there are times when I think God’s made a mistake and put us in the wrong culture – we’re both introverts, both ‘planners’, and adapting to this new culture does not feel easy or natural. There are some days when it feels too overwhelming to even go outside, and there are some days when I just want to go home.
I think it’s helpful to validate these feelings and to say that, in the process of language learning and living in a new culture, it’s natural to feel these things.
But God also wants us to trust Him with these feelings. To trust that He not only uses us despite the stresses, the awkwardness and the uncertainties but that He uses us BECAUSE of these things.
His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). In fact, the Amplified version says, “My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in your weakness.”
When I feel overwhelmed, entirely inadequate, and lacking in every way, God reminds me that He uses the ‘foolish things’, the ‘weak things’, the ‘lowly things’, the ‘despised things’, the ‘things that are not’ (1 Cor:26-31). He delights to use people who realise their utter lack and inability and who have no choice but to utterly rely and depend on Him.
So please pray for us and for all those engaged in language study. Pray that we would trust in God and not in ourselves. Pray against feelings of discouragement. And pray that God would use even the process of language learning for His glory and for our good.