How to Approach Language Learning for the Long Haul

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It was my first job teaching Spanish to middle and high school students. The extent of my speaking as I roamed the aisles of antsy students was ‘¿Qué tiempo hace hoy?’ And ‘¿Cómo estás hoy?’ The kínd Spanish language students remember years down the road because the heard them 101 ways and times.

But I wanted more. I had worked really hard to become fluent in my semester abroad in Barcelona and I wasn’t going to lose it. So I traveled that summer for three weeks to Mexico translating for short term missions’ teams.

And the next year I began teaching a course where I focused on the students speaking in the target language no matter how much they knew. Both of these things were my stake in the ground to becoming a life-long language learner and encouraging others to do the same.

And so, these are the essentials I have found to achieve communication skills and life enrichment in long-term language learning.

1) Be creative: Whenever you are in a season that is a kind of lull in your language study, get creative. Spend time praying in your target language. Write your Facebook messages in the language you are learning. Watch a movie and then detail the plot to a friend. Share any other ideas below in the comments.

2) Be determined: I can’t say this enough. Don’t ever give up. In my humble opinion, the best language learners are those who keep on no matter how discouraging their experience. In this way, see language learning like a marathon with some snail-paced miles, but the finish line is still before you and you WILL get there!

3) Be prayerful: I know, I already said to pray in the target language. I am kind of big on the whole praying thing 😉 The truth is God is on the side of learning this language. It doesn’t mean He will love us more when we master it. But, it does mean He wants to give us everything we need to be successful. So pray for the write school and class to go to next. Pray for a patient language partner–I have seen this one answered for over 20 years and in two languages.

4) Be humble: This may not feel like the best thing about learning another language, but it kind of is. We have a built-in reminder that we have those proverbial feet of clay. And that, my friend, is a good thing. English is the universal language and many places we live many people want us to use it. But when we make learning the local language a consistent part of our experience, we have a reformed posture in the culture. And this is evident beyond the words we say and how well we say them.

5) Be honest: Don’t look at language learning as a box you will check off and move past. Think of it as a messy, committed, long-term relationship full of ups and downs. (Yes, sounds like marriage!) But you really do want this humbling, stretching process in your life and you will never regret your investment in it. It’s ok to be struggling. We all have been, and we all will be. If someone tells you it’s been easy for them then they are either an out-of-this-world whizz or not being honest. To learn another language is to come face to face with your humanity.

6) Be fun!!: And finally, remember the fun! Your language partner has to be someone with whom you can laugh! I laughed with Kriszti, the woman who cleaned my house in Hungary, as we remembered the early days.‘Bed…room, ok. Then…all and kitchen stop.’ And that was a few weeks into my learning! I laugh with my friends whenever I think I ordered something right and it comes to the table all…wrong. If you aren’t laughing it will be hard to keep on, so find the funny!

I hope you are encouraged through this post and feel less alone. Many have gone before you and we are still going. Until we reach Heaven, I think every believer ought to be on some kind of language journey. It gives us a rich taste of a multi-cultural world and the God of it. So, don’t lose heart, friend.

Please share in the comments any creative ways you have kept yourself in the long-haul of language learning.

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Abby Alleman

Abigail is a lover of life and story--the ones God writes and calls us to write with Him. She knows that no matter what tragedy comes, our stories are not over. Her newly released book 'A Million Skies' demonstrates the power of God's love and redemption over all of our lives. Having previously served overseas as a missionary with her husband and three children, she and her husband now touch the lives of refugees through the ministry of the Welcome Network. Learn more about Abigail at her blog and website (abigailalleman.com) or follow her on Instagram @abigail.alleman

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