Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How do you learn a language?

That was the question we spent the last two weeks learning about at a course in Toronto. It's also going to be a very important question as we head to PNG. English is the most widely-spoken language in the world, at the top of the linguistic food chain, so to speak. The trend is to encourage more English-learning worldwide to get people ahead. While that may be very effective in business and education, it would not be at all helpful in ministry if we required everyone else to speak our language first. So we go to them instead, and learn to speak their language. And because English is such a dominant language and those who speak only English have little motivation to learn another language, going down to a smaller language is more challenging for native English speakers than for anyone else in the world.

We do plan to do some formal language training for our first few months in PNG. But language learning certainly won't stop there. In Toronto we learned all kinds of techniques for learning language outside of the classroom setting - from getting together with someone regularly to ask questions about language, to getting out into the community and building a network of people who become interested in our language learning. The goal is to grow continually in language-learning and to challenge ourselves to advance further.

We had an opportunity to practise some of these techniques as well. We had several people come in who grew up speaking a language other than English. I (Tim) was put in a group with an Indonesian man. By doing actions and pointing at pictures, and having our language helper identify in Indonesian what we were doing or pointing to, we were able to figure out a basic vocabulary set quite quickly. We were even able to put some sentences together.

We spent quite a bit of time on phonetics, which is the study of the different sounds the human voice can make. There are a lot more than just the sounds we make in English, but we just get so used to the sounds in our mother tongue (and dialect), that we easily tune out to the fine distinctions between certain sounds. So we practised the difference between different p's and d's and f's and a whole lot of other sounds. I even found out where (at least on one sound) I go wrong in my Dutch pronunciation.

Now that we're done our courses, it suddenly seems like our departure to PNG is getting a whole lot closer. That's something we're really excited about, but at the same time the realization that we'll soon be leaving everything that's familiar here is hitting home. We ask for your continued prayers as we prepare to pack up, say our good-byes, and head overseas.


  1. We'll be praying for you...sure is the best way to learn the language - find someone to speak with and go for it. Great thing about PNG is that they all love to help and are so forgiving of mistakes.

  2. Learning a new language is so much fun! It opens up your world to be able to build relationships with that many more people. I loved learning Indonesian (for the most part... :-)). Blessings on your journey to PNG.