“I’m not one of those people who…
- learns languages easily.”
- God has gifted in languages.”
- memorizes things easily.”
- is brave enough to practice language in public.”
I started hearing statements like this when I began studying my second language. I still hear similar things and I’m on my fourth. If I’m having a bad day sometimes I want to say all of these things (and more), but I’ve learned that I do not have to be “one of those people” to learn another language.
* By “one of those people” I’m referring to a hyperglot– “someone who is both a gifted and massive language accumulator. They possess a particular neurology that’s well-suited for learning languages very quickly and being able to use them.” from healthland.time.com/…/are-you-a-hyperpolyglot-the-secrets-of-language-superlearners
Most of us are not hyperglots. I’ve only met one person in my entire life who comes close. He speaks around ten languages and he picked them up with an unparalleled ease– an extremely gifted person. Still, he had to do some level of memorization, practice, and study with each language. It took time to reach proficiency.
It’s not easy. Of course it isn’t. Your brain undergoes significant changes when you’re studying a new language. These changes are healthy and give you many benefits, but the process is intense. You’re learning to communicate all over again- verbally and nonverbally. You are re-learning the world through another culture’s point of view when you are already hard wired to a different way of life. I won’t sugar coat it– it’s hard! But you can adapt to what effective language learning requires. It will get less stressful as you learn balance. Every learner has a different life situation and will have to determine how best to incorporate language study. We all learn in different ways and at our own pace, but reaching proficiency is possible with consistent and genuine effort.
The “gift” of learning languages. I really don’t think I have it. I’ve never felt some mysterious power at work in me when it comes to language learning. But I have gone to class when I’d rather stay home. I’ve done my homework when Netflix™, working out, going somewhere else, doing anything else, seemed like it would be more interesting or profitable. I’ve said no to group outings with friends if I have a difficult test the next day. I’ve put language learning apps on my phone to grab a few minutes of study here and there while on the go. I carry homemade flash cards in my purse and pull them out when I have an extra five minutes at a restaurant or waiting in the pick up line at my daughter’s school.
Occasionally, I’ve had to slow down when I’m stressed from focusing on language study too much. At other times I’ve struggled with motivation and simply didn’t try hard enough. The only language learning “gift” God has given me, that I am aware of, is staying the course– not quitting when I fail or when life throws difficulties my way. Some days I’m really into everything we’re doing at language school, but most of the time I have to ask God for continued discipline and a healthy perspective. I do think there are people who are naturally able to learn languages faster or to a greater level of proficiency than others. Maybe that’s the “gift” people talk about. But as I mentioned before, even those people have to work at it. It’s a matter of commitment. When I’m willing to submit to Him, God provides the motivation and power to accomplish this essential part of the calling to make disciples.
Memorization. This is different for every single person. In my own life I’ve found it is affected by what’s going on with my family and me. In high school and college, even with part time jobs and extra curricular activities, I could memorize things easily and quickly. My time belonged only to me at that stage of life.
While I was learning language in South Asia, I was pregnant and then cared for an infant. This presented challenges with class and study time, but in some ways it was not as difficult as one might think. My life situation forced me to set a healthy pace and reasonable goals. We found what worked for our family and stuck to it. As a new mother, it took longer for me to memorize new information and practice conversing out in the community, but it happened.
At this point in life I have a daughter who needs homework help, a “taxi” to sports, and guidance as she grows. My attention is divided between many things. I can commit new vocabulary and sentence structures to memory, but have found it helpful to study more often for shorter periods rather than force half day sessions into my schedule or stay up late. Also, if I do not take Saturdays and Sundays off from language learning, I’m not able to concentrate well during the week or be fully engaged with my family when we’re together. It’s a balancing act I have to refine regularly.
Study consistently, but make it work for your life. Your study schedule doesn’t have to look like someone else’s, but it does need to help you commit new information to memory and use what you are learning. Don’t set impossible standards or compare yourself with others. The point is to create an effective learning environment for you. Be faithful in what you are given and you will see progress.
Community Practice. Sometimes I don’t feel brave enough for it either, but I do it anyway. Go outside and practice language in your community. You won’t always feel like it. Sometimes people will laugh, misunderstand, or be shocked when you speak their language. There will be frustration, restlessness, and days when you wonder if you should move on to “more important” ministry. Occasionally I’ve shed a few tears or vented some anger at home after community practice.
But it’s worth it. Don’t give up. You’ll find patient people who will allow you to struggle through practicing with them. They’ll offer tips to help you. Being willing to learn from others demonstrates humility and your desire to honor the culture. In South Asia, I developed some of my closest relationships with people who were willing to practice with me during language school years. Don’t be afraid to let people see the imperfect, real you as you depend on a perfect, extraordinary God to help you develop language abilities. After all, He, not your own pride or a pretend “perfect” life, is the hope you have. And He is what you want to share with people.
Remember your self worth is in Christ instead of your language ability. Be brave enough to make mistakes so you can learn.
I’m nowhere near a hyperglot, but I’m willing to do the necessary work to learn language to the best of my ability. I need Jesus daily for motivation to study and practice speaking. This time is meant to be a marathon that trains me for service. It cannot be done well if it is rushed. Walking with God through the challenges of these first years will begin revealing my Source of Life to those around me. Failures and victories will remind me often of who I am and where my strength comes from.
Thanks for reading!
❤ , Chrissy
©2018Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
“I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
Love this article! 5 Tips For Learning a New Language More Effectively, Elliot Eaton:
Another Idea— While you’re learning language and adjusting to life in your host country, seek accountability and encouragement from someone you trust. Preferably someone who has lived in your region of the world and who has learned another language well. Look for someone of grace and maturity. It helps to have a true friend to be yourself with so you can ask for advice–or even vent–without judgement. And someone who will lovingly help you stick to priorities when the pressure is on.