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Back to Basics of Learning Language

October 7, 2022

Karen Hedinger

When you think about the basics of language learning, the things that probably come to mind are vocabulary, grammar, flashcards, and recordings. These are all elements in the language learning process.

For global kingdom workers, however, there is something much more basic. I am referring to the why of language learning. You see, our goal should be to be able to speak in the tongues of men and angels. Wouldn't it be great if we could speak with the effort of the disciples on the day of Pentecost? If we do not have love., however, we are like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. We ultimately fill the air with "great eloquence" while sounding like the honking toy that my two-year-old grandchild loves.

Jesus was speaking to a Pharisee and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

This is not a love that we create on our own as we struggle to communicate to people so different from us. This is a love from God himself (1 John 4:7). It is our love from and for God, in relationship with him, that has propelled us to be ambassadors of reconciliation to the people he has sent us to (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). We learn language so we can build relationships with people, communicating about life and God's love in understandable concepts at the level of the heart. This should be the basis of language learning.

So, what does that look like? It means we are willing to work hard at learning vocabulary, patterned conversations, grammar, simple statements, and complex ideas. We are willing to sound like a toddler for awhile. We put forth the effort to understand people's view of their history, the values they teach their children, and their overall way of life. We adapt and adjust to their way of living. We learn how they express love for each other. You can expect this to look different from what you're used to.

With God in you and beside you, you will build relationships with people. In the language learning process, you have a natural reason to communicate with others. You can build your own language learning community (LLC)¹ with people that he wants you to interact with regularly. Some will allow you to enter into life with them. Through genuine relationship with them, you will have the opportunity to be a witness for Jesus.

This is back to the basics. We can love others as Christ has loved us (John 13:34-35). We can walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of our time. We can let our speech be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how we ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6). As we advance in our knowledge of the language and with God's grace, we can speak to them and love them (1 Corinthians 13:1). Finally, we can always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope that we have, with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

May we never move past the basics.

¹ Enoch Wan and Karen Hedinger. "Relational Language Acquisition: The Foundation for Global Kingdom Language Learners." Occasional Bulletin of EMS 33, no. 2 (Spring 2020): 24.

Karen Hedinger, EdD, is director of language acquisition program at CultureBound. Her experience learning several languages allows her to effectively lead and teach our language courses. Karen has led both culture and language training alongside her husband Mark for many years.


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