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Building Your Language Learning Community

September 23, 2022

Karen Hedinger

"Lo hago ahorita." "I'll do it right away."

At least, I thought that is what I was communicating. That's what it meant in Mexico. My Cuban friend, though, took offense. She wanted me to do it now, but I had just said I would do it later. That day, I learned from her that "ahorita" has a different meaning in Mexico and Cuba. This friend is part of my language learning community.¹

The phrase "language learning community" is not new. If you Google it, you will find many websites and articles that refer to language learning communities, mostly situated in classrooms and/or online.

In this blog and in our training, we define a language learning community (LLC) as a group of people who live in or know our target language who are willing to help us with language learning. These people can include professionals like teachers and tutors or someone we might hire as a conversation partner. Another member can be the person at the market who sees us struggle to ask for something we want to buy and shares with us the words/phrases/questions to use. Another can be our neighbor who is willing to converse with us even though at the beginning, it takes work for us to understand what each other is saying

At more advanced levels, LLC members are the people who are willing to help us with the nuances of the language or inform us about the regional meanings and connotations of the words we are using. For example, when preaching in Mexico, my husband used the word for "individual" thinking he was referring to a person. After the service, a woman informed him that "individuo" is only used for infamous people like those on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Many language acquisition approaches focus on the language learner practicing what they are learning in the community. I am proposing, however, that we intentionally form an LLC. We do this partially for the sake of learning language, but also for building relationships with people in the community. You see, most of us are learning a new language because we want to share God's love. His invitation is to enter into relationship with others and to grow in relationship with him. We share that invitation best by living life with people, understanding what is important to them, and learning how to adapt in their neighborhoods.

Developing an LLC gives us the opportunity to intentionally interact with specific people, divinely guided by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who has commissioned us to love others as he has loved us, to love our neighbor, and to learn to communicate in a different language and culture so we can be ambassadors of reconciliation. He is also the one who will direct us to members of the LLC and oversee each relationship. He does something that we cannot do. As we live and communicate his love, he works in hearts and lives - both ours and the LLC members!

We might have a few or many in our LLC. The people in our community might know each other or might not. They might not even realize that you consider them part of your language learning community. Not all relationships will be the same in each circumstance and setting.

As you learn new language and usage from an LLC member, write it down, write the source, use it with people, and see how well it communicates with others in different situations. Have a place where you can access those notes when you need them.

Most importantly, ask the Lord of the harvest to fill your LLC with the 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 Jesus' witness in life and words.

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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