Language. This is such a big deal when moving overseas. And rightly so - i believe there is no other single thing more important than language in trying to reach across to another culture. Once upon a time I myself was a "national", a "local", or whatever you want to call it ;-) being reached out to by American missionaries in Europe. They worked very hard to communicate with us in our mother tongue, even though some of us would have spoken some English at the time. And this meant so MUCH to us! Thinking back to those days gives me so much motivation.

But. As a mommy with two little people ages 4.5 and 2, and another one on the way... Well, all of us here at TCKmom know that language learning is just hard, and takes long, and can at times be discouraging. I feel like we have found a plan of action that works for me, and I am encouraged when I look back at what I've learned. However, my goal is NOT to say that this is the way it must always be done. This is my point in sharing here: there are MANY WAYS to go about language learning. As moms, I think it is just hugely important that we take the freedom to be flexible and do what works for US, what suits OUR needs, even if that may not be the ideal, scientifically correct way. I'd rather learn slower, but learn anyway, than give up in frustration because the way I learned to do LL in college just... isn't happening.

Here are a few of my objectives.
1. Learn our tribal language well enough to be able to hang out and chat with my neighbors and friends and understand what people are talking about.
2. Take care of my own children - based on our children's personalities and stages in life we did not feel like it was in their best interest to have a nanny. (Again, I am NOT making a judgment call at ALL. This was just our personal preference).
3. Not only learn language but learn LIFE as one of my tribal sisters.

Based on these objectives, we made the following plan of action. Obviously, getting hours of language class in was not going to happen, especially since my husband is busy a lot of the time with his work. So, I gave that idea up and instead took a different approach.

1. SURROUND myself with language. We moved into a large house with an extended family of eleven people. Most of them speak no English at all. We all cook in the courtyard, we all use the same outdoor shower stalls. At first, obviously, this was tricky. But very soon I learned enough to survive and then to communicate - a little more every day. I hear language pretty much all day long - sidenote, so do my children and they are learning incredibly fast! I do envy them... Sigh :)

2. Seize-the-moment. This is my official language learning technique, haha. In between the meals, the potty breaks and the sibling squabbles, I have a list of things I can do, listed more or less in order of importance here:
- Spend time with an English speaking friend who can help me with language in a more structured way (We learned how to at SIL-UND, and in spite of some of my statements here, I am so grateful for SIL and highly recommend their courses!! It gave us an invaluable basis for all this.) This happens some during naptimes, etc... Less often than I'd like of course.
- Go over recordings I make on my phone during those lessons.
- Sit with my friends who do not speak English, either listening in on their conversations or trying to communicate. This happens at least every day waiting for my turn at the water pump... and in so many other places and ways. Remember my goal of learning life, not only language? In these situations, it is a constant struggle not to "tune out". Tuning out means I will not learn. If I pay attention, I find I can understand more than I thought - and I learn! This one also often happens while we are all watching our children play.
- Talk with the ever present neighborhood children... They think it's fun to look at picture books and discuss them. My own girls can be included in this.
- Listen to Scripture recordings
- We attend other random activities that mean language exposure like church, or sometimes the local literacy classes
- and sometimes I can even be found reading the dictionary... That is NOT what they teach you to do at SIL but my philosophy is... Better something than nothing, right?

3. Relax. This one is so important! If I freak out and tell myself - I am not learning, I can't learn, I won't learn... It is like my brain seizes up and blocks progress. So I constantly tell myself - It doesn't matter HOW long this takes. I don't have to keep up with anyone. I don't have to impress anyone. I am just going to keep on, and keep on, and... It's coming!

I think that we as mommies just need to get OUT of the box that says - intense language learning for a max of two years, then full-time ministry. Who says, anyway? Maybe our husbands and those single lady missionaries can and should follow this model. If you can, too, that's great! But too many mom-missionaries get thoroughly discouraged trying to juggle everything on their plate and just give up, resigning themselves to a life of translators and loneliness. But we NEED language. Not just for ministry's sake. Also for our own hearts' need for friends and a social life!

So here are three damaging myths I have chosen to discard:
- Because I couldn't fit in an official language class today, I can't "learn language" today.
- Because I don't have a solid two or three hours to spend on this, I can't learn language today.
- Because my husband and I are learning at different rates and I can't learn right along with him, I may as well give up.

And here's what I have chosen to believe instead:
- My children are not hindrances, keeping me from language. Instead, I can arrange my life in such a way that language is unavoidable and my children can be a part of the process.
- Even though doing language study together with my husband sounds like fun, trying to make it work in practical life can be stressful and just plain impossible, and it is NOT imperative for success. (There is so much freedom in letting go of that one!)
- Most importantly... I can learn SOMETHING today. A little more every day, and eventually we will get there!

I will end with the example of my own mom. My parents have been in Africa for almost ten years now... Unfortunately not in the same location we are, but close enough to visit. When I think of my mom's daily life, I think of the language book propped up beside the stove while she is cooking. Sitting next to my homeschooling brothers doing math, with a word list. Walking to town every afternoon for tomatoes, so she could practice a few words. Listening to a chapter of the Bible after every meal.
Just in the past couple years, she has really been able to communicate and understand. Ten years! Yes, but there are some very important points here. She had a very busy life, schooling four boys and keeping house in a tropical African village. Yet it did come eventually. And in the meantime? Everyone knew she was trying to learn, and that makes dozens of friends. Thinking back to those brave American missionaries in our proud little European nation - that was the message we heard louder than whether they actually spoke our language perfectly or not. And this is the message I want my friends here to get.
- I value your language, I value your culture, I want to learn from you, let us be friends!

What do you think... Agree, disagree, yes, but....?

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  • This was very affirming! When we arrived in our host country, my husband was already able to preach and teach in the national language! I am still far behind him, but, I am not at all where I was day one...desperate to not be a drag on my husband, and bewildered as to where to start!!! Here a little, there a little, making community my classroom, and putting myself in stretching circumstances, all were a part of LL! Though I had very little time for desk study, I slowly made progress, and I anticipate making more. Make sharing Jesus an early goal; it strengthened my spirit to know I could share a loaves and fishes word for Him! Let's keep pressing on!

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  • I really appreciated the example you shared of your mother....it's easy to think that unless you sit down and 'study', it's not language learning. But little things like 'language in the kitchen' can make a difference. :-)

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  • nice post

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