I’m in Guadalajara Mexico learning Spanish.
The above sentence is actually quite complicated. Spanish isn’t spanish, just like English isn’t english. There is Columbian Spanish, Castilian Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and Spanish local to Guadalajara and pretty much every pueblo around it. In English, we have England English, USA English, Australian English, South African English and we can’t forget Southern English, y’all.
That being said, I think I am learning a Castilian-Mexican-Universal Spanish, if that exists.
Spanish or any language learning endeavor is one of the most challenging things to do in life—unless you have a gift of languages. I’m not talking about just being able to ask where the bathroom is or to say “I love you” (which isn’t just thrown around in Spanish!), but truly to use the language in the way the locals do.
Parallels between entering the Kingdom of God and another “kingdom”
Just as we are born-again into a new family as we become followers of Jesus, we also are born-again in a sense as we learn a new language—at least we should view it in this way. I realize as I learn that I am trying to keep English as my reference point for Spanish.
I think to myself, “Well, this phrase should be said like this as it is in English” (meaning its wrong any other way). I am realizing more and more I have to let go of my first language and seek the second. Similarly, as we enter the new family and new life in Christ, we have to put to death the old life. We can’t be double-minded or we will drive ourselves crazy!
Now, as a side-note, the parallel fails to an extent because we do have to communicate with family and friends back home and ex-pats abroad. Oh, the glorious release of communication with my birth language in those times!
Total Immersion and Grace through the Spirit
Success in a language comes through total immersion. Language is more than words you have to memorize. As we have been inside the culture of Guadalajara and Mexico, we feel the language around us and I think we take in and learn more than just words. Its hard to explain but its kind of like memorizing bible verses but not living them out. They don’t have life without the Spirit. Language was also created by the Spirit. Interestingly, the splitting of the first language came through disobedient man (see Tower of Babel Story in Genesis ch 11).
When the Spirit of God came to dwell in man at Pentecost (Acts 1), everybody understood what Peter was preaching through the unifying and redemption of the Spirit—a little glimpse of heaven. I read that and pray for it every day for Camille and I! I believe although I don’t understand Spanish in an instant, the Spirit is still giving us grace to learn it quickly.
The challenges of Total Immersion
About 80% of our time is spent with people who speak a language I might know 20% of. Take into account that everybody has a slightly different tone that they speak in, and it makes it hard to comprehend what people are saying. We try to understand and catch the “key words” that will help us understand the gist of what is being said. I’d say I am 50% wrong. This means half the time I am failing (or half the time I am succeeding, right optimists!?).
When I do understand, I struggle in my mind to come up with the right conjugations and I make sure if I use a pronoun it goes before the verb, and if I use an adjective it goes after the noun with the correct gender—you can see the challenge! It makes me want to lock myself in my room! Camille and I realize we have to fight this inclination to hide and find freedom in the process. Laughter is a great method especially when we try to say preocupado (worried) and it comes out “preocupopo”.
We almost daily have to tell ourselves we are learning a language that millions of people learn from birth and a language that contains thousands of words and phrases developed over thousands of years and we want to know it right away. I think the nerve that learning a language hits the most is my “American microwave generation” nerve.
Definition of a romance: “What in the world are we doing? oh well, I love it!”
Learning a language isn’t separate from our walk with the Lord and He is teaching us so much through the process—and mainly that it is a process. It seems so romantic. Live in Guadalajara with a Mexican family eating tacos and learning Spanish. Well, in one way, it is a romance. As one of our DTS speakers Matt Rawlins said to us, “Seduction requires technique, if you know how to have a romance then its not a romance, but a seduction—its not about management or control.”
We follow Jesus in a romance—we fail, we learn, we strive, we find freedom, and he leads us deeper into love and we forget about a destination. When we learn a language, we let go and find joy in the journey—we make friends, we get sick from tacos, we get frustrated from not understanding, we have a great conversation where we actually communicate, we learn a new word, and we go deeper into understanding a culture and gain keys in our hearts to best love them like Christ loves them.
Father, I pray for all the language learners in the world, that you would give them fresh grace in their language learning abilities. Pour out your Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we can know your love and how it communicates cross-culturally and it would fuel us to keep on going for the sake of your Good News. AMEN!