Learning a new language can be frustrating, but it can also be one of the biggest blessings of the missionary's life. Many times I remind my children how blessed we are as a family to know more than one language. I often marvel at God's goodness in my life in allowing me to learn more than one language! I have cried tears of anguish and tears of joy and hilarity over learning new languages! Tears of anguish - wondering if I will EVER understand the people around me! Tears of joy and hilarity at the humorous mistakes I have made! Please keep in mind, I am no expert, and I am still learning, but let me try to better explain what I mean…..
I woke up the other morning (okay, we're talking about a week or two ago…) to the sound of the "town crier" making his daily announcements on the loud-speaker across the road from my house. There isn't really anything so unusual in that - it happens frequently. But as I sat on the edge of my bed, trying to clear the fog from my brain, I suddenly realized something….something very profound, something very special, and something very exciting - at least to me! As I sat there, I suddenly realized with startling clarity that I understood everything he was saying! Until that moment, it had always been kind of like the Teacher's voice on the Charlie Brown Specials….wah, wah, wah, wah, wah……but that morning I understood every word he was saying!
Now, I am NOT saying that I became an expert in Spanish overnight - oh no! I still have LOTS of moments where I just give the person talking to me that blank stare of absolutely no comprehension! I will say that learning a third language has presented its own sets of challenges! I am still trying to figure out how those old-time missionaries who knew 5-7 different languages fluently kept them all straight in their heads! My comfort is that they too were only human after all, and while we may not have any written record of their mistakes and faux pas, they MUST have had some!
I remember when I first started learning Cebuano, which is what I spoke in the Philippines. My first year at Youth Camp (the year 2000)….I spent the whole week trying to figure out what the preachers were saying. I kept hearing one word in particular - I heard it from every preacher. To my ears it sounded like they were saying, "Brad." I used up a lot of my time pondering over that word, and came to the conclusion that it must be someone's name! I also concluded that the Filipinos must really like that name, because it seemed that every preacher had that name! Here's where I confess to being rather slow at making connections sometimes - it wasn't until the next year at Youth Camp - I suddenly realized that "Brad" wasn't someone's name - it was the Filipino short cut for the word "Brother"! Not one of those preachers were named "Brad" - but they were "Brother So-and-So" and "'Brad' So-and So"…..!
Fast forward to the year 2013…I now live in Peru and I'm learning Spanish (which I technically learned in Bible College, but now I'm learning it in a much more profound way). My biggest struggle has been the similarities between Spanish and Cebuano. Speaking to Matt one day at home (thankfully I was talking to Hubby and nobody else!) I made a blunder. (Don't worry, I've made plenty of public blunders here - in Spanish and in Sign Language!) I had noticed the ants crawling across my kitchen floor and said, "Look at the 'amigas'!" Matt looked at me funny, then started laughing! He gently corrected me (although how gently can you correct someone while laughing at them, I don't know! Ha! Ha!) and said, "Hormigas…the word is 'hormigas'!" Oops! The word for "ants" in Cebuano is "amigas." In Spanish, "amigas" means "friends that are girls/ladies"! So I had just said, "Look at the friends (feminine)!"
There is one thing that the Lord has taught me through all of this. This is the one piece of advice I would put high on the list of things to tell a new missionary - especially a missionary wife. "Use the language." Yes, you will make mistakes - we all do. Yes, you will be laughed at - we all experience it. The key is to be humble enough to laugh at yourself. The Lord taught me a valuable lesson when I was learning Cebuano - if I would laugh at my own mistakes (which really are funny when you stop to think about it!), it wasn't nearly so painful when those around me laughed at my mistakes too! Having that sense of humor has been a help, not a hurt. It has turned awkward moments into treasured memories! Yes, I still roll my eyes and groan over mistakes that I have made, but I have learned from those mistakes. I have been privileged to see how much it means to the people I am working with when I make the effort to use their language - mistakes and all! I have received so much encouragement to keep on working to get those words and accents right! Oh, I am still learning, and yes - STILL making mistakes, but that lesson learned from my dear Holy Spirit and Heavenly Father has sure made learning another new language a lot easier!