There is a lot you can accomplish as a missionary in a foreign country without knowing the local language. However, there’s something to be said about the special connection that is forged when you speak in someone’s native tongue.
There is a deeper level of empathy on your part, and a stronger sense of trust on theirs. You are able to move much more quickly from stranger to friend. Nelson Mandela captured this idea beautifully when he said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
With the right strategy and tools, becoming conversationally fluent isn’t as hard as you might think.
If you’re hoping to make a lasting impact in the country God has called you to, and you would like to take your personal relationships to the next level, consider learning the basics of the local language. With the right strategy and tools, becoming conversationally fluent isn’t as hard as you might think.
So, how do you get started? When time is of the essence, the fastest way to learn any language is by immersion. Many consider this method to be a form of “trial by fire.” It involves surrounding yourself with the local language, and not shying away from it.
If you’re already in your host country, seize every opportunity to hang out with native speakers. Go to local events in the community and observe how others communicate – including their body language.
For extreme introverts, it can feel like torture to step outside of your comfort zone in this way. But when you realize that the only thing standing in between you and fluency is yourself, it gets a lot easier to put yourself in an immersion experience.
In your free time at home, the learning shouldn’t stop! Watch the news, movies, and YouTube videos featuring native speakers. Even better, turn on the English subtitles so you can follow along. This process is highly beneficial as your mind starts automatically associating words and phrases with their meanings.
…change the language settings on all your devices to the language of your host country.
If you want to take it a step further, change the language settings on all your devices to the language of your host country. Subscribe to a blog in the language, try reading children’s books, or listening to podcasts.
As intimidating as it may seem, remember that the best way to become conversationally fluent is to put your skills into practice. Don’t wait until you feel comfortable enough to start speaking with the locals. Become more and more comfortable with misinterpretations and miscommunications – these are a normal and expected part of language learning. So don’t take yourself too seriously! Accept the fact early on that at some point, you will likely embarrass yourself.
Don’t wait until you feel comfortable enough to start speaking with the locals.
Thankfully, there is grace in these situations. Locals will appreciate your efforts to speak in their language immensely, and oftentimes, it shows. So don’t be afraid to try and fail. Be encouraged by Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
One final tip – Many missionaries prefer to learn the basics of a language first, before embarking on their trip. This is a great way to set yourself up for success and build a solid foundation right off the bat. In this digital age, there are many free tools at our disposal. Here are just a few options:
- Download an app like Duolingo or Memrise to quickly memorize the basics.
- Take online language classes, preferably with a live teacher. Try the free membership option at TakeLessons Live for starters.
- Use Meetup to find other nearby language learners that you can practice your skills with.
- Find a penpal or learning partner on a language exchange network, such as italki.
Any of these tools are an excellent starting point. May God bless you on your journey!
Interested in missions? Learn more about our Discipleship Training School (DTS) at YWAM Montana!
DTS is a 5 month missions and discipleship program. The first 3 months you’ll go deeper in your relationship with God and the last 2 months will be spent with your team on an overseas outreach making God known in the nations.
Want to know more about Why Learning the Language is Key to Being an Effective Missionary?
There is a lot you can accomplish as a missionary in a foreign country without knowing the local language. However, there’s something to be said about the special connection that is forged when you speak in someone’s native tongue. There is a deeper level of empathy on your part, and a stronger sense of trust on theirs. You are able […]