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  • Caleb Byerly

Language Learning

Growing up, I despised going to school. Now I smack myself for thinking that way, not because I’m not smart but because I realize the importance of education. I see kids in the juggles and islands that would do anything to go to school. I see little boys and girls walking many miles every day just to get some education. Some risk their lives, crossing raging rivers to get to school. I homeschooled, walking from my bedroom to my living room. Treacherous to say the least.

But now I know. Education and the importance of obtaining knowledge are critical to life.

I feel that I’m supposed to write about one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had as a missionary. This is what missionaries around the world are facing everyday. When people enter the mission field, a different country and culture, it’s as if they became 4-year-old kids again. They must relearn life in these 3 fundamental aspects: Language, Culture and Relationship.

A few years ago, I got frustrated while trying to live in a culture where nearly no one knew English. I would be preaching with my American accent thinking everyone would cheer at my speech. But they only gave me dead stares. I tried learning the language but I just couldn’t grasp it.

I had a friend join me in ministry who was keen at picking up language. We would be eating lunch with the natives and Michael would quickly learn the words for “fork, spoon, knife, plate and cup”. All of the natives would cheer! I actually sat there in frustration. The Holy Spirit was beginning to give me a jealousy for what Michael had.

I decided to humble myself and asked Michael to pray for me concerning language learning. He gently laid his hands on me and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to give me the knowledge and understanding of new languages.

After that, I had a new perspective and desire to learn new tongues. I spent hours a day learning. It was like I was in school again. In fact I was! I walked around with a pencil in one hand and a notebook in the other. I would point at something and the natives would tell me what word it is in their language. I would record those words and keep practicing them until I mastered how to use it.

The best way to learning a language is to get completely submerged into the culture and life. This is not an easy task but you must let go of your own countries’ ways and habits and adapt to the new one. Learning is about letting go of what you know and being vulnerable to new things. The letting go part is the most difficult. You can’t have a hard head or a stubborn spirit.

After much time and practice, I learned my second language, and then my third and now I’m working on my fourth language. It’s a daily practice and dedication to say the least. But the rewards are 100 fold in your ministry. Mastering language is the biggest tool for you to understand the needs of the people. When you know the needs of the people, you will know what to pray for. Teaching scriptures, praying, singing native songs and sharing stories into the late hours of the night all in their native tongue is like nothing else!

It doesn’t come fast and easy, you just have to keep going for it. The Holy Spirit is the best helper so simply ask for it, believe and walk in it. Master language. Don’t let it master you.

Also, this applies to advancing in your mother tongue as well.

January 10, 2014

Caleb Byerly

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