|Why do Missionaries Have to Learn so Many Languages?|
It seems like LBIM missionaries are always learning another language and are always in need of prayer in acquiring them. We feel the same way. As we started our second language, we asked why we willingly put ourselves through this. Learning a language is a tedious process that tests the mind and will. One big challenge is there are so many languages to learn. On the little island of Taiwan, there are seven Hakka dialects. We only learned one of them. Now we are learning the official language, Mandarin Chinese. There are also aboriginal languages along with the Taiwanese language.
We need to learn so many languages because the people we desire to reach have learned so many languages. We know many people here who are fluent in four languages. They learn them to further their business customer base or because members of their family prefer to speak another language. They want to communicate. Our motivation is similar. We study these languages to further spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to communicate.
There is a select group of people who have very little problem learning languages. Kids are language sponges. When we want to keep secrets from our kids, we speak to each other in Hakka, their poorest language. It does not work very well anymore. We cannot even disguise our communication by spelling it in English because our oldest is quickly deciphering this code. Kris and I are jealous of kids’ proper grammar and lack of accent. To her mother’s dismay, our daughter has even tried to correct our neighbor’s speech.
In high school and college, we avoided taking languages because the reasons for taking them were not convincing. Someday you might have a Spanish-speaking neighbor or coworker, so you should spend four semesters of your high school education diligently studying so you can be friends. Or someday you might travel to Spain and want to buy stuff. A better motivation for children of the church to study languages is that this is for the furtherance of the gospel. No other discipline is as directly involved in spreading the gospel. Even good theology is not possible without language.
With this in mind, we have been purposefully placing our children in schools and activities to ingrain the Chinese language into them. We want them to read and speak Chinese and English well, not just for college entrance, but for the purpose of spreading the gospel. You may think you do not have these types of opportunities. Growing up in rural North Dakota, I remember an old grandma who preferred reading out of her Norwegian Bible. Immigrants are still coming to America. Opportunities outside of a classroom are available to ingrain languages with native speakers. It really does not matter which language. The skill of learning a language is crucial. I can tell you from experience, the second one is easier.
Raising up the next generation of missionaries is very important. There is still work to do all over this world. The people who have yet to hear the gospel may not speak the languages taught in high schools so there will always be missionaries learning another language.
Andrew & Kris