When we were little babies, we all started with just sounds, “Da, ga, go, ge” and slowly we put the code together to form words like “da-da” or “ma-ma”. Our parents would freak out and encourage us to keep making sounds and forming words and every sound that came out of our mouth, they would jump with excitement. The sounds were initially very foolish, albeit cute as ever, and its natural for a baby to go through this process of learning to speak.
A little less natural and pretty foolish is to see a grown man trying to learn the sounds of another language. This however is the same process anybody has to go through to effectively learn a new language. We have to hit the reset button and start with the sounds of the A, B, C’s and sometimes those don’t even exist in some languages!
The quickest way to learn a language is to become like a child again and let go of our language grid
My wife and I recently set out to become like foolish children again and learn Spanish. During our 8 weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, daily we would bust out laughing at each other trying to pronounce these new words. Some days however, I didn’t want to be a fool and argued with my teacher that I was saying the words correctly just as she was, and other times I humbled myself and said my troubled word again. I was an adult right? But I sound like a fool! I think actually the fool is the one that isn’t willing to be like a child and learn from God and man.
The quickest way to learn a language is to become like a child again and let go of the language grid we have developed over our lifetimes. Prideful thoughts like, “this is the way it is in my language” or “why would they say it like that?!” only prohibit the acceptance and growth of another language—as will fear of creating linguistic disasters.
I am a recovering perfectionist and I think the Lord put it on my heart to learn a language so that He could bring greater freedom in this area. Oh, the beautiful disaster that I can create when I try to speak Spanish! I can only accept that I will never speak as fluently as a native speaks their mother tongue.
Upon this acceptance, I have begun to learn the beauty and art of communication through a living language. There is freedom and growth in messing up. and hey, you give others the opportunity to cultivate patience right? Words aren’t just words, there are emotions, actions, and a spirit behind them. A verse I love to quote is “life and death are in the power of the tongue”. There is power in words indeed, even in words that are mispronounced and mis-conjugated!
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus
A few weeks before I left, I was riding to the store with our host “Papi” Ivan. We lived with his family for a month and a half while we took Spanish lessons. As we drove, we were discussing the topic from our cell group and I tried to communicate what I learned on the topic. I struggled and wrestled through in Spanish trying to teach him what I know. I figured he probably didn’t understand it as fully as I wanted him to.
Three days before I left Mexico, Ivan and I had a conversation about our whole time in Guadalajara and what God had done. What he said surprised me. He said I should be a teacher because of what I said that night a few weeks before really impacted his life.
As I think about this, I remember what Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Maybe this is the redemption of the curse of the tower of babel. As we learn a new language we become like a child and go in the opposite spirit of pride that doomed the generation of Babel. We read about when the Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter’s first words to the crowd were heard in many different languages, a gift from the Spirit, uniting people to Christ with the Gospel of Salvation in their mother tongues.
A raise of hands to who wants this to happen to them!? Option one, pray for this gift of tongues, option two, become like a foolish child and the learn another language. It is a win-win situation. As for me, I will continue to pray for the gift and the grace and, in the meantime, keep stepping out like a child and practicing Spanish. I know my Father in heaven is excited at every word we say in this language that He created.
Enjoy a our last project that we created for our Spanish Class (click CC for English subtitles once it is playing).
Photo graciously provided by Dan Queiroz