Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Guidebook to Language Learning

[what's brewing: Vous avez cafe au lait?]

The world of language learning is a rather complex one, and as I’ve continued my journey through it I have made a number of observations in my guidebook. These observations probably wouldn’t have made the process any easier, but are interesting to note nevertheless.

Rule #1: There are no hard and fast rules.

- While learning a language is generally easier when you are younger, this does not mean it is easy if you are young.

- While learning a language is generally easier when you don’t have children to care for as well, this does not mean it is easy if you do not have children.

- Asking the “why” questions of language rules and conjugations to someone who has been fluent in the language since a young age generally results in one of these responses, “I don’t know why, it just is that way,” or “I don’t know why your rulebook doesn’t apply here, but trust me, I’m right.”

- What you understand in a controlled classroom setting generally makes no sense at all the first few times you attempt to utilize the information in a social setting.

- God is good to give us nonverbal cues to follow in addition to verbal statements. Tonal inflections, facial expressions and body language can speak quite clearly even when the details are muddled.

- You must be willing to take risks in order to advance your understanding and language abilities.

- One-on-one conversations can become the most terrifying experiences when the content goes beyond your understanding, especially when the other person is crying about whatever it is they are saying.

- Even though it can get you in trouble, the simple act of smiling and nodding can be a lifesaver at times, especially after seeking unsuccessful clarification multiple times in a row.

- People usually know when you are simply smiling and nodding but don’t really understand.

Rule #2: Remember the "CG 60/100 Formula".

- The only mathematical formula that applies to language learning is the following:

60% understanding = 100% confusion

- This mathematical formula has been evidenced over and over again in my life and the lives of many others which, I believe, establishes it a verified formula in the scientific world.


Grammy said...

Language is a God given thing....and a curse... remember the tower of Babble! But we have the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us!!I was just reading an article about the "older" language learner, about how we CAN learn but it takes a little longer and we learn a little differently. I am learning my first foreign language at 54. God is good and I can do this to bring Glory to God.

JAG said...

Language learning never ends, I'm told. It seems that just about the time I begin feeling confident in my speaking abilities, a whole new subject opens up, with a whole new set of vocabulary to learn! Don't get me wrong... it can be fun, too. This afternoon our neighbor was asking me so many questions about God, and besides the fact that I don't have the vocabulary in English to describe Him, I surely don't have it in Thai! Language learning has brought me to the place of realizing this whole thing is about Him anyway.

Becky Aguirre said...

Great post! I have to confess that I've never actually had to learn another language from "scratch" since I learned Spanish from the time I was little...I'm probably one of those that would say "I don't know...that's just the way it is!" :o I have great admiration for those in language study, however, since I can hardly imagine doing language study on top of the regular wife/mother stuff! Hats off to all you language learners out there!

My Place of Peace said...

Ha ha! I LOVE your 60/100 formula! That cracked me up because it's soooooooo very true!

kimom said...

Does anyone else find language learning to be EXHAUSTING, at least in the initial stages? Maybe I'm the only one who gets tired just thinking too much... =)

Anonymous said...

CG your rules are great! Oh my!

@Becky - Thank you for the encouragement!

@Kimom - Thinking is my favorite way to burn calories. It is SO exhausting to learn a new language and a new culture. :-)

When we were first learning Spanish we memorized a phrase that saved us a number of times - especially in those teary sessions. Said in just the right tone of thoughtfulness and compassion coupled with sincere eye contact it works miracles. People would ask our advice (we picked up that much). So we would ask, "Que dice Dios?" Translated it means: What does God say? It was like a light-bulb came on in their brains. Muchas gracias and a big hug usually followed. so I guess it worked.


Kim said...


Thanks for this post. Way too true! Smile. Thanks for keeping things real! haha. Please add me to your blog list. God bless! Kim

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said...

Ah yes! And then trying to sit through a 2 1/2 church service, your head swimming, but trying to ream some bit of understanding out of it. The joys of learning!

Karis said...

I found this blog a few weeks ago off a WOTH email, but this is my first time posting a comment. I was compelled to comment :-) because our family just arrived in West Africa six weeks ago and we are just finishing up our first month of French study (no official language school but daily tutoring and being immersed in life here). I was smiling and nodding my head through your post and the comments here. It was soothing to my soul as I am overwhelmed right now.

Just yesterday, our tutor was telling us something and his mannerisms and excitement made my husband and I laugh heartily at the same time. He thought we were right along with him so he started talking faster. I looked at my husband for an explanation and I could tell he was as lost as I was which made us laugh even harder which made our tutor think we were laughing at the same thing he was. All the time... we had no clue!

Duane and Carin said...

Thanks for the heads up. We start language training in the new year.

Could you ad me to your blog roll?


Phil and Pattie said...

I could really relate with almost everything you mentioned in this blog as well as most people's comments! Language learning definitely has its adventures that is for sure.
I also totally know what kimom was meaning about being exhausted. I often come home from meetings like tonight with a huge headache from concentrating so hard. It does get easier over time I have found but there are still days when it seems like I just got here.
One thing that I do struggle with off and on is feeling like I can never quite fully connect with other women like I can in English...I miss just going and hanging out over coffee with "the girls" so much sometimes. Going out with someone for coffee can be very tiring and even intimidating when I have fears that I won't be able to say the right things in Spanish or be able to trully communicate my heart...thankfully there is the Holy Spirit to help and guide, otherwise, some days, I might choose to hide under a rock!:)
One more thing...talking on the phone....that can be so hard since there are none of those non-verbals to halp clue you in. My husband and I would often "argue" over who got to answer the phone for months when we first got here. It is much better now but that can be hard....you just gotta hang in there and laugh!:)

Chantelle said...

I am almost two months into learning Tamasheq, a small tribal language, and it is tough! Made even more so that my teacher is in french, which is also my second language. Which language are you learning i wonder? I send you prayers of perseverance today, you will get there!

Becky Aguirre said...

I have enjoyed the comments!  This seems to be a topic that touches everyone!  @phil and pattie...speaking on the phone in my second language is still harder...and I got a good laugh out of the arguing over who gets to answer...we did that, too, in the U.S. when my husband (Spanish speaker) felt so awkward on the phone...I also relate to the difficulties in sharing your heart with other women...as well as I know Spanish, it is still hard to communicate on a deeper level.  I know that's not much encouragement, but what I've experienced is that even when I feel like I'm floundering at expressing myself, I've discovered later how meaningful it had been to them...God is good!  Love and caring can be communicated with more than words...

Cindy said...

We spent 15 years in a spanish speaking country. While I would like to say that I am fluent, I know that I do not know spanish as well as I know English. Having said that....now that we are in the US again and things really are easier in my heart language, I miss hearing spanish. I look for latino people in the store just so I can hear them speak and maybe speak to them. Sometimes at church when we are singing a song that I also know in spanish I start singing it softly in spanish because I want to hear it that way.
My heart yearns for my second home.
Many years ago I would not have thought that possible. I missed the states and my family and friends so much. And now it is the other way around. Somehow, in all the years asking God to help me love a new country....it happened and I didn't even realize it!

Lori said...

Thank you for this post!
Language learning (Japanese)is my life right now - I'm in my 11th month (out of 15) of full-time study, (3 or 4 hours of class a day, 1 hour commute (each way) and then homework. Of course, informal language study will never end.
*there are times I just want to tell people - I'm not stupid! believe it or not - in another language I can talk like and adult!
*In a culture where what is NOT said is often more important than what IS said - ability to "read between the lines" is so critical!
*kimon - I totally agree! It's exhausting - and I've found I just factor in language fatigue into my expectations for the day.
*I also have found the word "yet" to be very helpful in giving perspective -- ie. I don't know how to say that, yet. I can't write that Japanese character, yet. In hopes that someday - I will.
*biggest struggle right now for me is learning how to pray out loud in this new language. Anyone else struggle with that?

Anonymous said...

Language learning, wow that is a never ending process. I am a missionary kid and my parents were in lanuage school, but I just had a tudor and an hour class. I hope that it will get easier for you! God Bless you and keep you safe!

sarah said...

Hi! I'm Ginger and I'm right in the middle of the language learning process and I loved your 60/100 formula! I love the idea of your blog; I'm in the middle of compiling a collection from missionary ladies around the world. Their stories about adjusting to life on the mission field are on my blog at www.stoversinpoland.blogspot.com

I love the idea of what you're doing here! Keep it up!

sarah said...

um, this is actually Sarah, writing along with my friend Ginger.

We love the blog.

Coffeegirl said...

So many great comments this week, ladies. I can identify with so much of what you're sharing here.

Kimom - Great point on the exhaustion factor; I am all too familiar with it. I sometimes feel like I've just taken the GRE when I get home at the end of the day because of all the intense concentration.

Karin - LOL! I can picture the scene perfectly in my mind!

Pattie - I know what you mean about not connecting with women in the same way as you do in English. I too find myself praying and relying on the Holy Spirit to fill the gaps that I cannot *yet* do on my own. (Thanks for that key word, Lori! And by the way, I too get the urge to tell people how articulate and confident I am in my first language just to defend my ego on a rough day!)

Welcome to Coffeegirl Confessions, Sarah and Ginger! We're glad to have you here. Could I add your blog to our Blog Roll?

May God grant us patience as we learn, grace when we become frustrated, and sweet reminders of the reason we're doing this when we feel like crawling under a rock. Cindy, it's so good to hear your reflections now that you're in a different setting. What a good reminder to enjoy these struggles as difficult as it may be. God bless you in your transitional process.

It's so good to know you're all out there.

Anonymous said...

Dear coffeegirl, thanks for your comment on my blog, and the high praise. Please feel free to add me to the Blog Roll. I would enjoy connecting with more people. Except that I won't be able to do much this week, as I am in a conference.

Kirsten Nelson said...

I know this is well past the date of this blog entry, but I just had to comment. I have found that learning the language here has actually helped me in ministering to others. Here is why. I am currently working with a group of young girls from the street that are dealing with problems of addiction, abuse, prostitution, etc...The Bible is a completely new book to them. In there mind I am the one "in the know" when it comes to God's Word. When it comes to Spanish they are the experts. I feel like this puts us on even playing fields. I am their teacher in learning the Bible, but they are teaching me their heart language. It makes for a great trade off in my mind. This all being said, I still need a 2 hour nap after leading our Bible study! It is exhausting!

Coffeegirl said...

I'm glad you joined in, Kirsten! You make a great point from an angle I hadn't considered before. That trade off is essentially the motivation to continue learning because as you learn more of the language you can share more, and as they learn more from you the more they can give back to your learning. And all of this as relationships that reflect his glory are being built. I know that will stick with me in my moments of frustration. Thanks for speaking up!


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