Kind of sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, many of us try to learn language without involving other people, for some reason. We buy books, tapes, videos, flash cards and other lesson materials. Those are all fine and good. But the biggest ingredient needed is social contact with native speakers of the language.
That’s right—social contact. I’m not just talking about learning from a language teacher. I’m talking about interacting with speakers of the language who are not trying to teach you a lesson, but are just having a conversation with you, trying to tell you a story or a joke, or just doing life together. One of my favorite quotes from the LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical) method people is the following:
“If you set out to learn a language you will possibly fail, but if you set out to have a deep relationship with people, you will learn their language.”
-Thomas Brewster, Bonding and the Missionary Task
The point is that if we have the mere goal of learning a language—and if we subconsciously think we can do this without building friendships with any native speakers—chances are we will fail to speak it fluently or we will find it extremely difficult. However, if we make it our goal to form a friendship with at least one or several native speakers (preferably someone who speaks little or no English) then in the course of that process we will pick up a great deal of the language. Not only will we have the language learned, but we will have a good friend, too. So this approach is ideal for ministry, too.
Of course, if we see the people we’ve come to reach as simply “subjects” then we probably won’t want to build friendships with them. “We want to help them; not hang out with them!” If we are afraid of them and view them with suspicion, we probably won’t be allowing them to get too close to us or our children. If we fear giving up our lifestyles, eating their food and doing things with them that they enjoy, then we will probably only try to build friendships with those few who are brave enough to come into our big luxurious houses and eat our strange Western food—not too many, if any.
So, how we view people can end up being a big factor in how well we learn the language. That is because how we view the nationals will mostly determine how much social contact we have with them. How much social contact we have with them will greatly determine how much of the language we learn.