Learn my language, touch my heart

by William Haselton
Monday, January 8, 2018 | 284 days old

When people find out that I teach English as a second language (ESL), they often ask me the same question: “How can you teach international students if you don’t know all those languages?”

Actually, you don’t have to be able to speak the languages of your students to teach them English. The students are in the class to learn English, and if you constantly speak their language, it defeats the purpose.

You do have an advantage, however, if you understand the basics of your students’ language. You can predict some of the grammar and pronunciation challenges they will face, and you can understand where some of their errors come from.

For a language teacher, it helps to be a language student. If learning a language is helpful for a language teacher, it is even more helpful for Christ-followers who desire to reach the nations.

“But,” you protest, “I don’t have any language learning ability. I can’t tell the difference between a noun and a verb. Why should a ‘normal person’ like me learn a language?” Here are a few key reasons:

1. Language learning is an act of love.
When someone takes the time to learn my language, it speaks to my heart. It shows me that someone cares enough to try to communicate with me. Love reaches out to touch the heart of another. Language is a primary tool to communicate that love.

2. Language learning is bridge-building.
Language can be either a barrier or a bridge. If I don’t know your language, and you don’t know my language, there’s an invisible wall between us. On the other hand, if we share a common language, we can cross the bridge of communication and understand one another — and eventually the gospel can cross the bridge, too.

3. Language learning is cultural orientation.
When we study someone’s language, it helps us to appreciate nuances of their culture that we cannot grasp otherwise. Our culture shapes our worldview, and our worldview is expressed in our language. If we gain language proficiency, it can unlock the door to other people’s worldview.

In my experience with international students, I have found that when I try to speak their language, it creates a connection between us and makes their eyes light up. No matter how much or how little experience you have with international people, even learning a few phrases can have a great impact.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. William Haselton considers language one of God’s most fascinating gifts. He hasn’t learned all the languages in the world yet, but he’s working on it. He would love to sit down and discuss grammar with you sometime. Strange, but true. Follow him on Twitter @wthaselton.