How to get started with language learning

by Billy Haselton
Monday, January 15, 2018 | 278 days old

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.

So how can I get started with language learning?

Once you decide on the people group you want to reach out to, begin to look for tools or opportunities for language learning. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

1. Download the app.
You would be surprised how many language learning applications for smartphones are available. Many of them are free or very reasonably priced. Of course, some apps (like some teachers) are better than others. Try out a few and see which ones work well for you.

2. Learn online.
With the advent of the internet, we no longer have any excuse for pleading ignorance about a language we want to study. You can find many online resources about any language you want to study. Go to YouTube and search for “[Fill in the blank] language lessons.” You can find several thousand videos on languages ranging from Tagalog to Telugu, or from Somali to Swahili.

3. Take a class.
Many community colleges and social organizations offer language learning courses for a nominal price. It’s fairly easy to find classes that teach languages that are more widely spoken in the United States (e.g., Spanish), but if you look hard enough you can find courses in Chinese, Arabic, Japanese or Russian just to name a few.

4. Start a class.
You may not be the only person in your church or small group who wants to learn a language for the purpose of reaching the nations. Why not start your own language class? Invite a teacher proficient in that language to offer lessons to your group. (Of course, you’ll need to pay them.) Learning a language together with people you know can lead to greater success with the language.

5. Offer a language exchange.
Immigrants to the United States would love to share their language with you if you would share your language with them. Offer to be a friendship partner with an international person who could help you learn their language while you help them learn yours.

6. Study a book on the language.
I once found a book titled Yes, You Can Learn Korean in 45 minutes. While the book didn’t exactly live up to its name, reading and studying it did offer me insights into how the Korean language works. You probably can’t master a language by reading a book, but it can be an additional resource to help you along your journey.

When we humble ourselves to become a language learner, we’re following the example of Christ, the incarnate Word, who humbled Himself to become one of us and to lay down His life for us (Philippians 2:1-11).

Taking the posture of a language learner can be a powerful illustration of the gospel. As God has revealed His heart to us through the medium of language, we build bridges through language to communicate His love and reveal His heart to the nations.

Language study may not always be enjoyable now, but one day we will rejoice together when every nation, tribe, people and language are gathered around the throne of God (Revelation 7:9-12).

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Billy Haselton serves as lead instructor at the Intensive English Program at North Carolina State University. He also holds a master’s of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter @wthaselton or at his blog