What It's Like to Learn a New Language as a Missionary
January 2024

By a SEND missionary in Eurasia

When I first entered this new culture, I began language school. On weekends near my apartment, a street is closed and transformed into a wet market, where vendors sell fresh foods, produce, and other goods. I usually buy my food there because it's fresh and surprisingly more affordable. Because I hadn't learned much in my first month of language study, I didn't utter a word at the market. I would just point to a vegetable or fruit I wanted, give the vendor a bunch of the local currency, wait for my change, and off I went. I was pretty sure the vendors thought I was mute, wondering why I did not speak!

Eventually, I resorted to the old, reliable Google Translate. Back to the wet market, I went. One weekend, I typed, "I want to buy." When the lady read what I typed, she laughed so hard that the other vendors were curious to know what was happening. I didn't know why what I said was funny until several days later; my language teacher explained that this phrase is never used, especially in a market setting, because common sense says that you are there precisely for that reason. 

Read on for three ways to pray for new missionaries.

In my third month, I ventured out to talk to a lady I had befriended. She was the shopkeeper of a flower shop that I always passed by on my way to school. Though uncomfortable, I forced myself to speak her language because she didn't speak English. She would laugh at my broken grammar, and we would have a lot of fun laughing at ourselves as we tried to communicate. Fast forward ten months, and my friend is now delighted that I can finally understand her stories, and we have common ground: language.

Photo of two young women having a conversation

Though learning a new language has taken time and patience, God has continued providing opportunities for me to build relationships, even while studying in school. While I struggled (and still struggle) to learn the two local languages in the country where I serve, the Holy Spirit and the support and prayers of my family and ministry partners have helped me to continue toward my goal of becoming proficient. Entering a new culture brings new obstacles and challenges. But language is a strong bridge that provides passage over these cultural obstacles, which is otherwise difficult to do when the goal is to make Christ known.

Learning the local language is a critical step toward effectively sharing the good news of Christ with unreached communities worldwide. But the process isn't always easy. New missionaries dive into language study for the first 1-2 years of their ministry on the field. Today, would you join us in praying for our missionaries? 

Three Simple Ways You Can Pray:

  1. While fun for some, language learning is difficult for many new (and seasoned) missionaries. Ask God to give our missionaries courage and skillfulness in their pursuit of learning a new language.
  2. Language learning can feel like tedious, unimportant work. Ask God to give our missionaries patience and perseverance to press on in language study so they can clearly communicate Christ's love to their friends and neighbors.
  3. Language enables our missionaries to build new relationships to share the gospel. Ask God to provide opportunities to form new relationships, and grace to weather whatever speaking blunders occur along the way.

Explore Eurasia


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