The reason I am placing the importance of language learning in “the first year” is because you are going to be the most excited and have the most energy to learn it during that time. Everyone eventually gets burnt out from studying and learning the language. My theory is that you have one year to get a good portion of the “language foundation” underneath you before you experience major “burn out”. If you don’t do good in the first year, it is most likely that you will always be learning, but never fully achieve fluency (a term with many definitions).
Therefore, if this is true, you have the opportunity and you are not on the field yet, then please heed this advice. Take language acquisition seriously. Please don’t convince yourself that you have a whole lifetime to learn it, because in reality, even though you will always be learning the language, the theory is that you only have a short window to really “get it”.
It is similar to a young child learning the language. Young children are like sponges who can learn the language of the environment that they are put into without much effort. On the contrary, adults have to put a lot of effort into learning the language if they are put in the same environment. No doubt both can learn the language, but the child will probably end up more fluent than the adult. That is my point in focusing on “the first year” for language acquisition.
If you are somebody who has already passed your first year, and you didn’t focus right during it, this post is not to tear you down in any way. I think there is still hope for you to learn the language, but it takes more effort and work to do so. I know you can do it! You can make certain commitments to work towards continuing your language learning ( <<< that is another post). I am writing this to help those who have not yet arrived on the field. My intention is to save them some trouble by having the right focus from the beginning of their first year.
With that said, let’s get into it:
Be prepared to make whatever sacrifices necessary to learn the language.
As modern-day missionaries, we forget “the practice of sacrificing” once we are on the field. We realize that leaving family and American comforts behind are a sacrifice, but outside of those things, we often don’t live lives of continual sacrifice on the field.
The practice of sacrificing means that you will have to give up things that you like for things that you don’t like. You will give up things that you love for things that you don’t love.
For example, missionary wives who want to learn the language can’t be with their children all day during the first year. Many seem to forget this the day that they land on the field. They don’t want to leave their children (understandably). All the sudden their children become the number one reason why they cannot learn the language. They do not trust the national to take care of their children. They do not trust a school. They stay home and watch their children. They home school their children. They come up with whatever excuse they can, but they are not willing to sacrifice time with their children for learning the language.
Don’t get me wrong, this is hard, but the motivation behind such a sacrifice is good and the necessary to accomplish the goal, so no one is asking you to sacrifice just for the sake of sacrificing!
If you study missionary biographies, you will realize that those who went on before us paid a greater price. Many sent their kids away to boring school (something that is even hard for me to read and image doing), only seeing them once or twice a year so they could do gospel work. Others had many children who died due to sickness and they stayed on the field knowing that each child they had on the field would be subject to the same danger of illness. They fully understood the practice of sacrifice.
These emotions need to be dealt with before you arrived on the field. You need to make plans about what you are going to do before you come. I mean, you are raising your support telling people you are going to learn the language to reach the people on your field with the gospel, aren’t you?
I call this, “Parent Protection Mode” and it is completely understandable. I am thankful that parents care for their children. But it can also be a curse it you allow it to dictate how you are going to learn the language in the first year.
Moms are the ones usually most effected because they are the main ones who stay home with the children. Mom’s who go into parent protection mode don’t forget they need to learn the language, they just ask create a new language learning plan around watching the kids and homeschooling them. A plan that often won’t end with language fluency. They will learn just enough to get by. Asking around for advice from other wives in parent protection mode usually doesn’t help either.
Fathers, however, usually know that they have to preach in the language one day. Therefore, they hit the field running. But they leave their wife behind to deal with “parent protection mode” by herself. He doesn’t have an adequate plan for her to overcome this struggle, so he just agrees for her to stay home, as long as it frees him to go out and work like he needs to. Besides, he doesn’t trust anybody either and he already has enough stress in his life by this point, so a fight with he wife doesn’t sound appetizing. When we husbands allow this to happen while we run off and spend all day learning a language, we are hurting our wives and the effectiveness of our future ministry.
So it is just as much a lack of leadership for the husband to allow this to happen as it is the wife to give into her fears. The first attack against your family not learning the language during the first year will come from your parental instincts about your children.
The discussion needs to be stared: What are you going to do about your children the first year? Are your prepared? Have you talk with the missionary on the field about it? Have you discussed it with your mission board? Have you discussed it with your pastor? Husband what is your plan?
Here is the more important question: Are you, dad and mom, willing to sacrifice your time with your children to learn the language during your first year?