Language Learning

Published Mar 3, 2010

Language Learning

“Language Learning is Communication- it is ministry.”

When I first arrived on the field in November of 2008 I read a book by Jim Brewster called “My Community is my Language Learning Classroom.” Since there was no formal language learning available, it was my responsibility to make my own classroom among the people in the community. Due to my visa situation and my engagement I really had no idea how long I would be on the field and I had one goal: To learn as much as the Kamea language as I could and to lay a foundation for my teammates.

In this book Brewster had two statements that were the foundation for my language learning. First he said, “I went to where the people were and I sat down.” So for me that included four weekly trips to the market, going to their homes, their gardens, or walking for hours just to be with them. I always kept a small notebook and pencil handy and when opportunities arose I would sit down with groups of ladies somewhere and try to isolate words and write them down phonetically into my notebook.In the evening I would take those same words, rewrite them and put them into a filing system to be reviewed and used in future conversation.

The second statement he said was, “View the people as friends to share your heart with.” My goal in being in Papua New Guinea is that one day the gospel may be made known, there is nothing closer to my heart than this. Many weeks in Kamealand I spent in the nationals homes, in their gardens, and around their fires. I walked away saying goodbye to some of my best friends.  Friendship there is based on eating, working, and sleeping together. It takes moving out of your comfort zone. You may think leaving America is leaving your comfort zone but there is always a step another step to take, to put you in a place where you are more dependent on Christ’s strength. To where you are emulating more of the ministry He had here on this earth.

Language learning doesn’t just include learning how to make new unusual sounds it also includes learning their culture. The Kamea people are bush people- they work for survival, they live in simple bamboo structures, and their diet consists of sweet potatoes and various greens (we call them leaves and vines in America.) Their world view is very limited.  When you tell them about Jesus they have to relate it to something they already know. When I show them pictures of themselves they ask me, “Who is that person?”  When I get papers to come out of my computer and show them their own language written, they flip the paper over to see where it came from. They hold it every direction but the right way. Many of them know little beyond their own experiences. But you know our world view is just as limited. We travel around in our cars every day, communicate by the phone and email, pick up our Bibles and read the assigned chapters for the day or maybe we skip a day knowing the Book will be there tomorrow. We live with the mind set that everybody has what we have but they don’t.

I have spent the last year working on learning the Kamea langauge and developing a foundational literacy program in preparation for the people to receive a Bible. By the end of my time there the Lord completed four reading primers, twenty lessons for my teammates to learn Kamea, a partially done dictionary, and many songs translated in their language. The work has just begun, there is so much more to do.