The Bateman Family

Batemans in Argentina

Shawn Bateman, Misionary to Argentina

June 12, 2018

How To Be a Failure During Your Language Learning Experience

My family recently arrived back from the field after our term of language learning. We spent 23 months studying Spanish in Arequipa, Peru. I could write a book on our time there. It was scary and exciting, fun and tiring, encouraging and disheartening. All these emotions were found in our 23 months of action-packed adventure that seemed like a dream when it was all said and done. I learned a lot. I learned more than Spanish.

I learned a lot about myself: the good, the bad, and the very ugly. Language learning is a stressful time in the life of a missionary, and just like with any stress, the weak spots always show. There were many. Maybe I should write about that in another article.

Anyway here are three quick things you can do to ensure that you will fail during your language learning experience.

1.- Avoid People: You have to spend time with people. You learn in class, yes. However, if you want to excel in the language you have to spend time with people. We studied in class 20 hours a week; on top of that I would spend 30-40 more hours in the language with people. Have you ever thought about how we learned to speak our native language? We didn’t learn to speak in an English class, we just hung out with people like mom, dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. This explains why I speak English with a Appalachian accent. All the people I hung out with while learning English were hillbillies. My point is that if you go to the mission field and stay in your house you will never learn the language. Find some friends, go out, have fun, and learn the language.

2.- Be A Know It All: We went to Peru because there was a veteran missionary who could help us there. We knew absolutely no Spanish, and we would have been completely lost had we gone out on our own. So we had the opportunity to work with a veteran missionary who actually grew up in Peru. I asked questions, because I knew I didn’t know jack. I recently heard of a missionary right now who is struggling. He is in the same spot I was in 23 months ago, and the reason he is struggling is he is not communicating with the veteran missionaries that are there. If someone is there who has been living there for a lot longer than you and they know a lot more than you, save yourself much heartache and ask questions. Now here is where I made some mistakes. I asked questions on the things that I knew I had no clue about, but after I had been there a while there were somethings I felt like I had a pretty good handle on and I didn’t ask questions about those things. That caused me a few problems. Ask questions. Even on the things you think you’ve got, go ahead and ask. You might find out that you aren’t as smart as you think you are.

3.- Forget About Your Family: Learning the language takes a lot of your time. Like I said, I spent probably an average of 60 hours a week working on the language. I also read books, studied, wrote articles, and other ministry work. With all that I still needed to focus on my family. As I said earlier, language school and living in a different culture will create stress, and your family will experience this stress. I saw it in my oldest daughter. I remember one day we went to go get some pictures taken at an historic mill and Emily made the comment that day that Bethany seemed like her old self. Why did Emily say this? Because Bethany had been different those first months. She withdrew, she was quieter, and it took her several months to come out of that. I tried to spend special time with my children; each Saturday morning we would sit and watch The Three Stooges, and old Walt Disney cartoons. I tried to play some games with them each week. Emily and I went out on dates and talked a lot. You are going to take emotional baggage on your trip to the mission field, and you will have to unpack that emotional baggage once you arrive. Looking back I should have talked with my kids more about how they were feeling and what they were thinking. I learned and corrected that during our time there. Don’t lose focus on your family in all that hustle and bustle.

Brining it Home :

Learn from my many mistakes and the few successes. Language learning can be one of the greatest experiences of your life. During the last date that Emily and I had in Arequipa she told me “This has been the best two years of my life.” Language learning in a different culture can be a horrible experience or one of the best experiences of your life. It all depends on what you make it.


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