This is the official second part of our list of principles for effectively learning a second language. If you missed part one, just click for it HERE. As was noted in the first part, we are hardly experts and still have a long way to go on our journey to fluency in French, but our experiences so far have taught us a lot. I hope that some of these insights will encourage you to tackle a second language that interests you.
6. Nothing Can Replace Full Immersion
Obviously living in France gives us incredible opportunities to use what we learn in the classroom every single day, but being in a full immersion situation is more than that. It is kind of a useful trap. Here is the reality before you when learning another language: it is uncomfortable. Basically, you feel like a child again, and not in a really special, nostalgic way like when you find an old candy bar brand in the Cracker Barrel General Store. As a result, sometimes you want to flee the discomfort. Now granted, at times you do need a break, but other times you have to face it. This is much easier if you cannot avoid it. So a full immersion situation is a wonderful measure of accountability.
Perhaps this is not possible for you. Maybe you want to learn French (for example), but you cannot move to this amazing country to do it. Try finding someone who is French or knows French and set meeting times with them which are full immersion. Assign an evening a week where you speak, read, or watch movies in the other language. It may not be the same, but some measure of unavoidable interaction with the language to complement your studies will help.
7. Online Resources
There are MANY online resources for learning languages, and this list is not designed to be comprehensive. It is merely a reflection of the things we have tried and found useful.
· Rosetta Stone: This is probably the best software that we have used. It is incredibly easy to use, practical, and is a full immersion resource. I would recommend the subscription service (rather than the software you can keep forever, because it offers more mobile flexibility. The downfall to the mobile subscription is that you can only have it for a limited time (6, 12, or 24 months). The flexibility, though, will make it much easier to access and use, and (if we are to be honest) if you do not use the software within 24 months, you are never going to use it.
· Duolingo: Duolingo is free! This is a strong perk, but it is nowhere nearly as holistically capable as Rosetta Stone. Even so, it is fun to use, can work on any device, and certainly offers some value. It is not a full-immersion resource, because much of the teaching is based off of being able to translate from another language. I seriously doubt anyone has learned a language with much usability from Duolingo, but it is a fantastic side resource to complement your other studies. We particularly like the daily goals and ability to compete against friends as measure of motivation.
· FluentU: This is an interesting site which offers a great opportunity to improve your oral comprehension of a language. Through an inexpensive subscription ($10-$15/month) you can access a treasure trove of videos in another language. These could be cooking tutorials, commercials, segments of kids’ shows, or movie clips. You can choose whether or not to have the transcript up while the clip plays, but it just gives you the opportunity to listen in and try to pick up what is being said in a myriad of circumstances. You can even pause the video and click on a word to learn more about what it means. They also offer an upgraded version which offers further teaching resources, but we did not find these to be useful.
· Italki: On this site, you can search for online-based speaking partners or tutors for many languages. Everyone always says, “Make sure you have a speaking partner,” but it is not like they grow on trees, so having a resource to find a good one is great. The prices per hour are very reasonable, and you can really customize your search for someone to help you out. Whether you are worried about experience, schedule availability, or whether or not a person is a native speaker, you will find someone great to help you.
These are the main few resources that we have tried and enjoyed. There are many more out there, so feel free to go exploring. Do not overlook simple, free resources as well like YouTube videos, foreign news websites, or even music apps like Spotify to help round out your learning experience.
8. Stake Your Life on It
The road to fluency is long, tiring, and bumpy. Motivation and perseverance are absolute keys to success. For our future, we absolutely must reach that goal of fluency. As a result, we are highly motivated to push past discomfort, times of low motivation, and difficult, nuanced concepts in order to obtain a level of mastery. Without this motivation, it would be much harder for us to stay focused and driven.
Before we came to the field, there were a few missionaries who had warned us about how tiring language school would be. I cannot express how right they were. In many ways, the demands of our family schedule in America was more daunting than what we have experienced the past six months. This has not prevented our time in France from being incredibly exhausting. Thankfully, we really felt ourselves turn a corner after the fourth month, but the fatigue in the beginning is real.
Be prepared to rest. Take time to rest. You need the rest. Go rest.
10. Finally, For Those Considering the Mission Field: Do Language Before Starting Ministry
Before coming to France, we spent a solid five years questioning seasoned missionaries whenever we got a good chance. We have even continued that practice here. One of the consistent bits of advice we received was to focus solely on language acquisition before even thinking about doing ministry. I am so glad that we listened. Let’s be honest, if you are going to another country as a missionary, it is because you love the ministry. This is certainly the case for us. The idea of putting a full-time effort into evangelism, discipleship, worship services, small groups, children’s activities, and so many other things truly excite us. In the end, though, we have chosen to love the ministry enough to make it wait.
This decision comes from a needed self-awareness. If there is a time and effort battle in your life between doing tangible ministry and grinding through learning the next verb conjugation, you will almost always choose ministry. The problem is that ministry with half-fluency is not what the people of these other cultures need. Respect them enough to equip yourself to truly reach their heart. This could mean different things for different people. For us coming to France, it means that 2017 is totally devoted to learning French. The impacted lives of 2018 will make the sacrifice worth it.
To wrap up this post, we want to encourage you to always follow your dreams. One of the keys to our coming to France, to totally devotes ourselves to learning French and pursuing our calling is that we were willing to ask for help. You can definitely learn another language, and we hope these ten principles we have learned will help you out. We also hope that if you take the leap to learn it, you will find people to depend on to help you achieve your goals.