Institute of Strategic Languages and Cultures

Institute of Strategic Languages and Cultures

Why Study Before You Go?

It has been said that, “The best place to learn a language is in the country where it is spoken. ” In one sense this statement is certainly true.  If you are ever to become fluent or proficient in a language, you will have to at some time live among native speakers of that language.  However, due to a number of factors, the country where a language is spoken may not be the best place to begin a study of that language.

Learning a Language as an Adult

Adults do not effectively learn languages the way children do. Recent scholarship in the area of Second Language Acquisition indisputably shows that though adults do learn vocabulary best through interaction with nationals (something we highly value and provide at ISLC), the more complex aspects of acquiring a language, including correct usage of vocabulary, grammatical accuracy and proper morpho-syntax and pronunciation, are by far best acquired with the aid of well-trained instructors.

And when it comes to helping you to understand and apply grammar correctly so that your speech is comprehensible to native speakers, your best option is to have someone of your own culture, someone who has been down the road to true native-like proficiency before you, come alongside and guide you in your learning.  When it comes to the grammar, native speakers have great difficulty understanding what the student’s unique struggles and hindrances are.  This is especially the case with the more difficult (for English speakers) languages.

Language Complexity

Languages differ from one another in terms of the complexities encountered by the English speaker. For the speaker of English, some languages will be relatively simple and easy to learn. But unfortunately, from the learner’s perspective languages were not created equal! Many languages, such as Spanish or the Indonesian tongues, are relatively easy for English speakers to pick up directly from the people who speak them (provided the individual has the ability and time for language learning).  Yet several important studies have shown that even Spanish has grammatical concepts (such as the auxiliary “estar”) that usually require the aid of a quality instructor.

But from our perspective, Russian is grammatically complex, with its many case endings, challenging verb forms, etc. Arabic is also grammatically difficult, and has some very complex characteristics including a variety of suffix changes and wild verb forms. Chinese is certainly nothing like Spanish, with its tones and context-specific vocabulary. Many Chinese words are pronounced exactly the same, but have very different meanings!  These three languages are very difficult to properly learn without some good grammar and other instruction from those who understand your needs.

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Learner Aptitude

In the same way that we cannot approach all languages in the same way, we also cannot approach all language learners in the same way. Each individual has a certain natural propensity or aptitude for learning a foreign language. Aptitude is a measurement of one’s natural cognitive ability to learn the language. It is not a measure of intelligence, so much as it is an evaluation of how one processes a second language along with other factors that may affect language learning.

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Focus on Language Learning

It is very difficult to concentrate on language learning when overseas. First of all, the missionary has to contend with the pressing needs of living there. Shopping and getting around town require more than three times the amount of time than they do in the states. Just living there is a full-time job. So much so, that language learning often takes a back seat.  And the stress produced by an inability to communicate can make the adaptation process much more difficult.

At ISLC we will provide you with a learning environment that will emphasize the most crucial components of your individual learning needs, while eliminating as many distractions as possible. It is our goal to ensure that you meet the minimal proficiency requirement in your new language to be able to hit the ground and function well in your new culture.  You will then be ready to be completely immersed and continue learning the language in such a way so that your speech in time will indeed become native-like.

Methods that Work

One of the greatest advantages of studying at ISLC before you go is who will teach you and how they will go about it. When beginning your journey into this new world, what you desperately need is a fellow traveler. You need instructors who have been down the same road.  You need a mentor.  ISLC will provide you with several mentors who will be there with you every step of the way and with a whole lot of fun in the process!  After all, learning the language is supposed to be an exciting journey into the heart of those God is calling you to.

At ISLC we have made it our passion to find the most up-to-date, effective methods for teaching you the language. Our focus is always on communication. Based on the most recent and documented research, we believe that interaction should always occur before instruction.  In our programs you will first hear how native speakers use the language. You first will learn “how” to say something.  Then you will learn “why” it is said in the way it is (the grammar), in order to apply the new construction to new contexts.  This is followed by yet more practice with how they say it.  Therefore, all activities are geared toward effective communication in your new language, including listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing.

Don’t Become a Statistic

The ISLC’s intensive language programs are all about improving long-term missionary effectiveness. One major cause of early missionary attrition is a lack of proper, pre-field training.  Virtually every study of the causes of early and negative missionary attrition points to a lack of effective, pre-field training.  Most missionaries who, for other than unavoidable reasons, leave Russia, the Middle East, or China prior to completing their work, cite their inability to adapt to the culture and learn the language as major factors. Whether with ISLC or elsewhere, take the time – it’s a worthy investment.

I Corinthians 9:20-22: “To the Jews I became as a Jew…I have become
all things to all men that I may by all means save some.”