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 contextual usage of vocabulary, grammatical accuracy (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 native speakers comprehend your speech, 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 grammar, native speakers have difficulty understanding what the student’s unique struggles are. This is especially true for languages that are more difficult for English speakers.
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. Though all languages are equally complex, from the learner’s perspective languages were not created equal! Many languages, such as Haitian Creole, Spanish or the Indonesian tongues, are relatively easy for English speakers to pick up directly from the people who speak them (depending on time and individual’s ability to learn). 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 the English speaker’s perspective, Russian is grammatically complex, with its many case endings, challenging verb forms, etc. Arabic has some very difficult characteristics, including a variety of suffix changes, challenging morphology and 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, depending on context! These languages are very difficult to properly learn without some good grammar and other instruction from those who understand your needs. And how they are taught must take into consideration such characteristics.
A good grammar instructor can help the student to learn the grammar rule book of Russian or Arabic, so that he or she will be able to apply the rules to new and ever-changing communication skills. Solid phonetics training, focused practice with the different tones, and explanation of the context in which words are used will enable the student of Chinese to master the skills needed for good communication. Likewise, acquiring Arabic requires a focused and encouraging atmosphere with instructors who understand exactly where you’re having problems and how to bring you to proficiency.
Because of the combined grammatical and communicative instruction they receive, ISLC students acquire the ability to speak accurately and effectively far faster than those who attempt to learn directly from native speakers of these languages in-country. This is essential if one hopes to become a proficient and effective communicator of God’s truth in their native tongue. Speaking accurately can make the difference between good communication and miscommunication!
Just as 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.
For individuals with average aptitude profiles (the majority of the population) learning one of these languages can be a challenging and slow process. What this person needs is a learning environment and study pace designed with his/her specific learning needs in mind. Proper encouragement in a caring and spiritual environment, along with effective learning methods, can make all the difference in the world! Unfortunately, this is not what you can typically expect overseas.
At ISLC we provide language aptitude testing prior to your enrollment in a course. You will be assigned to one of three tracks of study designed with your aptitude in mind. And above average or high aptitude learners experience an accelerated learning program. In an encouraging environment where the goal is to minister to your specific needs, in spite of what your aptitude may be, by the end of the 8-month course you will find yourself able to speak on a level which would otherwise require at least two or three years to attain.
Focus on Effective 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 often 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 so that in time your speech 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.
We have made it our passion to find the most up-to-date, effective methods for teaching you the language as it is authentically used in real life. Our focus is always on communication. Based on the most recent and documented research, we believe that interaction and communication should always occur before instruction. In our programs the learner first hears how native speakers use the language and then learns how to use it in conversation. This is followed by learning “why” it is said in the way it is (the grammar), in order to apply what you learn to new contexts. This is followed by yet more practice with using it. Therefore, all activities are geared toward effective communication in your new language, including listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing. We call this a “modified communicative approach” that enables students to become both fluent and accurate in their speech.
Don’t Become a Statistic
ISLC’s intensive language programs are all about improving long-term missionary effectiveness. Virtually every study of the causes of early and negative missionary attrition points to a lack of effective, pre-field training. Most cross-cultural workers 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.”