Getting Acquainted with Our Foreign Neighbors
By “Awake!” correspondent in the Federal Republic of Germany
“ARE you acquainted with your neighbors?” “Why, yes,” may be the answer. “Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt live next door. They have a lovely little girl, Gabi, and their small poodle is named Susie. And over on the other side, Mr. and Mrs.—now let’s see, what is their name? It’s not German, you know. They seem to be pleasant people, but they speak so little German. It’s so difficult for us to get acquainted. What a pity!”
Nowadays this can often happen in this country because there are so many people living among us whose native tongue is not German. Being unable to converse with these individuals makes it very difficult to get acquainted with them.
This is one good reason for putting forth efforts to learn a foreign language. Although not necessarily easy, it can be very rewarding. Consider the experience of a young man in Germany who, together with his wife, learned two foreign languages during the past few years. His desire was to become better acquainted with his foreign neighbors. He relates:
“I had never concerned myself with other languages and, while in school, found grammar to be one of the most boring subjects. Then, in 1966, when my fiancée and I began to study the Bible, we noticed that certain expressions used in it were new to us. However, being German, these terms were not difficult to learn. Eventually our study of the Bible led to our taking up the full-time preaching activity as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“In the spring of 1972, we were asked by the Watch Tower Society whether we would be willing to move to Spain to preach the ‘good news’ of God’s kingdom there. ‘Me, learn Spanish?’ I thought. ‘With my poor grammar and my distaste for foreign languages, never!’ But despite my fears, we decided to accept the invitation.
“In September 1972, we were advised to associate with the Spanish congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cologne so that we could start learning the language. On arriving there in December, I could say only gracias (thanks) and buenos dias (good-day). What kind of progress could I expect?”
Perseverance and Self-Discipline Necessary
“Sometimes I became discouraged and thought that I would never be able to reach my goal. But on other days it seemed easier.
“My wife, on the other hand, made rapid progress, without even picking up a textbook. Her knowledge of English and French was a big help.
“But I bought several textbooks and read them over and over again. Regardless of where I was, my nose was always buried in a textbook. What I learned I immediately used, even though this often resulted in loud laughter. But I came to realize that it is also very important to be able to laugh at oneself and not to become irritated. Otherwise, not wanting to say something wrong, a person will be afraid to use what he has learned. I was determined not to give up, since perseverance and self-discipline are qualities that Christians should have.”
Experiences That Helped Me to Progress
“Two or three months later I was witnessing alone when I called on a Spaniard who just recently had seen a television program dealing with defrauders. Therefore, he was quite suspicious when I shared with him something from the Bible. In making a return visit on him, I asked a Spanish-speaking Witness to accompany me. This made the man even more suspicious. He had not completely grasped the reason for my first call and thought that we were using the Bible as a front in order to defraud him or to make a play for his wife. To check on us, he suggested that he come to visit us in our home. My companion agreed, and this man appeared on the scene at the time that we had arranged. Soon realizing that we were not defrauders, he and his wife began to study the Bible with us. Today both of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Three months later, I delivered my first discourse in the congregation. For a six-minute talk I needed five hours of preparation. Even then, the Spaniard who corrected my manuscript had to change about half of it. Later—though much perspiration flowed beforehand—I delivered an hour’s talk. Many of my Spanish-speaking friends willingly helped me to make progress by correcting mistakes made in writing or speaking.
“I soon realized that, instead of writing something in German and thereafter translating that material, it was better to write everything in Spanish and then correct it. A person must learn to think in the language that he is studying. It is also good to make sure of the proper pronunciation and spelling of the words he is learning.
“Sometimes mistaking words that sound alike can change the thought completely. For example, caballo (horse) and caballero (gentleman) can easily be confused. That could be quite embarrassing, couldn’t it? Once I meant to say, ‘We should work along with the spiritual Levites’ (los Levitas). But I said, ‘We should work along with the tail-coats’ (las Levitas). Instead of thanking someone for his hospitality (hospitalidad), a person can mistakenly thank him for his enmity (hostilidad). Usually, of course, the individual’s face tells you that you have made a mistake.”
A Second Foreign Language
“In the spring of 1974, instead of going to Spain, we were invited to visit a number of Spanish congregations in Germany on a regular basis. This traveling activity soon convinced us that it would be good to learn another foreign language, Portuguese. In the spring of 1975, I delivered my first Portuguese discourse, which sounded more like Spanish than Portuguese. But eventually we made improvement and today we can speak about the Bible’s message to both Spanish and Portuguese people in their own language.
“Of course, we are not the only ones who have learned these languages. There are a number of German-speaking Jehovah’s Witnesses who have learned either Spanish, Portuguese, Croatian, Turkish, Italian, Greek or English. All of them have had great joy in doing so, mainly because they wanted to contribute to the spiritual welfare of their foreign neighbors here in Germany. The difficulties involved have been small compared with the joy and the blessings that they have had. Learning a foreign language opens up many doors to new friendships.”
Would you like to learn a foreign language? If you have the needed time and perseverance, and will not be neglecting more important things when doing so, learning another tongue can be a gratifying hobby, one that will also help you to become better acquainted with your foreign neighbors.