Learn Another Language!
by “Awake!” correspondent in Honduras
many have met this challenge
so can you
A TRAVELER had just arrived in a Central American country. Asked to pay his passage on a bus, the man answered: “Ya le voy a pegar.” Obviously, he did not realize that this means, “Now I am going to hit you.” He had wanted to say: “Now I am going to pay you” (“Ya le voy a pagar”). How would you have felt if you had made such a mistake?
Never before in human history has man traveled as much as in our time. When visiting another country, you have to communicate with people. But you will encounter a language problem. How can you overcome it—even before your trip?
You will benefit greatly from a good language instruction book—and the determination to use it regularly. Some courses include recordings that make it possible for a student to listen and then repeat words and expressions in the new tongue.
Nevertheless, you might think: “I don’t have a problem in this regard because my native tongue is spoken by millions of people all over the globe.” You will soon learn, however, that it is very desirable to speak the native language of the land to which you are going.
But you may wonder: Can I learn another language? Will it be too hard? Am I too old? Do I have to be particularly talented? Can I really do it?
Problems You Will Encounter
Of course, you will encounter problems in learning another language. But these can be solved.
Your attitude toward learning the new tongue is very important. Do not yield to a negative viewpoint. Consider the positive side. Review your reasons for wanting to learn another tongue. Being able to communicate with a greater number of people is one good reason. Another is that being able to read another language enables you to broaden your own general knowledge. This will help you to understand the thinking and customs of others.
At first you may wonder, Why is it so hard to pronounce words in a new language? Well, this is because you probably are encountering entirely different vocal signs or sounds. There are 20 to 60 of these in nearly every language. These sounds differ from one tongue to another, and some of them are peculiar to a single language. For example, in German you have the ü (as in über), in English the th (as in father) and in Spanish the ñ (as in niño).
So when learning another language, you must first hear and correctly understand the sounds. Hence, your ears are involved. You also will want to speak. This involves your mouth and proper breathing.
When you first hear the sounds of the new language, you probably will understand very little. This is because your ears are not accustomed to the sound pattern. Do not become discouraged, though. Listen carefully, and gradually you will be able to distinguish certain words, then phrases and sentences.
However, you also want to express yourself, not just listen. To be able to speak the new language properly, your tongue, throat, lips, and, yes, even your breathing, have to cooperate. When you first repeat a word, it will not sound the same as it does when a native speaks it. Why? Well, your tongue and the other parts of your mouth are accustomed to certain movements required to speak your mother tongue. Changing these movements requires time and effort. Keep on trying. Do not give up. Others have overcome the same problems, and you will be interested in how they have done this.
How to Be Successful
Certain individuals think that some people are especially gifted with regard to learning another language. Therefore, they reason that these persons are able to pick up a new tongue very quickly and without much difficulty. And there is some truth in that. However, the following principle is also true: “He that sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and he that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6) Accordingly, if you apply yourself to a study of the new language, doing so on a regular basis, day after day, you will see the good results.
The more time you devote to language study and its practical application, the sooner you will progress. Spending some time daily—even though only 10 or 15 minutes each day—will benefit you much more than studying only once a week for a longer period of time. Missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving in lands throughout the earth usually get a good grasp on a new language very quickly. How? Well, during their first three months in a new country, they spend four hours every day, usually in the morning, with a qualified teacher. Then, in the afternoon, they apply the things learned by talking to the local people about God’s kingdom.
A humble attitude will help you, for you are certain to make mistakes. In fact, most people err occasionally even when speaking their native tongue. Do not hinder your progress by taking yourself too seriously, worrying about what others might think when you make a mistake. If others laugh at your errors, laugh with them. Later on, when thinking back, you will laugh at these mistakes anyway, even telling others about them. Relating certain incidents might help to illustrate this.
At a Christian meeting, counsel was being given on the Spanish Bible talks that different ones had delivered in the congregation’s Theocratic School. On that particular evening several students were asked to work on the same speech quality. At first it seemed strange that the instructor kept mentioning “Germans” (alemanes). He meant to encourage the students to improve their “gestures” (ademanes).
On another occasion, a speaker invited all those present to attend a forthcoming assembly. It was scheduled during the rainy season and he wanted his audience to be well prepared. But instead of telling them to bring their boots, he told them to take along their boats.
Talk with the Natives
When learning a new language, you will realize that you need help. Who can provide such aid? You can get it only if you associate with persons who speak the language that you want to learn. If you get together mainly with individuals speaking your mother tongue, your progress will be slow. So take the initiative and look for persons who speak the new language well, and converse with them. Even though this will require special effort on your part, it is worth while. Ask to be corrected in your speech. Then welcome these corrections, for they are very important, especially at the beginning of your language study. Why? Because, if you get used to the wrong pronunciation of certain words, it may take you a long time to correct these errors.
If you do not understand what is said on a certain occasion, ask the individual to repeat the word or expression. If you still do not get it, ask to have it repeated again, a little slower. Then repeat the newly learned words or sentence yourself. Seeing your humble attitude, others will be more than happy to help you. However, from time to time you may need to remind these persons not to discourage you by bringing up every little mistake.
One word of caution: Do not think that all languages have the same pattern. They do not. Some features are peculiar to a tongue, and in these respects there may be no comparison with your own language. Has someone ever asked why you say something a certain way in your native tongue? What did you say in reply? “Well, that is the way we say it. I do not know the reason for it.” In other words, you will just have to accept certain things in the language that you are learning.
After some time, you will find it easier to understand people who are speaking the new tongue at a normal speed. Moreover, you will be able to express yourself in the language, and others will understand you. Undoubtedly, though, you will desire to become even more proficient in speaking the new language.
The Joy of Mastering Another Tongue
Learning a profession, or how to drive or to cook—all have one thing in common with mastering a new language. What is that? After acquiring a basic knowledge, you will realize that there is much more to learn. After all, you want to become an expert; you want to attain more skill in speaking.
As you well know, it is one thing just to “get by” and quite another to be expressive in the new tongue. Here are some ways to improve your knowledge of the language: The key is increasing your vocabulary. If you feel that you already know enough, just ask yourself: What makes it so enjoyable to listen to a talk? Is it not the speaker’s good word choice, the use of very fitting expressions? The Christian apostle Paul put it this way: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.”—Col. 4:6; compare Proverbs 15:23; 25:11.
The use of a good dictionary will help you to broaden your knowledge of the language. While getting better acquainted with the tongue, you will learn to master it, using idiomatic expressions that add color to your speech.
Also, you will be able to use different words that express various shades of meaning. Antonyms (words having opposite meanings) and synonyms (those of the same or similar meaning) add variety to your speech. And when you can read and understand specific literature in the language and can share with others what you have read, you will experience deep satisfaction. That is especially true of many Witness missionaries who have gone to foreign countries. They have learned the native language and now are in a position to share the good news of God’s kingdom with inhabitants of those lands.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Reflect for a moment. If you are a parent, how did you feel when hearing your child utter his first word? Or, perhaps you have gone to a foreign country and have been able to carry on a simple conversation in the language of that land. Did this not make you happy? Surely it did!
Well, after making all these efforts and gradually progressing to the point of being able to communicate with persons in their own language, you likewise will have a feeling of great satisfaction. And, if you are a devoted servant of God, there is something even more satisfying. You can bring genuine and everlasting happiness to others by sharing with them the knowledge of God’s Word, the Bible, doing this in their own language, their native tongue. All of this can be possible if you meet the challenge of learning another language.