“Mama….” Elias looked at me with a face of concentration and determination. After quite a long pause, he, very clearly and very slowly, asked, “Wo gehen wir hin?”
John and I started cheering and clapping for our little language learner. After at least 500 times of reminding our boys that that’s the correct way of saying “Where are we going?” in German, and correcting every variation they could have possibly come up with (Wohin wir gehen? Wohin wir gehen hin? Wir wohin gehen? Wo wir hingehen? …), we were quite excited about this language learning milestone.
Raising bilingual children has been a very rewarding yet sometimes challenging journey for our family. One thing we have definitely learned from personal experience and from bilingual families from different parts of the world is this:
Language learning doesn’t happen automatically. Not even for children.
We often hear that children just “soak up the language” and will be fluent before we can even order a pizza in the new language. As much truth there is to the fact that the ideal window for learning languages spans the childhood years, this common belief undermines the intentional exposure that it takes to enable any kid to learn another language. If we get to Africa and the boys speak German at home, English for schooling, and English with their friends…guess what, they’re not just magically going to turn into fluent Swahili speakers. The two crucial factors in learning a language is adequate exposure and a need to learn it.
Exposure + need. Don’t we need the same when we want to learn the language of God? The one He uses to speak to us? The one He uses to communicate His will for our lives? A wise friend once told me, “God speaks to different people differently. Think back to how God has revealed Himself to you in the past.” This simple yet profound piece of advice has helped me to grow in understanding of how God communicates. It has helped me become more literate in the language of God.
So what do we need to become fluent students of God’s words? We need to be exposed to it. Hear it, read it, sing it, talk about it, breathe it, live it. And we need to need it. Crave it, want it, depend on it, thirst for it.
Let’s strive for more literacy in God’s talk. Let’s listen, practice, and learn until our ears and minds are attuned to hearing His voice and understanding His language. Even if it takes 500 times to get it right.