Learning A Language Is More Than Words

Language learning is more than verbal. It is more than knowing how to say words and put them in the right order. Language ability allows one capacity to function inside of a culture. It is knowing the rhythms and cadences in which to speak. In language, it is the little things that make a big difference in showing that one is grasping the language. More than anything, the little things speak volumes to the local people. Some of those little things are the paraverbal such as sighs, grunts, moans and the like.At its heart, language learning is an act of love. When one says, I will learn your language in order to communicate to you, they are saying I love and serve you. And it is exciting when the local people see you getting the nuances of their language. For us, learning Thai helped us connect in a deeper way as we served the Thai people. One way that we knew we connected came when Thai people would say that we were Thai; conveying that we were authentic in the language and culture—not perfect but flowing in the rhythm naturally. Recently, we were at a Thai restaurant with my family in the Chicago area. For many in the group, it was their first time at a Thai restaurant, so we got excited to introduce them to Thai food. For us it was exciting to speak Thai and get a flavor of what was our home for the past six years. We began making acquaintances with the owner and her family in Thai. We found out she was from a neighborhood in Bangkok near where we lived. The owner then excitedly introduced us to her other friends at the shop saying that we lived in Thailand. At one point, I made one of those natural sounds of agreement. The sound is something between a sigh and a grunt, and it means we are on the same page. It is like the sound of the light bulb going off in your head saying that you get what they are saying or are in full agreement.  When I made that sound, the two Thai ladies mimicked it and said, he is truly Thai.  My heart beamed on the inside, and I quickly returned to my wife to pass on the story. I love the fact we could communicate with Thai people at a heart level. Now, this applies to people in our own country. When we can communicate in the vernacular of any subculture, we can communicate love more clearly. What are the little things in language learning that help you know you get it?

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