This week we have embarked on a new endeavor – we are learning how to learn languages. We are not actually learning Swahili, or any other language, but instead, we are learning the basic skills of phonetics and linguistics that will hopefully allow us to acquire new languages. We are holding on to that hope to get us through two weeks of sitting in a classroom and interactive small group work. There are others here this month who are heading to countries with extremely varied languages – Italian, Russian, Cambodian, Hindi, Swahili and Turkish to name a few.
This is the first part of our month-long training at Mission Training International (MTI) in Colorado. The approach here varies dramatically from the way we have previously been taught language. Instead of diving directly into a particular language, we have spent the past week focusing on methodology – learning the basics of phonetics and our phonological awareness, that is, the sound structure of words and how aware we are of the differences in the sounds of different words. Turns out the human mouth can make a lot more sounds than we actually use in English. It also turns out that those sounds become quite difficult to appreciate as our English-hearing ears tend to convert them to sounds with which we are familiar. And further, we have learned that people (including us) look ridiculous making these sounds if you actually pay attention.
So, in order to learn to recognize sound differences, we have spent many hours this week with small mirrors in hand, learning the positions of our lips, tongue and jaw when we make sounds and then practicing correct positions for those sounds and figuring out how to make sure sound comes from our mouth or nose appropriately for a particular sound. If it sounds weird, it feels more so. There is a program for the kids which parallels that for the adults, so Madison has been learning right along with us, doing word drills and coming up with games that will help her ultimately learn Swahili (and any future languages).
Relationships are based on an ability to communicate, and our ability to show the love of Jesus to the people of Kenya will only be enhanced by our ability to communicate with them. We hope and pray that despite our inadequacies, God will prepare and equip us to communicate with the people He has called us to serve and love. So, despite at times feeling frustrated and out of our element, we are very grateful that we have an opportunity to learn from people who have dedicated their lives to teaching us how to learn languages. And we pray that we can make the most of this time of preparation so that when we get to Kenya we can make the most of our language learning.
And for those of you who are curious about the three different ways to pronounce the letter “P” – there is the aspirated, non-aspirated, and barred. Who knew?