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Why I Went Back to Language School After 6 Years

For the last 6 years I’ve gotten by without out seriously studying Russian language but that all changed recently when I decided to go back to my studies.

You might wonder why I decided to go back to Russian language study after a 6 year break.

Let me share with you a few reasons why I’m taking up the books again.

I spent a lot of time during my first year in Ukraine studying Russian. On average during the first year I would meet with my language teacher about 3 times a week for two hours each time. In addition to this I also had an hour or two of homework each day.

That helped me develop fast in the language.

During my second year it became harder to meet regularly because of ministry demands. I dropped to twice a week sessions with my language teacher.

But that was all 6 plus years ago. I stopped my formal studies after the second year in Ukraine and everything I’ve learned since then has been of a combination of “on the job” learning and a few corrections here and there from my Russian speaking wife!

You should know that I don’t speak the language badly. In fact Russian speakers often compliment me on my language. I preach regularly in Russian, I can hold my own in a conversation and I know enough to do everything I need to survive here.

Nevertheless my language skills are far from perfect. So here are a few reasons I decided to pick up my language studies again.

1. Language is the basis for all relationships

I can’t expect to cultivate God honoring, gospel centered relationships without good language skills.

John tells us that Jesus came as the Word and lived among us (John 1:14) The whole concept of the Word in John chapter one indicates the importance of language and communication in our relationships.

Jesus came not simply live and die and be resurrected. He came to us, to live with us, to die and be resurrected for us. Not only was He called the Word but be He was also called “Immanuel/God with us”

If I want to be like Christ I must develop my language center every relationship on gospel truth.

2. My ministry depends on how well I can communicate

I preach and teach regularly and I often meet with other Church leaders. Simply put the more accurate and agile I can be with the language the better I’m able to minister to those to whom God has sent me.

3. Not developing my language isn’t an option

I’m keenly aware that there’s really no such thing as a plateau in learning.  I’m either learning something or I’m losing something. I’m either growing or I’m rotting.

I’d rather not rot!

So onward and upward I go.

4. Poor grammar and pronunciation is disrespectful to my listeners.

Bad pronunciation, wrong grammatical endings, and stumbling over words that I should know does not show love or respect for those to whom I’m speaking.

Yes, those things can be overlooked and forgiven in the first few months or even year of service.

But if you continue making the same mistakes, it simply conveys a lack of respect for those around you. Not only may it be difficult for others to understand you but it’s also unpleasant to hear your mistakes.

It tells others that you don’t care about them enough to invest time and effort into fixing your mistakes.

And what happens when you can’t properly understand the person talking to you? This is also unpleasant for others and can make it so people avoid you or at the very least cause them to have to repeat themselves often.

5. It helps me better understand the culture I live in

Culture and language are existentially intertwined.

I may have lived in Ukraine for 8 years already but I find that the culture is deep, much deeper than I could learn in a few years.

Development of language should include reading some of that language’s historically famous authors. There’s nothing like digging into classical literature to help you understand a culture better.

You could read a translation but you’d be missing a lot!

6. It’s good for my brain

I’ve read a number of studies which show that language learning is one of the best things you can do for your brain.

It can improve your memory, help you understand your native language better, even stave off Alzheimer’s!

Most importantly it can simply help you think better! As humans we process our thoughts in language. Increasing your vocabulary, and learning new ways to express ideas will help you to think better about those ideas.

Question: What other reasons can you give for studying a foreign language?

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  • I’m curious about what lessons look like at your level. What are you working on now? I know I can always learn more, but I would have a hard time knowing what to study at this point.

    • Phyllis, that’s a great question. Maybe I’ll have to do another video that goes over some of the things I do with my language teacher.

      In general though, we spend about 50% of the time in conversation about topics that are directly related to my ministry and sometimes cultural or historical topics. My teacher uses the conversation to introduce new vocabulary which, I then write down. She also uses the conversation to correct mistakes that I make.

      We always do read at least a chapter from the Bible usually from a text that I’m preaching or teaching. This helps me a lot because often the Bible has words or forms of words that are not commonly used in contemporary language.

      My teacher also gives me reading to do. Right now I’m reading a little bit of Hemingway, in Russian of course. I read during the week and then we discuss the reading when we meet.

      Usually each lesson is 2hrs.

      That’s pretty much the basics.

      • Thanks! I also find that reading really helps me.

  • George Esler

    Hey Caleb, Loved the article. This is actually encouraging cuz I recently just jumped back into studying Japanese. I once heard it said that a language is a gateway to a culture. You think and express yourself differently. Im trying my best to think in this way so that I can better understand how to communicate. Thanks for writing Caleb!

    • So very true about thinking and expressing yourself differently when you are immersed in another language. I think language isn’t just a gateway to culture, as I mentioned in a previous post, language is the fabric of every culture.

  • Renee’ Flory

    Great encouragement! I think I need to hit the books again too. Did you see the new vocabulary list I just posted yesterday? 71 news words in just one lesson with the trauma healing program. I have about 40-50 per lesson. Haven’t learned any of them yet. :-/ I used to have a practice of every 100 words I memorized I could go out for pizza (to reduce my guilt of going to get pizza whenever I wanted…12 years ago…when that was a really big and unusual treat). I figured I’m now 10 years older and a little bit wiser…so have dropped it to 50 words=pizza. 🙂

    • What a great idea, pizza is always a good motivator. Believe it or not I’ve never really made lists of words to memorize. I do, however, try to write down new words when I hear them and then I go over them with my language teacher later, or if don’t have a chance to do that I might ask my wife.