Beyond Babel: Why Missionaries Should Learn the Language Part I

Over the last several weeks, I posted a six-part series telling the story of how I learned to speak Mandarin Chinese. In today’s post, I begin to explain why language learning on the mission field is so vital to the success of the missionary.

Why go through all the trouble?

I think this is a question that needs to be addressed, particularly because I have met so many missionaries – while in China and now while on deputation – that either have serious struggles with communicating in the language of their field or simply can’t communicate in the language of their field at all.

Disclaimer: I have no intent to bash any missionary that doesn’t speak the language of his field. My purpose in writing these posts is to (1) explain the importance of mastering the tool of language while on the mission field and (2) encourage missionaries to learn the language as they start out.

Most if not all missionaries would agree that learning to speak the local language of their field has its advantages. However, I have come across many a missionary that for one reason or another hasn’t taken the time to learn to speak the language.

They have varied reasons, but most if not all of them stem from them finding that learning the language is too hard or too time consuming.

I, however, would argue that learning the language is well worth it! In fact, mastery of the local language of the field is a powerful tool in the hands of the missionary.

So, the question becomes, “Why not learn the language?” Well, there are some common crutches that keep missionaries from learning…

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