Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Language Barrier

Our main purpose in this blog is to give you a firsthand account of missionaries adjusting to a new country. Some adjustments are a pain, some hilarious, and some downright scary. In my mind there is no bigger barrier than overcoming the language gap. This should be a missionary's primary concern in the first few years and a secondary focus for the rest of his time on the field. I cannot emphasize how important language acquisition is to effective mission work. Think about it this way-----when a foreigner speaks to you in broken English (this most often happens at the McDonald's drive-thru in the U.S.) your first thought, whether you admit it or not, is that they must be ignorant and uneducated. The reality is, its their second language and that's one more language than you speak---so who's the uneducated one??? Ever think about that? My point is, when a missionary cheats on his/ her language study he is placing an unneccessary barrier on his ministry and he needlessly sounds ignorant and unlearned. Here's the kicker, studying 20 hours a week is not enough. Fully acquiring the language demands that you drag yourself from the haven of your apartment and into the lion's den, also known as the grocery store, gas station, and restaurant. Here you must use your second language knowing full well that people will not understand and respond by speaking louder to you, like you have a problem hearing (never understood that one). Ginger and I certainly fight the feeling to just stay inside, so to battle the urge we've made it a point to just laugh about our mistakes.

One quick example: I was in Warsaw by myself awhile back when Ginger called and asked for an apple pie from McDonalds. I'm always up for a "gut bomb" but without thinking I pulled right up to the Drive-Thru window. Typical McD's drive-thru with a separate order and pick-up window. No one was at the order window so I was ready to pull out when I heard a voice over the speaker. I froze with fear, what do I say now? Fortunately, "cheeseburger" is the same in Polish and English. I proceeded with my order ------dwa (two) cheeseburger, duge frytki (large fry-pronounced doo-ze) and duge cola z lodem (large coke with ice). All of this was said correctly--I am a quick learner when it comes to food--but then I got to the pie and I have no clue what that is in Polish, thought about skipping it but I remembered there was something about pie in our wedding vows so I proceeded to embarrass myself. The person in the speaker started spouting off in Polish--I thought she was asking about the pie--and decided to answer with "tak" (yes). This worked but another question followed so I said "tak" again. She didn't sound satisfied with my answer this time and started speaking louder and slower. I said "tak" again, this seemed to frustrate her and suddenly I heard two people speaking now louder than ever. The cars were lining up behind me and finally I looked up to the pick up window and there were three employees banging on the drive thru window and motioning for me to pull forward. Years of drive thru experience kicked in and I realized that in Polish she was saying "please pull forward for your total," to which my reply had been a repeated yes. Sitting at the pick-up window was the longest 90 seconds of my life as I watched three employees trying their best to hide their laughter to no avail. As I drove away I called Ginger, we had a good laugh, and I felt better. I got off the phone, secretly spit in her pie, and felt much better, but lets keep that between us.


Matt and Courtney Jones said...

Too funny! In Thailand we have no drive-ups. I guess now I see why it is easier. You can't say "cheeseburger" they might not understand. You have to say "CheeseBURGeeeerrr" with the emphasis on the en. Then you see the light come on. :)

Auntie96 said...

Thank you for sharing that very funny story about your McDonalds trip. Mom and I really loved it! We are praying for you every day! May God continue to watch over and protect you are you encouter the "Lion's Den".

Oh, and one day I would LOVE to come for a visit! Also, I am and will continue to pray for Olah. Please let us know when schools start for her...we want to uplift her more in prayer when she starts.


Amber said...

Thats great!! I work at McDonalds and when I am on back drive thru it is sometimes very hard to understand what someone is saying.. lol..
Please tell Ben that I said hello! I haven't seen or taled to him in forever!! take care!