Like a Child Again
I wrote the following poem while in the throes of language study during my first year in our appointed country. My wife, teenage daughter, and I moved overseas in a faith response to our sense of God’s calling. Our vision was to establish a healthy generational ministry there, starting with college students and a few community contacts and make a difference for the Lord in that whole region. But first the challenge of learning the language! To minister to people in depth, it’s important to be able to converse with them in their native language. This poem describes some of the emotional struggles and attitude adjustments of a beginning language learner.
Like a Child Again
Now I sit me down to study.
My mind is clear. My cheeks are ruddy.
I’ll labor hard. I’ll whip this thing!
My mouth will not just speak, but sing!
But, alas, for those past adolescence
It’s far more sweat than luminescence.
Books are scattered round about,
In case I’ll need to figure out,
“What is this verb?” “What does it mean?”
It’s the strangest word I’ve ever seen!
My tongue will not these sounds create
Nor make the rascals conjugate.
You see my smile turn to frown
In vain attempt to decline a noun.
Does everyone pick up their grammar
As if driven in by fist or hammer?
If mind and tongue would cooperate
Maybe then I’d articulate.
Barefoot Learning notwithstanding,
Still it’s work…and quite demanding.
For those of you with time to waste
You might wonder at my continual haste.
Emotions do a flip-flop too
When three-year-olds speak better than you.
Now osmosis works for plants, they say.
If my mind were only beans or hay,
(continued from first column)
I’d stack the books on top my head,
I’d spread them out around my bed
And wait for fluency through the night,
Like morning darkness waits for light.
A vocabulary, great and wide,
That I’d have, with grace beside.
Idioms and proverbs I’d soak right up
If I were algae, tree, or buttercup.
But that doesn’t work! I know! I’ve been
From Nyet to Da…and back again!
So back to work I go! Hi ho!
Though I’ve nary a compliment to show.
Accolades may come, for some.
I don’t expect them. Not the dumb!
But slow or fast, early or late,
We have to learn to communicate.
So we can share from heart to heart,
In next-door flat, and in the park.
Crossing cultures—mine to yours,
Building bridges, opening doors.
But don’t you fret. It’s mine, this fate!
The pearly gates will have to wait!
I chose this life. Well, God did too.
He sent his Son to earth for you.
The Son of God…among men, incarnate.
His mission, mine. Must follow…and imitate.
I persevered and learned Russian comfortably well, by God’s grace. I really love the language! This poem describes how my naive excitement and strong motivation met challenge and difficulty. It’s my testimony of how God held my hand and helped me through frustration to eventual satisfaction and enjoyment.
- Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning: An Approach Through Involvement and Independence (Donald N. Larson, Link Care Publications, 1984) describes an approach for independent language learning (as opposed to enrolling in a formal language school) by visits and involvement with native speakers. Don Larson and colleagues, Tom and Betty Brewster, taught this method at the summer Toronto Institute of Linguistics, which many Navigators attended before going on overseas assignments.
- Our leaders in Eurasia encouraged us to read From Nyet to Da (Yale Richmond, Intercultural Press, 1992) for help in understanding the culture of the region.