Language Learning in India

As a development organization, we believe strongly in the importance of learning the language of the people we serve.  Four foreign languages and two biblical languages are taught at our Institute, and language competency is expected for our international representatives.  This winter, our nine member India team had a special language-learning opportunity that began their immersion into the country as a whole.  Below, Rebekah Davis notes the encouraging results of difficult but necessary language acquisition in India.

As development workers, we believe it is extremely important to know how to speak the language of the people we serve.  Our December 2012 mission team intentionally planned our five-week trip so that we could kickstart it with approximately 16 hours of language classes!  This prioritization of language study reflects the belief that in order to be able to minister effectively it is crucial to communicate with people in their native tongue.

There is nothing so frustrating as being unable to communicate with those around you.  Working in a foreign country, it is extremely limiting not to know the native tongue.  Even to know a few phrases opens up a world of interaction.  Instead of the non-verbal passing of a coin to child beggars on the streets, there can be a small conversation between two human beings.  “What’s your name? How old are you?”  This is just the start of the conversational skills needed to engage in meaningful relationships with people.

Every member of our India team is working towards competency in the Hindi language. Although Hindi classes are offered at the Institute for Global Outreach Developments International, being in India opens up a whole new level of learning. Students on this trip hope to gain confidence through initial, intense study sessions in a way that would enhance the remainder of our five week trip.  

Following our initial flight into Delhi, the team boarded an overnight train to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.  Our train pulled in at 8 in the morning, and our first Hindi lesson was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.!  We arrived at the steps of the language school, luggage in hand, slightly out of breath, but excited to begin the important task of language learning.  Classes were small, as students were divided according to skill level.  The largest class was comprised of students who have taken Hindi classes at the G.O.D. Institute for the past three semesters.  Encouragingly, after the initial three-hour class session (involving evaluation through dialogue), students Nick Sherrod, Leah Thress, Kelly Jobe, Laura Voight, and Nick Moore were happy to be told that they were far beyond what their tutors expected.  Their teacher was excited to have such an advanced class.  “It’s encouraging,” Leah said, “to see how our hard work has paid off—we’ve been studying hard the last year and a half and have thankfully gained a sufficient knowledge of the language.”

These language classes became an opportunity to engage not just with the Hindi language, but with the surrounding area and Indian culture.  This was a pleasant surprise for Kelly Jobe.  “Our teacher took 10 to 15 minutes each class time to answer questions.  We could ask her anything we wanted, from Hindi grammar to culturally appropriate dress, and even about important places to know in the city.”  Beginner students Rebekah Davis, Rosemary Sherrod and Taylor Maute had a similar experience; learning vocabulary of various foods led into a discussion of the amusing differences between meal times in the U.S. and India.  Heather Maute enjoyed discussions one-on-one with her Muslim tutor, dialoging in Hindi about ethics that they shared based on their understanding of Hebrew Scriptures.

At the end of the week the entire team was grateful and excited for the experience at the Language Institute.  “It gives me more confidence to try to converse in Hindi when we are out and about,” Leah Thress says.  There are endless opportunities to practice speaking Hindi, from taking directions to market place shopping.  The encouraging time in the classroom has inspired the whole team to keep learning, even while in the States.  Learning the Hindi language is not easy.  It is, however, a worthwhile labor of love for the people we have committed our lives to serving.

Written by Rebekah Davis