Hello from Dandelion Middle School!
I’m already a week into my year here in Beijing. It’s been a great week, from the flight, to the English Teacher training through the US Embassy, to a quiet weekend at the school mostly on my own. I’m writing this as I sit in my dorm room which I’ve cleaned and organized in the last few days. Even though the skies are beautiful and blue today, I’ve spent most of my time in here to avoid my greatest enemy: the mosquitoes. I hate them. I’m still trying to come up with a spiritual parallel for them. Maybe next week.
As aforementioned, I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at a training program downtown at the Beijing American Center, a subset of the US Embassy. With about 45 other teachers, we were trained on teaching strategies, language acquisition, techniques for student comprehension and involvement, etc. The information was extremely well presented and very helpful – I can’t wait to apply it to my class in a few weeks!
One of the first concepts we learned about was the difference between Language Acquisition and Language Learning. Language Acquisition is generally seen when a child learns his/her first language. No one teaches the child grammar or vocabulary drills, but over the years the child acquires the language naturally and fluently. Even though a toddler’s words are full of errors and grammar mistakes, they learn to communicate what they want and work on perfecting the words later. Adversely, Language Learning is the experience most of us know from trying to learn a second language, be it Spanish, French, German, Chinese, etc. In this case, we are taught to listen, speak, read, and write at virtually the same time, and our mistakes are always immediately corrected. I’ve experienced Language Learning with Spanish, and Language Acquisition with both English and Chinese.
While studying these two concepts and trying to consider how to make our classrooms more conducive to language acquisition, the woman teaching read a quote about acquisition from her slides which stated, “speakers are not concerned with the form of their utterances, but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”
Does that sound like a spiritual parallel to anyone else? I think learning to share the gospel is a lot like learning a language. We’ve signed up for the class – we want to share the message of Good News. But how we go about it will affect our effectiveness.
If we act like Language Learners, we’ll spend far too long simply studying the Textbook to make sure we’ve got it right before we ever open our mouths to speak (which is what the textbook is for, right?). We’ll be afraid to verbally share about Jesus because we’re not sure if we’ll say it just right. We still have questions, and yet we make those questions cause enough to impede our communication with others, and even with our Teacher. We view our Teacher as always correcting our mistakes, often the same ones over and over again. We start forgetting why we signed up for the class, and end up just wanting a good grade. But there is so much more than this.
If we view learning to share the gospel more like Language Acquisition, the difference is enormous. We’ll take the knowledge already in our minds – our salvation, the Spirit living in us – and we’ll try to share it. Sometimes we’ll mess up, like any child does learning to speak. Sometimes people won’t understand what we’re trying to say. But we keep trying. As we mature, we spend time studying our language through textbooks, but we still speak far more than we study. We don’t have a Teacher necessarily, but a Father who loves us and coaches us as we grow. He is constant encouragement, rejoicing over the times we manage to communicate the message and never condemning us when we don’t accomplish what we want. Over all, we as Language Acquirers “are not concerned with the form of [our] utterances, but with the messages [we] are conveying and understanding.”