Namikango Mission

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Language is the way to the heart

Dec 4, 2013

The other day I was walking with Braylon and Brooklyn to the end of our driveway. There were some ladies there asking me about why Braylon did not have shoes. I only caught the word “shoes” in Chichewa (“nsapato”) so I knew what they were talking about. I then did my worst attempt at asking them if they were on their way to the local market (in Chichewa of course). I probably sounded like a two year old asking her mom for something. Needless to say, they laughed, and repeated what I said to each other, and walked on looking back and me as they continued to laugh. Somehow to them it was quite funny. Oh, the frustrations of learning another language. So, it’s back to studying for me and I will find someone else to attempt my toddler Chichewa on tomorrow.

Recently, I joined a Chichewa class of five expatriates (non-Malawians) with a friend of ours who is Dutch. There are two of us in the class whose first language is English. This is amazing, because the other students in the class, students who speak German or Dutch or another language as their first language, all have to first learn English and then Chichewa. It’s a challenge for me, but an even greater challenge for them. Since we have lived in Malawi for over a year now, I can greet people and say a few phrases. I am still a long way off. Ben, however, is doing really well, and has been able to preach a few sermons in the local language. Our staff members speak English, so it’s easy to communicate with them. But, their wives do not speak English. I often think, “Ok men, why don’t you go home and teach your wives English?” Yes, they are quite busy, but more than this, it just is not in their culture for them to do so. I enjoy having women translate when I teach, but there are very, very few women translators, so, I have asked one of the wives if she can help me learn Chichewa and I can teach her English. Her husband said, “I don’t think she will be able to learn English.” I replied with, “Remember when I came here over a year ago? I couldn’t even say hello in Chichewa.” I think with time, she can be of help to me and I to her along with developing a special friendship between us.

Language is the way to the heart. It’s extremely hard to reach a group of people who were raised different from you, but to attempt to reach people without even knowing their language, to me, is a real set back. Ben and I both think it is very important to focus on learning the language of the people we are working with.