Full immersion. Just the sound of it makes me nervous. It certainly made my four-year-old Mandarin student nervous as he looked at me with wide, frightened eyes. Two weeks ago, I was hired as a private Mandarin instructor for a four-year-old boy. His mother explained that he had attended an immersion preschool a year ago and wanted me to go along the same lines. We decided that I would give him a couple weeks or so to bond with me and get comfortable with me as I started with mostly English and slowly introduced more and more Mandarin in our conversations. Well, a couple days ago, I started wondering why I wasn’t seeing the results I had hoped to see by the end of two weeks. Then I thought to myself, “How does a baby learn to speak at all? By hearing it spoken constantly.” I realized that I have already reached the point where the boy is very comfortable with me (perhaps a bit too comfortable) and I was ready to speak only Mandarin to him beginning next week. I knew it would be hard for me as well as for the boy because not only do I prefer English myself, I get discouraged easily when I don’t get immediate responses. When I announced my decision, the parents were excited, I was nervous, and the boy was terrified. I didn’t want to shock him on Tuesday when I arrived and all I spoke was Mandarin, so I sat him down today and said in a very excited voice, “Guess what’s happening next week?” Thinking this was another one of my fun craft and game surprises, he perked up and asked, “What?” Without wavering in enthusiasm, I continued, “I’m going to be speaking only in Chinese to you, okay?” That’s when he gave me the frightened look and shook his head violently as he said emphatically, “No!” Then, when he calmed down, he asked, “Will that be easy or hard?”
Even though the experience will be hard for both of us, I know the best way to learn a new language is to hear it all the time. Come to think of it, I have been learning a new language in my walk with Christ as well – the language of love. I have been so well versed in the language of rejection that love seemed to me as foreign as Mandarin does to an English-speaking boy. Once I got saved and began attending the churches I did, I heard a few sentences in the language of love here and there, but the dominant language was still rejection. Just like the boy I’m teaching, on good days, I could repeat a few phrases or name a few objects and on bad days (which were most days) I couldn’t even say hello. I certainly didn’t know the language well enough to communicate, and if kept in an environment where the dominant language is rejection, I will never learn to speak well enough to be understood and never be able to enjoy meaningful interaction in the new language of love.
Praise God my Instructor saw fit to introduce me to full immersion. Looking back at the past three months, the primary language I heard was love. Save for a few brief and isolated incidences, the new language was all I heard all day long. At first it was painful and frustrating for all who were involved, but as I’m beginning to recognize the phrases and expressions, I’m finally beginning to internalize them and use them on my own. A parent’s joy is always when their child can choose the words and expressions they need to communicate on their own, without prompting. That’s when you know a child is learning to communicate effectively, or in the case of learning a new language, that’s when you know a child is beginning to master the language. The words are now coming from within the child’s mind and heart instead of from a textbook or the teacher’s lips.
As I basked in gratitude for the full immersion experience God has given me these last three months, I began to wonder, “What about those who are not in full immersion environments when it comes to the language of love?” Can people who hear the language of rejection predominantly still learn the new language? As I was exploring those questions, I found myself asking, “Can someone like me learn Hebrew or Russian even though I never hear it in my daily life and I’m not surrounded by people who speak those languages? The answer is of course, absolutely. I would just have to apply more effort in exposing myself to the language as much as I can. The more exposure I get, the faster I learn. So it is with the language of love. For those who may not find yourselves currently in a full immersion environment, it is still possible to learn the language of love. You just have to be more diligent and intentional about exposing yourself to the new language. When we are speaking of the language of love, of course the most fluent native speaker is Jesus himself. So the more time you spend listening to Jesus the faster you will learn to speak his language. Call me crazy if you must, but I find this positively thrilling. So for those of you in full immersion environments, consider yourselves extremely blessed and thank God for the wonderful gift and opportunity. For those who are not in full immersion environments, take every opportunity you get to listen to the best native speaker and soon you will be surprised at how your lips and your life fluently express the life-giving language of love!