A new study was recently released touting the benefits of learning a second language. According to the study, learning a second language helps slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s. Being bi-lingual does not stop the disease, but it allows the person who develops Alzheimer’s to better deal with it. Sounds like a great reason for learning another language!
Learning to speak another language has been one of the hardest and most humbling experiences of my life. I moved overseas, a well-educated and fairly competent woman responding to God’s call to be a missionary. Suddenly, I was reduced to the status of a helpless infant.
One day, soon after moving to Russia, I went to the grocery store with the sole intent of buying a chicken—a large, plump chicken. The last one I bought resembled a skinned parakeet, and it cooked up so tough that it could chip teeth. Stepping into the store, I spied a gorgeous chicken ensconced in the meat cooler, an American export. Something from home! Practically a relative! I had to have that chicken. Suddenly, I experienced a massive brain-freeze. What was the Russian word for chicken? My mind went into overdrive, yet it could not dredge up the correct word. I briefly considered clucking and flapping my arms like a chicken, but I could not do it. It was too humiliating. I simply turned and trudged out the door, tears welling up in my eyes. Riding home on the bus, I could not believe I was crying over a chicken—or more precisely, the lack of a chicken.
Years later, my language-gifted husband and I went to visit some friends in a nearby village. We had been in Russia over ten years, and we both felt fairly confident in the language. One of the dear sweet ladies complimented my husband’s language ability. He explained that we had spent a year in Moscow studying language. Miss Encouragement then turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you study?” That statement muted me for the rest of the evening.
Language-learning has taught me many lessons. It has reminded me of the importance of listening. People have shared with me about serious issues in their lives, and sometimes I have hardly understood a word they said. However, I have realized that people rarely need me to fix their problem; they most often need a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. This can require mostly an occasional nod and sympathetic “hmmm,” which I can do in any language, without a trace of accent.
Language-learning has also given me a new appreciation for Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus left the splendors of heaven to be born in a humble stable. He became an infant who had to learn to walk and talk. My struggles and humiliation while learning a new language are nothing compared to Jesus’ sacrifice. It has also reminded me that God can use me, even when I feel like a helpless infant. It is all about Him, not about me.
I have gained a new appreciation for the role of the Holy Spirit too, as I have tried to share a Christian witness in a second language. Often I have felt like a failure after a mangled attempt to share my testimony with a Russian friend. Yet when I see the light of understanding appear in my friend’s eyes, I realize once again that the Holy Spirit acts as my interpreter. As I respond in obedience to God’s prompting to speak His truth, His Holy Spirit fills in and smoothes out all my language gaps and errors.
So, now I am working on my Greek. I am hoping that by learning a third language, I will not only slow down Alzheimer’s but will also possibly prevent it. Today I will head to the market to buy some meat for my family. I think my “moo” is better than my “oink,” so maybe I will go with the beef today.