Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Conversation

"OK, in German, nouns have four cases:  nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.  Here, let me show you what I mean in this sentence." 

I overheard this conversation in a sandwich shop recently as I had settled myself for a late lunch with time to work on a message I needed to prepare.  For the next 30 minutes or so, I heard this patient tutor work with a novice student of the German language as he tried to give her a basis to comprehend the layout of a German language sentence, which is considerably different from English.

As the lesson ended, the tutor said to the student something along this line, "Expose yourself as much as possible to the language, even if you don't understand it.  Don't try to translate it.  Instead, see if you can sense what the words mean in context.  Listen to tapes, read it, immerse yourself as much as possible in it in addition to the actual study of the language.  In time, it will start to make sense."

He's right: this is about the only way to learn a foreign language, especially as an adult.  It takes much, much exposure, some structured study, and general immersion in it before it is possible to gain any mastery of the language.  Without those disciplines, the language will continue to sound like rapid and unintelligible babble.  By engaging in those disciplines, a whole new world of people, literature and experiences opens, and one's world is greatly enriched.

I've seen many people dip their toes into the world of the spiritual, and then immediately back away saying, "This is too strange for me.  I don't understand what is going on; the language is too different from my own."  Yes, the language of God-with-us living is very different from no-God living.  It's the language of prayer, praise, thankfulness even in the face of suffering and difficulties, of learning to forgive what seems to be unforgivable, and learning to receive forgiveness when we know we don't deserve it.  It's full of strange words like redemption and reconciliation, and unusual customs like the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday and fasting during Lent and confession before receiving Holy Communion.  The best way to learn it?  Just like learning a language:  study it, expose yourself to it, and immerse yourself as much as possible.  When it starts making sense, all of a sudden the world re-aligns itself and our eyes are opened to holiness, light and hope.  

Most, of course, won't go that far, just as most who begin to study a foreign language stop far short of actual mastery.  But for those who do make the full journey, the immeasurable rewards make it all worth while.  A toe in the water may give you a small sense of what water is, but only full immersion provides the joy of an other-worldly experience.

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

Great advice about learning.
I'd add one more piece to the puzzle. Having a good teacher or guide to your learning experience would help.

That's why we need people like Christy to help us to understand the things that are so foreign to us. Sure you can learn these same things on your own, but how much richer the experience to learn with others and from one whose knowledge is so vast.

Immerse yourself each week and get more than your feet wet. I hear that the water is wonderful.