Should I go where I already know the language?

“Language knowledge is a factor, but not the final determiner.”

Since most of the world’s least-reached people speak languages that you wouldn’t likely learn in school, it would be very limiting to let your current language knowledge by the only factor. Certainly, it can be taken into account – especially if the language you know is a trade language for a people, as Russian or Chinese would be in parts of Asia or Spanish in much of South America. But it shouldn’t be the only or primary factor.

However, it’s not time wasted! Your work on acquiring a third language is aided by having learned a second language. Not that there is necessarily much overlap in the language, but your mind has wrestled with the sorts of questions you need to ask and you’ve learned some of the mechanics that can vary – your assumptions about how language works are not as entrenched as when you only have one language.

Answer from Jim, who served in Kazakhstan for ten years and now is a vice president with The Mission Society.

“Maybe; it depends on the work you will be doing.”

I recruit people all the time to teach English as a ministry. In these cases, the fact that you don’t know the local language can help you, since it creates many opportunities for you to build relationships with locals who will want to help you adjust and practice their English at the same time. Students and school officials who spend time with you can observe how you live your life and ask many important faith questions.

Recently, we sent a young bilingual person to teach a group of low-level students. In his first year, it was easy to become discouraged with the students’ level and revert to speaking their language rather than challenging himself (and them) to find ways to communicate. 

It also may be possible for you to learn the language as you’re working in the field. You will pick up many words and phrases over time. We encourage our teachers to study language more intensely after their first year, once they’ve worked through some culture shock.

So, you don’t have to limit yourself to looking for positions where you speak the language. Instead, think about the type of work you’re passionate about and talk to sending agencies. You might find yourself in a place you didn’t expect.

Answer from Marla in California, who has served with Educational Resources and Referrals China (ERRC) for three years.

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