Ready For The Mission Field…Almost!

Next week, our students of the SLACA course will give their presentation.  SLACA stands for “Second Language and Culture Acquisition”, which is quite a mouthful to say and is the reason why we use an acronym for it.  This course builds on to the “Introduction to Linguistics” course that I taught from August to September.  It was a very academic and technical course, and you can read about the fun we had with that class by clicking here.

In contrast, the SLACA course is meant to be a very practical, hands-on course to help the students to try to actually learn part of a foreign language.  And whenever you learn a language, you also start to learn about the culture that goes along with the language and the speaker of that language.  It has been clearly demonstrated over the years that language and culture are intricately joined to one another and support the other.

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So what we did for our nine students was to teach theory on one class day each week, and for most of the time the second class period for the week they would meet with a delightful woman from Indonesia who would help them to learn some of her language.  For two months, the students had been in my Introductory class and heard about phonetics, phonology, morphology and much more.  But in this class, they were actually going to put this knowledge into practice.

Each week then, they were to come up with a “Lesson Plan” on what they would do during the language sessions.  They began with simple things, like pointing to objects, or to items in pictures, and they would learn some simple nouns.  They found words for different colors, and learned how to count.  They discovered that there are some formal ways to greet a person in Indonesian, and there are less formal ways.  Then they tried actions, like “I am sitting”, “I am standing,”, etc.  They also had fun giving commands to each other, “You sit!” and “You stand!”

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What made it quite interesting (or should I say challenging) for most of the students, was that with everything they heard they had to write it down on paper using phonetic symbols.  In the previous course, I had taught them the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which has about 120 symbols which represent all the possible speech sounds that any human can produce.  (I think this drove a few of the students crazy in the first couple sessions, but it was amazing even to them as to how quickly they adapted to be able to do this in future sessions.)

What we wanted the students to learn was how to listen well to a speaker of a different language and how to write consistently all the sounds that they heard the speaker say.  The reason for this is that our mission, Pioneer Bible Translators, works among some of the most remote language groups in the world, most of which do not even possess an alphabet yet for their language.  And that has to be the first step we take, developing a written alphabet, so that in time, after the language can be written down, then we can begin to translate the Bible into that language.

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By next week then, our students will have had six 90 minute sessions with the woman, their Language  Consultant.  Each student will do a write-up on what they have learned over the eight-week course.  They will have a long list of words (spelled phonetically), from which they will do word sound comparisons to try to determine which sounds in the language produce meaningful changes in the words.  That is, they will discover the underlying true sounds and from that produce a tentative alphabet.

Then they will go up from the sound level to the word and sentence level and give us their best analysis they can for how words are put together, in which order, and what their functions are within the language.  For some students, they will feel like they have not progressed very far.  But in fact, they will have enough vocabulary, and enough sentence structures worked out, that we are going to have them do a role play in a Market Scene where they will pretend to greet the seller and speak with them to buy some of their products.

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 I think everyone will do well next week, both on their written analysis of the language, as well as in their little 5 or 10 minute role play of the Market Scene.  What is really amazing is that if you put all the time together of the six language sessions, it would only total 9 hours with a language helper.  That is only two or three days in a formal language school program.

And why would we do all this you might ask?  Because we want our new missionaries to be as equipped as possible in as short a time as possible to have them ready to jump into a language and culture overseas and start their mission ministry among their chosen people group to bring God’s Word to them in their own language.  Whew!  That’s a long sentence.  But the hard work that we do here in getting them prepared for over there is always worth the effort we put into it.

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I have been so privileged to come down here to Dallas and help teach our new missionary recruits for PBT over these past few months.  It has been hard for me to be away from my family for so long.  Mostly I came here to this hotter climate to help me function better with my muscle disease.  But seeing these young people get equipped and ready to serve Jesus overseas has been a double blessing for me.  And for that I thank God.