“Honey, I think you should study Chinese,” my dear hubby said. Did he really just say that? The plan was to take a pause in teaching English, move to another city, and he would be the full-time student. I wasn’t supposed to be part of that. That wasn’t the deal.
He graciously presented the reasons why: I’m at home more often, interacting with all the non-English-speaking neighbors and grannies; I do all of the shopping in a small town with zero English; I’d understand more of the culture I had a bad habit of bashing; and, the best part of the deal—he was willing to stay at home with our two small boys. Be a stay-at-home daddy. That was big.
I still had plenty of reasons I shouldn’t study. It’s waay too hard! Didn’t he know besides Arabic, it’s the hardest language for us to study? I’d have to be ok with how he ran the house. I had already been doing this for 3+ years; could I let go of the way I did things? He was, again, very graciously willing to stay at home, but not so willing to take over shopping and cooking. Full-time study and keep those responsibilities? That’s a lot. And, perhaps the hardest thing to get over, I had failed at learning a language before.
I studied Spanish from junior high through my junior year of college. I minored in it. My plan was to teach Elementary school, integrating Spanish daily. After graduating from college, I ended up teaching High School Spanish in an inner-city school. Yes, random, but the school really needed me. Before taking the position, I had become the last substitute for the year after 7—seven–other teachers had quit on these students. I wasn’t certified to teach it, but they made it work.
To be certified, I needed to pass the Spanish Praxis. I wasn’t excited. I studied with my Spanish major hubby, but not very seriously. Couldn’t be that hard, right? First try: missed it by 3 points. Ok, study a bit harder. Those conjugations are beasts! Second try: missed it by 7 points. Shucks. This is annoying. Third time’s a charm! Third try: missed by 5 points. For real?! I failed. 3 times over.
After 3 years and 3 fails at passing the test, I got pregnant. It was my card out. Whew. But the pain and sense of failure never left. I was going to have to face it and move past it to study Chinese.
It wasn’t pretty some days. I even started crying in class one day because I kept saying the wrong answer when called on. I ran out, insanely embarrassed, not willing to show my face in class again that day. Thankfully, I was in a class with amazing people from our organization. They were kind and loving. They didn’t judge. They eventually helped me learn how to laugh at my mistakes. We all messed up. Some days it was easier to cry than to laugh, and that was ok, too.
By God’s never-ending grace, I made it through that year. In the early days, I would go to school for 4 hours, race home to feed my not-yet-weaned baby, scarf lunch, then cycle back to school for tutor time. As soon as I walked in the door, my hubby was on his way out for his tutor time. Oh yeah, while staying at home with the boys, he also taught himself Chinese and stayed on track with my classmates and me. Amazing.
I had a lot of fun that year, too. Honestly, a break from wiping and cleaning and entertaining the kiddos was pretty sweet. I mean, I love being a mom, but I also love socializing! Who knew, by the end of it all, I’d be socializing in Chinese!
Being on the other side of studying, I see oodles of reasons to dive in, while the reasons not to study look miniscule. I don’t claim to be fluent in the least, but life around me has become increasingly easier and this is why:
- I can communicate with those around me. The charades game has diminished greatly!
- I now know when the water will be shut off for days instead of getting angry when it “randomly” shuts off, only to find out there was a notice taped to the door all along.
- I have begun to understand more of the culture. I still have a hard time with some things, but being able to discuss why they do things has helped.
- I can share the Father’s love in their heart language. This opens the doors wide!
- I can now read (some) signs around me. How freeing! I don’t have to go into every store front just to find a light bulb! For those signs I can’t read (and there are many!), I can simply ask someone nearby.
- I can see us living here for a long time. I can see my purpose of being here—more than just raising kids in another culture.
Yes, it was a sacrifice. It was hard. I cried a lot. But not as much as I did our first year there. I was miserable and isolated then. Now, I can see a few ways that I can actually partake in our ministry there. In English or Chinese, probably both.
Some of you may be thinking, “My husband would never stay home with the kids! He’d have to homeschool, too”! I get it. I know it’s a sacrifice for everyone involved. But if you feel an urge to study, open the discussion. Pray. You have come as a unit to this foreign land. Would you be able to connect with those around you more if you could communicate well with them?
If he already speaks the local language, ask him to put himself in your shoes—would he feel isolated and unhappy? Be willing to look at the long-term picture. If you plan on staying there a while, you have to be able to live there joyfully. For some, dare I say most, that involves a decent amount of studying.
How has studying a language changed your life? What could be different if you were able to study?
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