I visit Urak at least a couple of times a day, but I don’t go to Holygek. You may be scratching your head and saying, “What in the world is the boy talking about?” In our office, we have restroom signs posted from the countries where we serve. If you hear someone say that they are heading off to “Urak,” they’re telling you in Hungarian that they are going to the gentlemen’s room. And if they are visiting “Holygek,” their destination is the ladies’ room.
Many of the friends I work with overseas are multilingual. Most speak two or three languages, and some speak five to seven. One of the most helpless feelings is to have a need and be unable to communicate it. Have you ever been in this situation? You are in a foreign country, looking for directions or needing a restroom. You ask someone, and he shrugs his shoulders, indicating he doesn’t understand. You ask again, speaking more loudly, praying the second chapter of Acts will be invoked so all will hear in their own native languages. When that doesn’t work, you turn to the childhood game of Charades. Now you are squinting your eyes, frowning and making the international distress sign, “I HAVE TO GO REALLY BAD.” Of course, they instantly get the picture and point you in the right direction.
With all my heart, I believe that God wants you to raise your child to become multilingual. The United States is rapidly becoming a multilingual nation. As early as 2025, Spanish could become the predominate language. What can you do to equip your children for the future?
1. Expose them to other languages even before they can talk. Buy multilingual DVDs. Many use Spanish and French, as well as English. Have your children watch a movie in a different language every time they play it. A certain chemical in a child’s brain assists with language learning. It is depleted by the time the child reaches age 10. By then, the brain has formed most of the connections it will use throughout life.
2. Allow them to hear a number of different languages. The more languages a child hears, the greater that child’s vocabulary. When I learn a new language, I work to discover all the words that are the same as others I know. For example, the words, “rodeo, doctor, hotel, algebra and taco,” words we all know, are the same in both Spanish and English. Oh, they have a slightly different pronunciation in each language, but it is close enough to communicate effectively. When I worked in Romania, I was delighted I could read a number of street signs. They were the same in Romanian as in Spanish!
3. Consider an immersion program at school. These allow your child to receive instruction entirely in a second language. By the time students who undergo language immersion are in fifth grade, they perform as well as their English-only peers. The only difference is that they are proficient in two languages rather than only . . . one.
4. Learn a little and use it a lot. My sons and I like to greet one another in different languages. Jeremiah speaks Spanish when he enters our house or calls us on the telephone. At a store, I may say to my son, “K”sz”n”m, nem,” meaning I don’t want him to purchase a certain item. I am telling him, “No, thank you” in Hungarian.
5. Surround your children with native speakers. Ninety-five percent of learning a language is hearing it. Have your children attend an Hispanic VBS, a Chinese church or go as a family to do cross-cultural mission work. Our world presents so many opportunities for exposure to other languages and cultures. Take advantage of each one.
When my wife and I were on our 30th-anniversary cruise, I prayed we would have a Hungarian server so I could practice my language skills. (I know you’re thinking . . . “Doesn’t he have anything better to pray for?”) The first night, our server told us she was born in Szombathely, Hungary. I had worked to plant a church in her hometown! When I responded in her native language, she was so shocked that she ran away from the table. She never met an American who could speak Hungarian. You can imagine the incredible service we received, and the door opened to show her Christian love.
I believe those parents who lead their children to become multilingual are the ones who are laying the world at their children’s feet. S?