Why I speak such bad French


¡Hola amigos!
You will be pleased to know that I am now learning Spanish.  This is in preparation for visiting our mission partners in northern Argentina, Andrew and Maria Leake, this spring.

My experience in visiting the hospital Universitario Nuestra Señora de Candelaria this January showed me that not everyone speaks even basic English and there are times when you just need to communicate.

So I sought the advice of CLM leader, Neil Rees, who ministered in Spain for nearly 30 years.  He pointed me to Memrise, both as an app on my mobile and a program on my Mac.   This means I can do it anywhere, sometimes just for a few minutes.  Frequent short bursts.

Amazingly I am picking it up very quickly.  In fact, it is so good I have actually paid to upgrade to Memrise Pro. (My family will explain how stingy I am.)

This is in complete contrast to my abysmal ability to communicate in French.

Listen to me speak this beautiful Romance language and you would never believe that we have visited France every year since 1972.  And even worse, I spent 40 minutes each school day over five years being taught French at Waterloo Grammar School.  That’s 675 hours of my life.

But that’s the problem.  I was taught at a Grammar School the structures and grammar of French: conjugations, active and passive, indicative and subjective, present, past tense and past perfect. Et ainsi de suite.

Moreover, we were taught to avoid mistakes at all cost. WGS used the carrot and stick approach in language learning but without the carrot.

In total contrast Memrise begins with simple words and phrases, without any explanation.  Moreover, modern technology allows me to listen to real people speaking naturally.

You will be impressed to hear that I have now learnt 274 Spanish words, with 233 in my long term memory.  However, I have no idea of its grammatical structure.

In other words I am learning Spanish the same way I learnt English.  By listening and speaking in every day life..  Above all, understanding that mistakes are not only inevitable but necessary.

Jesus invites us to learn.  As we discovered earlier this year we are called “to learn on the hoof.”  In every day life and it takes time.

One of my heroes, Oswald Chambers, reflected “It is instilled in us to think that we have to do exceptional things for God; we have not. We have to be exceptional in ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, surrounded by sordid sinners. That is not learned in five minutes.”

Surprisingly it was Jesus who chose his disciples and not as his contemporaries would have expected, the other way around.  And they were chosen for their ability to learn, their commitment to their calling of fishing for people.

As they live and travel with Jesus they see him at work, close up. They learn to pray just in the same way,  simple and to the point, no need to repeat yourself.  Just like talking to your Dad.

Above all, they learnt to take risks as Jesus would send them ahead in pairs, just the two of them, with the message of the Kingdom of God.  “Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8).

It wasn’t all easy sailing, sometimes literally.  And they learnt slowly with many setbacks.

“How many times do I have to go over these things?” exclaims Jesus when his disciples could not heal a young boy with seizures.  “How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.”

It is all very practical, not three years of theory and then out into the world.

And it is how we are called to read the Bible – not as an end in itself but as a resource for discipleship.  There’s little point knowing the intricacies of the synoptic problem if you haven’t learned to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

And we learn to forgive by realising from reading scripture.  We discover that God forgives us, freely and at awesome cost.   Then we decide to forgive, claiming the resource of the Holy Spirit.

We will probably find that the Holy Spirit lights up parts of scripture for us.  They jump out at us from the page.  That’s why the regular and disciplined reading of scripture is so important:  it gives God opportunity.  We are not collecting facts.   Instead we are given feedback.

It can be difficult but above all, we learn in community, a key value incidentally in Memrise.  They encourage you to learn in a group, just like the early church.

“Let the word of the Christ dwell in you in abundance in all wisdom, teaching you and exhorting you one to another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with grace singing in your hearts unto the Lord.”

(Colossians 3:16)

We are learners together.