As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Overcoming Monolingualism 12 - Taking Charge
Tom Steffen and Lois McKinney-Douglas conclude their discussion about language and culture learning by walking through three stages of development. Each stage offers specific challenges and opportunities for progress. Nurture Program participants will find themselves squarely in stage one with hopes of progression once in an overseas context.
Stage One: Before Departure
1) Gather Information - While you're still outside of the context, search out the best materials so that you enter the next culture with history and a framework for evaluating all the surprises that come your way.
2) Getting Exposure - Do the footwork required to come into contact with native speakers in your region, even if that means the internet.
3) Growing as a Learner - Most people aiming at long-term cross-cultural ministry aim at 2 years of focused language and culture learning, recognizing it will go on for a lifetime in different levels; so learn how to learn before jumping into this process. [ICCT & PILAT]
Stage Two: Arrival
1) Language School - "Most people find it more difficult to achieve superior levels of sociolinguistic and discourse competencies without this kind of environment" (243). That said, not all schools are created equal and not all persons need the same amount of schooling. Find what works for you.
2) Language Network - Being new is tough, but it also creates countless opportunities to develop relationships. You will need a broad group of language input, even if it is only at minimal levels.
3) Local Resources - Getting to know your surroundings and exploring the neighborhood will not only reveal people who you can get to know but new contexts for variegated learning experiences (e.g. market, soccer field, coffee shop, public transportation, bookstores, etc…)
4) Language Resource Person (LRP) - This will be the most narrow but potentially the most valuable experience you have. "Your coach should be a native speaker of the language who knows the culture well and is committed to working with you over an extended period of time" (245). [see Thompson 2.2 for advice on finding an LRP]
Stage Three: Becoming a Participant Observer
1) Adaptation - Get into a rhythm on your regular social visits but be ready to be flexible. This is not a program but a journey.
2) Preparation - Use your times with your LRP to get ready for visits to various social settings, develop objectives and the skills to meet them.
3) Interpretation - Questions are opportunities for more learning. You may not receive immediate answers but record your questions, they are valuable!
4) Reflection - Having a small notebook on hand at all times will help you keep track of questions, observations, new vocabulary and phrases. Record these as soon as possible after the encounter (it may be rude to do so in the midst of a conversation). Review them with your LRP.
[Much of the material and all quotes in this post are a summary from Encountering Missionary Life and Work, by Tom Steffen and Lois McKinney Douglas (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2008) - the whole book is highly recommended for Nurture Program candidates.]