Language acquisition is always relational

Many aspects of the GoCorps enticed me to apply but one stood out in particular - language learning as ministry. My placement and organization actively used language to reach both believers and non-believers in our area of work.

The team uses a method called the Growing Participator Approach. I am a new to the GPA method of learning a language. Nevertheless, I am finding tremendous encouragement by using it to learn Bambara. This method was developed by a man named Greg Thompson particularly for Kingdom workers in the field.

It starts with nurturing a relationship rather than hitting the textbook in the way many people learn languages today. My language partner is called my nurturer during this time. They care for me as a parent would as they teach their child to communicate. This means hearing a lot first before speaking. It also means we visualize communication through images rather than with the written word.

Each time I spend with Sephora I learn new ways to communicate in picture form. Studies have shown that connecting a word with an image allows the brain to retain it more completely. Every time I use an object I have learned, the word in Bambara comes to mind. Even this morning as I entered my bathroom, the word for toilet came to mind without even needing to rack my brain for the knowledge. :) Other more important words also begin to tumble more easily out of my mouth - the greetings and blessings. When you greet someone in their heart language, something happens - a recognition of value and a desire to connect.  

Beyond simple images, the different GPA learning phases draw us to share about our lives and to tell stories. This is what I love most about our sessions – to hear Sephora tell a story.

It usually starts with her standing up to act out each detail. Her face lights up as she gets to a good part. I, in turn, laugh freely at the antics, show displeasure when something went wrong in the situation and use my constrained vocabulary to share as well. The story telling usually ends up being a mixture of French and Bambara which can be a fun challenge to decipher. The words we are learning are contextualized and specific to life here in West Africa.

Today, we talked about the journey a woman takes during pregnancy. Sephora has four beautiful children – each one uniquely created and have a story. When we got to the word “contraction” during birthing, Sephora, of course, had a story to tell. We have learned the words for pain, very much, night, walking, and now hospital, birth, and life. That was my last lesson with her before moving to a new city with my teammates. I will miss my stories with Sephora. She brought my learning to life! I do not believe I would thrive without this friendship. She took care of me as my Malian mother helping me navigate cultural newness to finding fresh veggies. She will continue to me my sister in Christ.

I have a new nurturer to begin connecting with in the coming weeks. I wonder how she will tell stories. Stay tuned for the newest adventure in my calling to West Africa.