Do you pay your language parent-helper-friend?

A few people had a great question after they read about me finding a language parent (helper, friend) with a flyer. What about paying them? Do you? Why didn't you mention it on your flyer?

Yep, I pay.

Because let me tell you, helping someone take their first (or millionth) steps into a new languacultural world is WORK! My language parents are so patient, watching and listening to me slaughter their language, repeating a word for the kazillionth time…they deserve to be paid. Being the language parent for a class myself showed me that really fast. 

And, helping me grow in language is a big time commitment-we're talking 10-20 hours a week. Since I am taking my first steps into the Deaf American world, I don't have any local Deaf friends yet besides my language parent (that's normal!), so I don't have anyone saying "I'll help you for free!" That will come later, maybe, but now at the beginning I need one super patient, super committed person to help me every day.

I didn't mention payment on my flyer-I didn't want to start there. I wanted to start when I met people just seeing if we clicked, seeing if they seemed like they would go along with the Growing Participator Approach

How much? 

Depends. I talked to another coach who works on ASL with the Deaf using this method, and went with what he's been paying. When I met my language parent for the first time, and we decided that it would work out for us, I floated that number, and she was happy. We added on a little bit for gas this time around because she's coming to me now.

Here's one way Greg Thomson, the compiler of the Growing Participator Approach and my hero, suggests figuring out payment overseas. Talk to a local person, not another foreigner, and ask them how much they pay a student to come tutor their kids. That's a good place to start.

Now, I have coached people that weren't allowed by their organizations to pay language helpers. They still succeeded, it just took a lot of tenacity and flexibility, and they got off to a slower start than people who were allowed to pay. They were also focused full time on language, had no other responsibilities, and were highly motivated, that's why it worked. 

What's your experience paying or not paying for help growing into a new languacultural world?



Info Gap Game with Dollar Store Cards

Info gap games are one of my absolute favorite language learning activities! They're great when I'm just starting to talk, using my new vocabulary with a lot of help from my language parent. 

I found these compare and contrast cards at Dollar Tree, and I've been dying to use them in an info(rmation) gap game. That's where one person has information, and the other person has to ask questions to get the information. It's a lot like playing Battleship or Guess Who

Cards and box







We set up a barrier between us, and then I picked a card, and set it out. My language parent asked questions-Is it an animal? Is it a person?-until she figured out which card I'd picked. She set it on her side of the barrier, and then she picked a card and I asked questions. When we finished, this is what it looked like. It was great practice for me, especially on colors and animals. The most exciting part for me today was that this was my first time using ASL words I knew to learn one I didn't know. I had a dolphin, but I didn't know the sign. So I said it was a water animal and then pantomimed a fin. My language parent signed "shark," and I said no, and then she signed dolphin. Victory! I also couldn't remember the word for lion, so I signed that it was a biiiiiiig cat and then made a roaring face. She signed "lion" right away! I love staying in the host language and not using English at all in these language sessions. After I go through all that trouble to get my point across, the new words really stick in my head. The fancy word for this communication technique is "circumlocution." talking around the idea when I don't know the word. 

Info gap with cards







As my language grows we will be able to ask more complicated questions about the same cards-Does it have pointed ears? Does it have hooves? I'm also wondering if we could play something like Codenames with them eventually…

This is what the cards looked like originally and after I got through with them:

Cut and uncut cards

I cut off the words. I always remove any text from my language learning props, for several reasons.  I started out learning an unwritten language, and lots of people that I coach are in that situation as well. Seeing text raises a barrier for our friends that are helping us but don't read. Text also can give the impression that there is a right and a wrong answer, or a right and a wrong way to use something. I definitely don't want to limit my language parent that way! Knowing how they interpret the images from their cultural viewpoint is the goal, not getting them to describe the things the way I would from my American point of view. 


For info gap games, you need two sets of the same things-objects, cards, drawings, whatever. I cut my two sets differently, so that if they got mixed together I could easily sort them back out. 

You can definitely make your own drawings for info gap games, but I don't advise people spend too long on that. I can be really tempted to say, oh, I can't have a language session today, I need to draw these pictures first! Or, I can't go out and say hello to people and chat with them, I have to color this clip art! There are lots of great excuses to avoid getting out into our new cultures, but they're just distractions from our real goals. Beware!

What are your favorite info gap games? If you have some you've found or made, please share them in the comments or email them to me at I'd love to have a bunch to share with other people growing into new languacultural worlds!



You Sent Out Flyers to Find a Language Parent?

Someone just asked me what I meant when I said in my blog post The Four Things You Need to Learn Any Language that I have found language parents by sending out flyers.  Let me tell you how that worked!

Last year I had about a month where I could concentrate on learning American Sign Language near South Bend, Indiana. I knew there was a school there, Bethel College, that had an interpreting program, and I knew there was a good sized Deaf population there. But, I didn’t know any Deaf people! So, I asked a friend who works at Bethel if she could send this flyer to people she knew that had Deaf contacts. Another friend who is an ASL interpreter helped me word it so it communicated clearly.

This is the exact flyer I sent, very specific to my needs.

Friend Wanted

Looking for a Deaf person to be my ASL Language Helper

Needs to be:

Very patient

Available for 10-20 hours a week in September

Willing to use a specific method that I’m testing for my job

Does not need to:

Plan or run our meetings, I’ll do that.

Be a teacher, I’m looking for a friend!

We will:

Play language games with toys!

Stay in ASL for 95% of our meetings!

Laugh a lot at my silly mistakes!

Interested?  Text Nora at XXX-XXX-XXXX

The things I really wanted to get across were:

  1. I wanted to work with a Deaf person, not a hearing person. Learning from someone who is a mother tongue user of their language is really important. I can learn from an insider about her culture in a way that is honoring, and in the context of our relationship. Really powerful!
  2. I was looking for a FRIEND (parent, helper), not a teacher. A teacher would come with their own ideas of how I should learn language. My goal was to use the Growing Participator Approach, and see if it would work for me in a signed language. (Spoiler, it’s working great!)


Friend one’s contact sent this around to her contacts, and I got texts from about 5 people. I chose the one that clicked, and off we went!

The flyer approach has worked well for me as well on a college campus. A great advantage of circulating flyers is that people you don’t know yet can respond. When my coaching clients get somewhere and say that they have to build relationships before they can find language helpers, they’re already in a bind. How can they build relationships without language? In addition, the longer I live somewhere without growing into that language and culture, the more I develop habits of living that keep me out of the language. Does that make sense?

Now, flyers are not the solution for everyone. One person I was coaching couldn’t put flyers around, because she needed to keep a low profile in the city where she lived.

How have you found those special, patient, gracious people that help you grow into a new language and culture? Please comment below!  And, keep those questions coming!


The Four Things You Need to Learn Any Language

Help! I want to learn a language but I can’t take your class!

Last month someone said this to me, I hear it pretty frequently.  So, I decided to blog the advice and resources that are my go to.  Many of them are not original, they come from the Growing Participator Approach by Greg and Angela Thomson, my heroes! The Thomsons have helped thousands of people grow into new languacultural worlds, building deep relationships across cultural barriers.

You need a team of about 5 people praying every day specifically for your language learning

The first thing I tell praying people is to enlist a team of about 5 people to pray every day for their growth into a new languacultural world. Make no mistake, staying encouraged while crossing cultures is a spiritual battle. We need God’s strength, power, peace, and intervention.  So, if you want to learn a new language, enlist a team. Like, right now. Stop reading this and do it! Ok, now that you’ve got a team, you can keep reading!

You need friendly, patient, humble people to play language games with you – Language Parents

I recently polled many people learning language and asked them what their number one question was. I figured it would be something about techniques for different stages of language learning. And I was dead wrong. Everyone said they wanted to know how to stay motivated. So I thought about how I stay motivated-and that’s by having relationships with people. Having someone show up at my house or the library or on Skype to play language games with me is what keeps me going.

These days I like to call these friendly people “language parents.” (I got that from Chris Lonsdale’s good book The Third Ear.) I’ve found them through friends, on, and by sending out flyers. However you do it, this is the first thing your team should be praying for you, every day.

You need a plan

I use, and I suggest that people use Greg and Angela Thomson’s 6 Phase Growing Participator Approach. Why? Because it’s based on communication, it’s centered on relationships with people, the techniques change as you grow, and because it works. It’s worked for me in French, it’s working for me right now in American Sign Language, and I’ve personally seen it work for about 100 people. You can find the most current versions of the materials at  There are also really helpful explanation and how to videos by my heroes 🙂 on Vimeo: You can find my overview of the 4 most important techniques here.

You need a coach

Everyone, including professional language coaches like me, needs a coach. Even pro athletes all have coaches. Coaches encourage us, troubleshoot things that aren’t working, and guide us into new areas of growth.  Honestly, this isn’t the direction that I was planning to go with this blog post, but if you are looking for a language coach, you can email me at and we can set up a time to talk about it.

Want to take a class?

I can personally recommend (because I’ve taught them!) the courses at SIL UND and SIL Australia.

Please leave your questions and comments below! Your questions will fuel new blog posts!


5 of My Favorite Faith-Inspiring Quotes

The Bible.  There’s nothing as life-giving as God’s Spirit speaking through God's Word.  During my time in Bible storying ministry I’ve begun to ask myself 5 questions about passages I read.  That, and retelling Scripture in everyday language have brought truth even more from my head to my heart. 

These are the 5 questions-

What touched you?

What surprised you?

What did you notice about God?

What did you notice about people?

What changes in your life this week because of this?

I’ve also been encouraged and inspired by several quotes I’ve read or heard  throughout the years.

These don’t take the place of Scripture (obviously!) but these quotes have given me perspective, hope, and encouragement in my day-to-day life, and I hope they do the same for you wherever you are reading this from.

"Progress, not perfection." I first heard this from my friend Phil.

"God never wastes a hurt." I don't know who said it first, but I love it!

"Safe?" said Mr Beaver …"Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

"We have chosen … were chosen … accepted being chosen." Madeline L'Engle, Many Waters

"'Why was I chosen?' 'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'"-J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

If you’re looking for some.other great reads, don’t forget to check out my previous article: 3 of My Favorite Books – Have You Read Any of These?

What are some of your favorite quotes? I’d love to hear them – share below!

3 of My Favorite Books – Have You Read Any of These?

Over 20 years ago, I was preparing to head into the mission field. Life was full of unknowns, huge dreams, and a strange mix of anticipation and terror!

One thing that God used to anchor me through that season of transition was a good book. Actually, there were several! If you’re in a season of transition, looking to deepen your walk, or just want a good read, consider checking these out. There are tons of great titles out there, but these were really meaningful to me.

Book 1: The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life. It's an oldie but a goodie! "In 1870 Hannah Whitall Smith wrote what has become a classic of joyous Christianity, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. The title barely hints at the depths of that perceptive book. It is no shallow "four easy steps to successful living." Studiously, the writer defines the shape of a full and abundant life hid in God. Then she carefully reveals the difficulties to this way and finally charts the results of a life abandoned to God. What is the Christian's secret to a happy life? It is best summed up by her chapter entitled "The Joy of Obedience." Joy comes through obedience to Christ, and joy results from obedience to Christ. Without obedience joy is hollow and artificial." Foster, Richard J. Celebration Of Discipline, p.192. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. (Which is also a great book!)

One of my favorite quotes from this book was "Most people,” she continued, “take their burdens to Him, but they bring them away with them again, and are just as worried and unhappy as ever. But I take mine, and I leave them with Him, and come away and forget them. And if the worry comes back, I take it to Him again; I do this over and over, until at last I just forget that I have any worries, and am at perfect rest.”". If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

Book 2: Wayfarer in the Land by another Hannah, Hannah Hurnard.  She wrote Hind's Feet on High Places, which I love. I was so excited to find this book way back when and learn that she was a missionary! From Amazon-"The Lord's care and guidance are vividly demonstrated in the account of the author's evangelistic team that carried the gospel message to remote settlements in Israel during the 1930s."

One of my favorite quotes from this book was Hannah talking about how she and a woman who she would not normally get along with managed to work together. "…as long as the irritating matter is able to haunt one's thoughts during that time of silent worship, and one is unable to get free of it, but goes over the point again and again, one can be sure that the matter has not been fully yielded to the Lord, and one is not in a prepared frame of mind to mention it without aggravating the situation. It is better to keep silent on the matter altogether and wait until the Lord has brought me to the place to be able to put it on one side and has set one at liberty to think and pray about other things." If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

Book 3: Cross-Cultural Conflict:Building Relationships for Effective Ministry, by Duane Elmer. From Amazon-"Whether at home or abroad, communicating with people of other cultures is difficult. It requires new ways of thinking and interpreting the world. When conflict arises, as it often does, the issues become even more confusing. Without a good understanding of how different cultures handle conflict, our best intentions may only make matters worse."

One of my favorite ideas from the book is that Matthew 18 is not the only Biblical model for conflict resolution. There are examples of others in Scripture that are often more honoring of our host cultures.  If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

What are some of your favorites? I’d love to hear them — especially if you’re in a season of transition. Leave a comment below!