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!

What do you actually DO with Wycliffe Bible Translators?

One of the biggest questions I get is “What does Nora actually do with Wycliffe Bible Translators?”
Here’s a story that illustrates precisely what I do.
Kelly (not her real name), a young missionary in her 30s from Asia moved to Eastern Europe. Before she could start work helping equip workers for Bible translation, she had to learn not one but two languages.  She had a few weeks training in language learning, but needed help in moving forward
Believe it or not, most Bible translation projects start with a hopeful missionary and one huge language barrier!
For eight months I worked with Kelly to help her find and train language helpers.  As she advanced in language, she needed to learn different language learning techniques, including these.  I coached her weekly via Skype to encourage her and troubleshoot her learning.  I also made demonstration videos of more advanced techniques for her to implement.  She is well on her way to successfully learning both languages.  As she succeeds, she will be ready to lead other new missionaries to success in language learning!
The 3 most common questions people ask about why language learning is so important are:

  1. Why don’t you just teach them English?
  2. How do you help people when you don't know the language they're learning?
  3. How long does it take for someone to learn a new language?

Why don’t you just teach them English? 
We all have a language that speaks directly to our heart.  My French is really good, and I can read the Bible and pray fluently in it.  But, when I want to have a conversation with God, I never choose French.  I go with English, my heart language. The teams I’m training are working to communicate God’s love in people’s heart languages.
How do you help people when you don’t know the language they’re learning?
I’ve been blessed to learn under my language learning heroes, who have worked out an approach to language learning that works for all languages.  So, I train people in the approach, the method, and the techniques that they need.  Then they apply it all to their specific language learning situation. 
How long does it take someone to learn a new language? 
It depends on their goals.  If they want to be able to work professionally in their new language, it takes about 1500 hours of time with a language helper.  Full time language learning is about 20 hours a week with a language helper, so that takes about a year and a half or two years. 
Here’s what I do to help missionaries learn language.
Several months of the year I teach a course in language learning for SIL, Wycliffe’s sister academic organization.  This year that means 2 months teaching in Australia, and 3 months in North Dakota.  During the courses I do lectures, create helps for language learners, lead language sessions, and meet with students to help them plan for their future language learning.  (And I grade papers too, but that’s not fun!)
Coaching language learners by email, Skype, phone calls and Facebook messenger, is something I’m really passionate about.   Currently I am coaching several people that are hoping to become language coaches themselves. I am extremely excited that my ministry is beginning to multiply!
I also moderate a discussion group for missionary language coaches and collaborate with other coaches to help their colleagues.  I’ve been helping one country in West Africa get a system of language coaching in place, and helping a coach in training develop powerful, interactive presentations for their missionary colleagues.
Meet Kelly, who is growing in her two new languages!
Kelly moved to Eastern Europe to head up orientation and training for new Bible translators.  Once she has grown enough into her new languages, she’ll be shepherding new missionaries preparing to work on Bible translation for some of the last groups without Bibles in their language!

Helping Kelly grow in language was a joy!
This is a note that she sent me:
“Thank you so so much, for you've been a great encouragement to me, not to give up when language learning is too difficult. I will always remember you saying, "it is not perfection but progress" that is important when learning a language. I'm thankful for the ways you showed me how to make my learning session a lot of fun. The materials you've sent are very helpful,  for instance the video of a lady learning English, the picture books etc. They were very helpful for my language helper to see and to make her understand the way a learner like me can really learn the language.
Aside from language learning side you have taught me to keep my faith in the Lord who sent me here, and remind me to keep a close walk with Him by spending personal time with Him. I am so truly grateful for each prayer you prayed after our Skype meetings, and God is always faithful to answer.”
I am so thankful for partners that make it possible for me to help people like Kelly share God’s story with people in their own languages. 

4 Essential Techniques for Language Learning–Have You Tried Any of These?

In January and February this year I had the honor of equipping 13 new missionaries for language learning. Our students are preparing to head into the mission field.  For them life is fast, white knuckle, and often a unique mix of exhilaration, sleepless nights, and a lot of prayer.

One thing that I gave my students to help them on their journey was a summary of the 4 most powerful techniques I know. I'm deeply indebted to Greg and Angela Thomson for these ideas.

If you're in a season of language learning, looking to start, or just want to understand the process a little more, consider checking these out.  There are lots of great books and a ton of advice out there, but these techniques have really been helpful to me.

Technique 1: Total Physical Response (Simon Says!)

Total physical response (TPR) is a language teaching method developed by James Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University. It is based on the coordination of language and physical movement. In TPR, instructors give commands to students in the target language, and students respond with whole-body actions (source).

I love using this technique to tune my ear into the sounds of a language and quickly build my comprehension vocabulary.

If you'd like to hear my language learning heroes Greg and Angela Thomson talk about and demonstrate this (they call it the Dirty Dozen) click here.

Technique 2: Information Gap Activities (Battleship!)

An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps (source).

I love playing these games to start really communicating with the limited language I have as a beginner!

For a video of my mentors Greg and Angela demonstrating information gap games, click here.

Technique 3: Negotiating Meaning (Taboo! Charades!)

Negotiation of meaning is a process that speakers go through to reach a clear understanding of each other. Asking for clarification, rephrasing, and confirming what you think you have understood are all strategies for the negotiation of meaning (source).

One of my favorite examples of negotiating meaning happened in France with my sister and her friends, one of which was getting sick and wanted something to help her coughs be more productive.  I hadn't been in France too long, so I did a lot of negotiation of meaning.  At the pharmacy I said (in French) "This is my friend.  She is sick. She coughs.  She wants to…". Then I made a coughing sound and gestured things coming out of my chest.  The pharmacist said (in French) "She wants to expectorate?  She wants an expectorant?"  Victory!

Evelyn and I negotiate a lot of meaning in the next video.

Technique 4: Unpacking a recording

In later language learning I make recordings of my language helper talking about things.  Then we listen to it together, and stop the recording for an explanation in my new language of things I don't understand. It's using language to learn language, and it's a lot of fun.

For a brand new video I made in Australia about these four techniques, including demonstrations of unpacking recordings and negotiating meaning, click here!

What are some of your favorite language learning techniques and victory stories? I'd love to hear them — especially if they're funny. Leave a comment below!