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!









audiofeed web-radio.jpg

Back in 2006 I got to tell some stories about how I came to serve overseas at Cornerstone Music Festival. I'm getting ready to go to Audiofeed, a music festival born out of Cornerstone to tell some stories, if anybody comes to the Peniel Story Tent to listen.  (Yes, I am worried about sitting all alone in my story circle talking to myself.)

If you'd lke to hear my story from 2006 click that grey (gray? I never know) bar up at the top of this post.  If you'd like to save me from shame, embarassment, and an overabundance of skittles, come here.


CoversmalpngSinging the Do It Yourself Messiah is my absolute favorite thing to do ever.  I love going with my friends, but I have met really interesting people going by myself too.

The first year I went, a woman came by, looked at the empty seat next to me, and asked me if I knew what I was doing. I told her I'd sung Messiah every year for the last five years with a great choir, so she deigned to sit next to me.  

I can't blame her, it's no fun sitting next to someone who isn't singing, especially as a soprano that sometimes screeches.  Somehow it's ok if we're all screeching together, but if the person next to you isn't singing, not so much.  There was a woman talking at intermission this year in the restroom.  She said that she was sitting next to three people that weren't singing, and the guy next to her made a face and covered his ear when she hit a particularly high note.  Kind of takes the fun out of it, you know?

One year I got a seat towards the front, but I was irritated because there was a young boy with an obviously brand new score sitting down the row from me. Great, someone who won't sing, and will grimace when I hit lovely notes.  And where are his parents?!  I fumed until we started to sing and the most glorious sound I've ever heard came from his direction. A boy soprano. 

Does speaking in a second language make you think more or feel less, or Head languages vs. heart language

"…several different groups of bilinguals were more immune to common cognitive biases when making decisions in their second languages than in their native tongues."

I just read this blurb on one of my favorite languagenerdblogs, nerdily titled Language Log.   There's more to it, which you can read here and here

This certainly is my experience-I am much less likely to fly off the handle when I'm living in one of my other languages.  I blogged about that a while back here.  The time lag between brain and mouth in my other languages helps me self edit (and has made me think more than once that I should just give up speaking English and stick with Spanish or mmmbellymay or something.)  More than that, though, words just don't get to my gut the same way if they're not in English.


Andrea DoriaAbout a week after Mom died last August, we got this picture in the mail.  It's Mom and two of her friends on the Andrea Doria.  Not the trip where it sank.  Mom's on the left. 

A story I heard on NPR really resonated, especially this part:

"With the death, I'd become accustomed to seeing pieces of my father being taken away. But now, with a doorknob and a hand on my dad's shoulder, I had what I never thought I'd have again: a new piece of my father being given to me. …

Those pieces are precious. Especially when you don't see them coming."

You can click the gray bar to hear the whole story.

A Bolt Out Of The Blue:  Mourning A Man And A Myth   

In completely unrelated news, can someone tell me if the rules have changed for capitalizing letters in a title?  I copied the above caps straight from the NPR website.