I took one semester of Spanish. It just didn’t click with me. Even though it’s pretty low on the language difficulty level, I simply did not have/create the proper environment to learn the language.

Environment makes a huge difference, as does passion for learning a particular language and culture.

Then I moved to China in 1998 and spent four years studying Mandarin Chinese. I did not know a single person in Kunming city, and I only had a small background on the daunting language. With one semester of Mandarin behind me, I could say 你好 hello, 再见 goodbye, and 卫生间在哪里?where is the bathroom? The important stuff!

I immersed myself in the culture and language, forcing myself to learn. Within months I began picking up the tones and nuances needed to communicate. It came to me fairly easily, of course, that with a lot of hard work and hours spent practicing. That however does not negate the fact that, yes, Mandarin Chinese is way up there on the “hardest languages to learn” bracket.

I speak English, Mandarin, Tagalog, and am now learning Thai—another tonal language, this one with 5 tones. Easy, right?!

My point: if you’re a missionary (or anyone for that matter. I simply speak to those within my own niche field), you can learn any language if you put your mind to it.

hardest languages to learn

Here’s a few tips for language learning from TEDx speakers:

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And here’s a few more free tips:

  • Commit yourself to the language and culture.
  • Create an environment for learning.
  • Speak, speak, speak, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Step forward with intention and you will be well on your way to success—even if you need to flail your arms and use a little body language to get your point across. Because the reality of most cross cultural situations require a bit of body language.

Of this you can be sure: signs and wonders will follow. You’ll sign and they’ll wonder!

Whether you need to learn a language that is easy or hard, you can do it.

And missionary, please remember, it will enhance your future ministry in tremendous ways, so don’t give up!

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about language learning.

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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