As I write this blog, I am in Bogotá Colombia. As I often do, yesterday I attended church. Since I am LDS, it is always interesting to attend church in other countries. It is also a great experience in language learning. I sometimes feel sorry for those of you who are language learners, but who are not LDS. Of course we can talk about you becoming Mormon someday, but that would be a blog for another time.
Mormons go to church every Sunday for three hours. Here in Bogota, that meant three hours of listening to Spanish, talking in Spanish, exchanging ideas in Spanish, expressing opinions in Spanish. We sing songs in Spanish, we hear and give prayers in Spanish, and there is an intensity to the amount of Spanish that is heard and spoken and practiced. And because the Mormon church is a lay church, that means that everybody participates. On one hand, I heard Spanish from very educated, articulate individuals. But I also heard Spanish from others who were less articulate and less educated. I heard Spanish from little children, and I heard Spanish from the elderly.
I have now been in Colombia for two days. The first day I visited a number of different locations, and saw a lot of things, and talked to a lot of people. But I would also say that in the three hours that I was at church, I was exposed to more Spanish than what I had heard the whole previous day. Clearly, for me, one of the linguistic benefits of yesterday’s church services was the amount of language that I was exposed to.
However another benefit is the context in which language is used. I am familiar with the way Mormons conduct meetings. I know the topics that are discussed, I am familiar with the scriptural stories. I know the agenda of the meetings, I know the way the Sunday school lessons are taught. I know the protocol of how meetings are conducted. All of these things provide me with a context for the foreign language experience. This familiarity automatically enhances my comprehension in a foreign language. If a non-LDS person were to hear a lesson on the duties of a member of the deacon’s quorum, it might be hard to follow. For me, however, it is a familiar context.
And finally, yesterday’s experience was great for language learning because it was real communication. Nothing was contrived, there were no fake dialogs, no manipulated phrases to trigger the subjunctive, and no artificial exercises to practice direct object pronouns. A grammar focus has its time and place, but what I like about real communication is the pace. Real communication flies by fast, and you need to keep up with it. I learn a lot by having to keep up with the pace of real communication.
So for those of you who aren’t LDS, I hope you find a similar context for your foreign language experience. For me, yesterday was a nice reminder of how great church going can be for language learning.