Monday, August 11, 2014


Almost all the messages I receive from those wishing to serve where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater express the same worries...can I learn a foreign language?  I've been learning Spanish now for about 6 years.  I am fluent so wanted to share a few tips that helped me along the way.

  • Invest in a basic audio/visual program in the beginning.  That way you can see and hear the basics like the alphabet, colors, numbers, etc.  I had a CD set I used to play on my 30 minute commute to/from work.  It would say the word or sentence, and I would repeat it.
  • Label EVERYTHING in your house with its foreign equivalent.  I put stickies EVERYWHERE and every time I saw the sticky, I said the word out loud.  The more senses you can involve in learning, the better.  With this method, you see, speak, and hear at the same time.
  • As soon as possible, start associating with your foreign language congregation.  Even if you know just a little bit.  It will start training your ear and get you associated with our "spiritual vocabulary" which won't be found in books.
  • Start preparing for meetings in your foreign language.  Do foreign first, English second.  This will take you FOREVER and you will have a massive headache at the end, but it's worth it.  When you study English first, your brain is already trained to be looking for words with a certain theme or context in mind, so it doesn't have to work as hard.  You want your brain to try and work out words on its own.  Try to study the whole paragraph before looking up any unknown vocab words.  You may find the context itself explains them.  Highlight new words in the lesson.  You'll feel good when in time, you see yourself highlighting less and less.
  • Start associating with native speakers.  When you go to the KH, DO NOT immediately gravitate towards others learning the language or native speakers who know English.  If you're like me, you are naturally lazy and if given the option to speak English, you will.  Find friends with little to no English and MAKE YOURSELF WORK!
  • That being said, DO find someone with a firm grasp on grammar in both languages.  That way, when you start noticing differences in how a book tells you to express something and how native speakers actually express it, you have someone reliable to consult.
  • Prepare to be humbled.  There will be 3-year-old children vying with you for the same comments, and they will express themselves better.  Take it in stride.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  Every so often, self assess on how you did a month before, 6 months before, etc.  Any progress is good progress, so pat yourself on the back!
  • Get involved in the culture.  Ask a family to teach you how to cook a native dish or how to do a native dance.  The more you love the people and their culture, the more motivated you'll become.
  • There will come a point in your learning process where you understand more than you can speak.  The ONLY solution to get past that is to start speaking. This was probably the most frustrating part of my language learning process, and it took a frank talk from a very loving brother (thanks, Kevin H.) to give me the confidence to get past it.
  • Ask those in the KH to pass children Bible students to you.  They're great to start with.  They usually know both languages and could care less when you mess up.  Plus, the vocab in children's literature is a lot easier to understand when you prepare for your study.

I guess my main point is, if you're not prepared to work EVERY DAY on your language skills, a foreign language may not be for you.  It is a COMMITMENT and VERY HARD WORK but totally worth it.  I truly do not know who I would be without Spanish.

If you're currently learning a foreign language, and have other tips that have worked for you, let me know.  Oh, and tell me what language...I'm fascinated by them!


  1. There are points there that cannot be stressed enough

    Excellent point: > When you go to the KH, DO NOT immediately gravitate towards others learning the language or native speakers who know English

    I study 14 languages, and I see this happen again, and again, and again and again. Especially in the States, in Foreign language groups. I'll walk in a Russian Congregation, and after the meeting, many English speakers just gravitate to other English speakers to speak English. Rather than trying to stay in Russian.

    Also > Prepare to be humbled. There will be 3-year-old children vying with you for the same comments

    I find this to be one of the best things about associating with a Foreign Language. After Faith, Hope, Love, I find humility to be probably the most important quality to have ... and boy .... learning a Foreign language, and trying to comment will teach it.

  2. Going out in service helps a lot. Getting assigned in a car group with 3 people who do not speak any English or very limited English is very helpful. You just have to make it work.

    When I first started going to Spanish meetings I would focus so hard on each individual word I would get headaches. So I decided I had to relax. I would study well for meeting but when I got there I would visualize the spanish words were a river flowing over my head from the front of the hall to the back and I would just relax and let the river flow. If some words wanted to trickle down into my head I just let them, and with time, more and more soaked in

    Also, I have found that reading out loud every day in Spanish helps my pronunciation. I do my bible reading each day out loud in Spanish.

    1. Beth, I love the way you described your method of understanding in the meetings. That's a great tip. Focus on groupings of words, not individual words. It's true, though, that in the beginning you have a huge headache after each meeting!

  3. Great tips!

    Recently we started a thing with sisters in our apartment complex where we study the Watchtower together. They practice reading and answering in English and we do the same in Spanish. It's a private setting where we are all learning, so it isn't so embarrassing to make mistakes and get corrected. I think that's a huge part of the problem with learning is we are too embarrassed to use the skills, so I've found this really helps me.

    We also had spent several months living with a bunch of English speakers, so we never had to use Spanish, but now we live with only Spanish speakers and are forced to speak Spanish to communicate. The immersion method works really well.

    1. I think that's true that you need a "safe" environment to learn i.e. no one will make fun of your pronunciation or accent. Thankfully, Jehovah's organization is amazing at that ;)

  4. Wow great tips! Thank you sis :)

  5. I don't remember what I told you Shawnie, but I'm glad it helped ;)

    I would also add: listen to music that you like in your target language (obviously Kingdom music especially), and sing it! There's something about music that cuts through all the red tape our brains put up. Also, as you are learning new words, it's really useful to have a native pronounce it for you (or an audio file), and write down what you hear, not how it's spelled. Write it phonetically instead of just the real spelling, since it's pronounced differently than how we might read it with our English pronunciation. I would put those on your sticky notes throughout the house, too. By far, the best tip is to love and get involved with the people who speak the language. If you love them, you won't be able to wait until you can understand everything they are saying. Laugh at yourself! We say funny stuff while we're learning, and there's no way to get out of it! We love you, Shawn, great post.

    1. Kevin, you know you always had a way of giving counsel without us knowing about it until later :) You just shared some info about you and Lea's language learning experience, and it helped me a lot to know those who currently speak SO WELL were once in my shoes.

  6. नेपाली भसा!
    Maile Nepali bhasa sikdaichhu
    I'm learning Nepali, as you know, mostly against my! I love the tips you have given in this post. Something I found very helpful is practicing every day! Both with learning Sign Language years ago, and more recently Nepali, practice is essential.. And practice with those who are fluent, best if it's their mother tounge. You take for granted how much your brain picks up just by listening, even when you are not 100% engaged.
    Also, for me, picking up a Watchtower and attempting to read it in Nepali is almost impossible. I set small manageable goals for myself instead. For example: reading the text each day (it's a much more manageable amount of information) , trying to learn and use a new word each day. That is limited to when I'm working in Nepali territory, but still helps me learn a word or two each week.
    Thanks again Shawn!

    1. Andrea, I am humbled by your Nepali knowledge. I can't imagine learning a language that looks like that! Are you thinking of going back?!

  7. Great tips! I really feel associating with the congregation of the foreign language is a big help. My spanish was waaay better when I was actually in the spanish congregation. Now I only have spanish-speaking customers at my job at the bank to practice on and I have gotten rusty. But while in Paraguay it got better. They also speak Guarani there which i'd love to learn but the only group in that language in the US is in Queens, NY. So and the audio recordings in Guarani will have to be my main teacher for now. I also attempted to learn Hindi, which i'd still like to do but can't really fit it into the schedule just now. So many choices when it comes to theocratic activity!

    1. Maybe the new JW language app can help you? At the assembly, they said to learn about 10 new words a day along with basic phrases to start. Looks like the new app could definitely lend a hand in that dept.

    2. Yeah you're right! I actually am planning on downloading it today. Guarani isn't featured on it yet but Hindi is so im gona take advantage of it. If the brother up top says he's studying 14 languages I guess I can tackle 3 at least( a brush-up on spanish included). Thanks for the tip ;)