Eight months ago, our previously homeschooled English-speaking boys started school at an Argentine all-Spanish speaking public school. We thought it would be difficult, however, we were not fully prepared for all of the emotions that they would experience for the first few months. Transitioning to a real brick and mortar school, in a new country, with new friends, new daily structure, a new teacher who is not their mom, and a completely new language, was very difficult for them. For about the first two months, almost every day was filled with fear and many tears. They struggled with fear, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed.
But, in spite of these tears, we are grateful for the experience of our family’s immersion language learning. And we know that God’s hand has been leading us through it all.
We made the decision when we moved to Argentina that we were going to send our kids to school in a full-on immersion setting. We decided that they would have a Spanish tutor outside of class time, but the bulk of their learning would be through this immersion.
We feel that this experience has been a gift from the Lord to our family, especially to our children. Their language learning and cultural acquisition has blossomed and grown in amazing ways, and we are so proud of them. In fact, they are only two weeks away from completing their first full year of school in Argentina.
We understand that every child is different and family is different. So, our experience is not the same for every missionary kid. Our observations are solely based upon what we have seen in the lives of our kids and other expat kids as well. And we are definitely not interested in being prescriptive in our approach to how families may learn a new language. We firmly believe that God leads each family to make different educational decisions for their own unique situation in different ways. But, here are some observations that we have seen in regards to how and why immersion language learning in a school setting has worked for us:
- It is an opportunity to shepherd our kids through difficulty: Although difficult, we would not trade the challenges that our family faced for anything. It is a joy to shepherd our children through the challenges of learning a culture and language. In many ways, we are more sympathetic and understanding, because we as parents are walking through the same challenges they are. We have been encouraged to watch them persevere. And we have great hope that they will look back on this experience and use it for good in their own compassion and understanding of others in the future. We pray that God will use these memories to help them minister and become more like Himself.
- They learn very quickly: Though the beginning was very difficult, over the last three or four months, we have seen our two oldest boys learn Spanish very rapidly. Often times we see them having full conversations with other Argentine kids and our friends. It is amazing how fast they are absorbing the language and becoming fluent without the formal grammar school that we, as adults, have to work hard through.
- They are learning to love all kinds of people and cultures: Being in Argentina has allowed for our kids to become friends with kids from many different cultures and countries. Because of the recent refugee crisis in Venezuela, they have several friends that have fled here from Venezuela. Through these relationships, they have been able to learn about their lives and appreciate the challenges that their friends have faced, but also the blessing of seeing how God has created various cultures.
- We have hope that God will use this skill for His glory: I have frequently told my kids that being able to learn a different language is a great blessing. We hope that God will use their dual language ability in the future for their personal growth, lives, and ministry. Perhaps God will use them in missions, pastoral work, or any other Spanish-speaking work in the future.
- Living a life of mission costs something: Learning another language and culture is hard work. Our kids have been frustrated many times by their inability to understand and be understood. And through these times, we are trying to teach our kids that living a life of mission costs something. Frequently, the cost is your comfort. Regardless of one’s ministry location, living a life of mission is going to cost you something. It has cost our kids comfort, the ability to communicate, the ability to understand their own culture, and stuff that they have possessed. Yet, we believe that the cost is worth it!