3 Biblical Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language
Posted in Homeschool View on Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Why study a foreign language? This is a question that is on the lips of many people in the USA, children and adults alike. It is heard in schools, on the street, and in the workplace. “Why should I learn ______ ?” Sometimes this question is voiced in frustration, sometimes in rebellion against a situation, and sometimes with legitimate curiosity.
The answers to this question are numerous. They range from “you need it for college” to “to get a good job” to “in order to witness.” As Christians we need to ask for biblical reasons first, not the reasons that our culture gives us, even though some cultural reasons are very good. So, are there any biblical reasons to study a foreign language?
First we must note that there are no verses in Scripture that say “Thou shalt learn a foreign language.” There are, however, biblical principles that can be applied to language learning. Three biblical reasons to study a foreign language include the following:
1. Love your neighbor
2. Care for creation
3. Praise God
Obviously Scripture tells us to do all these things, but what do they have to do with language?
First, Christ came to us in a way that we can understand. The Word (notice the reference to language here) became flesh. If Christ loved us in this way, then we ought also to love others in a way that they can understand best. If we are living in a homogenous community, then learning another language in order to love our neighbor is not necessary. If, however, if we live in a community in which people speak more than one language, learning the language(s) of the people around us is an application of loving our neighbor. A person’s language is very close to their heart and is actually the lens through which they see, evaluate, and think about the world. To speak someone else’s language is to reach into their heart and their part of the world. It is a way of being Christ to them.
Second, we are told in Genesis 1 and 2 to care for creation. Languages are part of creation. As such, we should study them so that we can care for them and bring them into accordance with God’s will. This includes more than just not using bad words; it also involves understanding how best to express ourselves with beauty and accuracy to the people with whom we are speaking. Language is also the way in which we study the world. As mentioned above, a language is the lens through which we see and evaluate the world. Therefore, language gives insights into different aspects of creation. If we look at all the words in English, Spanish, or French, we can see words borrowed from other languages (moccasin, kangaroo, rajah, hippopotamus, gestalt, etc.) that help us to better describe and understand the world. When we study other languages we gain insight into the world that God has given us and that he has commanded us to care for. With better understanding and more insights, we can take better care of the world.
Third, we can study another language to praise God more fully. Anything we study should bring us to our knees in awe and praise of the one who made and designed it. Language is no exception. Language also gives us new words and expressions that we can use to praise God. Some of these words and phrases may not be available to us in our own language. By learning a new language we gain insights not only into creation but into God himself, since different cultures may focus on different aspects of God’s being. (This is not to say that every human believes what is right about God; we still need to examine Scripture to determine what is true.) Each language also gives us different sounds and arrangements of the sounds that we can use to praise God. There is a different sound of beauty when we praise God in Spanish than when we praise him in English.
Though each of these points can be further examined and explained, these three reasons and their given explanations provide inspiration and an understanding of the important role language plays in our relations with our neighbor, creation, and our Creator.