This fall semester I’m studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France at IAU College. While here I’m studying french literature, history, linguistics, and art through the french language. A term abroad in a francophone country is a requirement for all french majors, so for me this serves as both a requirement met for graduation and a fantastic opportunity to immerse myself in french language and culture.
If I’ve learned anything over these past three weeks it’s that I don’t quite like doing hard things and that learning a language is hard. Sure, learning the alphabet and simple phrases like “My name is…” or “Hello” or even “I’m doing well. How are you?” is easy. But when you realize the vastness of a language and even more so, all of the culture that comes along with that language, it becomes somewhat overwhelming. Textbooks and assignments are concrete, black and white, abstractions of a language but in reality a language is in its true form as it passes between people, coloring in the sound of their lives. So how in the world could one begin to dwell within the foreignness of another language?
While I might (often) just want to speak English instead of French, this exercise in forcing myself to do something difficult reminds me of the great value it places on another person or group of people to speak their language. Rather than expecting others to come to us, to learn what we know, to make things easier on us, putting in the effort to come to them is important. Often we expect the world to revolve around us, but yet it doesn’t and never will. Even more so, if I call myself a Christian, I should live my life as if the world revolves around the Son (because it does). Is it possible that learning a language well, with value placed on the native speakers simply because they are those also made in the image of God, could be an act of washing their feet? I’m not saying that learning a language in and of itself is this selfless act, because it very often can have self-seeking motives fueling it. But, I guess what I’m proposing is that, even if only for me as I go forward in my quest to become fluent in French, is that language learning be seen as a way to embrace the other, connect with those who are different than us, and simply declare the value of those Jesus also loves, whether or not they’re just like you and me.