By: John Blasingame, Contributor
For the majority of my life, I’ve only spoken one language. Growing up, when it came to any dialect other than English, I typically found myself on the outside looking in. As a kid, I can remember listening to the strange sounds of foreign languages with perplexity, thinking it humorous that such noises could ever make any sense.
When I entered the 7th grade, I took a basic level Spanish class, which was my first real experience with a foreign language. Before the year was over, I had developed a healthy interest and intrigue in the language, and I was fascinated by my newfound understanding. I recall reaching a rather amusing epiphany when I realized, “So these words are intelligible after all!” Investigation, it seemed, had paved the way for me to believe in the comprehensibility of foreign languages, and belief, in turn, had allowed me to enjoy the intricacies of other tongues.
As my middle school and high school years raced by, I traded my interest in language for an obsession with success. I spent the majority of my time drudging through tasks that would supposedly look good on a college application, and yet I did so dispassionately – without any vested personal interest. It wasn’t until my first year of college that I rediscovered a love for languages.
During spring break of my freshman year, I traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip with a Christian organization at my school. While I knew Spanish to be the official language of the country ahead of time, I realized very soon after arriving that my limited knowledge would not be able to sustain any meaningful conversations with the locals – I would have to rely on a translator. Thankfully, my group leaders had hired translators in advance, and they accompanied us for the duration of the trip.
One afternoon, while serving in the Las Brisas community near Santo Domingo, I witnessed an event that would reinvigorate my passion for languages. Having just eaten lunch, a few volunteers (including myself) lay sprawled out in the only air-conditioned room in the compound: we were exhausted. Sensing the energy level of the group beginning to dwindle, José, one of our translators, grabbed his guitar and stared to strum a familiar tune, “We Worship You,” a gospel song we all knew. We quickly gathered around. As José sang the first verse in English, we all sang along, just loud enough for a few of the members in the community to hear.
Toward the end of the verse, I noticed that a few of the locals had entered the room, clapping their hands to the beat of the music. I smiled, thinking to myself, “This was a nice pick-me-up.” Expecting José to finish up at the end of the chorus, I started to head toward the door. But José didn’t stop – he kept playing. Except this time, when he opened his mouth in melody, his words struck my inept ears as unfamiliar: he was singing in Spanish. Suddenly, as the locals joined in, I became but a spectator in the presence of their joyous voices. Chills ran down my spine as I stood silently, immersed in a sense of awe.
I often wish I could relive the moment with an understanding of the words they were singing. In fact, since then I’ve tried several times to recreate (in Spanish) the lyrics they sung, but I can’t seem to get it quite right. In that respect, I’ll forever revisit the memory as one looking in from the outside. And yet, while I may never know exactly what they were singing, I do know the One to whom they were singing, and each time I lift my voice and humble my heart in adoration and worship of Him, I experience the moment ever anew. Except this time, I’m on the inside.
So why do I love languages? Precisely because languages are composed of words, and words are the revelations of thoughts. What’s more, God’s word – God’s thought – toward us is revealed in Jesus Christ. It is He who tells us to quit looking in from without. It is He who lovingly beckons us to experience from within. His voice is ever near, speaking a dialect we can understand – we would do well to listen.