One of the questions asked this afternoon was ‘Do I have to become a different person to speak someone else’s language?’ Since we will all naturally speak one love language better than another (some of us need affirmation to feel loved; others need physical contact with people; others need gifts or time or love shown through action), it can feel hypocritical at times to try to demonstrate love to someone in another language that feels alien to us. How do we do this without actually losing our own sense of identity?
As someone who loved learning languages, I found this question effectively cropped up time and time again in the classroom. Since we’re English, how can we learn to speak French in such a way that won’t mark us out as Mr Bean or someone from a stereotypical comedy? How can we ever learn to speak another language properly?
We are told that if we learn a language from a young age, we can actually speak it without any foreign accent; we can sound like a native! Others who learn languages later in life might not achieve this native fluency, but can still speak well enough to be understood and to communicate well. In all cases, however, I found that in some ways you do have to become a different person to speak another language well. You have to listen and mimic something which initially sounds very odd. Teenagers often find this difficult to do because they are self-conscious and don’t like feeling (or looking) stupid. Yet to learn another language will to some extent always involve putting aside those feelings in order to make new sounds. Garry told me this afternoon that when I read out Bible verses in French, my posture and voice changed markedly. I wasn’t aware of that, but if I’m speaking French, I have to ‘become’ someone else: a French speaker, not an English speaker.
Now obviously that doesn’t make me French. And in the same way, if I learn to speak in someone else’s love language, that doesn’t make me fluent in that language; it doesn’t change who I am. But my willingness to do that – to give a gift to someone because I know it means something to them, to give someone a hug because that’s their native language – has to be the starting point of love, for love considers others and wants to do what makes them feel loved. Love has to go the extra mile, has to recognise that people’s differences are not really barriers that are insurmountable. They are hurdles that can be overcome.
This post has been written in a larger font because someone I know was struggling to read the pre-formatted font which comes with the blog. It doesn’t take much time to adapt the font, and it might help someone to read more easily. Learning to love others starts when we’re willing to honour each other and help each other. Let’s learn other love languages and fulfil Jesus’s command to love one another.