Blog Entries

Take Language Learning Seriously

A Book Recommendation


Language Learning in Ministry: Preparing for Cross-Cultural Language Acquisition by Jan Edwards Dormer. Littleton, CO: William Carey Publishing, 2021. Available from the publisher and on Amazon.

For many engaged in cross-cultural service (or preparing for it), language learning is often one of the most daunting tasks. Especially for those of us whose only experience is Spanish or French class in the American educational system, we are wholly unprepared, and most likely don’t even know where to begin. Should I enroll in formal classes, or try to just learn by immersing myself in the community? What skills should I focus on? What if my language learning aptitude is low? What if my spouse’s aptitude is high? What about my kids? These are just a few of the questions that are addressed in the book Language Learning in Ministry.

The author, Jan Edwards Dormer has been learning new languages her whole life. She grew up as an MK in Brazil and later served there with her husband. She also served in Indonesia, learning the local language there. Along the way she became interested in the field of second language acquisition and did formal studies at the University of Toronto. She is currently a professor of TESOL at Messiah University. Because of her own personal experiences living cross-culturally and cross-linguistically, she brings numerous stories and examples to illustrate the language learning principles she writes about.

I think the best way to describe the book is that it is as an introductory short course in language learning for native English speakers preparing to serve cross-culturally.

There are seven chapters in the book. In chapter one, she opens with some of the common misconceptions about language learning that we often bring to the task. In chapter two she focuses on the principles of language learning, highlighting some of the key research and concepts. In chapters three and four she provides an overview and evaluation of formal language learning and informal language learning, acknowledging that some people do better with one over the other, and that some situations require one over the other. Chapter five is a helpful discussion of MKs and language learning. As an MK myself who, much to my regret, did not learn the local language, I think this was an especially important chapter to include. In the final two chapters, she looks at ways language learning can provide opportunities for ministry and offers some very practical applications.  

Dormer’s message is quite simple:  those engaged in cross-cultural ministry need to take language learning seriously. In your preparation for cross-cultural service, don’t neglect language acquisition training in your pre-field prep. This book is a good place to start. And if I were to have the opportunity to teach a course on language learning again in the future, I would happily use this as a textbook.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to William Carey Publishing for providing a review copy of Language Learning in Ministry: Preparing for Cross-Cultural Language Acquisition by Jan Edwards Dormer.

Image credit: makzhou via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


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