Posted by: macahajo | August 25, 2013

My Top Ten

As I said in the previous post, when we move to Cameroon, our initial goals will include learning the culture and learning French, the language of the people.  These are goals for our whole family, including Hannah and Joshua. To help us accomplish this huge, and somewhat daunting goal, ReachGlobal wanted us to participate in a language acquisition training program.

So, a couple weeks ago, our family drove up to Toronto, Canada for PLANTS (Principles of Language Acquisition: Natural Tools and Strategies). The training was excellent! We feel so much more prepared to go to learn French since taking the PLANTS training.

The following are the top 10 things I learned at the Language Acquisition Training:

10. Phonetics, the glottal stop, aspiration, voiced, alveolar ridge, and bilabials. These are all words and subjects that I haven’t explored for quite some time! When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, many years ago, I studied Applied Linguistics under the Missions Department. I took classes to help me learn how to learn a language or to prepare me for Bible Translation work. But, that was a long time ago! The PLANTS training offered a wonderful review of linguistics, to help us better learn French!

9. Get rid of a car and take public transportation! We planned to have one car in Cameroon, and these words spoken by our instructor confirmed that we’d still like to just have one car. This is one way that we can learn the language a little better. It will help us to get out and about around town!

8.  Should Mark and I have the same language helper?  No! We learn in different ways and at different paces. Mark is further along than me in French, and when we had time at the training with our French language helper, Mark was sometimes bored with what was being taught because he already learned it.  Mark was ready to move on to more advanced things.

7. Language learning can happen in a variety of settings- with our language helper, in the classroom, with a tutor, watching television, reading a magazine, shopping in the market, having a Family French Night where we only speak French at home, or at a coffee shop (If anyone knows me, you know that I like this suggestion!!!  But I’m not sure what kind of coffee shops are in Yaounde!!  I’ll have to explore and find out!!)  We need to find lots of ways that will give us exposure to French; massive comprehensive learning!

6. Children learn to understand before they speak. And we need to learn like children. When we initially meet with our language helper in Cameroon, we need to wait to speak French and we need to wait to write in French.  First, we need to seek to understand the language with massive comprehensible input. This is the way babies learn. They don’t speak their mother tongue right away! They listen, they babble, and then they begin to say one-word sentences, and then two-word sentences and so on. They make lots of mistakes, especially at the beginning. The philosophy that was taught to us over these past two weeks was learning driven by understanding. This was so freeing for me to hear! One of the biggest difficulties I have in language learning is speaking, and in the past I’ve always been taught to speak right away.  I often want to write down the words I’m hearing because I don’t really understand them right away. But, at the beginning, instead of doing that, we need to just hear the words, repeatedly. This will help us to pick up on the accent as well.

5. One of many techniques that we learned during our training and then applied when we worked with our language helper was the Look and Listen method: We put several fruits in front of us- an apple, a banana, and grapes. Several times, the language helper pointed to the fruit and said what they are in French. Then we pointed to them, and our language helper said what they are in French. Then, she said the names of the fruit, and we pointed to which one she said in French. Then, we continued to hear her say the name of a fruit, by saying yes or no (like true or false) when she pointed to one. During this whole lesson, we listened for comprehension. We did not speak in French (except for saying yes and no in French)!

4. I am in charge of my language learning, and I need to plan well for my lessons. There is no one way to learn a language, but there is one way for me and I need to drive my learning!   I am a combination of a relational learner, an Analytical Learner, and a Structured Learner. There are strengths and weaknesses with these learning styles. And there are environments that I’ll prefer over other ones. I need to consider who God made me to be when I consider how to attack this process of learning French!

3.  We need to pray for a good language helper. Our language helper will make all the difference! We took time to think about the kind of language helper that we need. We need a native Cameroonian French speaker who is flexible and who will allow us to drive the language learning. It would be helpful to have a language helper who will help us learn more about the culture in Cameroon as well.

2. Who will we need to visit before we leave Cameroon? This may not seem like a question that has too much to do with learning French, but in actuality, it really does! To really know people well in Cameroon, we need to speak their language. If we need to leave the country, how many close friends would I need to say good-bye to? How many nationals would I not be able to leave until I said good-bye? Our instructor asked us these questions, and this idea really had an impact on me. I want to engage deeply in the community and in the lives of the African nationals. I don’t want my good-bye to Cameroon to be easy.

1. There will always be more language to learn; make it a life long hobby!  So, may I never feel like I’ve learned all that there is to learn!  Our instructor encouraged us to keep learning by taking a course which would expand our language learning, and he exhorted us to keep reading, so that we would be at a place where we enjoy a French book. One of our children struggled with feeling like they weren’t a good enough Christian. When our PLANTS instructor told us that there will always be more language to learn, I thought about how that’s like our Christian life; there is always more learning and more growing to do. God is not finished with us yet!


Hannah and Josh, with their teacher and their language helper at the training



  1. Hi Cathy,   This was really interesting to read, very different from any language learning I’ve previously heard explained.  I agree, from my time in Japan, that you learn to understand before you learn to speak.  At first, I just heard sounds which eventually became words which I could look up to find the meaning.  French will be a little easier in that regard.  It’s great that you’ve had this preparation here before going to Cameroon.  I also liked that point regarding thinking about the people you will one day being leaving in Cameroon because there will eventually be relationships there which will be very significant for each of you.   Thanks for sharing.   Darlene


    • Thank you, Darlene for your kind words. Yes, we are so thankful for this training before going overseas. I’m glad to hear that the philosophy of language learning taught at our training, is how you experienced it in Japan- first listening and understanding. Have you gotten back to Japan since you returned to the States so many years ago?
      Blessings, Cathy

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