In my recent podcast I talked briefly about language exchange. I’ve found these exchanges to be an effective way to build friendships across cultural boundaries. It allows each person to learn about the other person’s culture, family, and life experiences while sharing language lessons with each other. It also opens doors for conversations about faith and beliefs. I will talk about this more at the end of this post, but this sparked some other thoughts I wanted to share.
I recently came across a notion that I’d never really considered before: Discipleship begins before someone becomes a Christian.
I had never thought about that before, but if you think about it, that’s the pattern we see in Scripture. Jesus called the Disciples to follow Him, and He taught them daily even though they didn’t really understand what God’s plan was all about. Plus, when the Scriptures call us as parents and grandparents to teach our children, it doesn’t say teach them when they’ve decided to follow Jesus, but from the beginning of their lives and throughout our daily activities.
It’s simple and clear, but I had never really thought of it that way.
What we’re sometimes encountering today with those we meet is that they’ve never been exposed to the teachings of Christ. They have no foundation to build on. So, we have to start with building that foundation by teaching when opportunities arise. When we are friends with someone who doesn’t yet know Christ, we live out our faith in front of them, and we pray for questions and conversations that allow us to answer questions and share our testimony of what Christ has done in our lives and what we have learned from Him.
This means that our discipleship:
1. Begins before someone becomes a Christian as they learn the values and ways of Christ
2. Should be a natural part of our encounters with others – we live our faith daily in a million different ways: the decisions we make, the ways we respond to troubles, the way we speak, the way we interact with others.
3. Results from using the teachable moments as they arise
4. Involves both people reading Scripture as soon as that is possible. We can quote scripture, and probably naturally do, in conversation. We don’t even need to tell the person we are quoting Scripture. It is still powerful and effective whether we quote the “address” of the verse or not.
I wrote about some of these items in another blog post called Organic Discipleship.
We need to rethink how we do discipleship and get rid of the traditional classroom model. That model should have been a tool we used in discipling others, but never should have become synonymous with the word discipleship. Meeting in a classroom setting, filling in blanks in a book, and completing the study does not mean a person is truly following Christ.
When it comes to discipleship, like Jesus did with His Disciples, we share what we know about God with another person as we walk alongside one another through life, whether that is once a week over tea, at church in a classroom, or daily in our homes. We seize the opportunities God gives us.
When doing language exchange with a person, our focus is on sharing language lessons with each other. The focus is not on discipleship unless that is the type of exchange we’re doing. This is a subtle but important point. If our faith is real, it will naturally be a part of all we do. However, having an evangelical agenda in a relationship where our desire to share the Gospel overshadows the reason for it, then we’ve failed. God may still work and may use our words in spite of our overzealous and misguided focus, but no one should ever feel that the only reason they are our friend is so we can share the Gospel and try to force them into faith. We don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. On the other hand, not sharing because we are fearful or because we truly don’t care about the soul of another person is equally wrong.
The key is authentic love for the other person.
Sometimes I’ve shared with someone that I’m not trying to force my faith upon them, but, because I truly believe that those who believe in and follow Christ will go to heaven and those who do not will go to hell, how can I not share? It is not out of a goal I’ve set, a quota I need to reach, or a sense of doing my Christian duty, but out of a true love and care for the other person that I share my faith. I let them know that I pray for them and that I want them to follow Christ. But I also let them know that I am their friend regardless.
The world is never going to see the love of Christ if we are not genuinely living out our faith in our daily lives and relationships and if they don’t see that we love them and care about them.
In language exchange, it is the same.
1. If you choose to embark on this adventure, and I encourage you to prayerfully consider doing so, the first thing to do is pray. We need to pray for ourselves to have wisdom. We need to pray for God’s will and that He’ll connect us with the right person. And we need to pray for the other person and their families.
2. We need to take the language teaching seriously. We want to truly benefit the person during the time we have with them. I’ve listed a simple lesson plan outline below that can guide you in preparing. This is conversational English you’re sharing.
3. You don’t need books and props for the most part, although pictures of vocabulary (a good picture dictionary works great) will help. If using a picture dictionary, get one that is monolingual. Or you can create pages of pictures or your own flashcards if you want to save money. You each should have a notebook for taking notes, but other than that, you don’t need a ton of accessories.
4. Protect that time. Stay true to your commitment to meet and stay true to the time limit you’ve set. Respect the other person’s time.
5. If possible, open up other times for fellowship like inviting them and their family to dinner or to share in a birthday party or holiday celebration. Most of them love to be a part of your Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. We always try to invite people to join us for those two holidays. It’s such a blessing.
If you have questions or concerns, feel free to message me through the comments on this blog or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would love to see God open up hundreds of language exchanges around the US especially during this time of lockdown when we can’t meet in larger groups. I pray for you that God will guide you in this decision.
True Beginners Language Exchange:
If someone is a true beginner and knows no English, you may need a translator the first time you meet to explain the plan. Then you want to begin with nouns and the sentences “What is it?” “It’s a/an _____________” and build their vocabulary using pictures or items and repetition. Once you begin your lessons, do not translate. Use only English. And when they are teaching their language to you, they should do the same thing—use pictures and teach you nouns first with their version of similar sentences.
Beginners with Some English Knowledge Language Exchange:
A sample outline for language exchange for someone who knows a little English and need conversational English:
- Greetings and introductions
- I have a/an/some _______________________
- I want a/an/some _______________________
- I want to go to (the) _____________________
- Where is the ___________________________
- What time is it? And When does the _____________ start?
- Role play a visit with a child’s teacher
- Role play making a doctor’s appointment
- Go over medical terms
- Would you like a/an/some ________________________?
A Few Notes:
1. I encourage you to have a picture of your family and have your friend bring a picture of their family. That way you can go over family relationships and introductions.
A: Hello. My name is ___________. What’s your name?
B: My name is _____________. Nice to meet you.
A: Nice meeting you too.
This is my (family relationship) (name).
2. These sentences can vary from items or family members: I have an apple. I have a sister.
3. You might consider using vocabulary for shopping
4. Cover common places in the community like the bank, post office, etc.
5. Continuation of community places
6. Depending which country your friend comes from, he or she may be used to military time, so you may need to clarify am/pm
7. common vocabulary for school and what teachers might say to a parent are important to cover here. If they have notes or comments that teachers have made that they don’t quite understand, have them bring those to your time together.
8. Help them learn how to make appointments in general and especially for medical and dental appointments.
9. Medical terms are so important. Explaining how our medical system, emergency system works would be helpful here. Talking about fever being anything over 100 degrees and that 102 is equal to 40 Celsius.
10. Teaching hospitality and the culture of visiting in people’s homes helps them feel more comfortable as they build more friendships in their new country.
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