How to reach someone if I do not speak their language? How to get close to them if I do not understand? How to love a people and their culture if I do not understand their language?
Cardinal Lavigerie : “Learning the language of a people prepares us to belong to them.”
Mother Marie-Salomé : “Let the sisters in mission be diligent to study, to learn and speak the language of the country as if they were never to speak any other one in their lives.”
Here are some guidelines that Cardinal Lavigerie gave his missionaries (and still gives today!!) about language study:
“This study is so important that we can say it is more important than all the rest. For without knowledge of the language, it is impossible to do any apostolate among the Africans.” 1880.
“I wish that as soon as this is possible, and no later than six months after arrival in the mission, all the missionaries would only speak to each other in the language of the tribes among whom they reside” 1878.
“Finally, in each mission where the dialect has not yet been printed, I also order that one of the missionaries applies himself for one to two hours a day on the composition of a dictionary; using as means, his conversations with the Africans and the questions he will ask them about the meaning of different words.” 1878.
From this Apostolic requirement to learn the language of the people who welcome us, was born language centers in many countries in Africa where the Missionaries of Africa, Fathers and Sisters work.
To learn a language makes one poor and small. It is to receive from others all the richness of their culture and the history of their country. Making the effort to join them in what is most intimate and personal – this is the first phase of missionary service.