Language learning reveals obstacles

POSTED ON 2009-05-28
  by Christina Johnson

Languages are as different as apples and oranges. Apples and oranges grow on trees, they're both fruit, and we love to eat them, but they're not the same.

Like apples and oranges, the Mihi language is very different from the Isapa language in Papua New Guinea, but this wasn't always obvious.

The missionaries working with the Mihi people thought they were speaking a dialect of the Isapa language, but it turns out the Mihis hardly understand the language of the Isapa people. The two languages only barely overlap.

"In recent days, the Mihi team, which is in the process of culture and language learning, has been seeing that the languages are not very closely related," missionary David Wall wrote.

David visited the tribe last week to help the church planting team do dialect testing.

"We recorded a story in the Isapa language from Mark 14 about the lady that poured perfume on Jesus just before his death and burial," David wrote.

David and the other missionaries made two copies of the story on a computer. The first story would be played straight through while some Mihis listened and the second story would have questions inserted throughout to see how well the listeners could comprehend the content.

"This worked very well and showed us clearly that the comprehension of Isapa by the Mihis were very limited," David wrote. "They would comment about hearing words, but could not answer the questions, showing their lack of comprehension."

With the results of the dialect test, the church planting team will have to translate the New Testament and develop new Bible lesson material specifically for the Mihi people.

Please pray that they will not be discouraged, but will be eager to get started so that the Mihis can hear God's Word in their own language.

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