Our small Taiwanese church has two worship services on Sundays.  From what I have gathered so far, Taichung’s worship scene is somewhat similar to what one may come upon at a typical Korean American church in the U.S.  It’s pretty common for a Korean American church to have 2 services: one in Korean & another in English.  Korean worship service is comprised of Korean speaking 1st generation immigrants, but the English service will have the 2nd generation Korean Americans & members with other ethnic backgrounds.

In the same way, our Taiwanese church holds a service in Taiwanese catering to the generally older members who are more comfortable in Taiwanese.  There is also a service in Mandarin, which is the one that we attend.  It ministers to a wider spectrum of members ranging from younger generation whose language of choice is Mandarin to older members who are either bi-lingual (Mandarin & Taiwanese) or have come from Mainland China.

For those who didn’t know, there are 2 main languages (Mandarin & Taiwanese) in Taiwan along with a small percentage of those who speak Hakka and those of aboriginal tribal languages, but the official language is Mandarin.  This is how education at all levels in Taiwan is taught, how information is disseminated in the media & how government & companies are operated.  Therefore, just like how much of the 2nd Generation Korean Americans in the U.S. do not communicate in Korean, we see a similar phenomenon in Taiwan where the younger generation prefers to speak Mandarin over Taiwanese.  In an urban setting like Taipei, one will rarely hear Taiwanese spoken.  You will most likely hear more English than Taiwanese.

But in southern parts or more rural areas one will hear Taiwanese spoken more, that is among the adults.  What is really interesting is that Taiwanese & Mandarin are completely different in sound.  For example, about 2 weeks ago, I was telling an older lady how her son is a good man, but she didn’t understand what I was saying.  I thought either my pronunciation was off or I was using the wrong tones until her son came over & translated my Mandarin to Taiwanese, and then she expressed her gratitude.

The language learning continues to be both a struggle & enjoyment for us.  Since the Korean language derives from Chinese characters, there are many words in Mandarin that sound similar.  But what is more interesting is that there are more Taiwanese words that sound similar to Korean words.  We joke that maybe we should’ve taken up Taiwanese?

But we chose to learn Mandarin because it is the official language of Taiwan & is spoken by a wider population.  Only God who knows our future, but as we are praying for our long term missions work in Taiwan, our hearts go out to the working class young people & young families.

This week I do want to explain some important elements in OMF language learning process, and why it is effective in helping us speak this difficult language.

  1. Language learning is one of the core values of OMF International’s approach to missions. The ability to communicate is the most fundamental aspect of doing relational missions. Although one can erect buildings & run programs using translators, without learning the language of the people, a missionary will remain an outsider.
  2. OMF spends a lot of resources on its missionaries learning the language, and we are evaluated regularly.
  3. Instead of the traditional or university class setting, each missionary is taught by a Taiwanese teacher 1 on 1. Jeanette & I have class everyday Monday through Friday.
  4. The curriculum that we use is written by a veteran OMF missionary & Taiwanese language teacher. The same curriculum is used by other missions agencies as well. Although we are taught Chinese characters, we mainly focus on grammar, vocabulary & conversation.  OMF missionaries in Taiwan are taught & use buh-puh-muh-fuh, which is a set of special symbols to help us pronounce & say Chinese words correctly. It is a lot easier & simpler than trying to learn how to speak using only the Chinese characters. This is the same system that is used to teach Taiwanese elementary school students how to read.   There are other systems & tools that are in use, but none can fully capture the pronunciation of Chinese characters. On the other hand buh-puh-muh-fuh is completely accurate showing how to pronounce words & and its tone.
  5. Finally, OMF language learners are placed in neighborhoods where we cannot rely on English to get by. This is the reason why new missionaries are not placed in Taipei although OMF does a lot of work with the urban marginalized in Taipei. In Taipei, foreigners can more easily get by without speaking English.

I hope this week’s post shines more light on questions our partners & supporters may have about our language learning.

It has been our intention from the beginning to share as much as we can about our missional endeavors because IT TAKES THE BODY OF CHRIST TO DO MISSIONS.  Missionaries are simply the ones who are on the field, but we need prayers of God’s people at every turn.

Please pray for us that we will continue to progress in our language studies, and that we will be able to communicate the love of Christ in relationships that we are building.  Pray also that we may trust the Lord with all things & persevere through all seasons so that we may shine the light towards the way that Christ alone will be magnified.