Usually I'm a stickler for the correct use of your/you’re, there/their/they’re, two/too/to and the countless other grammatical mistakes that uneducated…and educated people make. I used to see these mistakes on social media, e-mails, and assignments and absolutely cringe. I was privileged to have an education first of all, and on top of that to have teachers that stressed the importance of communicating effectively and correctly. They told me that if I make one grammatical mistake on my cover letter, I should consider my application at a significant disadvantage. Because, the truth is people judge grammatical mistakes to some degree. I myself have been guilty of looking negatively at these mistakes and the people who make them.
But after living in Hungary for four months and using a language I knew nothing about four months ago, I have a new appreciation for grammar mistakes and just mistakes in general. You see, in the Hungarian education system English teachers stress grammar like no other. To teachers, it is more important to hear a student speak one sentence correctly than to hear mistakes in several sentences that fully express an idea.
Because of this, people are terrified to speak English. I have found this in adults and children alike. Whenever conversations begin people automatically say, “I can’t speak English, please correct me”. When in fact, I’ve found that most times these people know English extremely well. They comprehend almost everything and formulate sentences to respond, yet they get stuck behind which tense and conjugation to use. People talk about past-perfect and past-participle and the accusative case and hell I don’t even know what half those things mean. Sometimes I have to say, “Just talk!”
And when they do start talking, I hear ideas, opinions, sincere concerns, and words of thanks. Through the Hungarian accent and occasional mistakes, I understand them. I understand what they are conveying and always try to listen three times as much as I speak. The mistakes still come and go, but they enjoy expressing themselves instead of hiding behind their thoughts.
Constantly I’m reminded of my summers at camp, and this particular topic reminds me of the act and language of prayer. Sometimes my campers would get intimidated about praying. They were intimidated in trying to sound as eloquent as pastors and other leaders. They were intimidated in knowing what to say, or not knowing how to say what they wanted to. The great thing about prayer is that there are no grammatical rules, tenses, formulas, or vocab words. And one of the things I loved about being a counselor was watching my campers gain confidence in praying, whether it was for an entire group or for their personal silent thoughts. Words for prayer come freely, and sometimes not so freely, but whatever the case my suggestion is still the same, “Just Pray!” God understands and hears our thoughts and words no matter how they are communicated.
So to all foreign language learners—Just talk! Make mistakes and don’t be afraid of them! In trying new sentence structures or words, using hand gestures, and laughing when you have no clue what’s going on...progress is made. And to all people looking to connect or communicate with God for any reason—Just pray! Be confident in knowing that you are understood and listened to carefully. Don’t ask me how to translate His response though…that’s a different story.