Language Learning and the Discipline of God

I absolutely love my language teacher. She’s a beautiful, smart, confident young lady who I like to describe as Arab strong. One day last week she marked the errors on almost every single word I wrote down. She corrected (and still corrects) my accent for the 50th time on the same word. It was enough to leave me in tears. (And it actually did.) I wanted to continue loving her, but it was tough when I needed a lot of correction and seemed to be getting plenty of it.

God used language learning to nudge me about accepting his discipline. Here is what I have learned about the two.

1.    I need correction. Even though English is my native language, I wasn’t born speaking it perfectly. How much more did (and does) my sinful heart need the correction and training of a holy God! We all have fallen short. I was born with a tendency to go astray and shirk from correction.

2.    Discipline is good for growth. If I am to progress in the language, I need to be diligent in giving proper time to studying. Although language study is of some great value, godly discipline has value for all things (including my attitude when being corrected). Godly discipline allows me to grow in Christlikeness.

3.    Discipline shows I am legitimate. If I were not a bona fide language learner, why should my language teacher care or desire to correct me? God disciplines those he loves, and it shows his fatherliness to me, his child (Hebrews 12:6-7).

Godly discipline doesn’t feel comfortable, but it is not the only character of God I see. I see his abundant grace, his enduring faithfulness, his generous mercy. I would be severely discouraged if I only focused on God’s discipline and failed to remember his other attributes. Correction is not the only side of my language teacher I witness, either. I experience her encouragement, her joyful laughter, and her genuine care of people. I remember that as we link arms down the hall, call each other flower, and share about life.

Here are some helpful phrases I am trying to train myself to say or things I am trying to do while learning Arabic and finding I am not enjoying being corrected:

  1. When it’s a pronunciation issue, instead of “I’m saying it that way,” ask, “Where is my mistake here?” Trust the native speaker. They love being helpful.
  2. Laugh. Some words are just funny sounding to our English-speaking ears. Not taking language too seriously will help you and your teacher enjoy the process.
  3. Watch your other stresses. Take a step back to ask yourself: Is it another wave of culture shock? What other stresses (in addition to language and culture learning) are contributing to how I feel? Am I taking care of my spiritual well-being?

Learning to accept correction in various areas is giving me a better attitude for language learning and more profound love for the amazing young lady who teaches me. It is not a “once and done” lesson learned, but a continual journey. Even those who are mature in the faith must yield to God’s discipline daily. Some days I find myself willingly yielding to correction. Other days I balk at being told what to do or how to do it (or what to say and how to say it). Scripture has a promise for this often painful process. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can allow discipline to produce beautiful fruit for God’s glory if I am willing to be trained by it. That’s the incredible promise we have as believers in Christ.


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Call me Ena. I’m a life-long learner of Scripture. Join me in my cross-cultural journey in the Middle East.

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