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Language learning: a labour of love

Chris and Kristy Galea are CMS missionaries serving in Malta, where they are working hard to learn the challenging Maltese language (even though most foreigners simply rely on English). Kristy explains why it’s well worth the effort.  

I’d never thought much about my own language, or language in general. I was a monolingual Aussie and happy to stay that way. I never appreciated the depth and complexities of the words I spoke and read every day. I took it for granted that I was able to communicate with the people around me. I think we all do! But today, things are very different.  

God wants to bring people of all nations, ethnicities, languages and cultures into relationship with him (Revelation 7:9). Coming to Christ requires a heart change, and because the message of Christ needs to penetrate hearts, we need to be able to speak to hearts. We need to learn their language.  

Language and culture are inseparable  

Learning a new language means we can communicate the gospel accurately, and this happens in both word and deed. We have had to learn how to relate to others; how to live among our Maltese friends and grow to love them deeply.  

Through hours spent in language class, we are slowly getting to understand the way Maltese think, live and behave. Without this understanding we would certainly be full of judgement, dislike and arrogance.  

Overcoming obstacles  

Maltese, the national language of Malta, is a Semitic language (related to Arabic) but much influenced by Italian, Spanish, French, and English, with all the grammatical rules that go with them. To say it has been hard is an understatement!  

English is very common here and this made it difficult to find somewhere to study Maltese. We couldn’t attend a language school because they don’t exist, and we couldn’t find a private tutor, because they teach English. We were forced to think outside the box.  

The Galeas with their language tutors, who are also their landlors.

We decided to run our own classes with a Maltese local who had time to invest in us. Using the skills we learnt at St Andrew’s Hall, we implemented a program called GPA (Growing Participator Approach), whereby we plan our own lessons, and in turn teach our tutor how to teach us. Not only have we progressed to a point where we understand lots of things, but we have also built a very close relationship with our tutor. Our desire to learn Maltese opened her heart towards us.

The Maltese language is very dear to its people, but because English is so common, most foreigners don’t bother to learn it. As one of our friends explained:

“When I speak to you in English, I feel like I’m at school. When I speak to you in Maltese, I feel like I’m home.”  

Hearing the gospel  

We are learning Maltese because we love the Maltese people! We want to be able to speak to them in the language they love, and we want them to hear the gospel in the language that makes them feel at home. Language learning is part of the process of winning a hearing, like Paul speaking Greek to a Roman commander, and Hebrew to a large crowd of Jews (Acts 21:37, 40; 22:1). For us, however tough the challenge of learning Maltese might be, the cost of not learning it is just too high! 


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How could you encourage the missionaries you know to keep persevering in the tough work of language learning? You may like to pray and email a missionary today.