Living outside the world of English

IMG_7064Hallo!  Ich bin Heather.  Ich komme aus den USA, und ich wohne in Deutschland. Ich bin verheiratet ohne Kinder.  (Hello! I am Heather.  I come from the USA, and I live in Germany.  I am married with no children.)

I spent July going to an intensive German course in order to acquire some basic German vocabulary.  The first couple of days we practiced introducing ourselves.  Without having studied German before, it felt really overwhelming!  I stumbled my way through, but during the following weeks, I found myself slowly improving.

Now that the course is done I’m not ready to have conversations in German, but I can at least say and understand basic things which is so much better than nothing at all.

In the meantime, Jeff has been focusing on getting everything having to do with our car in order, and he’s working on setting up our local banking.  In between, he’s been doing some German learning on CDs.

This is the first time we’re living in a country where English is not a national language.  In Kenya and South Africa, English was one of the national languages, so it was easy to get by without knowing one of the local languages. In Africa around 15+ countries have English as either a national language or a widely-used business language. (* Note: In these countries, English is typically not widely spoken outside of major cities, but it is often used in official documents, on road signs, in TV and radio programming, and on food labels.) 

English usage in Europe

But, in Europe, things are a bit different.  Not only is English not a national language in Germany, it’s only a national language in 3 European countries (the UK, Ireland and Malta).  While it is spoken widely across the continent, often it’s not in common usage on signs or official paperwork.

Here in Germany everything is in German – every government document, all of our banking paperwork, food labels, road signs – everything! Many German people know some English, which is really helpful for us, but there is little need for English usage IMG_7067outside of touristy areas.

I’ve been able to practice my German vocabulary often when we go shopping or when we visit government offices.  I’m still not able to understand very much, but I’m glad to have some basics.

Read More

Welcome to the tripoint


 Willkommen im Dreiländereck/Bienvenue au trois frontières 

After meetings and some time near to some of our colleagues further north in Germany, we’ve finally made it to the place where we’ll be living.  We’re now far in the southwest of Germany just 20-30 minutes from the borders of France and Switzerland.  We’re so close to these borders that, yesterday, we visited a friend of ours in Switzerland, and, today, we visited a church in France.

This tripoint border with Germany, Switzerland and France (the three countries’ corner) is one of the many tripoints in Europe, but this is the only one in a major city.  It is a point not only where country borders meet, but also where peoples, cultures and languages all collide.  Within this region, several languages are spoken.  The standard versions of French, Swiss German and German (High German) are used officially in each respective country. These are the languages you’ll find, for example, on the street signs and official documents.


But, local dialects (languages) like Alemmanic, and perhaps even a little Alsatian or some regional French dialects, are common languages local people in this region speak to each other.  By this region, I mean, generally, the area within about a 65-80 Km (40-50 mile) radius from the tripoint.

640px-Continental_West_Germanic_languagesYes, there are many German dialects (languages) – not just one. And we’re not just talking local accents or a few local words.  These different dialects across the country are actually not all mutually intelligible! Linguists who distinguish languages primarily by mutual intelligibility, would probably classify many of these different German dialects as separate and distinct languages.  The same would apply to the French dialects as well.

This is our new home – the Dreiländereck!

Read More

Scripture Access Statistics

Approximately 4.8 billion people now have access to scriptures their mother tongue.  However, more than 500 million people do not have access to any scriptures in their first language.  About 350 million people speaking 2040 languages are in need of scripture in their language because they are not sufficiently bi-lingual to have access to it in any other language.  Most of the remaining Bible translation needs are in Africa with significant needs also in Asia and the Pacific.

View this and more statistical information on

Learn about how you can get involved in Bible translation:

  • Pray for communities without scripture.
  • Join the Bible translation team using your skills and expertise.
  • Give towards Bible translation work or to individual staff members by contacting the Wycliffe organization in your country.

Read More

Parlez-vous français?


We’re doing one month of intensive French study. Knowing more French will help us both to connect better with colleagues from French-speaking countries in Africa and Europe.  This is something we’ve considered doing for a while.  This year God provided a way for it to happen.

Our intensive study won’t give us fluency–that can take years to achieve.  However, it will give us a jump start in basic French that can form a foundation for more learning.  So far we’ve gone through present tense verb conjugations, definite and indefinite articles, basics for how to introduce yourself, and mountains of vocabulary. It’s been a lot to take in!

The map above shows the following:
  • dark blue – regions where French is the main language
  • blue – regions where French is an official language
  • light blue – regions where French is a second language
  • green – regions where French is a minority language

More than 300 million people use French as a first or second language with the largest number of second language speakers in African countries.  It is an official language in 29 countries worldwide.

Pray for us that we’ll be able to retain what we learn this month and that we can keep up with the pace of these intensive lessons.

Merci beaucoup!

Read More

Dynamics of language use

other African languages








This map shows the official languages of the countries in Africa.

I used to think that a national or official language of a country was the language that everyone in that country knew.  What I’ve learned since I started working for Wycliffe is that the reality is much more complicated.  Below is some of what I’ve learned from our linguist colleagues about language use.

In Africa the main official languages are French, English, Arabic and Portuguese, but for the most part African countries host a multilingual environment where different languages are used by different people in different contexts. Sometimes the language listed as the official language of a country is only spoken by 20% or less of the population.  Often other languages are used in the home and maybe even another language or two for trade.

Let’s take Kenya as an example. More than 50 different languages are spoken there.

  • Most of these languages would be considered home languages, or languages that people use with their family or with other people from the same ethnic group. It’s often a language people use to express their deep feelings with the people with whom they are closest.  For some people, particularly in rural and remote areas, it may be the only language they know or the only one for which they have an extensive vocabulary.
  • Trade languages are languages that different ethnic communities in a geographic zone use to conduct business and communicate with each other.  One of the trade languages used all around Kenya and in many other parts of East Africa is KiSwahili.  However, sometimes other languages are used for this same purpose in smaller geographic areas.
  • The official language of Kenya is English (KiSwahili was recently added as another official language).  Official languages are the languages used by the government–in the courts, in official documents, and in other government contexts.  Official languages are often the languages used by the elite and those with the highest levels of education and in areas with a high concentration of ethnic diversity (like large urban slums) where another trade language is not the primary means of communications. In a big city like Nairobi where not only are there many different Kenyan ethnicities coming together but also people from other parts of the Africa and the world, English is more widely spoken than in other cities in Kenya.  Trade languages and official or national languages can be referred to as languages of wider communication or lingua francas because they serve as bidges that allow diverse groups of people to talk to each other.

People in highly urban areas may regularly use three or more languages even in the course of one day. In contrast, someone who lives in a remote or rural area may only know one language well and may have limited vocabulary in another one or two languages.

These become important factors to consider in Bible translation projects and generally in determining what languages to use in ministry.  African church leaders as well as non-African foreigners who have ministries in African countries must carefully consider several factors:

  • How well do their audiences know different languages?
  • What kinds of vocabulary do they know in each language?
  • How do they use each one?
  • In which language do they express feelings, ideas or deep truths?
  • Does one language have more status than another, and what implications will choosing one language over another have in a given context?

Multilingualism isn’t new. We know from the Bible that Jesus knew several languages: Aramaic (likely his home language), Hebrew, and Greek since it was the trade language of the eastern Roman empire. He probably didn’t know the official language of the Roman empire (Latin) because it was not widely spoken in the eastern part of the empire.

Read More