What are you waiting for?
Scenario A, the nightly news: the anchor asks a question of the on-location reporter. We wait. The reporter stares blankly for a second. Finally he nods and begins to respond.
Scenario B, the Mission Field: a Costa Rican asks a question of professor Gary or Karen. There is a “hang-time” of ½ to 2 seconds, a blank look. They then react and give a response.
What causes A? The anchor’s words go up to a satellite, maybe bounce over to another satellite or two, and then down to the reporter. The question travels only (only!) at the speed of light. Then his answer travels back the same route. Very quick, but not instantaneous – at the very least it’s 1/3 of a second either direction and it’s noticeable.
And what causes B? Well, that’s a bit more complicated! Here are two options:
Missing Spanish Word: “Gary, this pastor told me that ____ is ___ the church. What do you think?” Amazing how a sentence falls apart when the subject and the verb are Missing in Action.
Missing Background: The other day my co-workers were discussing McDonald. I tossed in a light-hearted comment about McDonalds, you know, with the hamburgers. Someone explained to me that, no, they are discussing Jonathan McDonald, of Costa Rican soccer fame. Funny coincidence – this semester I’m teaching New Testament Backgrounds (who were the Pharisees, where did Greek come from, etc.) and it’s pretty much the same issue: how to understand a book written in a culture 2000 years ago and far, far away.
Microseconds seem like minutes: and then you remember what the word means; or you prod them to ask the question using other terms; or you start off by saying, “Well, what do YOU think?” We need time to “unscramble” what we heard and frame a reply. That may take a fraction of a second, or several seconds, even though the brain supposedly works at the speed of light too.
We have worked in Spanish for 16 years. It’s gotten a whole lot easier. But no-one who started a second language as an adult will speak it with perfect efficiency. Ever.
We thank the Lord for steady progress in communication. Ezekiel was told that “you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel” (3:5). Part of our call is in fact to a people whose speech was once utterly foreign.