Sharing the Gospel around the Globe.


Bilingual: One Hundred Ways

bilingual blog image

It’s no surprise that a missionary has to learn a new language. Language school can take a year or more, and then, voilà, the missionary can function like a native, right? If only it were so!

Language learning is one of the most important components for successfully reaching a mission field. It’s what makes a person “bilingual”. Yet, to effectively function in the home, market, doctor’s office, bank, public transportation, etc., one must become “bilingual” or bicultural in a hundred different ways.

Let me give you some examples from my life in the western European country of Portugal. Give your best answer to each question, then check the answers below to see how bicultural you are:

  1. You’ve been invited to a child’s birthday party. How many hours should you expect to stay at the party? When would it be culturally acceptable to leave?
  1. You’re at the doctor’s office filling out forms. What is your date of birth, height in centimeters, and weight in kilograms?
  1. There are 5 floors in your apartment building. Your apartment is on the “3rd floor”. What floor should you go to?
  1. You fill your tank of gas. It costs 1.45 euros/liter, and you put in 40 liters of gas. How much did you just pay in dollars/gallon?
  1. Your recipe says to bake your cookies at 350 degrees, but your oven is in Celsius. At what temperature should you set your oven?
  1. A visitor to your church writes down his phone number. It looks like 975660877. What is his phone number?
  1. Say this number: 2.338
  1. Explain the context in which this is used: 20h45
  1. What should you do with your fruit and vegetables at the grocery store, and what should you bring with you to save money?
  1. What is your clothing size and shoe size . . . in mainland Europe?
  1. When a child in your church says she is in the “first cycle”, what does that mean?
  1. Your new language is hard enough all written out, but can u text back 2 ur church teens like this?

Learning a new language is huge; so is learning a new culture. These twelve questions are a small smattering of the ways missionaries learn life all over again. My examples are from a relatively “easy” country, in which we have stores, cars, schools, running water, and electricity. Imagine how much more a missionary is learning when he is bartering for food, sifting pebbles out of her rice, soaking vegetables for days before they are safe to eat, and fighting off bugs and rodents whose bites can leave the family dangerously ill.

How did you do

And now, for you achievers who want to know how you did on the quiz, here are the answers to the questions above. As you read, please pray for your new missionaries on the field who are assimilating so much information to effectively reach the people wherever God has called them.

  1. A child’s birthday party can last 4-5 hours, mostly consisting of parents standing around the perimeter snacking and drinking while children play with minimal direction or supervision. Around the third hour or so, they may sing and cut the cake. Only after you’ve had your slice and visited another 15-20 minutes would it be acceptable to leave without offending, although the hosts would ask why you were leaving so soon. (Pray for your introverted missionaries. These events take a lot of energy and time but are important for building relationships and showing you care.)
  1. On forms, fill in your birthdate with the format DD/MM/YY. For example, August 20, 2015 would be 20/08/15. One meter is 3 ft. 3.37 in. So a person who is 5 feet 9 inches tall has a height of 1.7526 meters, or 175.26 cm. Weight is a lot more fun. Since one pound is equal to 0.454 kg, you cut your weight in half, and then some. Someone who weighs 180 pounds weighs only 82 kilograms! Now that looks nice!
  1. The ground floor of the building is counted as the 0 floor, so what we call the second floor they call the first; the third floor is the second; etc.
  1. The day that I am writing this, a euro is worth $1.11. A gallon equals 3.785 liters. So, filling our gas tank in Portugal today would cost $64.38 or $6.09/gallon.
  1. 350 degrees Fahrenheit is 177 degrees Celsius.
  1. Portuguese people write a “one” like 7 and a “seven” like a 7 with a – (dash) through it. So, when a phone number says 975660877, we need to read it as 915660811.
  1. Portuguese people use a decimal where we use a comma, and a comma where we use a decimal. Therefore, their 2.338 is our 2,338, and our $2.99 is their $2,99. (Pray for your mathematically-challenged missionaries. New words are hard enough. Mathematical conversions make it tougher. When the commas and decimals switch on you too, you feel forsaken by everything you once knew.)
  1. That’s right. 20h45 is military time, except now the colon is betraying you and replacing itself with an “h” (although 20:45 is also acceptable).
  1. In some stores, you weigh your fruit and vegetables, type in a code for each, and have everything labeled in the produce section before going to check out. At other stores, you weigh your own produce at a machine at the front. At others, you let the cashier do it all. Check the signs (that you can hopefully read) at each store to avoid a cranky cashier when you hold up her line to go all the way back to produce to weigh things. Also, the stores charge you 10 cents/bag, so bring your own reusable bags to save money.
  1. You can look yours up online, but here a few examples. A woman’s shoe size 7 in America would be a 37 in Portugal, and her dress size 10 would be a 36! (How do you like that, ladies?) A men’s shoe size 11 would be a 45 in Portugal, and his shirt size 42 would be a 52-54.
  1. “The First Cycle” is grades 1-4, or what we call elementary school. After that, comes a “second cycle” of 5th and 6th grade, “third cycle” of grades 7-9, and “secondary school” from 10th-12th grade.
  1. Good 4 u if u can text bilingually. Now you can ask your friends “O q se passa?”

Booth Family 2018About the Author: When Sarah & her husband, David, arrived in Portugal in 2010, learning Portuguese & Portuguese Sign Language was their first task. Since then they have both taught in local schools and after-school centers, built relationships with neighbors and co-workers, and begun two church plants in Montijo. Their desire is for God to be glorified in Portugal! 

Learn more about their ministry by visiting their website:

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