Back in 1980 the OMF Orientation Course in Singapore lasted a couple of months. Part of our training was in the LAMP method (Language Acquisition Made Practical), which included learning basic phrases and then practicing them out in the community. I was glad that Indonesian was assigned to me since I had been told that, “Bahasa Indonesia may be the easiest non-Indo-European language for a native English speaker to master.” I was grateful they didn’t assign me Chinese or Japanese, because I had heard that those languages required two full years of formal class study (Bahasa required only six months and for Thai it was a year).
The other aspect of Chinese that concerned me was the many tones and the fact that one needed to memorize 3,000 characters to read a newspaper. When I was eventually assigned to Thailand I began to work hard to attain a large Thai vocabulary by labeling virtually everything in our house with Thai phonetics (a practice that thoroughly bugged my wife). Later on I met a OMF missionary in Central Thailand named Grace Harris who put my inordinate stress on labels and flash cards in perspective. The following is a segment from a vdo on the history of OMF work in Thailand: “The language supervisor said, ‘Grace you only have 600 words of Thai,’ Grace cheerfully answered back, ‘Readers Digest material bases on 600 words, so all you need is to use the 600 well!’” The narrator of the vdo goes to say, “Grace’s speech was so clear and anointed by the Spirit of God that children listened and believed.” Over the years I’ve run into a number of highly effective missionaries who had less than stellar language ability. Like Grace they had learned to use their 600+ words well, but it wasn’t just their words that impacted the Thai, it was their obvious love for the people and Christ like example.