Don’t Just Study. Practice.

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish my whole life.

  • Two years of Spanish classes in high school.
  • Tapes and CDs.
  • Rosetta Stone with my kids.
  • Writing to friends in El Salvador and Guatemala.
  • And now, daily lessons with the Duolingo app.

But to little avail (despite what Duolingo tells me).


Yeah, right.

I casually eavesdropped on Spanish-speaking vacationers this past weekend at the beach.

Yet I never understood anything they were saying.

My conclusion: I’m better at reading Spanish than communicating with it.

What use is that?

In our spiritual lives, don’t we often feel the same way?

  • We know the hymns.
  • We can quote the scriptures.
  • We can retell the Bible stories.

But if we’re not loving people in our real lives in tangible ways, what use is it?

See if you relate to this paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 (author unknown):

“If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all.

If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all.”

Heads without hearts help no one.

One way to change that? Hang out with the natives. With those who are naturally good at serving, at loving, at speaking the language we want to communicate. With those who know God.

  • If we want a better marriage, mimic those who have a good marriage.
  • If we want to be a better parent, befriend those who’ve raised strong children.
  • If we want to be a better servant, walk alongside someone as they do it.

And if I want to speak better Spanish, talk more with Spanish speakers.

To improve, it’s not always more head knowledge we need.
It’s godly practice.

With our voices, our hands, our lives.

* * *

What’s something you want to improve in? How are you learning it? Please share in the comments.


30 thoughts on “Don’t Just Study. Practice.

  1. Barbara H.

    Good thoughts, Lisa. I grew up in Southern TX where Spanish was taught in elementary school, and then had two years in high school. Most of the time I would not be able to come up with the Spanish word for something now, but occasionally I do catch a few words when I hear or read it.

    Good point about the need for putting into practice the truths we know, especially in showing love to others. I find it easy to theorize and postulate, but then God brings along those rubber-meets-the-road incidences that show me how much more I need to practice.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m guessing your Spanish is much better than mine then. I *think* I would one day like to participate in classes to teach English to Spanish-speakers since I do so horribly the other way around. 🙂

  2. floyd

    Hola Leesa

    Excellent analogy! Such practical advice and wisdom on a subject that plagues all of to one degree or another. Reminds me of the old “lay down with dogs you get up with fleas” adage, except yours is better, of course.

    I’ve spent close to twenty five years practicing Spanish too. I can get around a job site okay, but still pretty much lost on everything else… and forget reading or writing it.

    Tu mucho intelliente’, me armana

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You impress me with your espanol, Floyd. We’ve had lots of Spanish-speakers move to Alabama in the past few decades so I had really hoped my Spanish would increase as a result, but it still hasn’t happened. I won’t give up hope though. 🙂

  3. Sharon

    Oh yes, Lisa. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk! This is what I think is the crux of sanctification – not just looking like Jesus, but *being* Jesus. And there’s only one way to do that – not just by reading His words, but by doing His actions. As I was reading your words, I was reminded of Job’s words when he finally met God, up close and personal:

    “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:5, NLT)

    I have always wanted to improve in the area of trust. How am I learning it? By recent circumstances that are way beyond my control, and by situations that I have no idea how they’re going to work out. God often brings growth and improvement by bringing trials that test us in the very area where we are weak. I guess spiritual muscles also follow that adage: “No pain, no gain!”

    Great post today, thank you.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a wonderful verse for this, Sharon. I appreciate you sharing it here. You’re right that this is the crux of sanctification—actually becoming it instead of just reading about it. Praying for your trust to grow without too much growing pains. 🙂

  4. Betty Draper

    I had to laugh Lisa on the first part of this post. I have tried to learn two foreign languages and stink at both of them. There is a process for learning, learn a little use a lot. This works but honestly I still struggled. Some brains are just equipped for learning a language, mine is not. For sure the best way is to hang with those who speak the language you are trying to learn, with no English allowed.

    Your application toward our spiritual is right on, same process, learn a little, use a lot, hand with those who practice the same process. Great post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think you’re pinpointing part of my problem: I don’t use what I learn very much. Except for more learning. ha. I definitely need more work in the practice department. And not just with Spanish. Thanks for sharing, Betty. Maybe we’re just meant to know English. 🙂

  5. Gayl

    “To improve, it’s not always more head knowledge we need.
    It’s godly practice.” This is so true, Lisa. We can keep filling our head with knowledge, but if we don’t use it, then it’s probably not helping us much. I’m glad I read your words today. They are encouraging and inspiring. And this: “Heads without hearts help no one.” Blessings to you and thanks for visiting my blog. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re welcome, Gayl. While I am grateful for the years of teaching I’ve had on the Bible, I know it’s the practice of the love found in it that really makes the difference. Easier said than done though.

  6. Bill (cycleguy)

    What’s funny is I took 3 years of Spanish in high school. When it came to conjugating and writing it I did lousy. When it came to conversing i did lousy. Conclusion: Spanish is not your thing. Huh. Same goes for Science, Math, Chemistry, Greek (I took 3 years and could memorize it but not test well). Conclusion: stick to English. LOL I won’t even attempt Hebrew! Good point though Lisa. Practice is far more important than book knowledge.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sticking to English should perhaps be my default setting too, Bill. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to speak more than one language. But kudos to us for trying, right? 🙂

  7. Michele Morin

    So many things that I want to improve, it’s hard to pick just one. I sure know the difference, though, between a beginner’s grasp of a discipline and the fluency we long for.
    Inspired, Lisa, by your ever-striving forward-reaching heart!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know you’re a learner like me, Michele. So much out there to know! 🙂 I have to be satisfied with never knowing it all, but discerning which are the important things to practice.

  8. Carol

    I teach Spanish. Oh the irony. 🙂
    I love the idea of ‘hanging with the natives” improving our lives. The Bible says by beholding we become changed. We have to remember to not just see, but BE! Thanks for a great reminder today!

    Stopping by from Inspire Me Monday

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      God bless the Spanish teachers. 🙂 My Spanish teacher in high school wasn’t a native, but married a native so she spoke it fluently. She was a very good teacher; I just wasn’t a good retainer of what she taught.

  9. David

    Dear Lisa

    That is so true. The analogy between learning a language and being a good Christian stings. I have a language too that I’ve studied and used on-and-off since childhood.

    I don’t think my experience trying and failing to improve my language can help me with trying to follow Jesus — but come to think of it, my experience with trying to follow Jesus might help me with trying to improve my language!

    I fall a lot (not as badly as I used to, …). My faith that Jesus loves me even so helps me pick myself up and beam out love to others, instead of dwelling on my failings. Every beam that hits home strengthens me and I’m sure makes the path easier. Just the tiniest thing each day. I should find some equivalent with the language.

    I completely agree with you about hanging out with the natives. I’ve had a couple of chances to do that with the language and it has a huge effect. Hanging out with native Christians will have to be just virtual for now, but even that has a significant effect. Now you’ve given me another idea …

    Thank you for blogging!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love this the most, David: “My faith that Jesus loves me even so helps me pick myself up and beam out love to others, instead of dwelling on my failings.” Beautiful. May we all take that attitude with our failures instead of condemning ourselves for them. Hanging out with “native Christians” in the virtual world makes a difference for me too! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Heather

    Godly practice… YES! It’s one thing to know what we should do and a whole other issue to just get out there and do it… Thanks for the kick in los pantalones! And I’m with ya on the Spanish thing… 3 years of HS spanish and I still couldn’t speak it…!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You obviously retained some of your Spanish, Heather! 🙂 And I’m proud to say that your words fit into my 15% vocabulary. ha. Yes, practicing is a whole other issue, regardless of what we’re talking about. I’m much better at studying, but studying must serve a higher goal.

  11. Chizobam

    “But if we’re not loving people in our real lives in tangible ways, what use is it?”
    I’m going to be pondering on that one all day.
    Thank you so much for sharing this article.

  12. Lori Schumaker

    What a great point you make! I spent years taking German classes in school. I learned, but it was difficult. I never got comfortable with it. Then I moved to Arizona and started spending time in Mexico. I became immersed in the culture. Without a class under my belt, I learned to speak fluent Spanish. I had to backtrack to refine my skills with the “head knowledge” for reading and writing, but the toughest part was learned in the trenches. It changed me. I love using that in context to growing spiritually! Thank you for blessing me and thank you for sharing hope with me each Monday at Moments of Hope!
    Blessings and smiles,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      How wonderful that you learned to speak Spanish fluently! I have to believe that living in it is the best way to learn it. Although I’m sure you still had to be intentional about it. Amazing. Thanks for sharing this with me, Lori, and for hosting Moments of Hope each week!

  13. Kelly Chripczuk

    I’m always fascinated by the way practice in one area often benefits me in another. I just signed up for an online painting class to begin when my twins start kindergarten in the fall, I’m really looking forward to learning something new and recently realized that’s part of what I like so much about writing – the continuous opportunities to learn.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      How exciting, Kelly! You’ll have to show us some of your artwork this fall. Whew, I don’t think that’s a class I would ever sign up for, so I leave that part of the art world to those of you who know what you’re doing and enjoy it. 🙂 I’ll just enjoy your results.

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