Why I’m Learning One of the Hardest Languages in the World

language learning japan
We don’t go through language learning to get to the “real ministry." Learning Japanese is ministry. Photo by TEAM

There was a time God used a travel-size bottle of shampoo to connect me to language learning.

In May 2015, my husband and I went on a vision trip to Japan. We were toward the beginning of our support raising process to be long-term missionaries there.

During our stay in Tokyo, I ran out of shampoo, so I stopped at a local store by the train station to purchase some more. I found a small bottle and saw that the price tag in yen appeared to be roughly $1 USD. Not a bad price for travel shampoo I thought. Happily, I took my place in line, feeling more competent than I should have. When my turn arrived, though, I didn’t understand anything the cashier said to me. I proudly gave him my yen to pay for my cheap bottle of shampoo.

Then it happened. He stared at me, waiting, and I knew I had not given him enough money. I must have misread the price tag. In a panic, I blindly handed him more money, hoping the amount would cover it. I think I gave him the equivalent of $100 USD, and I could tell he was amused.

After taking my large handful of change, I read the receipt to find that I had spent the equivalent of $8 USD on a bottle of shampoo the size of my hand. A year later, I still have the bottle, now empty. I just can’t bring myself to part with it.

That overpriced bottle of shampoo taught me how important it is to learn the native language if I really want to communicate on a heart level with someone, much less hold a conversation about the price of shampoo.

language learning japanese

There are three different writing systems for Japanese. This is my workbook for a phonetic alphabet called Hiragana. Another system, Kanji, has thousands of characters.


I am only a beginner in Japanese. To paint a better picture, I am at the toddler level. It is a very humbling experience.

Japanese is considered one of the hardest languages to learn in the world. (See the infographic below). But I’ve realized that learning Japanese is how I show the Japanese I love them.  If I come to Japan assuming that everyone I encounter will speak English to me, then I’ve failed. I haven’t humbled myself for them. I’ve made them serve me.

Love is laying my life down — laying my pride down. It’s having those “I can’t learn this!” moments but pressing on, whether I like it or not, because I’m serving them. I’m serving Him.

We don’t go through language learning to get to the “real ministry.”
Learning Japanese is ministry. 

I can begin serving the Japanese now. With every character I write, every new word I learn, I am doing so for the glory of God.

Language Learning Infographic

TEAM missionaries go through extensive language learning as part of their long-term missionary service. Take a look at how learning Japanese compares to other languages.

language learning for missions

(Infographic Source)

Kaytlin and her husband Stephen are currently fundraising to continue language learning and ministry in Japan. You can help them cover the cost of language school by making a one-time donation here.

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About the author

Kaytlin Brock

Kaytlin and her husband Stephen are TEAM missionaries in Japan where they are learning the language and building relationships in the community. Kaytlin has two daughters, and she enjoys taking them around Tokyo in her "mamachari" (mom's bike). Before coming to TEAM, Kaytlin attended Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, NY and received a Bachelor's in Bible and Counseling from Clarks Summit University in Clarks Summit, PA.


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  • I called in to go Chinatown missionary on 2011. I don’t Know Read Chinese. It takes me for six weeks to learn to speak the language. One sister tell me to pray in Chinese, but I tried my best. The first day I went there, I thought read bible and to tell who God is? We teach English class to the bilingual Adults. The people are born China never heard Jesus before. I tell them in Chinese( Cantonese). When it was Manadrian, I have the sisters and Christ and the elders help me. I even teach them to get saved, repents, Baptist in resurrection. For a year half there. I have accomplished Chinese.

    • Wow, that is great! Thank you for sharing. Keep up the good work learning the Chinese language and sharing the Gospel along the way!

    • Thank you so much for sharing. Be encouraged! You’re doing great in the Lord’s strength.

  • Thank you for the reminder that language learning IS ministry. I started teaching myself Japanese 3 weeks ago and this is exactly what I needed to hear! Our time of study is a form of worship, every struggle–every victory….for God’s glory, and a desire to serve the people of Japan. Be encouraged sister, every nation will one day kneel before the one true King who is deserving of global praise!!! 🙂

    • Thank you so much Bekah!!! Good luck on your Japanese studies, the Lord goes before you. It’ll be hard, but may you take comfort in His timing and strength.

  • 頑張ってください!25 years in Japan and I still am learning, but God has given so many opportunities to share His love here in Japan. Thank you for sharing the struggle to communicate across cultures

  • Hello!

    I am barely beginning to following an inclination I believe God may have placed on mine and my fiance’s hearts to explore ministry in Japan once we are married.

    Thank you for sharing your story!!


    • Oh, that’s awesome, Shelby! Have you seen this post about going to the mission field as newlyweds? Super helpful tips and ideas! Blessings on your journey!

  • But I’ve realized that learning Japanese is how I show the Japanese I love them.

    Wow! I know this article is old, but thank you for sharing your learned lesson through this simple but powerful and so blessed article. I’m a tentmaker in Japan and other countries in the region God leads. I love to serve but never included my learning of the language as a sacrifice of worship to the Lord and expressing my love and serving the people. It’s a plus to my consistency in learning this beautiful language; thank you for teaching me that.

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