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It is accepted by church tradition that St. Thomas the Apostle somehow came to India, but it is unclear to me how he managed to get through the language barrier. Did India have any contact with the West at this time? Could St. Thomas have an interpreter or something to ease the language barrier? Broadly speaking, how do missionaries do missionary work without previous exposure to the people's language? Can missionaries just communicate the gospel using body language or pictures?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Flimzy, Narnian, Affable Geek, El'endia Starman Nov 8 '13 at 16:05

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The same way any other expat communicates--they learn the language. Do you have a reason to believe this is not what St. Thomas, or any other missionary did? – Flimzy Nov 8 '13 at 5:14
@Flimzy Problem: non-native speakers don't really sound as good as native speakers, because the phonemes are extremely difficult to get accurately. Plus, a missionary may become impatient and quit. :P – Double U Nov 8 '13 at 5:19
Doing missionary work in a foreign country is not easy. People spent their their entire life on it and gave their lives for it. – Mawia Nov 8 '13 at 5:56
One of the most interesting areas of archeology was the immense trade between India, China and the Roman empire. Traders quickly learn languages and establish trading posts in foreign countries. Missionaries follow. – gideon marx Nov 8 '13 at 8:34
@Anonymous: I don't see how these concerns relate to your question. Your question isn't "Do missionaries all develop native accents in foreign countries?" or "Do missionaries never struggle with learning foreign languages?" What kind of answer do you honestly expect here? This seems like a discussion question, not an SE question. – Flimzy Nov 8 '13 at 14:47

We don't know how Saint Thomas managed to communicate with the Indians. God might have given him the knowledge without the need to learn, or he might have used his spiritual gift of tongues.

However, I believe that even Saint Thomas was not an exception, who did not need to learn the language of the targeted people. Missionaries who go to foreign countries need to learn the language of the people before they can start preaching the Gospel. Here are some examples.

William Carey, an English Baptist missionary, who was a missionary in India, translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects. Wikipedia says -

During the first year in Calcutta, the missionaries sought means to support themselves and a place to establish their mission. They also began to learn the Bengali language to communicate with others. A friend of Thomas owned two indigo factories and needed managers, so Carey moved with his family north to Midnapore. During the six years that Carey managed the indigo plant, he completed the first revision of his Bengali New Testament and began formulating the principles upon which his missionary community would be formed, including communal living, financial self-reliance, and the training of indigenous ministers.

Adoniram Judson was an American Baptist missionary, who served in Burma(Myanmar) for almost forty years. He translated the Bible into Burmese, and established a number of Baptist churches in Burma. Wikipedia says -

Judson, who already knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, immediately began studying the Burmese grammar but took over three years learning to speak it. This was due, in part, to the radical difference in structure between Burmese and that of Western languages. He found a tutor and spent twelve hours per day studying the language. He and his wife firmly dedicated themselves to understanding it.

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