Language-learning Laughs, take 2

(July 2017)

One evening, I was up at the school for a social event, and one of the 6th graders asked me a question.  I didn’t understand every word, but thought that I was able to fill in the gaps enough to deduce that she was asking, “Are you learning to weave baskets?”

It was basket-making season after all, and I can usually be found in the middle of as many cultural events as possible, observing, taking pictures, and participating.  Also, this traditional skill had been the focus of their Art classes the last couple weeks, so it made sense that this would be on her mind.

So I replied, “Yes!  I’m still learning.”

The confused look on her face clued me in to the fact that I had probably misunderstood the question and thus answered in a way that didn’t make sense.  But when I asked her to say it again, it still sounded like she was talking about baskets.  Poor girl.  She stuck with me, though, repeating the question three times, despite the slight embarassment this seemed to cause her in the presence of other adolescents, until the meaning of all the words finally sunk through my thick skull into whatever part of the brain processes new languages.

Her actual question had been, “Are you getting used to the heat?”  Unfortunately, the answer to that is “not really.”  Occasionally I think I am getting used to it, but then comes another even hotter day that seems to drain the energy and vigor right out of my veins.

Apart from my tendency to misunderstand, there are apparently some words that I habitually pronounce wrong, which is normal at this stage of language learning.  People from the school have been correcting my pronunciation.  In and of itself, this is terrific, because I obviously need lots of help with pronunciation of the Neno language, especially considering the tonal factor.

The problem is that when people at the school, who live in other villages, correct me, they also comment that people from our village are teaching me wrong!

And I don’t have the vocabulary or grammar skills to explain that my friends and neighbors are terrific teachers, and are probably teaching me exactly right (not that I would actually know, haha), and the whole problem lies in the fact that I am learning wrong!

Or, as I prefer to think, I am still only partway through the journey of learning, and welcome all corrections.  Just please blame my mistakes on me, not on my friends and teachers.  There is already enough pressure to pronounce words correctly for the simple desire to communicate clearly.  Add to that the goal of reaching the language level required for Bible teaching as soon as God will enable me to do so, and you may understand the inescapable sense of urgency.

I don’t need the added pressure of thinking, “Okay, any mistakes I make are going to reflect badly on my Neno friends who do so much for me and teach me so patiently day after day.  No messing up!”

Good thing I love this language learning adventure, isn’t it?  Moreover, what a relief it is to know that God loves me no matter how much I mess up, and He certainly won’t blame anyone for my poor pronunciation.  In between cheering me on and supplying the emotional and mental stamina to continue, God probably laughs even harder than my Neno friends and I do at my funny mistakes.  I can even imagine Him winking, knowing that the funnier the mistake, the less likely I am to repeat it.

(Note to self:  Baskets and heat are not to be confused in the future).

One thought on “Language-learning Laughs, take 2

  1. Heidi Honey

    Wow! I can slightly relate! I’m learning names of the others in my new congregation and finding it fun that there are multiple people with same names; 3 Laura’s, 2 Peg’s, three Kim’s, etc. In some ways it’s easier learning names, some ways it’s easier to use the wrong name for the wrong person! Thankfully, I’ve found a lot of people there that sympathize because they also have difficulty remembering names! Having been in other countries, I slightly envy those who God has supernaturally blessed them with the language they need with little need for pre-learning! I pray the Spirit gives you insights to help the Neno language come easily to you SOON!!!


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