Becoming: The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
So…the Neno language has me officially hooked. I stayed up until 10 last night. That’s late for me, especially in the village. It was our second evening without diesel (this time), so from about 7:30 to 9:15, I was sitting on a small block of wood, outdoors in the moonlight with my next-door neighbors and two couples who had come down from the school to visit them.
That gathering included lots of laughter and conversation, of which your resident language and culture learner understood only about 10 percent…maybe. Group conversations are the hardest to follow, especially when I don’t know all the speakers well, and cannot see their lips or facial expressions. Yet they are still great opportunities for friendship-building, challenging the brain, and practicing my Neno listening and deduction skills.
Afterwards, although tired, I was too excited to sleep, and spent another 45 minutes reading a thick linguistics textbook which had fit into my suitcase this time. Having read at least half of it before, it is more exciting and relevant now that I can apply all the principles to a real language I am currently learning.
Today, 5:25 AM found me at the computer with earbuds in, listening to a lively Neno song, which along with the mug of coffee I had already started on, was a strategic way to wake up and get going. Three Neno “music groups” have recorded original songs (12-15 songs/group), for which I have been typing out the lyrics.
Did you know that a couple years after learning Portuguese, having spent a total of just 14 months in Brasil, I got this crazy craving to learn another, harder language? The novelty of Portuguese had worn off. I could speak it already, after all, and communicate anything I wanted to. While there was definitely lots of room for improvement (I hadn’t even reached what I would define as fluency at that point) and a definite sotaque (accent) to lose, it no longer provided the mental challenge of a language totally new. So I spent 30-some bucks on Japanese language-learning CDs, which I listened to on roads all over Lewis County while working as a home visitor. It was fun, and I learned some phrases long since forgotten, but the motivation didn’t last without the opportyinity for relationships with anyone who speaks Japanese.
Well, now I get another chance at a harder language, built-in relationships already included, no CDs available. Let it be known that the Neno language fits into the “High Level Challenge Category”, no doubt about it, including tones, grammatical categories that English and Portuguese speakers never imagined, and sneaky switcharoo sounds. But it’s a blast.
I resent activities like eating, washing dishes, and killing the termites which built a small mound in my kitchen, because all I want to do is be interacting with this language and culture in some capacity.
- Observing or doing new things with friends, “out-and-about” in the community.
- Hanging out in groups and attempting to decipher conversations.
- Actually talking one-on-one with someone, with much better comprehension.
- Listening to music.
- Sitting down for a formal organized semi-organized study session with a language helper.
- Analyzing sentence structure.
- Writing out the text of audio stories that friends have recorded for me.
- Reviewing sets of vocabulary flashcards. (This one I often do while eating, actually).
I love it all, and find myself in a perpetual state of wanting more, more, MORE!
Even now, writing to you, a truly enjoyable undertaking, I’m restless, almost agitated, hoping to finish up quickly and go back to that partially-compiled adjective list. Adjectives here are tricky, one discovers after awhile. They remain the same whether referring to men or women, thankfully, but have a different plural form, as well as a diminuitive feature, which would take too long to explain when I’d rather find a Neno friend to help me learn it in real life (and there is a real example of the restlessness). But not ALL adjectives have a plural form, and some adjectives are used almost exclusively in the diminuitive form, so the “basic” form is rarely heard. There is so much left to learn.
But it’s all good. By God’s grace, slow and steady will win the race, right?
Sure, I can’t wait to be finished with ACL, because the goal is getting “released” from the program and start teaching the Bible. And the sense of urgency for that task is growing steadily.
Yet in the meantime, the linguistic aspect of becoming part of the Neno community is worthwhile, fun, and rewarding in and of itself. And it’s addicting.