Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
Practice is supposed to take up between 50% and 65% of ACL time. Some of this is practice on my own, and some of this is practice with friends and language helpers, both in the context of actual culture events and out of context, at my house. This is the P in which the information I have gleaned actually sticks in my brain, hopefully, at least.
Today (May 7th) the focus area for my Practice time was Gourd Blackening. People here drink their traditional beverage, “ee” out of gourds that have been split in half, scooped out, cleaned, dried, blackened with ashes from wood from a certain type of tree, and sealed, using glue made from the inner bark of another type of tree. Yes, it is a lot of work, especially since these types of trees grow way out in the jungle, not in or near or village.
Gourd Blackening was an event I participated in the day before yesterday. I spent some Practice time on it yesterday, but needed more. Instead of recording an oral narrative of this event by asking Xibu to tell me the story of how we blackened drinking gourds, I decided to write this story myself.
First I looked back at my Field Notebook, pages 177-182, where I had taken notes during the actual event. This time, I had had the unique opportunity to Participate in the same event twice on the same day, with two different ladies.
Gourd Blackening is an event which seems to only take place in April, based on this year and last year, at least. That would be an excellent question to ask someone tomorrow. Ooh! What P is that an example of? That’s right – Plan! .
At any rate, Gourd Blackening is not something an ACL student gets to participate in often. I participated once last April, in a group culture event, where one of my friend’s mother-in-law taught her, her sister and I how to do it. But that would be another story about Participating.
From my Field Notebook, I reviewed all the new vocabulary and specific phrases related to Gourd Blackening. At this phase of ACL, I am also focusing on writing the correct form of complex sentences, especially when I try to form a sentence and it comes out in the wrong order…which is probably the case for most of the complex sentences I say, but thankfully, no one is tracking those statistics. I also looked at the computer file from last year to check if there were any different words or phrases recorded there.
The goal was to practice these sentences, phrases and words by including them in the story, which was a step-by-step narrative with dialogue, written in third person, about Xibu and I blackening her gourds.
Less than an hour after I had rough drafted the story and edited it as much as possible, Xibu arrived for a previously-planned study session. The reason I add that detail, is that Xibu is such a proactive friend and language helper that sometimes she comes over without being asked, with the plan of teaching me.
Her initiative seems to be based on two things – friendship and hunger.
Our friendship has grown so much over the past two years. We genuinely have fun together, whether doing traditional art, tramping through the jungle, smiling at the antics of her grandson, baking bread, or sitting on a bench outdoors while moaning about the vast numbers of biting bugs. I think it is evident that I value her culture and language, and she truly enjoys passing it on, as well as learning a skill or two from me. Of course, much can also be said for the opportunities to laugh that I provide – amused laughter at her student’s clumsy attempts to use tools or vocabulary, as well as delighted laughter when I wield a tool well or say something complicated correctly .
Knowing that my purpose for being there is to teach God’s Word in their language, Xibu wants to help me reach the goal of fluency as quickly as possible. While she is the teacher on both sides of the language/culture coin, she views me as the future Bible teacher and she is looking forward to the time when she can be the student, often expressing her desire to learn God’s Word and her frustration at not understanding it in Portuguese. Xibu’s hunger for God’s Word motivates her to continue investing time in teaching me.
This afternoon she stayed for about two hours. Most of that time was spent correcting Gourd Blackening Story (that is admittedly not the catchiest title, but since the story is not destined for publication, it’s fine). Xibu corrected all of my mistakes, of which there were a significant number, but not nearly as many as I expected.
On some of the complex sentences, after reading aloud she would say, “Good,” to which I would ask in surprise, “Really?”. And a couple times, as she read my tiny but neat pencil scratchings, she would exclaim, “Nice!” with such a proud expression on her face, pleased that we really are succeeding in this task together, teacher and student. Xibu made suggestions for phrases to add to the story, and explained a few grammatical topics along the way.
For instance, she taught me that after you have stated the names of people, you don’t refer to them as “alej” (the word normally used for “they”) but as “é ej.” This may apply only when one is referring to the named people in the very next sentence; clarifying the scope and specifics of grammar rules is very difficult with my current language level, but I was excited to learn this much today.
Tonight I typed and printed the story out, coming up with a few more sentences in order to include a couple vocabulary words accidentally omitted, and a couple grammatical structures that might fit into the story, if Xibu (or her husband, whose Portuguese is better), can help me figure out how.
I’ll continue practicing this culture event by reading the story aloud to anyone who is interested. I am so grateful for the patience of Xibu and other friends in helping me practice their language. I also am learning to be patient with myself, even when I wish I were progressing more quickly.
Some other Practice Techniques I often use at this stage of ACL are:
- Focused conversation – simply talking with people about the event.
- Looking at photos of the event with friends, and discussing photos.
- Asking questions about the event.
- Getting an audio recording of someone talking about the event.
- Listening to and typing out such texts, and thus learning new words and grammar.
- Various practice techniques specific to the ACL method.
- Review and drilling.
- Correcting independent “grammar work” with a language helper.
- Listening to audio recordings – new words, sentences, texts.
- Mimicing the audios, practicing pronunciation and especially tone.
- Participate in the same culture event again, practicing what was learned previously.