Language Travails

On the one hand, we’ve now been here seven months and I feel like I should be a lot closer to fluent than I am, and what I am is not even managing some kind of understandable pidgeon version of the language most of the time. I’ll struggle and struggle to get out the words that will make my point understood, even in broken Visaya, and then five minutes after I no longer need them, they all come flooding back.

On the other hand, I have several episodes in church where I am listening very intently, pen in hand, writing notes of words I recognize and it will suddenly dawn on me that I just understand an entire sentence, which is very exciting.

Only, in the aftermath of my quiet and personal excitement I realize I have stopped listening and it’s two paragraphs later and the preacher is mentioning a Bible reference, but I missed the book and only know I’m supposed to turn to chapter 1 and verse 4 of one of the 66 books of the Bible.

Even when I know the Visaya word and I get it right, sometimes I cannot make myself understood. I negotiated a ride with a Trike driver recently. I said several of the right words- Eskwelahan, Sunod nga kanto, diha lang, duol, wala sa kanto… dili turquoise nga dalan (school, next corner, just there, near, left at corner, not Turquoise street) and the driver and his friend cheerfully let me in and then tried to turn the wrong way and were surprised when I insisted I really did mean him to turn a different direction- and when we arrived five minutes later at my destination light dawned on him and he pretty much repeated every single thing I had said, while laughing and nodding in an “Oh, I get it now!” fashion. I know it’s my accent. My language teacher kindly tells me it’s not only that, because for most of what I want to say she says my accent isn’t bad at all, but, she says, it’s that so few Amerikanas speak Visaya that they don’t really believe that I am trying to do that. Yeah, I’m laughing, because she is trying to be so kind, but I feel like if I were really good at this, they would realize what I am saying.

Trike: (it’s a motorcycle with a little side seat and two back seats built all around it, and it’s pretty cheap transportation and hand for getting the Cherub and I to the school every day).

A lot of times I feel like I am treading water and not getting anywhere, but then I look at what I know now that I didn’t klnow in December, I feel a bit better. I can do this because I kept a notebook in December of all the new words I was trying to learn, and I came across it recently and I actually know all of those words quite easily. It’s a whole slew of new ones that I’m struggling with (pronouns are killing me).

I was frustrated with myself and my slow progress earlier this week and I was feeling glum and wondering if I should keep spending money and time to learn this dialect that I will probably never hear again when I go back to the states, and then I decided as long as we can afford it, we’ll keep doing this because:
I can understand more of the Bible lessons at church now than I could before.
Again and again I have found that when I do try, even when I cannot be understood, it is an ice breaker. People relax and will try to talk to me more, and will offer their own pointers on pronunciation or word order.
Quite a few times I wll find that it’s a great social lubricant with somebody I did not think new any English at all because they have never tried it with me. I offer up my pride and botched pronunciations of Visaya, and they laugh and laugh- but then they feel a bit more comfortable trying out their English with me. After all, I guess, if I don’t mind taking the risk of humiliating by telling ‘just believe’ when I mean ‘just turn right’ (a difference of a faintly stressed accent on the first or second syllable), they don’t mind risking similar mistakes in English. Or else my attempts are just that bad that they realize their English will be far less painful for both of us.
And that works, too.

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  1. Anne-Marie
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    When we moved to Germany, we would have “German success stories” every evening at dinner. Each person in turn would recount one linguistic accomplishment of the day. In the beginning, it was things like, “I said Guten Morgen to the bus driver;” later it became, “I figured out that the teacher was talking about Charlemagne;” and eventually it got dropped because we were all just using German all day.
    An American acquaintance was complaining about the difficulty of learning German and when I demurred, she said consideringly, “The difference between us is that you don’t mind opening your mouth and having bad German come out.” I strongly believe that opening your mouth and having bad Visaya come out is the way to future fluency.

    • Headmistress
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      I said ‘Sunod nga kanto’ to a trike driver yesterday and was UNDERSTOOD!!! I also said it to a cab driver today, along with ‘Lugar lang’ and was UNDERSTOOD. Whoot.

      • Anne-Marie
        Posted September 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink


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