July 12, 2023

Language Learning: This week I’ve just been tired and frustrated and discouraged by a lot of things. They are all mostly little things, things I can’t fix, things that don’t matter, and it’s probably really about a lack of sleep or something I ate. They are also largely things that have nothing to do with living in the Philippines (except the heat. The heat is really sapping because I have to be out walking in it at around 11 every morning with the Cherub, and I am sure she is trying to shove me into the path of oncoming traffic).

So, along with that stuff,, I’m feeling particularly kind of frustrated with where I am with my language learning. I was more optimistic the first month. I am sad about my lack of progress. 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 but cannot think of the word I want, and then five minutes after I no longer need them, they all come flooding back.

I tried to say something to the taxi driver who drove a recent houseguest and I to the airport last week, and he started laughing and couldn’t stop. I was not offended- I laughed, too. It didn’t hurt my feelings *at all*. I don’t think there was anything wrong with him laughing. I thought it was kind of funny, too and I just joined in laughing with him and we had a very friendly five minutes just laughing, which is not a bad thing.

My language teacher assures me he was just happy and surprised that I was speaking Visaya (or trying)- and I will say that a lot of the time, most of the time, almost all the time, that’s probably true. But I honestly think in this case he really could not make heads or tails out of what I was saying or I had accidentallymade a hilarious error. I not only don’t mind the laughter, it’s a good ice breaker and I don’t take myself that seriously, but this time….. it was a tiny bit frustrating just because I really, really thought I’d be more consistent and capable at this point, and on that point I am frustrated with myself.

On the other hand, I have had 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 totally understand every single word of an entire sentence, which is very exciting. I’d love to jump up and fist bump somebody but that would be distracting.=)

And then, of course, 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, because, y’all, I am pretty awesome with numbers. O can understand them as is,, standing on my head,, writing notes at the same time. That’s because they are mostly Spanish and I learned to count in Spanish before I was ten and I have used a lot of Spanish in my life, but never mind. We take the successes we have and with Spanish numbers I am good.

I do not understand the entire sermon, but I usually can tell what it’s about and follow the readings. I understand a lot of words and every week I get a few complete sentences and that’s really encouraging.

But then again…. Even when I know the Visaya word and I get it right, sometimes I cannot make myself understood. I think it’s largely my accent (which is only, like, everything. Vocabulary does you no good if you sound like a mush mouthed toddler speaking a secret language with a speech impediment).

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 talked about it together, agreed, and then 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 right instead of toward the school gate on Turquoise street, a different direction- and when we arrived two minutes later at my destination light dawned on him and the driver 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.

We get this on the way home a lot- we’ll tell a driver “E. M. P. Village,” and they don’t know so we direct them, and when we get there, they go, “Ohhhhhh, E. M. P. Village!” and I say, “O-O! E.M. P. Village!” and they laugh and say, “E. M. P. Village,” and then gesture for me to repeat, and I can’t tell any difference between what I am saying and what they are saying but apparently there is one and it matters.

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 handy for getting the Cherub and I to the school every day- the walk is not that far, but a small portion of it is on a really busy road with a section that has no sidewalk, and, as I said, I feel certain she’s trying to shove me into traffic. She leans, heavily, on me as we walk that patch. And also, it’s hot, have I mentioned that? I arrive at school drenched in sweat from a fifteen to twenty minute walk, sometimes just from a five minute walk to the point where I catch the bike).

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 know in December, and 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).*

So, this week I was frustrated with myself and my slow progress 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, I’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. Or, they just laugh, but they are having fun and that’s okay.

-My errors encourage others to give their English a go.

This has happened a few times with somebody I did not think knew 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 myself by telling a driver ‘just believe’ when I mean ‘just turn right’ (a difference of a faintly stressed accent, but I cannot even hear the difference. It is okay if I mean to tell somebody to have a pleasant or good day, but instead wish them a happy or good Japanese (again with the faint difference in stress on the wrong syllable). When I mess up, then 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.

So we’ll keep trying, and we’ll make some progress, and even if it isn’t the progress I’d like to see, it will be better than giving up or not trying at all.