A Letter to Language Learners {The Grove: Language}

I know that many of you are trying to learn a new language. Maybe you’re at the beginning of the journey; maybe a semester or a year into it; or maybe your long hard slog is nearing completion and you’re ready to get on with the next thing, which of course includes being a life-long learner.

For most of us, studying another language has been and will always be somewhat of a chore. There is the day-to-day sameness of classes and tutors and personal study; the never-diminishing stack of flashcards; the convoluted verb conjugations; the unfamiliar grammatical patterns; another tutor time to be planned.

For many of us, the learning – those moments when we discover something or finally figure something out – will always be fun. I laughed all day when I figured out that the literal translation of vacuum cleaner in Chinese is “suck dust machine.” What’s not to love about that?

You begin to see that there is meaning (and beauty) in unfamiliar characters or alphabets that seems to have too many similarly looking squiggly lines. And when you use that new pattern or phrase you have been trying to master, and it works, you do a happy dance!

But for all of us, the ability to communicate in another language – to converse with people on a deeper level, on their terms (and using their terms) is first and foremost a privilege.

To be sure, it doesn’t always feel like a privilege to know the language and live in an unfamiliar place –when we’re walking home through rubble in a dark alleyway; when we’re nearly turned into road kill by a homicidal truck driver; when an attempt to buy oranges in the market or stamps in the post office fails miserably; or when our attempts to become members of the local speech community are met with blank stares.

But, no matter how we feel about it (an emotion that changes from day to day), the fact remains that learning another language is a privilege for which we should be grateful.

This new language we are acquiring or have acquired is not just a tool that allows us to talk TO our local friends and colleagues. It is a tool that allows us to learn FROM them.

Learn before teaching; listen before talking.

It is their country; their language; their culture, and we are allowed to be participants.

That, my friends and fellow language learners, is a privilege.

*****

This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions.

Photo Source : Unsplash

10 Comments

  1. Laurie February 12, 2015

    I learned Spanish in the classroom. I had excellent grades. On the field, I struggled to apply what I learned. I never became an expert Spanish speaker in the nearly 10 years I lived in Central America, but I got confident and capable over time. Language learning is worth is in the end, as now I can converse fairly well with Spanish speakers.

  2. JulieB February 12, 2015

    Love the line- “Learn before teaching.  Listen before talking.”  That is good advice even in our own mother tongue!  Also love the reminder that it is a privilege to be here among another culture.  Yes, a privilege!  Now that is perspective!

    1. Joann Pittman February 12, 2015

      Thanks, and you’re right about the lessons being applicable to our own speech communities as well.

  3. Jacqueline February 13, 2015

    Our language tutor is expected to arrive in 45 minutes. I’m not dressed. I’m tired and have a million things to do this morning. I’m thinking I’ll suck it up and be obedient and suffer through another session before our weekend get away. I sat down to steal a moment to read today’s velvet ashes post. Yikes! Right between the eyes and now I’m reminded no one has the power or responsibility to change my attitude about language but me. Thanks for your post — good reminder. “Put the black grape and the spider and the electric broom (vacuum cleaner) under the table.” Three months ago my Albanian consisted of yes, no.

    I need to hold on to the joy I see in my visitor’s faces when they hear me say the traditional welcome as they enter my home. It is indeed a privilege to love others in their language.

  4. Michele Womble February 14, 2015

    I have really loved this week’s theme.  I love language. (I’m new at the Grove, by the way, Hi everyone! – I’m Michele).  I’m one of the odd ones who loved studying my second language (I was able to learn it before kids were thrown into the mix).  I loved learning conjugations and declensions (I know, weird), I loved doing exercises and reading books in my new language.  But while I loved LEARNING the language, actually learning to USE it was stressful.  I’m an introvert, for one thing, and communicating with others even in one’s own language can be hard and messy.  It takes EFFORT.

    I appreciate the reminder that communicating with others is a privilege, and especially communicating with them in their own language.  It’s  worth the work, the effort, even if our communication is always less than perfect.

  5. Cecily February 15, 2015

    When will language learning stop feeling like a hopeless endeavor?  Year number eight and I still feel like a complete failure.  Especially when people hear how awful I am and then ask me how long I have been in the country.  There are no words for a defense.  But I haven’t given up.

    1. Michele Womble February 15, 2015

      Hi Cecily – Wow.  I don’t know how long it will take for you to not feel hopeless about it.  But I really want to say this to you: You have been working for 8 years, without giving up, on something that is very difficult for you.  I don’t think you need to feel like a failure.  You are a hero.  To me, you don’t need words for a defense.  Aren’t you communicating love by the very act of continuing to work at learning for 8 years in spite of your frustration?

      You might consider examining your learning style (maybe you have already thought of this) – it may be that finding the way you learn best might help you see more progress and not be so discouraged.

      But even if you have tried all those routes and are still frustrated, I want to say again that you’re a hero.  It isn’t easy to keep going in the face of frustration, and I admire you for not giving up.  Most of us will never sound like native speakers – and that’s not really our goal.  Our goal should be to communicate love, no matter how awkwardly we do it.  Your perseverance certainly communicates love, in my mind.

      1. Cecily February 15, 2015

        Michele, thanks for the encouragement!  (And welcome to the Grove!)  It is true that I see God’s love shine through me here because people are drawn to His love in me, not to my lovely language!  And this is something to rest in and give thanks for–He uses me in my weakness 🙂

  6. Joann Pittman February 15, 2015

    Keep at it my friend, and do your best to avoid the “comparison” trap.

  7. Monica February 16, 2015

    After learning Chinese (which I am continually STILL learning), my husband and I set out to learn the minority language, which was quite the challenge!  I love the smiles we get when we just say simple greetings or make comments in their language about the food, kids, village life, etc. Going the extra mile to speak the heart language makes such a difference, and I believe, deepens the connection.  I do have to say though, my favorite language learning class ever, took place on a humid afternoon when I was 7 months pregnant and just exhausted.  My teacher arrived at my apartment, and she could tell I wasn’t exactly thrilled to start class, so she suggested I lay down for a ‘few minutes’ while she watched my toddler.  70 minutes later I woke up from my nap, and emerged from my bedroom to find my teacher snoring on my couch, while my 2 year old played next to her!  We laughed so hard, and ended up having a fantastic language lesson after our power naps!

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