We did it! We made it through a year of Language School! I graduated in fact. Guess what I learned! Your language that you use everyday for everyday stuff is way bigger and more complex and beautiful and more of a gift than you imagine (I bet!)
To start with, language doesn't start with words, it starts with sounds. If you don't have the right collections of sounds in your tool box AND know when to use them... you can't speak the language.
Introducing, Doctor Manny.
Doctor of language, Dr Manny holds the keys of correct pronunciation as well grammatical roots and word/language origines (among other things). I love how Dr Manny can explain to me not just what is but WHY it is like it is. I love it when people have dug deeper and can tell the backstory. YES, words have backstories. Languages have backstories. Just like people and nations have backstories. On top of that, just like cultures have characteristics and ways of working that are sometimes very deeply ingrained and subtle, languages have "bents" to them as Dr. Manny says. Certain ways of doing things that explain why somethings are in that language. For example a "bent" of Spanish is fluidity. Spanish almost always gravitates towards fluidity of speech and sounds are always being linked together.
I am deeply grateful for the insights into Spanish phonetics, and also into the Latin American culture, that Dr Manny gave us.
Another thing, grammar is necessary for language, but if your grammar is like a tool that you have to go digging in your tool box to use, it is doing you not much good. If the grammar you have is a list of rules it going to be very hard to have a conversation. Language is much more alive than a math problem and in order to be able to use your mouth not just your pencil you need to learn how to use grammar in real life situations. Introducing, Richo Vargas.
Sometimes in life teaching is practical but not comprehensive, and sometimes teaching is by rule and totally comprehensive but then you never learn how to use what your learned. Richo did a good job covering all the material but taking most of the time to teach us how to use it, and MAKING us use it. Verb conjugation is hard but also important is what situations and for what meanings do you use that conjugation. This is where I realized that I have never fully thought through what I say and when and why I say it (even in English). For example, "I have gone" and "I had gone". What is the difference? Or, "if I went" and "had I gone". There's so many parts of speech we use without a thought to any rule in the world. We just feel that is the right way to say it... sooo... yeah... There's some parts of Spanish I'm just going to have to feel out and get used to. I'm trying to study grammar but the reality is I'm only going to get so far because I'm not a grammarian and language study is really deep (at least for my brain). So I try to understand and I'll be trying to practice whenever I can.
I am very very thankful for Richo and his very practical but fairly comprehensive method of teaching grammar. I think he gave us what we needed to become conversational and tools to go farther than we can in a classroom.
Last thing about language learning, Practice practice PRACTICE. Sometimes language learning
For us, this un-wearying ear was Alejandro Pantoja. He put in so many hours helping us. He was there to talk, to listen, to explain, to help when a presentation project was in crisis, to plod through translation of papers, to supply conversation hours needed. He helped us in the coffee shop, in the classroom, in our homes, sitting on picnic tables, during the afternoon, during the evening, during the morning, during the summer between semesters, he helped while on the clock being paid as a tutor, and off the clock as a friend. This last year Alejandro was not a teacher in the language program. He was in charge of the tutors and he substituted some. My prayer is that the Lord would allow him to join the Language School staff and be a teacher full time so that he can help all the language students in the years to come.
There you have it! My three keys and the men that supplied them to me.
- Language is BIG and beautiful. Be ready to dig into the language and the culture and get a good grasp of the language you are learning. Learn it for what it is, not what you wish it would be. Learn the phonetics.
- Language is super practical. If you are not learning it practically you are missing it. Learn the language in it's contexts, especially the ones that you can enter and use it in.
- Language takes time and practice. Find a compassionate, patient friend who is a native speaker. Usually someone who has gone through the struggle of language learning already will best understand what you are going through and what you need.
LAST THING. After the first semester of Language school I came to the realization that I could understands someone's decision NOT to take on this challenge.
If your life can function in your native language, if you are not called to communicate directly with others of another language, if you are already half way through your life and don't want to take on another challenge and struggle that you will carry to your grave (most likely)... I can understand just not doing this. I mean there is a ton of good stuff, even if you don't ever master the language, you can make tons of new friends and learn lots of new stuff and understand things from a different perspective. But that doesn't mean that if you decide not to do it you are doing something wrong. I think most Americans understand this for themselves. They are happy with their English. BUT then they want to tell everyone else that they should just learn English too... like, spend the rest of your life learning MY language because then you can talk to me... lol!
Just saying, I'm not going to be pointing figures at people who are not going through what I'm going through, as much as I do love it, it is a lot of work!