America, Funny & Weird, Life in Asia

#4 Language Learning – Top 15 of 2015

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Americans are spoiled blessed to be born as native English speakers. English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and in many nations, serves as a second or trade language. And it’s a quirky language with so many exceptions to the rules. I’m so happy to be an English speaker, but it has definitely made me lazy in language learning.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.

True story. We Americans just don’t have the same appreciation or motivation for learning a new language. It they don’t speak English, why bother going? And who doesn’t speak English these days anyway? I attempted to learn Spanish for a hot minute in high school and college, and after memorizing lists of verb conjugations, I couldn’t even introduce myself. All that to say, I was not set up to thrive in learning a new language now in my thirties.

The country we live in now has one of the highest percentages of trilingual speakers in the world. Almost every island has it’s “island language”, and then in the 1940’s the country received a “national language”, which now almost 200 million people speak. On top of that, many people have also learned English for work. Or another island’s language. I think the majority of my friends here speak three or four languages. And here comes the American with their almighty English. Ironically, the language is probably one of the easiest in Asia for English-native speakers to learn. It’s our same alphabet, with a few pronunciations. It’s really phonetic. So we can read it and sound it, even if we don’t know the meaning yet!

We’ve learned through several different styles, from formal class to a tutor to chatting with friends at the market to actually teaching English using the new language. All of these styles have enhanced our language learning. We are learning the slang and the formal. We are learning to speak and to listen. And after almost months of living here, we can be pretty conversational.

It’s really wild to be able to have a conversation in an entirely different language than the one you grew up speaking. Recently, we had our neighbors over to swim, and for 2 hours, we didn’t speak any English with them and there was hardly a lull in conversation. It was amazing.

I find that I can talk a lot about a few things. I can talk about America, when we came here, where we volunteer, what foods I like here, what the weather is like back home, my family, a hobby or two, and what I did today. But any conversation about emotions, feelings, dreams, or desires…yeah, I can’t do that yet. I can tell you how to get to the mall, but I can’t tell you what my biggest fear in life is.

Language learning is a process, and it’s one that takes great humility. Without humility, I don’t know how anyone can learn a language. Daily, I have to be willing to be laughed at or corrected when I speak. I can’t be afraid to speak or I’ll never actually use what I read in the book. I have to try and be willing to fail. Or I’ll never succeed. Thankfully, the people here so encouraging. Whenever I try to use my language skills, no matter how limited, they are so quick to compliment. I would go into a store and use 3 words, and the cashier would look shocked and tell me I’m smart. Sometimes, I feel like they are being patronizing, but then I realize I don’t care because I need the encouragement to keep going. So keep telling me I’m smart and my language is awesome, I’ll pretend like I believe you and keep on learning.

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