Friday, May 29, 2015

Language Acquisition

Heath:  "So I'm talking to one of the neighbor ladies, and she is trying to teach me some K'iche' words.  But I was pronouncing it wrong and it made her laugh so hard that her dentures fell out!"

Katrina:  "I was riding in the back seat trying to talk to Tomas as he dropped us off at our houses, and he suggested I move up to the front so it would be easier to hear each other.  I guess I misunderstood him because when he stopped the truck for me to change seats I thought he was letting me out to walk home.  We weren't even close to my house yet.  I asked him for directions to my house."

One of the key ingredients to successful cross-cultural living is language acquisition.  Unfortunately, it takes much longer than one anticipates to become functional in a second language.  There is the initial excitement of language school and studying and grammar drills; it quickly turns into frustration and boredom and the nagging question, "why can't we all just speak English?".
At first the student feels proud that he can ask simple questions and give proper greetings and goodbyes, but still has no idea what  the rest of that conversation was about.
Then he transitions into understanding the general gist of the conversation, but still being unable to respond with  more than a few one-word utterances.
Finally there is the realization that  focusing on phrases and sentences brings the gradual ability to piece together an intelligible thought.
This is usually when one begins to try his hand at joke telling or sarcasm.  Bad idea.  It will be years, if ever before that can pulled off successfully.
Our MET students all find themselves somewhere along this spectrum of frustration, trying to work through every-day moments and situations at the language level of a toddler.  In theory, becoming child-like in order to learn a language makes sense.  In practice, it feels unnatural and down right humiliating.
Hang in there folks.  It does get better...poco a poco.

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