Friday, August 3, 2012


One of the things that I've struggled with over the past year is language learning. And not in the classic missionary sense of struggling to make myself understood when buying tomatoes down the road at the local market. I mean, I haven't done any. And I'm sad about that. And disappointed.

Learning languages has always been this incredibly fun game for me. I remember the day I came home after having my very first German lesson in year 6. I had learnt how to count and thought it was marvellous fun.

(I should note here that despite being bicultural I'm not bilingual. My mum never taught us any Tagalog/Filipino or any of the other Filipino languages that she knows. She made the very firm decision to bring up her children knowing English perfectly and for her that meant no other languages at home.)

I studied German and Japanese concurrently throughout high school then majored in Spanish at university while continuing my German and Japanese. I took a little bit of Russian after I came back from a mission trip to Azerbaijan because I wanted to go back and work as a missionary in Eastern Europe.

It was fun. It was always fun. I had a language partner for Japanese and we would meet up and eat lamingtons and talk about the Japanese school system. I watched German movies. I made grammar games to teach other people Spanish grammar. By the end of my degree I wasn't fluent or anything like that but I still enjoyed the process. I never enjoyed being pushed to memorise things but I liked being able to understand and have a good guess at what was going on in the other language.

Studying Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew at Moore was exceedingly painful. Learning a dead language is completely different to learning a language you can mimic, watch TV in and generally interact with the associated culture. It's not even nearly the same. Plus I really dislike learning grammar. It was a challenge to fall in love with languages again the year after Bible college but teaching English to overseas students helped me to see the beauty of language and culture again and I was pumped to get overseas and be drenched in that sort of linguistic messiness.

I always assumed that when I eventually did become a missionary I'd fulfil a lifelong goal of becoming fluent in another language. I didn't really care what language. Although I do have an aversion to French. It just sound yuck. Sorry to all the French speakers out there!

In our plans to move to South Africa I was really excited to learn Xhosa once we arrived. The language has clicks, for goodness sake! How much more fun is that!? Or maybe perhaps I'd learn some Afrikaans. I thought I'd definitely learn Fwe since I'd be training the translators in Zambia. Maybe even Lozi, the lingua franca of the Western Province in Zambia. Why not?

But then we got here. And everyone speaks English. The necessity to learn a language didn't exist in Cape Town. Even in Zambia everyone got along just fine in English. And like everyone else, I'm lazy. If I don't need to do it but do need to do other stuff, then of course the unnecessary gets pushed aside.

But this makes me sad.

The language learning process we'd been encouraged to use strongly advocated a language partner to meet up with and practice with. I haven't found one although I do try to immerse myself in Afrikaans at work each day especially with my immediate colleagues who speak Afrikaans as their mother-tongue. But I only know two people who speak Xhosa. I don't interact with anyone really who speaks Zulu nor is there any need at all to speak Zulu in Cape Town (I would if I lived in Durban). I don't need Fwe or Lozi anymore since I've had to put my Zambia trips on hold because of the baby.

I can't blame it all on the situation. I am a lazy bugger when it comes to language learning. No classes/exams = no accountability. No books = no system. No need = couldn't be bothered.

That all being said, I do understand a bit of Afrikaans now. I can't say anything particularly useful but I can pick up contextual clues and mix them with the vocab I do have and have a guess what's going on around me.

New goals? Be a good mum. Do the work I have in front of me with regards to new opportunities in Bible translation. Continue my work with the Explore correspondence programme at GWC. Buy an Afrikaans grammar book and learn something every day.