Learning language and studying culture is like Swiss cheese. That’s right. The learning process is full of holes. Years of immersion and hundreds, even thousands, of hours of studying can still result in an incomplete understanding of what people are saying and thinking. These “holes” in my understanding of culture and language will be normal. Here in Paraguay I have three coworkers whose role as consultants is to help guide me through the process of learning language and culture. These consultants are busy helping people like me who are just settling into Paraguayan life, and they are also working with the folks who are learning tribal language and culture. They help us make the most of our study time and keep us on track to progress as quickly as possible. Every four months they offer evaluations to help us assess our progress in language and to show us our gaps in our understanding.
Culture and Language Acquisition, or CLA, Levels
- Basic (Low, Mid, & High)
- Progressing (Low, Mid, & High)
- Capable (Low, Mid, & High)
- Proficient (Low, Mid, & High)
- Native (Low, Mid, & High)
As you can see there are actually three levels within each level. Virtually the only way to reach Native High is to be born into a culture.
Here are a few important facts about these levels. I need to reach the Capable Mid level. The Basic level is a breeze. After that each level is progressively more difficult to reach. The amount of information in each successive rank increases exponentially. Many people reach the Basic High level in three months, but it usually takes a minimum of four months to pass each of the following levels. As you can see if you want to do the math, it typically takes a minimum of two years to reach the Capable Mid level.
I had my first evaluation in the end of July and just heard last week that I am at the Basic High level! Now the real work begins, since I mostly relied on my high school Spanish to reach this point. From here on I will need to invest in the people around me, find new opportunities to get involved, and nail myself to the floor to do some serious studying. I’m thanking the Lord for an encouraging first evaluation!