I am actually surprised that it did not happen sooner. After being here six and a half weeks, I misspoke and said the complete opposite of what I had wanted to say. My first, of what I am sure will be many, big blunders. Obviously, I have said lots of things incorrectly. I am just starting to learn this language that is so different from my own. However, my mistakes are usually more grammatical or they have to do with pronunciation. This was a case of pronunciation, but instead of nonsense, I said a completely different word with a vastly different meaning.
I’ve been anticipating this. All my teachers in training warned us this would happen. They gave their own stories from when they were learning another language. I actually have done something like this before. In Russian. I took a class on how to learn language and we practiced with the Russian language. I was trying to say “She is eating potato.” I said it confidently. My teacher got a blank look on his face and said, “No…that would be swearing.” So I knew it would happen here at any moment.
Here’s what happened. My friend was explaining the differences between two verbs to me. In English, we have one state of being verb. In Portuguese there are two. (I’m still grasping the difference, so I won’t try to explain it at this point.) She was giving examples like, “I am a doctor/I am a nurse/I am a teacher.) So I said, “Oh, okay. I understand. For example, I am a missionary.” She laughed and said, “Nɑ̃o! Eu sou uma missionária. Não sou uma mercenária. Mercenária is bad!” She typed it in google translator so I could see what I had said. I had said, “I am a mercenary.” Go ahead and laugh. I had to. Everyone else has. Another friend heard the story and she immediately asked if I had said this in the city or here on campus. Thankfully it was here, in my house, and not in the city. Man.
Learning another language, trying to become part of another culture can be rather humiliating. Definitely one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I am 27 years old, but can really only communicate at a toddler’s level. I used to teach preschool, and now that is the learning level I am at. It’s frustrating. There are sounds that English doesn’t have, and I am trying hard to learn them. And, often times, failing miserably. The other day, I was walking across campus, repeating a word I have trouble with over and over. If anybody saw me, they probably thought I was nuts. Which is okay. I have thought about myself sometimes. I apparently practice these sounds while sleeping, too. On more than one occasion, I have woken myself up trying to make these sounds or pronounce these words correctly. English is beginning to not make sense to me. If I’ve been studying for a while and then go read something in English, it takes me a few times to realize what it says. Why? Because I read it with Portuguese pronunciation.
Honestly, I hate not being able to communicate well. I hate that I don’t know what is going on 90% of the time. Yes, I know eventually I’ll get there, but in the moment, it can be really frustrating. Yesterday, I was particularly frustrated with myself. I realized I needed an attitude adjustment, so I took a nap. It’s amazing what an hour or so of sleep can do to help your perspective.
Humility really isn’t a bad thing to learn. Difficult? Absolutely. Fun? Not in the slightest. But important nonetheless. How many verses and passages in Scripture talk about humbling ourselves? Or how about the fact that our Savior left the perfection of Heaven and humbled Himself, came to Earth, to save us. Without His humility, we’d have no hope. Our lives would be miserable.
Last night, I had the opportunity to got to go to an event that has to do with a graduation. My friend and I were talking and communicating as best we could in our vastly different languages. She was encouraging me about this very thing. Humility. We talked about Philippians 2 and how it talks about how much Christ had to set aside to come to this Earth to save us. He is God and He humbled Himself to ‘become the likeness of man.’ Our suffering, our humility is nothing compared to His. And He did it for you. He did it for me. He did it for every single person on Earth. He wants all men to know Him.
And that is why I am here. That is why I am learning language. That is my motivation. Until all hear.