This is hard. Easily one of the most difficult things I have done in my life. We believe strongly we MUST do it, we are passionate TO do it and we WILL NOT give up, BUT, learning the Tigak language and culture is still very very hard. We were told early on in our language study that learning this language would be like, “Trekking through a thick jungle with no idea where you are and when you will arrive where you are going.” Often we would also feel like we did not know how to get where we were going. Instead the jungle would just keep going and going and we would just have to keep crashing through it for a very, very long time.
In light of the fact that we are now fresh on the other side of yet another language & culture evaluation, I am feeling motivated to share a few insights into this “trek” of learning a village language and why exactly it has been such a challenge. Just in case it might not be obvious. ;D
Admitting this first difficulty may in fact shed full light onto what a pathetic person I am but I’m just being honest. 🙂 It is very difficult to learn this language because I must motivate myself to do it every day. In this kind of learning- I am it. No one else can teach me this language or make me learn it. I cannot drive myself to a classroom and sit for a set amount of hours under a teacher who is proficient in Tigak and will make sure to explain to me the best way to learn and practice this new language. I have no daily overseer of my study that will ensure that every moment of it is the most productive as possible. As I study this language I cannot look forward to gaining a career or a high paying job by learning it and the pressure of missing a class, failing a module or loosing a class fee are not there to ensure I feel very motivated daily to keep at this! This level of self discipline is very challenging and just really obnoxious. (laugh) Regardless of how unmotivated I feel to put in the hard work and sacrifice of language and culture study or how much I sometimes actually dread it, I have to do it in order to go anywhere. No one will feed any of this to me, I have to do it! I have to be intentional, I have to make goals and purposeful plans to achieve them.
Another aspect that makes learning Tigak so difficult is just how long it takes! At this point in language and culture study the analogy of the jungle trek is really ringing true. I would have to say that it is a very apt word picture of how this process feels! 🙂 It does indeed seem to stretch on and on and threatens to weaken our resolve to finish. Regardless of how we feel about it, there is no “short cut” through this culture & language jungle- BUT the reward that awaits us when we emerge from it is priceless and must be kept in the forefront of our minds to ensure we will not grow weary enough to faint!
Keeping with the tradition of blunt honestly I will also admit another reason that learning Tigak is difficult. That is because many people who are trying to help me learn their own language do not seem to grasp what a challenge this is! Often times our well meaning language helpers and friends just seem to think it should be a breeze which results in laughter at failed attempts to say things but also a failure to recognize when I do it right! Of course I will admit, I know that at times I do sound ridiculous! As a student of the language we can look forward to being corrected when we make a mistake but hear nothing if we do it right! Occasionally in those times when I say something right for the first time, in my mind I am thinking, “Man! I just nailed that! I’ve never been able to say that before and I just totally nailed it! Yeah me!” As the party dance begins in my head I look around expecting that some one will have noticed how eloquently the Tigak words have just rolled off my tongue, but no. Often my friend will act like nothing has happened. I suppose expecting all my friends to keep perfect track of all I can or cannot communicate well is a bit of a stretch but it can feel deflating. Thankfully I can high five myself as I walk away. 😀
All the specifics aside (and there are many more), language study is just tough. It feels unending, it feels impossible and it feels like it will crush us at times. As we progress slowly on in this language, we are able to minister and interact more and more with our friends in their own heart language. And that is AWESOME! There are those moments when you know you have communicated just right and you see your friends eyes light up when they hear the language that is most clear to them coming out of us. They are happy, excited and impressed that we have and are taking the time to learn to speak the way they do. The more my Tigak improves, the more I can feel my relationships here deepening because of it. But of course “relationship” is the key word here, isn’t it? That is why we are doing all this anyway. We are doing this jungle trekking, never ending, mind busting work of learning the Tigak language in order to have the relationship with people that will give us the opportunity to introduce these precious friends to the most important relationship they could ever have: a relationship with Jesus Christ Himself. A relationship that will open their eyes to truth, change their eternal destiny and make any investment we have made into a few years of language & culture study more worth it than anything!
Ok, now I will get on to the part about our evaluation! Sorry it took me so long…
We really praise the Lord for a friend and man of God who we believe to be the best possible CLA consultant we could ever ask for! This friend and fellow missionary Chris has not only offered us invaluable oversight and advice in our language and culture studies but also challenged and engaged us in spiritual matters. We are and will forever thank God for gifting us with his help! We view Chris (and his family) as not only dear friends but also as provisions from the Lord for help in this ministry of seeing the Tigak church built up.
Enough of the mushy stuff, onto the facts. 🙂 Tom and I both had our turns to be “evaluated” for two days, each of us taking turns both days and the third day was reserved for a debrief time and for advice from Chris on how we should proceed in our studies in light of the progress we had made.
My first evaluation time was the Grammar test. Prior to sitting down with my Tigak language helper and Chris for the official test time, Tom and I had both already “taken” the Grammar test by typing up our best attempt at communicating in Tigak the sentences and phrases the test requested from us (Tom was taking a grammar test a level beyond mine). Then as we sat down with a language helper and Chris, who also had a printed copy of my test, the task was to go through them all one by one. First I would say it in Tigak, next my Tigak language helper would repeat it so that Chris could critique my pronunciation. My language helper would then translate what I had just said to her into the common trade language so that Chris could check if I had correctly communicated the meaning of the phrase given. This was also her chance to correct me in any ways I needed correction. Of course my goal was to avoid needing any correction! 😀 My Grammar test checked my Tigak grammar skills in areas from modifiers, locational’s, time, statements & questions, commands, & negations all the way to complex sentences, compound subjects, instrument/benefactive, numbers and kinship! Needless to say my brain felt like it was about to pop by the time we got to the end of it. My awesome friend and language helper Maris was quite ready to be done too and told me she was glad I had given her coffee right off the bat! 🙂
Tom also went through the same kind of sit down with his further advanced Grammar test. He asked one of his good friends and language helpers, “Boxer” to come help him and Chris. Both Tom and I felt really good about our Grammar tests when they were finished and I was pleasantly surprised by far less marks up’s on mine than the last evaluation!
The next big part of our evaluation was speaking tasks out in the village. We were asked to walk around the village with Chris and just choose a friend at random who would agree to sit down with us for an extended amount of time to help me with my language “challenges.” And I will say, they were challenges! 🙂 I was super glad to run into a good friend not long into our walk who happily agreed to sit down and help me out. I joked with her a bit telling her not to be intimidated by Chris. She needed to be really picky about my speaking and tell Chris every time I messed up! She shyly agreed. 🙂
As I began using my “photo books” (sheets of many pictures that depict a series of events within a single activity) to tell Lena a story a few more of my friends trickled over and gathered around. I was happy they were coming because how could more critiques be a bad thing? 🙂 Every one of my stories had to be recorded and then we had to go through the painful process (to me at least..hearing my recorded voice) of listening to them all again and also listening to them in 10-15 second increments in order to ensure that every “piece” of what I was saying was clear and correct. Phew! I’m getting worn out just tell you about it. It wore me out! After using the photo books Chris went on to ask me to tell the ladies a series of random stories or explanations of certain facts about things. Those were also all recorded and analyzed when I was finished.
One thing about this part of my evaluation was very comforting and a little surprising. As we walked around trying to find a friend to help me my tummy was a mess of nerves! When we located my friend, sat down and I began my speaking tasks I was totally calm. I found this to be wonderful as I realized that the reason I calmed down was because I had confidence that I was sitting with a friend who was on my side. She was someone who knew I was still learning, someone who was used to correcting me and also someone who wanted me to succeed. That was just what I needed to help the butterflies go away and motivate me to just give it my best! Once all my requested speaking “tasks” were completed, Chris gave the ladies one last chance to say anything to him about how I had done and what I needed work on. I was completely touched when all the ladies took turns to compliment my efforts in front of Chris. I almost felt like I needed to promise Chris that I had NOT lined this all up and paid them to say such nice things! LOL! I almost got teary eyed hearing their praise because that kind of complimenting is NOT common and I had never even known they all felt like that. It was super nice and I left on cloud nine!
Tom also completed his village speaking tasks with a good friend and felt good about it. Chris asked him to convince his friend of a certain point of view involving riding in boats vs. cars, he asked him to instruct his friend on how to change the oil in a car and Tom also had to challenge his friend to do something that Tom felt strongly about. And so on… Every part of the language evaluation is meant to stretch us and that it did!
On Wednesday afternoon as I walked to the believing ladies’ meeting time to spend time discussing the word with them, I felt a huge weight roll off my shoulders as I knew all the big tests were behind me now and all I had to look forward to was the debrief time with Chris. As I walked up to the church hut I found all the ladies sitting waiting for me with expectant looks on their faces. One of them said, “So?” I dropped my bag, raised my hands to clap them and said, “I’m done with my tests!” They all clapped and cheered for me and it was a sweet moment feeling the encouragement of my sisters spurring me on to progress. Of course it is for them and all their friends and family that we continue on! 🙂
Tom also felt super relieved when his “big parts” of the evaluation were completed too. I was so proud of him! My favorite response from one of our Tigak brothers to Tom’s completion of the evaluation was when he asked Tom in a shouting voice, “So???!! Are you done??” Tom interpreted his question to mean-was he done with the evaluation and answered, “Yes! I am done now!” Our friend literally picked Tom up off the ground in a bear hug and started bouncing him around! Haha! It was so hilarious! Tom was a bit alarmed and quickly clarified, “Hey! I’m not DONE learning Tigak, I’m just done with the test!” Haha! Tom was then lowered to the ground but the congratulations were still energetic! 😀
When our whole evaluation was completed, we sat in a small village boat with Chris buzzing toward the main land to have our last meal together before sending Chris on his way home. As the wind lessoned the burning feeling of the sun on our skin, I silently prayed and asked the Lord to keep helping us to faithfully continue on in the work of learning this language. Their is a feeling of relief and excitement at the marked progress we have made but that is mixed with reality of the jungle we still see looming before us. Whether it will be a year more or less, by God’s mercy this trek continues!