Thursday, June 2, 2011

Language Learning

I bet when you read "language learning" you imagine us sitting in class with a book and a teacher and repeating words and sentences. I wish. We do have a book, but it is basically up to ourselves to learn this language. Why do they do this to us? Why don't they teach us, so we can go ahead with our ministries in the tribe? Well, it is so we can go ahead with our ministries in the tribe, actually. You see there, we will be doing the same thing. There will not be a teacher and a book telling us how to speak that language. It will be up to us to learn to speak it, then eventually create an alphabet for it and then we will teach them to read and write their own language. Crazy huh?
**Please excuse me for a moment while I get on my soap box, thank you.
Stepping on: It really bothers me when I hear "educational" media talk about how missionaries destroy the culture of tribal people. We are actually helping to preserve their culture as we are creating a written form of their language and literary materials in that language which can be kept forever. And, if your culture included cannibalism, rape, murder, and child molestation, wouldn't you want those things changed too. I also hope that viewers recognize why this media wants these cultures to be "preserved" (***hint hint, they are making money off of them, hint hint**)
Stepping down now.
Sorry about that, people. Anyway, so we are now in the middle of this process where we basically just try to make friends with people and hope they will be interested in helping us. Even though this method is more difficult initially, it is actually way more fun...because you get some friends out if it. Our ministry is all about building relationships, so spending lots of time with someone getting them to tell you about their life, family, background, thoughts and feelings does just that. In the end, you not only gain proficiency in a new language, you also gain a friend...or two...or three. And when you move to a strange place, with a strange language and culture, nothing starts to make you feel more comfortable than a friend.
So even though it is frustrating at times, it can be really fun. Like, yesterday JMG went to the fishing village and talked to an old guy named Joe. He recorded part of the conversation to use as a study tool, but Joe might not be the best language helper for him. You see, ole Joe doesn't have any teeth. Yup. So this is JMG's work of trying to decipher Pidgin from an old man with no teeth. But he loved it. Anyone who knows JM knows he loves to sit and talk with an old guy!

There are also words that are hard to say. You see occasionally words pop up in other languages that sound like gross or offensive words in English. One time in Spanish class in college my our entire class laughed like twelve year olds when the professor wrote "ganarĂ­a" on the board. It is the conditional tense for the verb "ganar" which means to win, and does not at all have to do with any questionably acquired disease. In Chinese the word for "this" was a derogatory term that will not be used in this blog. And here in PNG they use another term that in the US has been used as a derogatory term in the past. Here if I want to say I have three daughters I have to say:

"Mi gat tripela pikinini meri."

Yeah, it is still awkward for me to use that. But it is simply the word for "child" here. It comes from the Portuguese word pequeninho which means "little one". It is not offensive here. It is just the word. But I would not advise any of you to use it at home and claim you are simply speaking Melanesian Pidgin. You can, however, use the word "bagarap" for "bad", "messed up", or "spoiled". Kinda like, "buggered up"! Ha ha! That one is funny! Unless that is an offensive term in the UK? Anyone know British curse words??? Oh well, maybe just speak English. Then you will know you are safe.

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