Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Roller-Coaster Ride: A little thing called Language Learning

Ok, so I'm finding out a lot about myself through this whole "living in another culture" thing. For one, I am just beginning to understand certain basic things about myself. For example, I need to have more sleep, calm periods of the day, a way to connect with others on a deeper level, good snack foods, time listening to worship music, time to do something artistic, and a connection time with my hubby. (Add all that to a busy day and woah!) Some of these are things that I thought of as superfluous before. Now I am realizing that in order to function properly and to not have frequent moments of flipping-out-insanity, I really need these sorts of things. (OK that was a bit scary to share but feels good to have it off my chest.) Basically, I need a break and these are the things that are restful to me. I also find it AB-SO-LUTE-LY necessary to have a happy home. I am a much happier person when my kids are doing something constructive with their time. :-D *big toothy grin* It's a tough balance to be a mom and a student at the same time in another land, but I see with precision of focus now that my attitude affects my kids' moods.

The old saying rings true, "If momma ain't happy - ain't nobody happy." So I realized this past week that I was getting to my overloaded point in many areas. The kids were going crazy (Ethan is on vacation for 2 weeks and has a ton of energy to burn off at home now). Claire feeds off of Ethan's energy and creates her own.  Brent was beginning to be stressed with home duties while I took on a 5 days/week class load yet again. Language learning classes just happened to break the dam! It's just something that happens with me when I am not understanding the language and I am expected to perform in class. It's happened to me before when I took eight weeks of Thai. It's something that happens to people regularly when they are involved in language learning and cultural adjustment at the same time.

It's called stress.
Mine just happens to materialize in tears.

I broke down crying (mind you, silently) in class. I kept my composure as hot tears streamed down my face. My teacher noticed and talked to me in the hall. I told her it was not anything personal but that I did not understand a thing that she had just spent the past 10 minutes explaining. She had mentioned that we had seen the material the day before - we had not. I was overwhelmed. Silly little pronouns danced on my page as my tears blurred these tiny, yet so important, words. Words that I did not understand but desperately need to know. Turns out I was absent the day the basic pronouns were introduced and now we were learning more. It was confusing and it still is. Not sure I can use them properly on paper and much less so in speech.

It will come. Event...ually.
I will understand at some point.

I think the overwhelming part is that one day we will have to use this language to survive in AFRICA. Oh, yeah, and then learn another language that's not written down yet (yep, that means no books to learn the next language- no alphabet). So if I look at things like that it is mega-overwhelming.

Baby steps, Laura. You can do it.
Phil 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me".

Some days are really awesome and I seem to be getting it. French will start to flow out of my mouth like liquid and the people around me don't even hesitate - they seem to understand me. Yay!

Other days it feels like someone shoved a wad of black licorice the size of a golf ball in my mouth and told me to try to express my thoughts without spitting. I like black licorice, but in smaller quantities. And try talking with a mouth full of something you can't chew well! The words just won't come out right.

So there's these ups and downs in trying to speak another language. It's exhilarating and dizzying at the same time. I love it and then other times I get this sickening scared feeling in the pit of my stomach. (I think this is what people feel like when they are on a roller coaster. I've never actually been on one. I get motion sick so it's out of the question, but I've been on a flume ride with a big drop.) Days of success in communicating in French are awesome, like being at the peak of the hill - the top of the ride. *smile*

But look out for the drop!

At least I can expect to climb the next crest at some point until I get off this ride, but wait - I'm not planning on getting off this ride. Will it always be like this? No. At some point way in the future, it seems that I will plateau and not be able to learn any more French. Then it will be time for the next language.

Learning French like this is different than taking a foreign language course in high school or college. I actually have to go out an use what I learn to live here. The only break I get from it is if I am silent (doesn't always work - someone will try to ask you something). Oh, or if I am at home with my family, and still we try to speak in French, read books in French, watch TV in French, answer the phone in French, order pizza in French, go to the doctor in French, and so on... in French.

*SIGH* That felt good to share. It's a bit overwhelming at times to be here. Other times it is incredible! It is certainly nothing like a vacation. If it were I'd really need a vacation from it. It's daily life lived in a foreign land that's not too far removed from my own land though it is foreign to me at times. Keep us in your prayers as we're here, and consider the stretch it will be to be living daily life in a foreign land like Africa because that comes next. At least it is do-able: one day at a time - with the Lord's help. That's all I ask. :-)
Thanks for praying us through the drops.


  1. You are really doing a good job at expressing the trials and frustrations of language learning- thanks for being honest. I think it will be an encouragement to you -and others! later- especially as you get further down the road. When you are FLUENT you can say, see, I made it through that rough patch!

  2. I love you so much, Laura!! and can sympathize with the way you handle stress and the things you need to recuperate. So happy that you have God, an amazing family, and lovely spring blossoms to keep the grin on your face. Xo to all ;)


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