Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tackling Language Learning

When we get to language school early (can depend on traffic) Jon and I quiet ourselves a moment at a nearby cafe and we savor $0.20 macchiatos. Coffee and I, we don't really like each other, but we have entered a truce purely based on the coffee's positive qualities that I need in my life, warmth and caffeine.

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Husbands and wives are not allowed to be in the same class in phase one so after our drinks, we split up for the morning, (seeing each other at tea time and devotions, mid-morning).

Learning a new language is a huge and unending task; however, we are motivated by our talking obsession and we are both loving the learning. 

We are so thankful for a two week training on language learning we had in Colorado before we came because it completely debunked some myths widely accepted about language learning and the truths give us encouragement now. 

Myth #1:  If you weren't exposed as a child to the language you are trying to learn, it is impossible for you to correctly produce the sounds.

FALSE! Human anatomy is the same whether from Asia, Africa or Antartica and so we have all the parts to be able to produce every sound known to man. However, just because we can, doesn't mean it is easy. At our training, we literally had drill practice and had to put our mouths in uncomfortable and difficult positions over and over (I didn't enjoy this part of the day) but now I think of it often when I am exasperated over my inability to reproduce what I am hearing. 

When learning Spanish, I couldn't trill my "rr's". I had studied for several years and thought I was just not capable…until the day I was riding home in the back of a pick up truck with 15 teenagers (standing room only in the truck, looking back I shudder at that foolishness, YIKES). They decided it was time for me to learn and focused their energy and attention on the sound by repeatedly asking me to say, "ferrocarril". After a few days at their constant badgering, the sound came out. It felt awkward and forced and it took concentration. Nothing about it was comfortable or easy but I am thankful they kept after me because I learned. I can make that sound in Spanish and it now feels natural and second nature. There happens to be a trilled r in Amharic and I smile that I've learned that one!

As I wrestle with new sounds, it feels so awkward, to move my tongue in different ways, try to push the air out at different intervals and from different spots in my mouth and still not quite get it, I remember, my mouth is the same as an Ethiopians!  It just takes work and vigilance against laziness.

Myth #2: Children always learn faster than adults

This is one I know in theory but not from experience yet. By mimicking a child's learning style (listening for a good many months (birth to whatever age they start talking) as adults with advanced thought processing, we should be able to use their techniques with our tools and learn at a more rapid pace. However, it is easier for a child to hear a language and mimic it's exact sound and they can just learn by listening, listening, listening. It does seem like it is harder to learn the older we get…my theory, maybe our brains just get too full. :) There I go, perpetuating another myth. 

Language learning does open up new areas in the brain and that's pretty awesome, I need every area possible!

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There are six students in my class and one "nurturer". In our class, there is a mom from California, here because her Ethiopian husband has moved back to train church leaders, a woman from Korea preparing to work with remote peoples, a sweet, sweet nun from India who after serving the poor for 30 years there has retired and is spending her retirement serving the poor here, an American father of six, working with his church to open a daycare in the poorest area of Addis Ababa and a brand new Mama, also from the USA, preparing for ministry in the slums.  

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We are often touching our manipulatives, engaging different areas of learning styles. In this activity we were responding to commands like, "Amy, cut the banana in half, feed the banana to the horse. Give the dog a drink of water". So, we are still in the listening process and although their is no way I am even close to speaking those sentences, I understand and can respond and that is kind of amazing, we have been in school for 8 days. 


Sara Huber said...

I have loved keeping up with you guys in your transition to Ethiopia. You've done a fabulous job documenting the logistics, emotions, really all the aspects of such a huge life change, all the while giving glory to God. It was really fun to see Amanda & Ramiah in the photo on this post...I'm sure you guys have figured out you know a few of the same people. :) Blessings and prayers to all of you!!

Anonymous said...

I know what you are talking about Ames. Some days my mouth just can't make the "r" sound of creole. It wants to make the spanish sound!! Learning a new language is fun and exasperating at the same time. I'm sure you will be there in no time. I remember taking that Spanish class with you in Fort Wayne when you were a sophomore in high school. You aced it then and by God's grace you will do it again!! love ya, Lisa

Anonymous said...

Go Amy, Go!! So proud of you and loving your enthusiasm in learning a new language. It is so exciting for us to watch you both (and your girls) thriving/learning the new language. May God's grace continue being with you each day as you strive to learn to use the language as an essential tool to communicate God's love and plan of salvation to the Awi people. never forget in the meantime while you speak few words, your smile, love, kindness is being felt by those who come in contact with you and we can only imagine what else God does during each encounter with those in Ehtopia. May you never forget that and know God is using you in more ways than you will ever know.:) We love you and think your family is a true inspiration!!
Always in our hearts and prayers..
Bill and Heidi

Kristen Hoerr said...

So cool! I love you are learning this way and using different parts of your brain to learn English. I hope that American schools adopt some of this stuff to teach language.