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.
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!
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.
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.