Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Language

Well, not too much to report. I leave for staging on the 19th and then for Bolivia a few days later. For now, I'm just trying to stick out the last few days of work, pack, and say my good-byes.

Preparing to leave has led me to think more and more about languages lately. Specifically, I cannot wait to achieve fluency in Spanish. I don’t think it will happen during training, but I hope it happens within the first six months of being in Bolivia. I think most people are too young to appreciate the first language fluency. I’m sure that we think it’s great when it happens, but we’re not quite cognisant at that time so it’s a simple appreciation that is quickly forgotten and taken for granted. Thus, i’m going to focus on subsequent, non-native language fluency.

I've always enjoyed language classes,but that enjoyment pales in comparison to attaining language fluency. I don’t think can be achieved by taking a language class. It’s one thing to be able to piece together sentences, to study vocabulary, and to write and read in another language. When i lived in Germany, I realized that fluency goes way beyond those things. It was fun to be able to listen to my neighbor Florian’s half-mumbled, half-heavily-accented rants, to understand the songs i heard on the radio, and to finally be able to watch even the news in German. The real thrill, however, came in thinking, dreaming, studying, and really getting to know people in German. Basically, I went from learning German to living German.

One of our pre-service learning activities includes this quotation from Nelson Mandela: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

In Passau, many people wanted to practice their English with me. I probably could have survived the entire six months (perhaps classes would have been more difficult) on English alone. However, no matter in what country we were, I strove to speak the native language. (hmm, maybe not Dutch or Hungarian...heh) Mandela really captures the intent behind that. Words are very mechanical things. We can look at an apple and know that the word for it is apple. But the meaning behind the simple diction is something that is cultivated throughout one's life. All that is built into a word throughout life so when one hears that word later, much more comes to mind than simply an apple. The taste, the smell, maybe memories of orchards or baking apple pie. Communication is so much more than words and i think that fluency entails being comfortable enough in a language that you get past just the words. This brings about much more effective and heartfelt communication. People used to ask why I study languages and I'd always say that there are so many people on this earth that I'd like to be able to communicate with that I cannot now. A common response is that lots of people travel and just speak English. Some people think that because they are at an economic advantage, they can just speak English with everyone. If you have that kind of outlook, you likely aren't going to really get to the heart of those people, even if you can understand each other's words. This is what really attracts me to the Peace Corps; their ability to utilize natives' points of view to really get at the best solution for that particular situation. The ability to be accepted into so many different places is a good step towards building a global community where there is peace among countries while maintaining those countries' individualities. As Mandela says, the first step is speaking to the natives, directly to their hearts and not just their minds.

3 comments:

Betsy said...

I have nothing of value to say, but look! I commented! Because I read it. I actually read it 2 days ago, but couldn't think of anything valuable to say so I was giving myself time.

Keep writing!

Kristyn said...

you`re a great writer! that`s how i feel, too. i`ll be working on the fluency thing for a while, but hopefully eventually. but it is great to think that four years ago i didn`t know any spanish and now i feel comfortable in any situation with spanish. i still have a ways to go, though. good luck with your last few weeks. bring good shoes!

Margaret said...

Hi, Sarah! Your Grandma just e-mailed us your blogsite info, and I've added it to my favorites so we can keep up with what's up with you as you serve in Bolivia! How exciting! We will keep you in our prayers! Have fun!

Aunt Margaret