Posts Tagged With: Language Learning

a day in the life [of a language learner]

 

Written February 9, 2017fog out window

I tiptoe across the kitchen floor to look out the window. Though I see it every morning, I never tire of looking out onto a landscape of thick jungle with clouds of fog drifting slowly along the valley below. I can’t see the river from here, but I can hear its quiet roar in the midst of the chorus of the bugs and birds that greet the sunrise. My chilly toes remind me that I wanted to check the thermometer — surely it’s in the 60s with how cold I feel. Nope, the little red line tells me that it’s actually 72 degrees, a temperature probably considered warm in many places. Not here. I’m looking for a blanket to wrap up in while I read my Bible and start my day.

 

I was hoping to wash clothes today, but the pitter-patter of rain on the roof makes me question if we’ll get enough sun for me to be able to run the washing machine off the power from the solar panels. Even if there is enough sun for that, I’ll need to use the clotheslines under the house rather than the ones out on the end of the house.

I light the stove and start heating up the water for our morning hot drink. We’ve still not taken up coffee drinking, but a mug of hot tea or Milo (a chocolate malt drink) helps to take the edge off the chilly mornings. After a breakfast of banana bread and some language review time, we’ll be under the house with Andru and Nolas for our language session.

We went on two “field trips” with them earlier this week — one to a group of hamlets we hadn’t visited before, and the other down to the river where people bathe, and wash clothes and dishes. Since then, we’ve been reviewing what we learned on those outings, and have been asking questions having to do with those contexts. Like, “who can bathe where?” “where are people forbidden to bathe?” and “who decides who can build a house in a hamlet?”

After our language session finishes in the mid- to late-afternoon, we’ll be trying to organize all the information we’ve gathered that day. Before you know it, it’ll be time to make supper and turn on the HF radio to “check in” on the evening radio sched. Then dishes and showers and maybe a little time to read or talk before we call it a night and climb under the mosquito net.

Categories: Culture and Language Acquisition, ministry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

growing up fast

written January 31, 2017

When we first moved into Mouk and started building the house, our big prayer request (as far as language was concerned) was that our mouths would somehow be able to make the sounds of the Mouk language — particularly the uvular R. The uvular R is a sound you have to make way back in the back of your throat, almost as if you were gargling. When we were in language-learning training in the U.S., the uvular R was the one sound that we couldn’t pronounce, so it was really intimidating finding out that the uvular R is all over the place in the Mouk language. Plus, making that sound by itself is one thing, but then trying to pronounce a uvular R in the middle of a bunch of other consonants and vowels was quite the challenge when we first arrived. We probably sounded worse than babies learning how to talk.

A few weeks into language learning, while still struggling to make the uvular R sound, the biggest thing that was tripping us up was trying to remember all the different possession words and how the verb prefix changes based on the vowel of the verb root. In English, if I want to say “my Father” or “my banana” or “my house” or “my leg,” I can use the same possessive pronoun “my” for all those things. But in Mouk, there’s a different way of saying “my” for each of those things. They split all nouns into categories — and so how you say “my” depends on which category the noun is. Banana is in one category, so to say “my banana” I’d say “ngagu obul”, but house is in a different category, so I’d need to say “lugu ninu” to say “my house.” Relatives and body parts are two totally different categories, and they get the “my” attached right to the word:

“lugude” my mother

“ligaw” my father

“luku” my opposite gender sibling

“golngong” my stomach

“kongu” my leg

“omtugu” my eye

And then of course there’s a different word for “your”, “his”, “our”, and “their” in each of those categories, too, which means our brains were often tired and hurting from trying to keep everything straight. We would often get mixed up and use the wrong possession word, which put us probably in the toddler category, since most of the 4 year olds here in Mouk can keep it all straight! It’s still sometimes a challenge to know which category some nouns fit into, but looking back, we can see just how far God has brought us in learning all that stuff.

Now, we can put together basic sentences, but we struggle to know where to put the “glue.” We can say “I get up. I eat. I go outside. I walk around.” But connecting all those things into a story that flows better and doesn’t sound quite so choppy is a challenge. We’re still trying to discover and figure out how to use words that connect thoughts and express the relationship between different events — words like and, then, therefore, so that, because, in order to, with, instead of, like, but, otherwise, maybe, unless, etc.

Besides that, we’re still learning lots of new words, but now the challenge is not only remembering the new words, but differentiating between new and old words that sound super similar to each other. Previously, when we would try to remember or recall a new word, we just had to be able to tell it apart from maybe 100 – 300 other words (“what was that word? Oh, I think maybe it started with an ‘s’ and had a ‘p’ in it somewhere”). Now, however, with the pile of words in our brains is getting close to 1,000, there are more and more words in there that are starting to sound alike, and it’s easy for our brains to accidentally pull up the wrong one.

For example:

“mgo” (he leads) and “mko” (he hits)

“empi” (you pull it out) and “empmi” (you ask)

“pegim” (up there, above) and “pelim” (breadfruit)

“wom” (you) and “won” (thing)

“galo” (sweet, tasty) and “galou” (vine)

“mongmong” (nausea) and “mangmang” (quiet because it’s deserted) and “mangamanga” (crazy)

So, when we accidentally say, “what did you pull out?” instead of “what did you ask?” we just get to laugh and keep going. We may speak better than we did when we were “toddlers” in the Mouk language, but we’ve only made it as far as maybe being 4-6 year olds now. 🙂 I wonder what we’ll sound like when we’re teenagers?

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One little piece of God’s big plan

It started long before January 2013, but that’s when we first discovered the role God would have for us in His story, so that’s where I’ll start. Josiah got an email explaining that there were Mouk believers in Papua New Guinea who had started an outreach to a neighboring people group on their island (the island of New Britain). Having evaluated their skills and giftings, they knew they would be able to teach literacy, develop and teach chronological Bible lessons, present the Gospel, and disciple the believers in this outreach. But there was no Scripture available in that language (as is the case for the majority of Papua New Guinea’s 850 people groups), and these Mouk believers knew they lacked the education and resources to be able to translate God’s Word for that people group. So they asked for a Western missionary who could join their team and do the translation. And that request got passed along and was now in an email in front of us.

We were dating at the time, but we already knew God’s plan was to join our paths and send us to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to spread His glory among the unreached there. We were both in training with New Tribes Mission to become cross-cultural church planters. We had been praying about what God might have for us in the future…was this email part of His answer? We began praying about it. Josiah had been dreaming of working in partnership with PNG believers ever since he was a kid. God had directed Rachel into Bible translation since she was 16. Both our hearts longed to be a part of helping PNG believers reach out to neighboring people groups to make disciples and plant churches. This opportunity to join the Mouk believers in their outreach seemed tailor-made for us.

We were planning to visit PNG that summer so I (Rachel) could meet Josiah’s family, who serve as missionaries there on that island of New Britain. God worked things out so that during that summer trip we were able to make a short visit to see these Mouk believers and talk to them about this opportunity to partner with them in reaching another people group. We couldn’t make any promises, we told them, but we would keep praying about this. We still had a long ways to go before we would be able to come back to PNG as full-time missionaries.

Fast forward three years. We’ve gotten married, finished our training with New Tribes, seen God raise up an incredible team of people to send us with love, prayers and finances, and arrived in PNG as career missionaries. We have completed our orientation to the PNG national language and culture and our 3 month bush orientation. We’re now ready to get officially plugged in to what God is doing here in Papua New Guinea. Through every step along the way, God has continued to point us in the direction of partnering with an existing tribal church in PNG to take the Good News to a neighboring people group.

Josiah with some of our future Mouk coworkers

Josiah with some of our future Mouk coworkers

So a few weeks ago, we flew into Mouk to meet with the Mouk church leaders and some of the believers who have initiated this outreach to another people group. We were trusting that this trip would just confirm to us and the Mouk that God was still leading us to partner together, and that’s exactly what happened. Read more about our trip to Mouk.

Our next step is to move into Mouk and spend a year or two learning their language and culture, as this is crucial to good communication and effective teamwork. So we’re gathering materials for building a small house in Mouk and gearing up for diving into full-time language learning sometime in August. We’re excited to join hands with these solid believers whose hearts beat with God’s heart for the world to know HIM. What God has been doing among the Mouk started before we were born, and we are thrilled and humbled that He’s now allowing us to have a small part in what He’s doing in and through this passionate band of believers in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

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Why are you learning that??

When you hear about all the different things we’ve been studying here in PNG, do you ever wonder, “why in the world are our missionaries learning that? How does that help them?” In case you’ve ever pondered why we are learning what we are (or even if you haven’t), let me take a shot at explaining some of the reasoning behind what we’re studying here in Papua New Guinea culture and language.

First of all, here’s the big picture of why we’re studying Tok Pisin (also known as Melanesian Pidgin). Tok Pisin is one of the national languages here in PNG, so it’s used a lot in towns for people from different tribes to be able to communicate with each other. Remember, PNG has about 850 different people groups who all speak different languages (not just different dialects – these are totally separate languages!), so having Tok Pisin as a common language in the towns is pretty much the only way people from these different people groups can talk to each other. Not everyone in PNG speaks Tok Pisin, but usually at least a few people in each tribe can speak it, so knowing Tok Pisin helps us be able to communicate in the towns here as well as with just about anyone we come across.

One of the biggest reasons we’re studying Tok Pisin is because our heart is to partner with solid believers from a tribal group who are going as missionaries to another tribal group near them. In our partnership with them, we will likely need to communicate with these tribal partners and many other believers from other tribes, and the only language we may have in common with many of these people would be Tok Pisin. Besides that, when we move into the tribe that we hope to work in long-term (alongside our tribal partners), the language we will need to use to help us learn the tribal language would be Tok Pisin.

So for the sake of the ministry we’re hoping to do, and just to be able to get around in PNG, we are working on learning Tok Pisin and the PNG culture right now. But how does what we’re studying each week contribute towards our long-term big-picture goals?

I mentioned in our most recent prayer update that we studied adjectives this past week. Why are we studying adjectives? Well, quite honestly, we use adjectives all the time! When we go to the market to buy our fresh fruits and veggies, we need to be able to say how many carrots we want, and which ones we want. You can’t ask for “3 of those” and “a big one” if you don’t know adjectives. We also use adjectives in everyday speech, like when someone asks if we’re alright (a common greeting here), we need to know how to say “I’m doing well” or “I’m tired” or “I’m hungry” or basic things like that.

So what about the different culture things that we’re learning? Why are we learning how to cook like they do here in the village? Why are we learning to wash clothes like they do? Why did Josiah learn to make a mat out of a coconut branch? Well, there are several reasons behind the things we’re learning in culture. Sometimes, we learn how to do something or make something because it helps us to build a relationship with someone. Josiah made the coconut branch mat with a guy that he is working on befriending, and it was a great time for Josiah to spend time talking with this guy, learning more about him and his world. Other times, we are learning aspects of their culture because it helps us understand the people here in PNG, and it helps us identify with them. If we don’t know how to do basic things in their world (like wash clothes, wash dishes, cook), it makes it hard for us to know what their life is like or establish common ground with people.

So far, I (Rachel) have only been able to investigate very surface level aspects of the culture here (like food, houses, basic everyday activities) because of my limited language ability. But the more I’m able to speak and understand in Tok Pisin, the more I can start diving into deeper aspects of the culture here in PNG – like what men and women’s roles in society are, what their beliefs are, what things are important to them, how and when they express emotions, what the authority structure in the village and family is like, and so many other areas. So the “surface” things we’re learning about culture now help us build relationships with people so we can get down to deeper aspects of culture, and they help give us clues about what things are important in this culture (like why do they only have a few words for colors, but have tons of terms for different family members?), and help us build common ground with them.

I hope this helps in a little way to give you the background for what we’re doing right now in culture and language study. If you ever have questions about why we’re learning what we are, just shoot us an email! We’d be glad to try to answer your questions, though we can’t promise an immediate response. 🙂 And as you think of us, please pray for us as we start moving from just studying “surface level” things in the language and culture here to diving down deeper into the culture and language. We need your prayers!

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