When you’re learning language and culture, it’s important to be around other people. Getting outside of your house is a great way to do this. However, there are some challenges to this approach of language learning. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered to help anyone interested to meet these challenges head on.
Get used to sitting on hard objects. The following is a true life story used to illustrate this point. I did take some liberty when translating bits of conversation from Swahili to English. The translation portions are meaning based, rather than form based.
I was sitting on a comfy cement block watching people walk up and down the street in front of our house. I noticed an elderly neighbor sitting on a rock under a tree not far from where I was relaxing comfortably, and I thought to myself that it would be a good thing to do to go and greet him. I stood up, stretched my legs, and walked over to say hi. I chose the plushest looking rock I could find to sit down on, and began to share stories with him. As it turned out, the most plush looking rock I could find had a sharp point on it, and at the same time that I became aware of that little bit of jaggedness, I also realized that there were actually no other rocks to sit on. I thus remained seated, and proceeded to visit with my neighbor, who just happened to be blessed with the gift of gab. I learned about his family history, his past work experience, current events, what’s going on in the news, and what the future holds. While he was attempting to help me expand my cultural knowledge by explaining each topic in detail, I was trying to smoothen the uncomfortable parts of the rock by squirming around a lot on it, but it didn’t work. After a few hours, he started running out of topics so he began asking me questions about my life. I couldn’t help but notice that he was still sitting rather comfortably on his rock. I did my very best to answer his questions, but he somehow still noticed that I was trying to elevate myself above the rock while remaining seated on it. He chuckled a little bit, probably because I said something funny, and then asked me if I would like to go sit on the comfy cement blocks, where I had been sitting before. I told him I was very comfy, which is one of those little white lies told for the purpose of showing respect, because I didn’t want him to have to move, but mostly because I didn’t want to loose at sitting on a rock for a long time to an older man. We continued right on talking, and I continued right on squirming. The game was just reaching the point where victory was in sight, mostly because my legs were just about numb and theoretically, I could have sat indefinitely after that point, when he said, “Hey, let’s go and move to the comfy blocks.” And I said, “Okay, if you want to.”
Develop an auto response mechanism. The following true life story illustrates the tendency to repeat certain words quickly and without thinking when you get nervous. These words are “Good”, “Thank you”, and “Have a nice day.” There is a time to use this strategy and a time not to, as I am sure you will see in this story.
I was on my way. It was the third day of my getting my drivers license adventure. I was walking back from the bank to the DMV. I already knew the way, because it was necessary to make this journey three separate times in order to complete the process of obtaining my new license to drive. The bank was a convenient twenty minute walk away, and after standing in line for hours, it was a great way to stretch my legs. As I was walking alongside the road, I came across two men. I said hello to them and kept on walking. They tried to get me to stop and chat, so I said “Good, Thank you, Have a nice day.” I didn’t know them or that part of town so I kept on walking faster. I had an uneasy feeling about them, so I was glad when I came back out to the main road, five minutes later. Still just a little bit nervous, I kept walking. Soon, I passed a woman and greeted her, and she greeted me back. She asked me how I was and I said, “Good.” Then she said, “I am sick, do you have money?” “Thank you.” I responded as I continued to walk briskly, “Have a nice day.” Almost a minute later, her words made it into my ears, but my auto response mechanism had already long been utilized.
Slow down and think faster. As the author so wonderfully illustrated in the above story, sometimes it is helpful to wait until after you have heard what the person you are talking to has said before using your auto response mechanism. This can be challenging when there is a 30 to 40 second lag time between when the words are spoken and when the words are heard. Although the wait can seem a bit awkward, remember it is essential if you truly want to understand the person you are conversing with. As you refine your listening skills and hone your patience, you may find that your processing speed grows exponentially.
Here is some further advice, which is actually better then mine. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." -Philippians 2:3-4