Monday, November 30, 2009

Emily/Lesego, Israel, and the Tswana language






Many of you have asked about fellow volunteers and have asked especially about the "closest" volunteer to me. This would be Emily/Lesego. She is in the blue on the right.
Rachelle is another PC volunteer, and she is in green on the left, but she is quite far from me here in South Africa. She is a wonderful woman in her own right and I'm sure I'll speak more about her in future blogs--when I have her expressed permission. For today, I only have permission to use her photo.
Emily/Lesego, on the other hand, has given me permission to speak of her. I hope I'm spelling her African name correctly. It is pronounced, La SAY ho. She is about a 20-minute taxi ride from me. She's a wonderful young woman who has grasped the beauty of the Tswana language very quickly. She is close enough to me that many people in her village know of me, and vice versa. Emily is so good with the language, in fact, that whenever I open my mouth to attempt a bumbled Tswana phrase, Tswana peoples' faces visibly drop and they emit groans and express sentiments along the lines of, "but Lesego speaks Tswana so beautifully." Yes, she does.
I, unfortunately, do not.
In fact, yesterday, while in the post office, I met a gentleman for the first time. I was attempting the smallest comment about it being hot and the gentleman winced and begged, "Madam, please stay with the English."
But I'm trying.
I don't think I made a public announcement about failing my initial language test. I didn't want to add to my humiliation, I'm sure.
In giving myself a break, I had a lot going on during pre-service training and was not in the best frame of mind to study a foreign language. In addition to trying to adjust to my new surroundings on the other side of the world, I was also trying to stay abreast with the technical aspects of training and trying to integrate with my African host-family. While I made a valiant effort with trying to study the language at the time, the foreign language just would not enter and remain in my brain. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time enjoying my African family because I don't think my studying helped.
It reminds me of my time in grad school in trying to pass my foreign language proficiency test that I would take my French language materials to the skating rink so my boys could skate while I studied French. There too, I wish I had taken the time to enjoy my boys, as the studying did not help!
Here's what I "know" of French after many years of study: Je ne sais pas. Which means, "I do not know." Which was the only thing I could reply to my French professor when she called on me.
In Tswana, it is, "Ga ke itse." :-)
I know a bit more in Tswana, but not much. Enter Israel.
Since I am a dinosaur in age, it take me a lot of time to study a foreign language. Lots, lots, and lots of time. Because I am more aware of my learning style and have somewhat grown accustomed to my new life in Africa, I can see that with our training schedule, and the fact that we engaged in several extra-curricular activities, (not to mention food shopping, laundry, etc.,) that there was simply not enough time in that six-week period for me to adequately study a foreign language.
Today, I average about two hours a day of study time just on the Tswana language. But it is still painfully slow-going for me.
Peace Corps provides us with funds for a language tutor. A wonderful woman at the college helped me find one. Israel is a wonderful and patient young man who helps me with my Tswana. I'm getting the grammar down, and even kind of like it because it feels like working a puzzle. But I still can't get my mouth to cooperate with the new sounds. It refuses to budge.
This refusal of my mouth to attempt these new sounds gives Israel many, many moments of entertainment. I appreciate his help and his patience.
He somewhat reminds me of my oldest son in that his smile is infrequent, but beautiful when displayed. He also wears same style of shoes that Christopher likes (the skate boarding kind) and both boys seem gentle in spirit. He even shares the same gait as my son.
I've spoken before about how clean my house becomes if something is troubling me. There is another time my house becomes clean: when I should be studying or writing. I find both tasks difficult and become keenly aware of dust on the baseboards when trying to study or write. They seem so dirty in fact, that I leave my work desk to go scrub them. I can't say that my house is particularly clean right now because I've been studying, but I do notice the monumental effort it takes to put my bottom in the chair every day to do it. And I do try to study every day, trying to coax this stubborn brain to learn new tricks.
In the past I worked for a wonderful learning center in Louisville, teaching various learning techniques, but we dealt primarily with teaching children to read. What I became keenly aware of in their learning was how monumental the effort was for the children to wrap their minds around language acquisition skills (which is what teaching children to read is). At times, the students would work so hard, I waited for the smoke to seep out of their ears. It was as though I could see their little brain wheels turning. Now I know (or remember), how hard it is to study/learn a foreign language.
But I'll keep trying and hope for the day when I can say, "It is hot today" without making a Tswana man wince.
Soon, Karen/Molebogeng

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