Culture events are one of the big ideas that we use as missionaries to learn language. Getting a notebook out and asking someone to list off every verb they can think of might help you learn a few verbs, but it’ll be hard to remember. If instead we experience a culture event which could be a wedding, but it’s also as small as greeting someone on the trail, or washing the dishes – our language learning has an immediate physical context.
Using language to speak about something in the abstract requires a firm grasp of a language and so as learners we want to ground our language learning in the concrete of the here and now of a culture event. We can ask “What’s that?”, “What are you doing?” and “Tell me about this” and by doing so we limit the scope of the language we’ll receive in response. Our language helper won’t be talking about this, that and everything but about the things right in front of you that you’ve just been interacting with.
If a culture event involves something physical it’s even better; our brains hold onto language better when our other senses have been involved and it’s not just abstract nouns, verbs and adjectives.
Hence to help our ITF students (young people who have come to PNG for a 6 week taster of missions) in their study of Tok Pisin we took them to the village of Bilbil.
Bilbil is a famous little PNG village. Historically they made and traded clay pots to other language groups for food,
We signed our students up for the experience, but with a twist. Our students would be using it as an opportunity to learn and practice Tok Pisin. Notebooks, cameras and voice recorders were all whipped out during the demonstration as our students tried to glean some new language. After only 2 weeks in
After the demonstration students split up to have a go themselves (only the women are allowed to try it of course!) and find people to get into
It was my 2nd time to Bilbil. I’d been before when we first arrived in PNG. It’s tempting to think of a
I had some really good discussions with students about how to ask good questions. They started noticing 2 things: 1 that no one would correct them if they misspoke the language and 2 that often people didn’t answer the question they were asked. The issue with the 2nd one was that the intent of the question was often misunderstood. A simple question like “how long does it take to make a pot?” was a minefield in that regard, since no one makes just one pot – they’re done in batches, by groups of ladies and the conception of time is fuzzier here. “It can be done in a few days” was their best answer to the how-long-does-it-take