Language learning is one of the most mentally tiring things I know of, this is now the third foreign language I’m working on so I know what it’s like, but the difference now is that it’s my full-time uninterrupted job. For Dutch and Tok Pisin there were other things to do, spreading the focusing on language out over the day. Here our full time, the sole focus is the Kovol language and so we’re working hard so I can get 8 hours a day of language time in and Gerdine 2-4 hours in between all the demands of being a mother to a toddler.

Gerdine juggling language learning and toddler

Having recently been flown out of the tribe for dental care we’re reminded that our time here is limited. We hope we can serve here for 10-15 years, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to go that long, circumstances could conspire against us and mean we can’t stay; and even if we do get to stay that long there’s so much to do there’s no time to waste! We sat down to dinner one evening expecting to carry on the next day, and instead, we were on a helicopter on our way back to Goroka for a tooth extraction. We’re glad to be back in, but the 2 weeks out in Goroka has given us a sense of urgency to do the work God has brought us here to do.

The views of the misty mountains

Hence we’re fighting to get our language learning hours in, resisting distractions and trying to be smart with the chores we need to do (which often take longer without all the western conveniences we’re used to).

Yep, that part of the banana has a special name

Those language learning hours make us tired though! It only takes ONE language learning day to go from excited, energised and ready to push to exhausted! I’m writing on Tuesday evening. Sunday I crashed, napped for most of the afternoon and spent a whole day inside vegging out (after having a little worship service with our team), last night I turned to Gerdine and said: “That was a great rest, I’m ready for language learning again”. Monday morning I was fresh and ready, Monday evening I crashed into bed at 9 pm, and then this morning it was pure will power to get out of bed and get on with language study again! I’m amazed how quickly I go from looking forward to a day of language to dreading it! 😀

Visitors brought us a local delicacy… Gerdine ate some, I did not!

As I said the image of a marathon was used a lot in training, by which I expected a long, gradual slog – but I didn’t expect to hit a wall a single day into language learning! Haha! I might sound discouraged, I’m not, right now I’m pretty amused by it! Looks like bed at 9 pm up at 6:30 am is going to be an ongoing pattern!

The word for mud is sticking pretty well as we get to use it so often!

I contacted a PNG missionary further down the language learning road then I am. I thought that the tiredness is probably just a basic level thing; everything is so new and we’re trying to learn 20 new words, 5 phrases and experience a culture event each day. It’s just this stage I thought, so I asked if it got better. Here’s his response:

My experience is that language learning is super exhausting always. If it helps, the exhaustion is sometimes superseded by intense feelings of failure.

Anonymous PNG missionary

Haha! Must be gallows humour we missionaries have going on 🙂 Well it’s the first half-mile of the marathon so it’s certainly too early to throw in the towel yet! On the plus side I’m finding that though it is a huge act of will power to get out the door, into the rain to hike into the village to find someone to have a language session with – it’s generally fun and rewarding when you get out and do it. At this stage the progress is also encouraging as my understanding grows seemingly exponentially, I start hearing the words I’m learning in conversation and can start tracking what the conversation is about a little bit.

I played a fun game of put the peanut in various places yesterday. I know the word for peanut (pavasil ene) and the word for bag (obo) so I had a go at putting the peanut on, under, in, close to and far away from the bag to see what happened. It was pretty fun. I got a bit carried away though and went for “Philip’s house is between my house and the shelter”, at which point the sentence went over my head! :p

The peanut is under the bag – pavasil ene obo ibu pogim

Pray for us as we keep pushing, that we’d be wise in making the most of our time, but also not driving ourselves too hard! Right now we’re in high spirits, so that’s good!


Leave a Reply