Right now I’m at a stage of the language learning process where there is a lot of computer processing and report writing. Our team is working together to produce a Grammatical write-up of the Kovol language. This week I finished making changes to our phonemic write-up (picking the Kovol alphabet) and sent that off again to consultants – hopefully for the last time and we’ll get an approved orthography to use.
There’s also the focused work on working through our cultural summaries. After finishing 3-5 National and global friends where I learned that people always phone ahead and check with their friends in town if it’s ok to stay or not (I always thought they just turned up!). I’ve now started on 4-1 Music and musical instruments. In interviews, I’ve been hearing about how the traditional wooden drums were made (no longer) and the switch to playing guitar.
It’s a bit of a continual treadmill coming up with interview questions, doing each interview 3 times over and then filing and transcribing the results and writing the summary.
I’ve been looking back and feeling that my own language learning has gone too deeply into report writing and just “getting the data”. My focus on churning out the summaries and interviews has meant that I haven’t really had time for focused speaking practice.
Recently I’ve been feeling that I need to slow down and balance my language learning better. I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing.
A great example I can use is an interview I did about musical instruments. I asked, “How does someone learn to play the guitar?”. The answer I understood was “We don’t really learn. We just pick one up and play it until we can play it properly”. I’ve understood enough to get the answer to my question, but I don’t understand the sentences used to say that. So I took the time to replay the answer to that question and to check my transcription of it.
It turns out I had understood entirely correctly, and my transcription was mostly accurate… but even after getting into it word by word, I still don’t understand it! How is that possible? Well, I recognise the vocabulary and the verbs – hitting (that’s playing guitar) hooyom heleb igu (that’s getting knowledge) and that’s more than enough to get the idea – but the exact links feel like a word salad. I’ll give the first sentence and the direct English translation:
hum endet wondob wi oguwa ila oom mohis singu halugut oboob wondob heb igwoo oo hooyom heleb igu
hum (nothing) endet (like that) wondob (hit) wi (finish) oguwa (to be) ila (go up) oom (next) mohis (man) singu (just) halugut (guitar) oboob (get) wondob (hit) heb (look) igwoo (to be) oo (long time) hooyom (knowledge) heleb (become) igu (to be)
I feel like I’ve been taking the gist of the interview answers but not digging into them to learn to communicate that idea myself. Now after digging in, I’m… frustrated. It’s a word salad! I could communicate the idea myself, but I’d do it in a very different way. I would say something like “a man wants to play the guitar, he gets a guitar and hits it”. The problem is: it’s a little basic, isn’t it?
I’m hoping to slow down and look at things like this to gradually build up to saying complex sentences like this one more naturally than it sounds when I use two or three independent sentences loosely held together by context.
Along with thinking that I want to focus less on getting reports churned out is that I want to get out and about more. I’ve settled into a routine where it’s rare for me to leave our immediate village at all! There’s so much to do and there are always people who come to see us whom we can talk to and learn from. I want to get out on the trails more and see more of what people are up to out in their gardens.
With these thoughts in my mind, we welcomed some visitors. Nate is a missionary in the people group neighbouring us. One of his sons is graduating and leaving PNG soon and he brought his son and 2 other teens for a big hiking trip they’ve wanted to do for a while. Starting in Kovol they would hike to their tribe (a full day’s hike) and then hike on to Kuyu (a New Tribes team who moved moved in this year another day’s hike away).
It was a great excuse to get out so Rhett and I escorted them on their hike to a Kovol village an hour and a half away. I’d say we acted as guides, but Rhett and I picked the wrong trail twice and the real guides, the Kovol people with us, guided us 🙂
It felt really refreshing to be out and to feel the legs and lungs burning. We were making small talk on the road and trying out language things with our friends.
I was practising with “because”:
“Yesterday I didn’t like Rhett, but today I like him because he gave me some food.”
“Only the old men are sitting down.” Well that one didn’t work, I tried the word “singu” which I have in my head as meaning “just”, but; it turns out it attaches to verbs, not nouns. I need to use the word “his” for fruit instead.
“The old men fruit are sitting down”. It seems to make sense in Kovol 😀
I’ve been feeling a bit dissatisfied then this week, feeling I’d like to make some changes for the upcoming months that will be healthy. Thinking through the feelings I wondered If I was homesick. Would life be better at home? Thinking through things I discovered that no, I don’t want to go home. I like life here and I don’t want to trade the difficulties of life here for the difficulties (and things that are better and easier too!) of life at home. I’ve not talked to Oscar at all about any of this, and yet one morning he woke up in tears because of a nightmare. He dreamt the Stous kids were leaving Kovol and that made him really sad. I think we’re all well settled and happy here with our own little home, Oscar with his friends close by (and daily playing in our house) and Alice and Millie showing off to everyone how well they can babble.