This weekend we were looking forward to our next language evaluation. Language learning consultants would put us through our paces to measure our communication ability and tell us what level we’re communicating at. Once we reach capable high, the 9th level, we reach the level required to move from our language learning tasks to the next stages. There will be some reports to write, and then it’s on to getting ready to teach Kovol literacy and starting work on Bible translation and lesson preparation.

I say looking forward to, as much as you can look forward to an upcoming exam; there’s also some tension! You hope that you won’t wake up on test day to have an absolute train wreck of a day language-wise — that does happen! I’m not actually sure if my language ability varies from day to day or if it’s just my perception of my language ability that varies, but some days go better than others!

Natalie tells a story

Unfortunately, however, just as the helicopter was approaching on Friday, clouds came over and covered our ridge top meaning the helicopter was unable to land. We heard it circling around looking for a way in, but it never found one. It had to return to Goroka and our language evaluation was cancelled. We don’t have a new date lined up yet, but whenever it will be it will be after the Hansen family leave. They were really hoping to see if they’d gone up a level in their last 7 or so months of language study.

Philip and Natalie were scheduled to fly out of Kovol today. They’ll be hopping on an international flight on the weekend to return to Germany for the birth of their twins. I say were scheduled because once again today the helicopter was unable to come because of clouds! The decision was made earlier this time and the helicopter didn’t actually leave Goroka, it was delayed returning from another flight because of weather and it’s well known that Kovol weather goes downhill late afternoon. Sure enough the clouds lay thick over our mountain for the rest of the day.

Philip and Natalie anxiously wait for helicopter news

We get asked for weather reports whenever the helicopter comes, but things can change so quickly here. It’s a 45-minute flight from Goroka to Kovol and so our weather report is always “this is what the weather is doing now”, but whether it’s accurate 45 minutes into the future is anyone’s guess! Weather can change dramatically in 5 minutes here if a cloud decides to camp on our mountain. There have been times I thought the helicopter had no chance to get in, but it did anyway and other times it looked a certainty, but a cloud came to cover just our mountain, with everything around remaining bright and clear.

The current plan is for the flight to try again in the morning, and poor Philip and Natalie need to unpack a little and wind their children down after getting them ready to travel.
We’re going to miss the Hansen family while they are away, but I think it will be much harder for Oscar, Louis and Timon to be separated and missing their friends!

Oscar, Louis and Timon

Excitement regarding flights aside, language learning has been continuing. I’m spending my time in 3 main areas: culture study which involves asking questions in the Kovol language, working through a list of cultural areas to investigate; discourse analysis which involves charting texts and figuring out how propositions relate and paragraphs hang together; and speaking practice.

Speaking practice has become a bit more important having had to prepare for a speaking test over the weekend. I didn’t get to do the test, but thinking about it I became aware of something. I’ve been doing a lot of cultural interviews and I’m getting good at small talk, asking questions and then having conversations about the answers. I can write the questions I need in Kovol, ask them and then ask follow-up questions on the fly and understand most of the answers.

What I’m not so good at is longer form speaking. I had a go at describing how a cow is milked and cheese made and noticed how choppy my Kovol speaking is. I don’t think I’ve been spending enough time telling longer, more complex stories. I’ve been attempting to remedy that by telling Bible stories related to the cultural areas I’m investigating.

Last week I quickly took care of studying the “suicide and unnatural death” area of culture. It wasn’t a nice thing to talk about, but was something we needed to know and so I said “In my country, some people become so sad that they want to die and they cut their wrists or hang themselves. Does that happen here?” To which the answer was that they’ve heard stories — it happens in PNG, but it hasn’t happened in Kovol. The preferred method is hanging, for which they have some really expressive vocabulary! This gave me the opportunity to tell the story of Judas hanging himself after betraying Jesus. I give it my best shot, then I retell the story in Tok Pisin and ask whomever I’m with to retell the story in Kovol, which I can listen to later on and take note of how it was supposed to be done.

This week ticking off the “dreams and visions” area of culture had me asking questions like “If someone dreams about catching a pig, and they wake up, will they then catch a pig? Did they dream a true thing?” To which the response was “They’ll go hunting and if they catch something it was a true dream, and if not it was an empty dream”. In general, it seems it’s thought that dreams can have meaning to them, but you only know if it was a true dream or an “empty” dream afterwards. Something that came up asking about nightmares was that some people dream about their own death, and from that point on they are terrified that they are on the road to death, and shortly afterwards these people die. If you had a friend who thought that and you wanted to comfort them, what would I say I asked? “We’d say that it was just an empty dream”.

Alice poses like an Ewok

With dreams in mind, I tried to tell the story about Joseph interpreting the prisoner’s dreams in Gen 40, which came across well, but it seemed to be more because the story was familiar. When I told the story about Samaria being besieged in 2 Kings 6 and Elisha prophesying that the captain of the guard would see the food that comes but not eat it, I managed to convey the whole army surrounding the city, famine, the army running away and lots of food coming part. But the part about Elisha talking to the guard and how what he said came true didn’t come across… which is disappointing because that was supposed to be the main part! I guess I need to work more on my discourse analysis to figure out how to use theme and background information better so I’ll know how to keep the main point as the main point when it’s a long involved story.

I’m enjoying the new storytelling challenge I’ve set myself. I’m hoping I’ll improve a lot. I’ve already learned that asking “Did I say it right?” invites the response “Yes, of course you did”, but better questions like “What did Elisha say to the guard” reveal the things that aren’t coming across 😀 It’s a good thing I’ve become good at asking interview questions in Kovol, so now I can really find out how messy the stories I tell are 😀

Here are some kittens

1 Comment

Lois S. · 09/11/2023 at 12:55 am

Sorry the evaluation didn’t take place as scheduled! That is especially hard for Natalie and Philip, who would have liked to have their progress quantified. Thanks for the picture of Louis and Timon! It is great to hear about your progress in the Kovol language!

Leave a Reply