It was finally time for our long overdue language test. Over a month or so ago we had arranged for this language test, but bad weather meant the helicopter couldn’t get in. This time around we had miserable weather again, but it opened up just enough for the helicopter to get in. The next 2 days were intense for our language consultants as they met with us and took us through our paces in language evaluations.

My test took about 3 hours. First, I was asked to translate some short sentences.
“The boy who worked the hardest didn’t get paid” was one that tripped me up, Kovol doesn’t have superlatives!
Moving on from grammar I had to explain the kind of coffee that is made from cat poo. I spoke for 6 minutes and it came back flawlessly, every detail was understood and given back in Tok Pisin.

being tested

Next, I had to explain the origin of this coffee. Dutch plantation owners had banned the Indonesian workers from trying the coffee beans, but curious about what it tasted like, the workers found beans in the droppings and made coffee. The coffee turned out to taste even better and it became a thing.
I explained this, but what came back was that because the cat-poo coffee was expensive there was a law that you couldn’t drink it. Who put the law there and to whom it applied was fuzzy. I tried to explain it again, but the Kovol people couldn’t get past the preconceived idea that the expensive coffee was forbidden.
I had attempted to set the stage that the story was long ago and that I was explaining how the coffee started, but this didn’t seem to come across. This is showing that I still have a little work to do. What I was talking about came across, but why I was saying it and how it related to the first story didn’t!

A high level of language is required of us because the easiest thing to do is to teach the Bible and have all the lessons communicate at the sentence level, but that higher level of where and how it all fits together can be lacking. That would result in people hearing the lessons, talking correctly about the content of the lessons, but not actually getting what the lesson was about! We need to be able to anticipate and nip in the bud potential misunderstandings, so I still have work to do!

My vocabulary was right, my sentences were mostly right, but the big idea didn’t come across. I had attempted to be very clear saying that this 2nd story happened long ago, 1800, so 200 years ago since this is now 2023. Yet that didn’t set the stage in the way I expected that we were talking about a time before the cat-poo coffee became expensive and desirable.
I communicated well, but that last piece is still needed and is necessary to make sure that our Bible teaching communicates as a whole and not as a series of loosely connected stories with a few moral imperatives thrown in.
So I scored Capable Mid, leaving me with just one more level to achieve. Our next test will be scheduled for 6 months time, and I’m hoping that will be the time I achieve the coveted Capable High level of speaking ability.

While disappointing not to jump up 2 levels and finish my language study, in a way it doesn’t matter. If I had communicated at a capable high level the consultants would have marked me at capable mid regardless because our team’s culture paper isn’t finished yet. I’ve been grinding away at it at a hectic pace, but there’s still 6-9 months of work to do to finish our culture file. Hopefully then the timing works out that just as my speaking ability hits capable high our team’s reports and write-ups are also nearing completion.

I’m close, and that’s encouraging!

Gerdine was also tested and needed to tell the story about a recent death in the community and the funeral that took place at the weekend. She has shown improvement, but just not enough to go up a level, meaning that she’s still at Progressing low level. She’s disappointed, but also not surprised. She only gets a couple of hours a week for language study, busy as she is home schooling a five year old while simultaneously caring for two 2 year olds! I’m proud that she’s sticking at the language study regardless and is making progress.

The advice then is to carry on as we have been. Keep going, keep studying the culture, paying attention to language and grammar as we do and we’ll make the progress we need to make.

Language evaluations are absolutely exhausting, so it’s time now for our Christmas break 🙂 We’re remaining in Kovol till our next break late Feb, but we can take a week long staycation to enjoy time with our kids and sleep! We’re hoping to go down to the river on a hot day and dam it up to make a swimming hole — you know normal tropical Christmas activities!

Oscar at school


Lois S. · 22/12/2023 at 12:54 am

So thankful for your progress. Hope the language and culture write-ups will progress well. It is interesting to hear you say that you can get things right on the sentence level, but not on the comprehension of the big picture level. That is how I feel about my Spanish comprehension. I feel like I can understand many words and even sentences, but can’t put them together in my mind into a meaning, especially as they continue to flow in.

Mandy Caley · 22/12/2023 at 2:45 am

You set very high standards for yourselves but you are still progressing:)

molehannah · 23/12/2023 at 10:15 pm

The big picture stuff is so interesting. If someone is recounting a conversation to me here in Uganda, I can often tell which language it was originally in, based on how it is translated. It’s that weird intersection of language and culture!

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