Language learning has been a source of worry for a long time. I know that it is so important to understand the heart language of the Khmer people and be able to share with them, so I have been determined to pursue it but dreaded the process.
After a week of PILAT, my perspective is starting to change! I have made sounds and been able to recognize sounds I never thought would be possible for me to do. I was challenged by the Bible study at the beginning from 2 Corinthians where Paul talked about the discipline required to run the race, beating his body to make it his slave. Language learning DOES take a lot of hard work, persistence, endurance. But it can be fun too!
I had never thought about the fact that language learning is a human capability. I am human therefore I can learn language! A big part of this for me is confidence. I have lacked confidence in many parts of my life, and before PILAT I was looking at language learning with the same eyes. It is so cool to see how God created our mouths to form so many different kinds of sounds, and to learn how different languages use these sounds.
Being from the Midwest I have always felt that I had a neutral accent, but even just having English as my native language I now know that I will bring my own spin to Khmer. I feel like one of the important things I am learning at PILAT is how to listen carefully. I can’t always make my mouth produce exactly what I want it to right away, but I can hear the difference and with practice I can work on producing the correct sounds.
I have always loved learning in the classroom context for academic purposes and so the idea that language learning is social rather than academic is a new approach for me. I am thankful for the opportunities we have had to practice this during our first week. In our language time, I have loved learning from Trudy, the French language helper but also from the others in my group. I am so excited to get to Cambodia and have fun learning with the Khmer people around me. I know they will be interested in why I am learning Khmer and eager to help me practice.
In our first year on the field, we are supposed to focus on learning the language and the culture. Now I can see that these two things are very connected. It is helpful to think about this now, so that I can focus on listening both with my ears and with my heart. It is one thing to learn a list of vocabulary words and another to really understand what is being said and why based on the cultural context.
I would tend to head right away to grammar and structure and could probably get stuck there pretty easily. Language is structured with rules, you can’t get away with poor grammar in most places. It is important to learn the rules but I am learning to do a lot of listening and practicing pronunciation first and then I can work on grammar later. It has also been fun trying this out in our French time. I would normally want to know or the teacher would emphasize the sentence structure and word order and why it is a certain way. Instead, I am working more on listening well, learning the different methods and pronouncing things correctly. It is a different focus and the structure can come in time. All of these areas represent paradigm shifts as I prepare to learn the Khmer language.
Reflections based on the PILAT Premises of Language Learning
1. Language is a human capability
2. Language is a personal production.
3. Language is a social activity.
4. Language is a cultural expression.
5. Language is a structured system.