Today is Friday: the day of writing to write, not to edit or analyze. I write with a great group of people at Five Minute Friday. Set the timer, write what comes to mind and join the stream-of-consciousness joy!
“They told me to jump and I understood them!” she shared with a flourish peculiar to young twenty-somethings from Los Angeles, California.
Her language learning had been stalled for months. The reasons manifold, the consequences disastrous. Blocked from the lived story unfolding around her, the wall of noise barricaded her from all that she thought she would experience. Suggestions abounded and flashcards were made. Dictionaries purchased and grammars poured over. Finally, finally, we met to talk about a new way. A way of language learning that went beyond language into the story.
I hate language learning. And I love language learning. Put me in a classroom and ask me to memorize, write out verb paradigms and translate texts and you will see a caged animal. I’ve done it plenty. My undergraduate degree is in ancient languages. My graduate degree is in teaching others to learn language. I’ve studied more languages than most Westerners: Latin, French, Greek, Swahili, Aramaic, Somali, Hebrew. But that whole classroom language learning thing—that isn’t what I love. My passion, now dormant in America, is to live into a whole new story—so to enter the narrative of another people that I see what they see, live what they live and say what they would say. To enter the story unfolding around me to the degree that I am participating, to the degree that there is no “us” and “them” but instead a “we.”
That kind of language learning ceases to be language learning and starts to be a way of life. A life of participation. A life that eschews the cultural anthropologist’s close-and-distant perspective of observer and dives in to the growing participation of a new member, an unfolding member, a gently nurtured member of a story.
On that day, after months of failure, isolation and discouragement, she got it. The rains had come; the desert ground rejected them, leaving us with rivers of water to jump over to get to our bus. She left her front door as she had hundreds of times and heard, instead of that wall of noise, a simple command from neighborhood children: “Jump!” “Bod!” She was only a minor character in the story of that people; two years later she left for good. But in those moments, she lived the most precious privilege offered to those of us living far from home: she found her place in another story and understood the words well enough to live her part.