Jump: Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday

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.


13 thoughts on “Jump: Five Minute Friday

  1. Dear Elizabeth
    Just tonight my husband, my son, myself and an English friend had a discussion about how language can never be separated from culture. I am Afrikaans speaking and I told our friend that even if he could speak my language, he was not able to experience its heart; that gut feeling! He agreed wholeheartedly.

    • Yes Mia! It’s much more helpful to think of langua-cultural worlds even than language because language isn’t just the tool of a culture but is in large part the maker, shaper and refiner of a culture. For instance, my American self can’t help but view cancer as the enemy (all sickness, really)…and in American English, we battle, fight against, surrender to, etc. when we are dealing with cancer. Those words don’t just describe how I see cancer, they shape my view. In my time learning another language in the Horn of Africa, I discovered that we don’t all think alike! Language is fascinating! Probably one of my favorite parts of having this gift of life. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wow, so many languages…Elizabeth, that’s amazing! I only speak English and Spanish, although at work I’m trying to learn enough Mandarin words to get by. Ugh! Language is hard for me. Your writing is just so amazing and draws me in…so thankful to have met you through FMF 🙂

    • Thank you for stopping by Jacque! Your story kept me up past bedtime but I was captivated by the strong theme of redemption in brokenness and couldn’t stop reading. I’m glad to have met you too and I’ll be back!

  3. Hi Elizabeth. I love the way your heart and passion was to enter into into the lives of others as part of teaching language. Your approach resonates with my spirit. I am sure as we “teach” our children, love our family and friends more change and Life is affected as we embrace that concept of “we” and really enter into its reality. Thank you for that reminder.

    • Thank you Heather. It’s true that any way of teaching and learning can be seen through the lenses of growing participation and be better for it. As you participate in the grand story of the world and nurture your children in their roles, may you be blessed!

  4. Beautifully written – I felt a part of this story! I also related to that love of language. I always tell my kids their mama is a “word girl.” I’ll often point out how words sound or how they go together. It’s become something special between us.

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