a sabbath rest, day -5
We had our Nepali lesson Saturday, and our teacher had us listen to a newscast on YouTube.
I had no idea what they were talking about, at least not from what they said. Sure I knew a few words, maybe a pronoun or two. But I couldn’t tell what they were talking about. (I do know the word for about, by the way—kobarremaa.)
It was confusing. The newscaster was interviewing a guy and held up a book, so I assumed they were talking about the guy’s book. But I never heard the word book. It turns out there is another word for book besides the one I knew.
But even if they had used the word I knew I wouldn’t have recognized it, since the interviewer spoke as rapidly as Groucho Marx or Robin Williams on a roll. In a language, I don’t know. Actually, I should have picked up on the topic because our teacher pointed out they used a word I knew: raajniti, or politics. But what’s three syllables you know in a torrent of ones you don’t?
I have to say it was disheartening, after spending so much time and money on private lessons. The year was 2020, however, and I had a few complications, like Covid-19. But as soon as our visas come through we’ll be off, possibly within a month. And I felt very unready.
I’m adjusting my expectations. I never expected to become fluent in the 9 months we’ve been working at it, or even in the 5 months we plan to be there. And I suppose there is some value to conscious incompetence as opposed to false confidence. But at this point, I’ll be happy if I can have a slow conversation with a very patient Nepali by the time we get back. Fluency will probably take a few more trips than I’d planned.
Fortunately, I do know how to say “please say that again slowly.” I even know the order to say it: “again slowly say please; pheri bistaari bhanus.” But I couldn’t write it, since I haven’t even started learning the alphabet.
So, here are the new and improved goals:
- Be able to tell what a conversation is about, even when I’m not part of it.
- Be able to read and pronounce Nepali words, even if I don’t know what they mean.
- Be able to talk about weather, health, food and money with Nepali friends who are willing to speak very slowly.
- Know two or more words for “book.”
- Offer a prayer or benediction in Nepali, even if I write it out beforehand.
- Plan another trip, so I get better at it.
And here is my plan to meet the goals:
- Review all my vocabulary words before we go. Many times.
- List in one place and review all the structure rules I’ve learned, like how to combine sentences. (Who needs a subordinating conjunction when all you have to do it is add another two or three syllables to, between or instead of the conjugation you’ve already learned?)
- List and review all the idioms we’ve learned.
- Find a tutor when we get there to work on the alphabet and reading.
- Continue lessons when we return.
Nepali is a complex language, with verb and noun endings that account for function, status, tense, gender and more.But I know how to ask where the bathroom is.
It’s a start.
This is a series about an upcoming academic sabbatical in Nepal. It begins here: https://blog.thedaysman.com/2020/11/20/a-sabbath-rest-day-41/
Share your own stories about learning a new language in the comments below. Tips and encouragement welcome.