Saturday, September 11, 2010
Those of you who know me well know I have a great deal of patience with friends, loved ones, clients etc. but when it comes to me doing things for myself, I have very little.
I like to get to the point, get the job done, and move along forward. I understand things take time to develop and am good at setting time-lines. Understandably, there will be the occasional glitch and I know how to roll with it as that's all part of the process.
Nonetheless, if things go slowly because of inefficiency, I have difficulty waiting when there can be another way to get the job done. I know if I really want to get better at whatever I undertake, it behooves me to be with others who are superior in that particular thing. I prefer to be challenged than to be the "leader" of less knowledgeable folks. Please don't misconstrue this, as I also enjoy teaching and imparting information to those who are wanting to learn, but if I'm in the "learner" seat, I need to look up!
Hence my frustration with the Flemish language class. For a 3 hour class I feel like I am getting 15 minutes of information. I sat through a week worth of this and then decided to speak to the instructor. I voiced my thoughts to her and asked if there was another class I might be better suited for. She understood my frustration and asked me to try the next level although I would have to take a test. "why not?" I thought. "I have nothing to lose". If it's way above my head, I will happily slog it out in the other and just do a lot more study on my own etc.
The next morning with a bit of excitement, I set off for school. Oh great, a whole new group of foreigners, but at least these folks have been doing this a while and have a better grasp of the language. The instructor handed me the exam, explained a few things (in Flemish) and sat me down. Gulp, it was not easy and with my VERY limited vocabulary and grammar, I had to wing it. Fortunately I expected it to be difficult so I was not surprised. I did the best I could, turned the pages over after finishing them and looked at the instructor. She told me the oral exam would occur at the break. Oh I can't wait!
She then asked me to join the class already in progress. I took a seat and jumped into the mix. They were working on conjugating past tense verbs and creating sentences and answering questions. This was my first introduction to the past tense and was thrilled that I could easily disseminate the information and see the patterns being used. Of course I did not know most of the verbs but quickly jotted them down as they were revealed! Hey this is fun!The instructor called on me just like everyone else and I seemed to be able to be in the mix.
By my interaction, the teacher was able to access my level and we spoke at the break. I explained my situation again and she decided to ask if I could attend both levels. GREAT. This will insure I cover the basics 4x per week as well as get an accelerated course 2x per week. Oh how I like having that plate a bit fuller.
However, with all this I do have one thing though that is troubling. This of course, is pronunciation. hmmmm, there are just some sounds that we don't have in English. Not only that we don't have them, we are SPECIFICALLY taught NOT to say them. I recall my folks and grandparents giving scornful looks when us kids would do spitting sounds, guttural noises or any other "improper" non English sounding sounds. These were categorized up there with farting and burping. Ha Ha Ha, what a 360 degree turn. NOW I HAVE TO USE THEM!!! Wait a minute, I spent 49 years avoiding these sounds so trying to recreate them now is no easy job. Finding the right tongue/teeth placement is sort of a type of face calisthenics. It is definitely challenging and certainly not ingrained in the muscle memory yet. Awkward!
I will admit this clip hits home.
Thank God, I learned a long time ago the importance of having a sense of humor as when I attempt to speak to Mr "X" in Flemish my pronunciation often causes him to burst into laughter. At first, I was embarrassed then quickly start laughing too and now I just say "I waaant to buy a Danburrrrrger".
Monday, September 6, 2010
As September rolls in, the end of summer becomes apparent. In Belgium schools start on Sept 1st, businesses that were closed for the summer break, reopen and community services and education restarts. Therefore, my Language course at the community service building commenced.
Although I have been dabbling in Flemish AKA Vlaams or Nederlands, I am by no means able to communicate beyond the basics and have even come up with a new dialect I call Flengels. This is a mish mash of Flemish/English words and phrases that the kids and I speak to each other. It seems to work and with the help of a few hand signals and facial expressions we, for the most part, are able to communicate.
However it is now time for a "formal" education. My inability to communicate with the locals in their tongue is a bit frustrating. I can follow along for a while, then oops I am lost...I know it is a matter of time and effort so I will plug away.
I sat for my first class last week. The classes are held at the local community center. They meet 4x per week for 3 hours for 11 weeks. All this for 60 euro.
My particular group consists of between 10-15 folks depending on who shows up. Given this, you can imagine the various levels of learning.
Our instructor was born in Hong Kong to a Chinese father and Belgian mother. Her native languages are Nederlands and English although also speaks French and Italian. And NO, she does not speak Chinese!! She tries to conduct the class as much as possible in Vlaams but given the remedial level has to communicate in some other language for comprehension. This language is English. I was amazed that most (with the exception of a couple of Turks and a man from Azerbaijan), people know English. Yet for the few that don't, she uses Google translate to convey the meaning of a word.
My classmates are an interesting lot. I by far am the oldest and (of course) am the only American. There are 3 Turks, 1 Azerbaijani, 2 Sri Lankans, 1 Indian, 1 Pakistani, 2 Slovakians, 1 Romanian, 1 Bangladeshi, 1 Tibetan, 1 Afghani,1 Congolese, 1 Iraqi and myself (the American). Strange but wonderful mix!
The first few classes focused on common phrases and information gathering and is always a good way to break the ice and see how everyone learns and responds. Overall, I find it a bit slow but know as we progress I will have plenty of challenges. However I am trying to see the positiveness of this experience and today it was CLEAR.
As I took my seat before class started, I asked the young Afghani sitting beside me who appears to be in his early 20's, why he came to Belgium. I knew from the previous class that he is here without family so I was curious. He said he HAD to. "Had to?", I asked. "Yes, I had to leave for political reasons." "Oh" , I said. "Asylum?" "Yes, sort of" and then he came closer and whispered "they were going to kill me. Not the government but the Taliban. they were out to kill me. I had to leave."
GULP, My heart instantly sank. This is the REAL DEAL. I didn't know what to say. I came here by CHOICE to start a new chapter in my life, he comes here by choice to be able to stay alive. He left his family and does not know when he will ever see them again. Once again, I have been humbled.
During our break, I was curious and asked the Tibetan woman, how long she was here and why? She also is awaiting Asylum status. she left Tibet in 2005 to India and then made her way to Belgium. she's been here for 4 years and is waiting for her status...WOW, I instantly felt very fortunate.
So here we all sit, learning to speak Nederlands with various accents and for different reasons. At first, my initial reaction to the class was frustration as I know on my own, I can learn much quicker than the level of the group. And due to the diversity of languages and levels, am a bit stifled. Once again I tell myself "Patience my friend Patience." If anything, this is another great experience and I am reminded of how fortunate I am. To be born and raised in a country that allows me to think what I want, believe what I believe, and make CHOICES because I want to, not because I HAVE to is quite a gift. I am thankful.