So. Many. Languages.

Today’s adventure in teaching included me, a smartboard, and the story of Cinderella which I partly stole from the internet and then mostly rewrote myself. I didn’t really like any of the options that I found, and I tried to change the wording so that the kids would actually understand the story. I was hoping that some of them would know it already because we’re working on practicing visualization. It is so hard to teach people how to do something that you now just automatically do in your brain! For those of you unfamiliar with the official English teacher terminology, visualization is when you read something and make mental pictures to go along with what you’re reading.

“The little girl stopped to pick the wildflowers that grew by the side of the road.” I’ll start you off with a good one.

We’ve been working on this for a few days now. I tried to explain it to the kids as “making a movie in your brain”, and I got the “you’re insane” blank stare/eye blinks from most of them. They had homework last night to draw pictures to go along with some sentences I gave them, so that’s the artwork you’re enjoying in this post. Some of them were awesomely well done, and some of them were just awesome for other reasons… hehehe. I was laugh-crying in the staff room as I graded a few of them. I know that’s not very nice, and I shouldn’t be laughing at the artistic skills of my kids, but please, just give me this. I need something to get me through the day.

Anyway, today was Cinderella, our first attempt at visualizing something longer than a sentence. To help you visualize class, just imagine me solo-acting the entire story of Cinderella. I was Cinderella. I was the fairy godmother, explaining to the class what a “wand” is. I was ugly stepsister #1 AND ugly stepsister #2. I was the prince. In my opinion, I gave a very compelling performance. The kids even laughed at me at some points which I see as a positive because it means that they were paying attention (also, this is a total sidetrack BUT… I was thinking today about how much I don’t care if they think I’m ridiculous because I’m twice their age. And then I realized that I literally am TWICE the age of some of them. You know what though? I think that’s kind of awesome).

“The crowded street was filled with people, cars, and motorcycles.” Id like to draw your attention to the people who are face planted in the top two streets.

I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I felt okay about how things went. When something happened in the story, I asked how they thought certain characters felt about that thing. That’s an area where they were really struggling a couple weeks ago. To be able to understand how a character feels, you need to have a decent understanding of what’s happening in the story and who the characters are. That means that you need to see it as more than just words. It needs to be a story that feels somewhat real, and the characters need to be people/creatures with thoughts and hopes and feelings.

Anyway, who really knows? All I can do is try my best and hope that something sticks.

“The two friends walked through the scary forest in the middle of the night.” Check out the ghosts in this one.

Also, I was thinking about it and I realized that with as much as I complain to you about the kids and their English skills, I need to make something clear. Yes, some of them stink at English, but they, in general, are still way more linguistically accomplished than I’ll ever be. Most of the people here are amazing, in my opinion, when it comes to languages. My favorite question to ask people is how many languages they speak. In India, there are SO MANY, and the people I’ve met generally know at least three pretty well. The states all have different languages (and more… there are over 100 languages spoken in India and over 1500 dialects), the two national languages are Hindi and English, and in Jaigaon, there are so many countries close by that it helps to know some of their languages too.

More scary forest!

So for example, here, it would be normal for someone to speak Bengali (the state language), Hindi, and English at the very least. Then, many people also know at least some Nepali because that’s very prominent here. After that, they might know a few more. Most people I ask know somewhere from 3-6. They usually say that they know three or four well and the other 1-3 aren’t great but they can get by.

This one… facepalm. My sentence literally said “in the middle of the night”. That is definitely a sun. A HUGE sun.

Want to guess how many Pastor Daniel can speak? Ten. That’s including Korean though, and he said that he’s not fluent. Ha. He’s in the process of learning #11, one of the major languages of Bhutan (Dzongkha). Ready for what I think is one of the craziest things? The church service here is advertised as “Hindi and Nepali”. After weeks of wondering and since I can’t tell the difference, I asked Ruth how it can be both. She said that the songs are a mix, usually the scripture and prayers are in Hindi (but maybe Nepali if that’s what the person is more comfortable with), and when Pastor Daniel preaches, HE USES BOTH. For the entire sermon, he’s translating for himself! Am I the only one who thinks that’s insane?? Ruth said that he’s so used to it now that he doesn’t even need to think about it. That’s crazy!!!

This girl is my hero. How beautiful is this???!!! I gave her a 6/5. She deserved like a 10/5.

She. Is. Amazing. I love this. I love it!!!

Oh! Another thing… Ruth and Pastor Daniel grew up in different states which means that their families and the languages they grew up speaking are different. Okay, that’s not SO crazy, BUT… then they moved here and had kids, and their kids don’t know the languages that either of them grew up with because no one speaks them here. Let me try to create an incredibly simplified semi-equivalent for you. I speak English and some Spanish. Imagine that I marry someone who speaks French as his first language and also some Spanish. Then, he and I only speak in Spanish to each other because that’s the only way we can communicate. When we have kids, they learn Spanish, and they also learn German and Italian because a bunch of people who live near us speak those languages. We don’t bother teaching them English or French because no one around speaks either of those except for us. One difference between my attempted equivalent situation and the actual one is that many of the languages have different alphabets too, whereas all the ones I listed use the same one. So there’s another level of complexity to add on.

Anyway, everyone here is so nonchalant about languages. “Well, I know three fluently and can read and write too. I am okay with three more, but I’m not completely fluent yet. Oh, and there are two others that I can understand but can’t speak. What about you?”

That’s when I lie, and imaginary Lara is completely fluent in English and Spanish and at least 50% fluent in Armenian. Actual Lara is fluent in English, a generous 50% in Spanish, and an extra generous 2% in Armenian (but I can read it, so we’ll bump me up to 3%). And everyone THINKS that I can speak Nepali, so that must count for something, right?

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2 thoughts on “So. Many. Languages.

  1. Ed Kaiserian says:

    Hilarious post. I know, why am i just commenting now. Mom showed me the artwork days ago but I just read this to the end. The language situation and various levels of fluency are incomprehensible at home. In countries surrounded by other languages it is so natural to switch between languages to communicate. Imagine if the US had 26 different languages over the 50 states. You did a nice job capturing the complexity. I understand it better than I did when I was in India because it all sounded the same to me at the time. I could not discern the difference between Telugu and Hindi and Kannad. Fascinating. Thanks for your posts and insights

    Like

    • larakai says:

      Haha they all sound the same to me too. I’m sure that I could tell the difference, but I would need someone to spend a week or two following me around and telling me what language was being used every time I heard someone speak. You’re right though, from the US perspective especially, the language situation is definitely incomprehensible!

      Like

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