In the last five years, I have had the privilege to teach children. My students have come from many different cultures and therefore, have come with different languages than English. They have been in different stages in the process of learning English. One thing this Malawi adventure has done with me is, it has shown me a new perspective. It has shown me and will continue to show me what it’s like to step into a different culture than my own. I do hope to learn Chichewa in the course of my time here.
I now understand what it’s like to be in the process of learning a new language. All that is unfamiliar surrounds me. Therefore, all that is uncomfortable. After going to some Chichewa services at church here…I have the frustrating feeling that if it’s ALL in Chichewa, why should I go?! I cannot understand all but a few words here and there. I feel excluded. I know I am the visitor here. I do all in my power to listen intently to all that people say. I can’t tell when one word ends and another word starts, it sounds like long words with brief moments to breathe here and there. Nevertheless, it just gets very tiring. I walk away drained of energy. I now understand why my students might not pay attention during class, avoid participating, or just misbehave. I find myself paying attention for the first hour, following closely to each word, but then I loose patience and interest and stop paying attention..I read other parts of the bible..write down my to-do list..or just stare into space and zone out.
The more Chichewa that I learn, the more confident I feel. People I meet are both encouraging and at other times, discouraging as well. I have heard that I am learning the language very quickly and they express that they are so impressed. They say things like, “You sound like a Malawian!” On the other hand, it seems many tell me “Chichewa is a very easy language, so easy to learn, you will know it soon!” Then I feel pressure to study up even more.
From now on, I will have more patience. As I speak to my students, I will talk slower, review new vocabulary way more often, and provide more encouragement when the struggle increases. I will know that learning a new language takes time and persistence.
As I learn Chichewa, I will continue to persevere.