Hello from Kivshovata!
Hi friends, hope all is well in your world, wherever you may be reading this. I’ve got a couple of free afternoon hours today, a rarity I assure you, so I want to take some time and give everyone an update from village life in Ukraine. As I said in my last blog, most of my time is devoured by language classes, teacher training, lesson planning, and then teaching lessons in the local school. It’s certainly a lot to do, and doesn’t leave me much energy for writing at the close of each day. But, luckily for me, internet is hard to come by in these parts, so I don’t have the temptation or the ability to keep do regular updates or surf aimlessly…
I do sometimes wish I could stay in touch a bit better. I’m definitely cut off from the world around me at this point and have been wholly focused to my tasks everyday. I’ve had a lot of experiences here and I wish I could share more them with you guys. There are a few homes with hardwired internet here, dial up speed, but most folks with laptops use a mobile internet modem that operates through the mobile phone network. I’ve borrowed one a couple times, but reception is spotty at best and you spend more time running around in circles trying to find a signal than you do actually online. So moving forward, I’m just going to do my writing when I can find the time, and upload it when I can find a signal. For you all on the receiving end, I know this may result in a feast or famine flow in info. But please bear with me if you can for these first couple months, and when I get to my permanent site in the middle of December I should be able to work out the kinks…
“Language is a dark forest”
This is what my host mother, Ahola, said to me one evening as we were sitting in our living room together. I was working on a lesson plan for the upcoming week and she was watching TV (a Russian variation on CSI) and looking over my shoulder at regular intervals. She said it in reference to the English language in the midst of a conversation about the difficulties we, the American trainees here, face in trying to teach English to students with whom we can barely communicate. Ahola doesn’t speak a word of English mind you, so I’m using the term ‘conversation’ lightly, and it should bring to mind an image of charades crossed with my mutilated Ukrainian and heavy dictionary use.
But beside that, or including it really, I still think it’s a very relevant statement regarding language in general. You begin learning a language the same way you would begin a stroll into an unknown wood. Walking almost passively at first, exploring a little but still keeping your bearings, you slowly begin to delve deeper and deeper. You’re interested and fascinated at points but can easily let your mind and feet wander at the same time. And that’s when trouble strikes. All of a sudden you snap back into reality, look around you, and realize that you have no idea where the hell you are. The reference points that you thought were just behind you are no where to be seen. What felt like a defined trail at one point now looks like a spider web of unknown paths when you look back. Direction is lost. Relevance is lost. And panic can begin to set in as you, yourself are lost.
Everyone who spends some time learning a new language has ‘lost’ moments like these. Maybe I’m just a bit biased, but you may find a few more of these moments when you’re learning a language that has at least six (oh yes, count them six) different verbs meaning ‘to go’ (to go by foot, to go by foot regularly, to go by vehicle, to go by vehicle regularly, to go out, to go to bed… and those are just the ones we’ve learned! And don’t forget that they all sound similar and are conjugated irregularly…). But I digress. Language, and the way the human mind learns language, is incredibly complex, but equally fascinating.
I suppose it’s a positive thing that I’m very interested in language acquisition, because in one way or another every waking moment I’ve had for the past month (plus a few days, but whose counting) has revolved around language formation. Realistically, even my sleeping moments involve language acquisition because sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a random Ukrainian word or phrase on the tip of my tongue, without a clue of they mean until I turn on the light and look them up real quick. Interestingly enough, they’re usually real words that I had learned a day or two previously. I guess that my short-term memory can do some good things for me after all :-)
I also think it is meaningful that I am learning a new language at the same time that I am learning to teach language to others. It is a very effective way to put me into the shoes of the students that I will be teaching. It means I know it’s difficult. I know how exhausting (utterly draining!) it is to battle for understanding and meaning when everything sounds the same, blends together. I know it’s sometimes awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing. But these are all hurdles to overcome in pursuit of a goal. For my students that goal may be to do well on their exams, get into a better college or university. Get a good job. For me that goal is to get my language ability up to a point where I’ll be able to negotiate life here for the next two years. Learn the culture, and truly get to know the people. At this point, any conversation deeper than ‘I like apples’ or ‘I will go to Kyiv tomorrow’ involves a lot of slow repeating, hand gestures, and moderate-at-best understanding, but I’ve got high hopes…
Learning Ukrainian in a classroom setting here, four hours a day, is taxing. With everything else piled on top of language, it’s often daunting. Every minute is scheduled out, and I don’t have anything that I would define as personal time. But I know that there’s a method to the madness and everything that I’m learning: language, teaching techniques, lesson planning, cultural understanding, will all be incredibly relevant for my next two years here. Sure, I often feel like a child being led around by the hand (sometimes I literally am let around by the hand by my loving host mother). And, yes, the image of a toddler with so much to say and no ability to say it often pops into my head as I try to explain what should be relatively easy to say. But when I finally manage to get my point across (and keep to toddler-style temper tantrums to a minimum) then I feel like a little bit of forward progress has been made.
And on that note, I’m going to finish up for the day because my host mother just came in and said it’s time for dinner in five minutes. She also said a whole bunch of other stuff; about the bazaar and work and the elections yesterday, but I’m not sure what exactly... We’ve got a nice long dinner and chai to drink afterwards, we’ll work out the details. But “dinner in five minutes,” that I understand. It’s the simple things in life, right?
Thanks for reading!
Talk to you soon…