The Language Files

We’ve moved on.

Or more like, we’ve moved along.  We have left Kathmandu and full time language study for Tansen, Nepal, part-time language and part time other stuff.  Dave will be working at the hospital full time for a month to transition with the out-going Internal Medicine Director and then do another month of language in February before diving in to all out doctor duty.  I will be doing another month of full time language study and then… umm… I’ll be uhhh…. I guess I’ll be doing part-time something else as well.  All previously arranged work has fallen through for me, since leaving the city and as of this moment I will have nothing to do beside raising babies (a worthy calling but not entirely what I am cut out to do) and work hard at staying busy.  Still thinking something may come through, staying optimistic, and in the mean time raising babies and making granola.

So here is a little overview of what our time was like in Kathmandu studying Nepali.  Nepali lessons, kinda looks like this;

Dave and I split up the day, he took the morning sessions and I took the afternoon.  We sit for two the three hours on the other side of a desk from the language tutor and just do language.

She asks me general questions in Nepali and tries to get me to use the previous day’s lesson.  Sometime I remember.  If I don’t know the word for something in Nepali I just say it in English and my tutor corrects me.  I repeat the word and pretend I am filing it away for next time I need to use it.  In reality it never made it into the mental file and I will repeat this process several times before it actually does stick.

We going over vocabulary, and the stuff I didn’t remember from the previous day.
I remember about two thirds of the words, either because I hadn’t studied enough the night before or I had been saying it wrong to myself all along.

After quizzing me silly on vocabulary we move on to the grammar lesson.  I cringe because it is verb conjugations and with each new set of verb conjugations I seem to forget one of the previous ones.  I take dedicated notes and nod as if it is all making sense.  I use a little trick I picked up in law school and ask ‘informed’ questions like ‘do you only use the ‘li’ suffix with transitive verbs?’.

Then it is time for conjugation practice and I stumble around putting the ‘li’ on intranstive verbs and staring down at my notes which don’t seem to hold any clues as to how to conjugate these verbs. I finally start to pick it up near the end and we move on to dictation.

I hate dictation.  Mostly because I know my Nepali hand writing is worse than a first grader or a certain doctor I know, but also because there are several Nepali letters that can make a specific sound and my hearing is not trained well enough to distinguish each time.  My tutor makes me write, I get it wrong and then we try again.  I chicken scratch my way through the vocab words and then we move along to reading text.

Save the best for last.  This is actually my favorite part.  I’ve been building up my stash of sight words is Nepali and get a little thrill when I can simply read it without having to sound it out like our five year old.  It is like my secret weapon but I seem to have an easier time understanding by reading and my tutor seems impressed with this.  Until she asks me to explain what I just read. Duh Duh Dunn.

I get a home work assignment and walk home from class.  I think about what I want to say all the way to the store then I ask for the ‘small thing of sunflower oil’ and the woman understands me and responds in Nepali.  Score! I do a little mental happy dance and when I finish dancing I realize I have missed her answer.  I say ‘tik cha’ (it’s ok) and shake my head the way Nepalis do for something that is good, as if they are trying to shake something off their nose.  To me it always makes it seems as if it really isn’t ‘ok’ and they are hesitant about if there actually is sunflower oil.  Language itself is tough enough to interpret not to mention non-verbals.  I could go for a good nodding your head like yeah.   So anyway I buy my oil and pay.  I also can never seem to understand Nepali numbers, but I’ve worked out a little trick that if I recognize 50 something, I just give sixty,  or 100 something I just give 200 and then get change.

I’m supposed to do homework when I get home but I’m really just dying to read something with good, ugly, upright roman letters as opposed to the beautiful, curvy, Nepali letters that hang from the top line.  I eventually do get around to doing my homework, 10 lines giving driving directions, and I’m shocked and pleased with myself that I know the phrase ‘from the north’ without looking it up.  Only half of my homework looks like it was written by a 1st grader and the rest is fairly legible. Ahh small successes.

Language study isn’t all linguistic magic as I imagined and it seems to be coming very ‘bhestari, bhestari’ (slowly, slowly).  But we are managing and I remember that I am a guess here and I’m learning language to talk to Nepalis and then learning language seems a little more ‘tik chaa’.

4 thoughts on “The Language Files

  1. Hey friends,
    I didn’t realize how far I’d gotten behind in blog reading and picked yours to catch up on first, as I have been thinking about you guys lately. Of course a post on language study hits some notes with me, as our study of Kiswahili is also going “pole pole” (slowly). I am totally with you on the numbers thing; I wonder what the point is in me being able to ask how much something costs if I can never understand the answer! I usually get a dumb-founded look, maybe ask again, and then they usually end up punching the numbers into a calculator. :) But hose little victories or moments when you realize you finally understand something really help to keep propelling you forward, don’t they?
    Miss you! Let’s try to chat soon!

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