Language Learning for the Linguistically Challenged

Learning Bahasa Indonesia for me is like climbing Mt. Everest. After six months on and off in the country, I decided to do something about my complete lack of knowledge and hired a teacher.

My teacher has a great, bubbly personality; she knows a shit-load about language; and after eight lessons I can understand maybe ten words she says:) Not her fault, I’m sure, but this process has been tedious and fraught with great frustration for me thus far. I feel like she’s getting frustrated, too. Thankfully, she reacts to her frustration by feeding me with kindness…

For me, a language teacher, you might think learning language would be easy. I understand how language works; how its different structures in different languages must be learned; and that the process is different for everyone. I understand that it requires practice and repetition. That until you really use it, you won’t get anywhere with it. And, just like any muscle, if you don’t use it, it will atrophy.

I have people around me who are willing and able to practice with me ANY time I want to. But here’s the problem: when I attempt to shift my brain and tongue into Bahasa Indonesia, there is exactly NOTHING I can say. The cat takes my tongue and my brain and ties them into a giant knot.

I have lists of phrases and parts of speech; flash cards; podcasts; books, notebooks, and more books. And still, I am at a total loss about what to say when I open my mouth. WIthout fail, when my teacher speaks to me I look at her with a dumb expression, just shaking my head in blank lack of understanding. “We just learned that!” she exclaimed in exasperation last time we met. And indeed we had. But then I promptly un-learned it, about 1 hour and 50 minutes into the lesson. I was beat, and my brain could take no more. It felt turned inside out and squeezed dry. My eyes, however, were not dry, however, as my frustration level was at an all-time high, and I started to cry. I’m not sure what was more embarrassing – crying over not being able to speak, or simply having absolutely NO understanding of what I have been studying for four weeks now…

One Indonesian friend suggested walking around all the time just repeating all the words I can remember. “Like a crazy person,” he added, “even in the shower.” That made me laugh. Indeed, this undertaking is making me feel like a crazy person.

Another fellow Bahasa Indonesia learner said, “I just try to learn 2-3 words a day. That’s more than enough.” Indonesian is like her fifth language. She gets it…

My anxiety about learning Indonesian has risen to the point that I’m starting to have a mental block against the language completely. I know THAT’s not going to help the situation. So I continue to struggle – to listen carefully and to absorb everything I possibly can. Will I be able to speak this language one day? I certainly hope so. If not, I won’t starve to death in Indonesia. But I won’t connect with Indonesian people in a way I hope to. Failure is not an option.

About Heather

I am a career educator transitioning into a life that will allow me to combine my passion for education with travel and writing. Come with me on the adventure of a lifetime!
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2 Responses to Language Learning for the Linguistically Challenged

  1. sarah moody says:

    I like the theory of learning 2-3 words a day and keep repeating them-even in the shower! I have confidence in you! It’s like unlocking reading, math or another subject. YOu have always been VERY good at that, you’ll get this too!xoxo

  2. farida says:

    don’t give up….jangan menyerah, keep trying to practise 2 – 3 words in a day ….teruslah mencoba berlatih dua – tiga kata dalam sehari, i don’t mind to teach you bahasa indonesia..
    kecil itu indah – small is beautiful.
    salam – regards

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