Friday, November 29, 2013
Maybe you've studied a language in high school. Maybe you lived somewhere and picked up whatever kind of jive they spoke there--your language or not. But I didn't. I didn't learn another language in high school. My mother-tongue became my major at the univeristy.
My Dad is multi-lingual, which made him seem super human to me when I was growing up. He used to say it would only take about two weeks immersed in a culture to speak the language. I was older than thirty when I finally took classes in Spanish, which helped me understand the constructs of language far better than English grammar ever did, but by no means did I learn to "speak Spanish," either. Dear Old Dad had no idea he was denying me anything when he didn't teach me his second language at an early age.
I can't even speak sign-language properly. And I'm not referring to an official language, either. I can't even speak body language. I'm a talker, too!
Now I'm pushing fifty and learning yet another language. Six (off and on) years in Sweden, relatively immersed in the culture, has still not produced Swedish-speaking fluency in me. A patient person tutored me for two years and gave me an amazing foundation, but I still couldn't speak. So, this school year I have settled into taking local language classes for immigrants. My chances are better that I'll one day truly know some Swedish compared to the Spanish I learned but hardly use.
Typing this note reveals to me just what learning another language does to me. I can no longer spell properly, and the red lines under my prose indicate that my sentence construction is also challenged. There are times, when I need to speak Swedish, that the only words I can think of are in English, and visaversa. Sometimes,I know this will be hard for you to believe, I am struck dumb and find a way to excuse myself.
This leads me to the cool new word/idea I learned in September and am only beginning to understand: trivs. Trivs is Swedish for thrive. People want to know if you are doing well/enjoying yourself/thriving in your situation--like school, work, or the place you live. The conversation on the street in Sweden rarely goes deeper than the state of ones health and the weather, but you might be asked, "Trivs bra på skolan?" (Does it go well with you at school?" or "Are you enjoying school?")
I want you to know, that "Jag trivs bra på sverige!" I feel like I'm doing fairly well in Sweden. It is a relief to be learning the language along with the bits of culture I learn in class. I still love the winter weather with the bare trees and late sunrises. I'm crazy about our home and the village we live in, as well as the work I'm doing running a Culture House with various venues.
There are some situations that are still a challenge for me. It doesn't take long in a day to realize I am not in my home country and the limits to my understanding of the language can be frustrating. I'm still learning the difference between the Swedes love of a good curiosity verses their aversion to otherness. We seem to fit in both categories at various times.
Nevertheless, I'm learning to listen. Listening makes all the difference. When I listen well, I can read the body language, I can differenciate between many of the spoken words, I can sense what someone means even if I don't fully understand. Sometimes I can hear a new bird call in the distance, or church bells ringing when I didn't expect them. I have a whole lot more listening to do.
Recently I have heard about someone recording cricket song, then slowing it down and realizing that there are beautiful harmonies embedded in the song (you've probably seen that post on facebook--and all the nay-sayers who don't believe it). I've also heard that plants communicate, somehow. I believe it! Plants don't thrive well under my care (trivs inte bra!). The dying fig tree seems to have communicated something to my huge Christmas cactus so that it forlornly (is that even a word?) refuses to bloom. Seriously, though, they say plants can communicate with birds, butterflies and bugs!
It gives me pause that there is so much to learn, to know, to hear, to give a response. I have to slow things down, look for harmonies in some of my frantic, high-pitched moments. I need time to meditate on truth, meaning, and origin. I need time to pray and time to listen to God.
When I'm standing at the kitchen window with a cup of tea, watching the birds taking turns plucking the remaining grapes from the grapevine, I wonder just exactly what the vine communicates to those birds, and what the birds are telling me I need to gather for winter.