I really don’t like not being able to communicate.
I don’t like feeling rude.
I do like being able to joke around with my taxi drivers and my helper.
I don’t like being left out of humor.
I do like being able to prove that I actually live here, and do not intend to get ripped off.
I don’t like endless scavenger hunts through the store because I don’t know the word for the item I’m looking for.
Mostly, I like new languages.
And speaking to people in new languages.
Needless to say, I have plenty of intrinsic motivation to learn Bahasa Indonesia.
On top of that, it’s a rather simple language.
You don’t have to conjugate verbs, there aren’t really articles, and to make something plural you just say it twice.
Bahasa uses the same alphabet as English.
I live in an Indonesian community, and I have to use the language on a daily basis. I have wonderful students and incredibly patient friends who are willing to help me learn.
I knew 6 months prior to coming that I would be moving here, and bought a book to help me learn.
Despite all of this, I still know very little of the language.
Why, you ask?
I will admit, I haven’t put an enormous amount of time into studying.
Because I work.
And I have things to take care of.
And I go to an English speaking church, because it’s important for me to really understand what I’m learning about God and his Word.
And I spend time with people who speak English, because it’s just so much easier.
And I’m still working on my Masters.
And when I talk to my family, it’s always in English.
And honestly, learning a new language is difficult, despite everything that I have going for me.
So here’s what I’ve been learning.
So many people refuse to allow Spanish aid (or any other language) in the schools, hospitals, and public places of the America.
“It’s our country,” they say. “If they want to live here, they should learn our language,” they say. “It’s not our job to accommodate people who refuse to learn to speak the ‘right language,’” they say.
This has always bothered me, but I can now debate this topic from first-hand experience.
I’m not saying that immigrants coming to America shouldn’t learn English. And I’m not claiming to have any valid excuse for my lack of Bahasa Indonesia.
What I am saying is that learning a new language is hard. Not only is learning a new language hard, but moving to a new country is hard. And living in a culture not your own. And trying to figure out where to shop and how to drive and what people’s expectations are. And learning a new code of proper manners. And understanding a new school system. And being away from family and missing the comforts of the country in which you grew up and navigating cross-cultural conversation. And being stared at and targeted because of the color of your skin. And not having food that you’re used to. And picking up new sicknesses and routines.
I’m not asking for a country in which we do not require students to learn English [though, may I point out that it is not technically the official language of the States?]. I’m an English teacher. Believe me, I’m an advocate. Learning the English language will provide children with the opportunity for a brighter future and allow them to chase many more dreams.
What I am asking for is grace.
Grace for myself, as I struggle to fit into a new place without understanding the majority of what is being said.
And grace for the many people seeking the same comfort in America, but without the support and sporadic bits of their own language that I have been so blessed with here.
I cannot even express what a blessing it is when people patiently help me with the language. Or attempt to translate my crazy charades. When they still assist me, despite the fact that helping the spaz foreign chick is probably not in their job description. Or when the random lady also waiting in line steps up and translates for me. Or when my Indonesian friends graciously sacrifice their time to help me with some especially difficult errand.
I am so blessed to be learning this lesson in a wonderful situation in which people are so willing to help.
Being an immigrant will be difficult despite the situation, but can we not go out of our way to help someone who is learning how America works and doesn’t even have the language as a tool? Can we not lighten the load a bit by being patient? Can we not offer grace while they are adapting?
If you think not, I challenge you to come live with me for a few months and experience being on the other side of things for yourself.