People’s greatest strengths are usually their greatest weaknesses. Mine–on both counts–is assuming that people like to have me around. I love to stay at people’s homes. I sometimes invite myself over to people’s houses for dinner. I will assume you will love talking to me if you’re a total stranger who speaks a cool (that is, “any”) language. I feel I may be butting in in Oromo class in some ways, but I think we’re all enjoying each other.
The reason I enjoy other people so much is that I’m so curious. I can’t help myself. I love to learn about people. Fortunately, either people are more generous than you think or I’m more fun that you would expect, because I’ve had very few bad experiences with this approach.
I have no right or reason to feel comfortable in my Oromo class. I’m the proverbial sore thumb. Everyone is Oromo except me. When I show our class picture to my family, I joke, “See if you can pick me out of the group.” Moreover, my language “skill” brings me up to about 2-year-old’s speaking ability, my previous knowledge is not helpful, and I can’t understand the vast majority of what is said in class.
Yet I feel comfortable, and the others in the class are getting comfortable with me. My dear teacher understands my level and ability, and the students are probably just getting over the “weird” factor of my desire to learn Oromo. I see where I stand with the language and focus my attention where I need to.
Fortunately, this week I noticed that I was understanding more in the class. The topic of the class orbits around pronunciation, spelling, and grammar, which keeps the vocabulary from moving too far afield from what I love. “Long,” “short,” “hard,” and “soft,” all appear often, as well as “speak,” “pronounce,” and “vowel.”
My teacher has been especially generous, granting me an extra 15-30 minutes before the beginning of class to go over phrases and grammatical fundamentals. We spent some time on question words and the progressive and past verb forms. He also taught me some basic phrases like, “I am learning Oromo,” and “I understand you.” Spoken and written versions vary slightly, and he showed me how those differences work.
My classmates offer me a lot of help, and they are patient when I keep asking them their names. (I forget names quickly, which gives me more practice in asking, “What’s your name?” If I remembered, I’d soon run out of chances to use this phrase.) They also show me some of the dialectical variations in the language.
I hope my teacher and class don’t mind my intrusion; I certainly enjoy and admire them! Their lives are full of curiosity and hard work. They are working to know their native language better, and they are already at least trilingual. (They speak at least Oromo and Amharic and English.) People say that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. The wonderful people in my class live, work, and follow Minnesota society’s norms all while speaking and hearing a language not their own. I look forward to speaking better Oromo and getting to know my classmates better. I’m already learning about hard work and a tough spirit from them, and I hope to learn more.