Without my languages I feel anxious and unfulfilled. While I don’t have a lot of time for Somali, I feel the need every day to work on my language, even if it’s five minutes of Anki flash cards or four minutes scanning BBC Somali headlines of which I may only grasp a few words.
Fortunately, I found a Somali teacher who will work with me over Skype. He is very knowledgable about the Somali language, and he has experience teaching foreigners. I am very grateful that he is willing to work with me. Part of me still asks: Will this sustain my language love? Will Skype provide the connection I need?
This week, language love came to my rescue and brought me joy in a moment of stress and anxiety. Work was difficult, and took up a lot of time, causing me stress. I missed my language tables as a result, so I didn’t get to experience much language. I had to go work at offices in different areas, where I luckily got to mix with new people. On the way to a meeting I heard a guy working at a food stand speaking Arabic to another man as I was walking by. On the way back to my car after the meeting, I said to him, “Ahlan! Masa ilkheir!” (“Hi! Good afternoon!”) Business was slow for him in the mid-afternoon, so he gave me a can of Coke and told me to sit down.
He is from Palestine and recounted in Arabic stories of daily life there. Fortunately, he knew English well enough to answer my questions when I didn’t undrestand some of his words. Thanks to Middle Eastern hospitality, he offered me a sandwich, too, which I reluctantly refused because I had to get home to eat dinner with my family. (He was surprised I have a family. As Arabs often do, he underestimated my age by about 10 years.)
My stress from the day left and I got in the car happy and relaxed. The woman taking tickets at the parking garage was Ethiopian, so I offered my few phrases of Amharic. (When I said something in Oromo she said, “I don’t know that language.” At least my words were recognizable.) Even more joy! Loving language came to my rescue.
I want–even need–these sorts of connections more often than I find them now. Because of the environment I live in, I see two restrictions I need to navigate: geography and time.
For me living in the suburbs in the US can be difficult because in my area we do not have chance encounters or quick conversations. I have to set up language encounters consciously in my circumstances, even though chance conversations obviously do me good. I clearly can’t sell my house and move. Furthermore, work and home duties leave little time for language-study or long stretches of socializing.
What do I do, then, to make sure that I’m making these connections? Turn to the internet?
As a digital non-native, on-line connections are counter-intuitive. They don’t feel like real connections. This could be overcome maybe. I hope that my Somali lessons will give me this opportunity. Scheduled encounters on-line should envigorate me and encourage me to seek out more such meetings, even if “only” on-line. Maybe joy will instill the desire to seek more joy.
Does language bring you joy? What brings you joy? How do you ensure enough joy in your life? Do Skype language partners bring you language joy?