For any of you who know me personally, you know that the thing I was most nervous about with regard to coming to Cameroon for four months was the language learning. I’ve never taken quickly to learning a foreign language (which is incredibly unfortunate given my love for travel), but part of my role here this semester is to try to learn Baka. The emphasis here, of course, is on try and that is the word that has helped me struggle through two months of language learning and will hopefully get me through two more.
When you’re starting to learn Baka or any other language that doesn’t have a ton of resources, it’s going to be overwhelming. All of my team members have been here for over ten years and have a pretty good handle on the language at this point. They also have lots of different ideas on the “best” way to go about learning Baka. Considering I am only here short-term, I have to keep reminding myself that my experience is going to be different from theirs and I need to figure out what works for me. Here are some of the tricks I’ve discovered to help keep my language learning ability moving forward.
Don’t put too much pressure on myself. I’m probably not going to learn a ton of the language in only four months, especially considering I’m not coming solely as a language learner. I have lots of different tasks that I’m working on and language learning is just one of them. I’ve learned to not put too much pressure on myself to learn the language and to focus on having a balance of all things. I’m using language learning as a way to enhance the other activities in which I’m participating. So that means learning words that I will hear at church or words that come up often in Bible studies. I’m learning the words that will make my relationships with the people stronger, even in only four months.
Work on it when I want to/have the motivation. Obviously, I’ve set some goals for myself and have ways of tracking my progress, but I also just work on language learning when I have the motivation. Language learning is something that can be stressful and overwhelming for me, so I try not to make it more stressful by forcing myself to work on it when I can’t focus. One of the cool things about the whole process is that as I begin to learn more, the more readily I will be able to find that motivation to power through.
Count even the little things as successes. Part of being out in Baka land is to engage with the people. I count the little things I do week-to-week, like going to Bible Study, prayer, or church as language learning. That being said, I make sure I am being intentional about those things. I always carry my phone or a notebook with me to jot down words that I hear over and over again. I also make sure to sit next to one of my teammates who can translate for me. They translate by not only telling me the meaning of what is being said, but by telling me some of the key Baka words in the sentence so I can listen for them the rest of the time.
Find things you enjoy and incorporate language learning into those things. This idea ties in nicely with the idea of motivation. I am more motivated to work on language learning when it helps me with things I already enjoy doing. I love working with kids, and luckily there are a lot of kids living at our campsite. Also, Annabella helps me as an unofficial kid translator! I’ve designed some games like “Simon Says…” to learn some action words and it is fun to play with them, too! Finding ways to incorporate language learning into things that bring joy makes the process less of a chore and more exciting.
If you ever have the opportunity to go and learn a different language by living in the culture, I highly recommend it! It’s not something that is easy, but it’s so rewarding when you start to understand. If you have any tips on language learning without a formal curriculum, share below!