MARSHALLESE 5.0: TAKING A BREAK

Admit it, you’ve just thought: “Yep! She got bored with Marshallese. I knew that would happen!” or “That’s what you call a short-lived enthusiasm!” or “Quitter!” Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I have neither quit nor got bored with the language. And my enthusiasm has definitely not lessened! So what kind of a break am I taking?

Do you know that feeling when you have to stop moving forward for a while and revise what you’ve already learnt? It’s a bit…annoying, to put it mildly. But the problem with language is that when it’s not used on a daily basis, it magically disappears from your head. I don’t use Marshallese – not that I don’t want to, I simply don’t have the opportunity (that’s what happens when you decide to learn a little-known lingo) – which is something I wholeheartedly regret. So in order to remember what I learnt 7, 5, 3 months ago, I have to make a “pit stop” from time to time and revise. And revise. And revise… And revise…

I’ll be honest here, I don’t really enjoy revisions (they slow you down), but there are two things I love about them. First, they let you assess how well or poorly you have comprehended the material. And second, they let you see if you’re making progress or not. When I began revising I was honestly curious to find out how much I had actually managed to memorize. Would I remember how to say “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven”? Would I immediately know what the world for “Sunday” is? Would the correct marker for the present tense come to my mind if I needed to make a sentence? I really had my doubts. And, of course, the last thing I wanted was to realize that during all those months I had learnt…nothing.

I started my revision right from the beginning and I quickly noticed that I was doing quite ok. As a matter of fact, I was doing much better than ok. I passed the test with flying colours! Ok, this might be a slight exaggeration, but I was pleasantly surprised. I discovered some gaps in my knowledge that I still have to fill – I’ve been working on it – but otherwise I have to say that my Kajin M̗ajel̗ is improving. Not only do I remember quite a lot but also have a better understanding of the things I’ve learnt. At the beginning of my Marshallese adventure I simply committed each word and phrase to memory. “Enana” equals “I’m not doing so well” or “It’s bad”. Ok, done. I didn’t contemplate why the phrase is constructed in this particular way. Today I’m much more aware of the grammar. We say (well, they say – I’m not Marshallese) “Enana” because “e” means “he”, “she”, or “it”; “nana” means “bad” or “inedible”; and the word for “am”, “is”, “are” is not needed. Suddenly everything is perfectly clear. I didn’t – and couldn’t – know that when I started learning the lingo, but now I do. And this makes me extremely happy and proud. Can you tell? I bet you can.

Now, try as I might, I still can’t fully grasp the pronunciation rules. No, wait. I do grasp the rules, I just can’t put them into practice. And what’s even worse, I’ve realized that I may always have this problem. The only way to change that would be to chat with a native speaker or to have a teacher who’s fluent in Marshallese. Please notice that I’m talking only about the pronunciation of single sounds and words. I’m not even mentioning the accent here! Cause that’s a story (a very interesting one) for another day.

Despite all the obstacles I’ve been encountering, I’m having a lot of fun learning Marshallese. It is both easy and difficult, but I guess you could say that about any language in the world. What’s most important is to never give up. Cause this is usually the first thing we do when we face hurdles. I say, jump over them! Or at least try. Learning a foreign language is a challenge that takes time, effort, and perseverance. But the reward is pretty sweet. And this very thought makes me determined enough to revise, and revise, and revise whenever I feel I have to.


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