It has been almost a year since I officially began my Marshallese adventure. Twelve fun and productive months, during which I have learnt a lot not only about Kajin M̗ajeļ but also about myself. And as we are nearing the end of the year, I thought it would be the perfect time to sum up my linguistic journey.
It all started with my passion for languages and the Pacific Islands. See, I didn’t want to learn any language. I wanted to learn a language I would be interested in, because I think that genuine desire to do something is the best motivation you can have. So the choice was quite obvious – I knew I would take up one of the Pacific tongues. After careful consideration and much thought I decided on Marshallese. And I have never ever looked back or regretted that decision.
The beginning was surprisingly easy. Despite (ongoing) difficulties with pronunciation, I managed to pick up the basic words and phrases really quickly. The grammar turned out to be no problem as well. I was ecstatic, even though I knew that black clouds would eventually appear on the horizon. I didn’t have to wait long for that to happen.
My biggest obstacle in learning Marshallese was, is, and probably always will be lack of a person I could work with. You can have all the textbooks in the world and the best resources available, but nothing – and I mean nothing – will ever substitute a good teacher. No book can tell you if the sentence you’ve just created is error free, or if the word you’ve just said sounds exactly as it should. No book can correct your mistakes. And we all know that making mistakes is synonymous with learning a foreign language. If you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn anything. But those mistakes need to be rectified! I would love to hear someone say to me: “That was incorrect. Try again.” or “This is ok, but that’s not.” or “You have to put this word first and then add…” Unfortunately, I don’t have such person. However, when you have the will to succeed, you can jump over any hurdle. That’s exactly what I have been doing – jumping, and jumping, and jumping. With a little remote help from a truly lovely Marshallese lady, I am able to make progress.
And that progress makes me very happy. I am well aware that I’m moving forward very slowly. Finding some spare time to learn when you lead a busy life is a serious challenge. I had a plan to study for at least 15 minutes a day. Well, my plan went south after a few weeks. At first, I beat myself up over this. But then I understood one very important thing. There are always only 24 hours in a day, and sometimes that’s just not enough to do all the things you would like to do. So now I know that I don’t have to rush anything. I can take my time. I have my entire life to achieve my goal. What matters is to keep learning. And that’s something I definitely intend to do.
The fact that I haven’t lost my initial zeal is actually very encouraging. It means that those twelve months ago I made the right choice. Plus, it gives me hope that I won’t quit any time soon.
Actually, I know I won’t quit, because I’m not learning just the Marshallese language. I’m learning the Marshallese culture. Through Kajin M̗ajeļ I want to get to know m̗antin M̗ajeļ [Marshallese culture] better. I am caught by it. It fascinates me. It appeals to me.
The author of the textbook I am using wrote at the end of lesson 15: “Congratulations! Now you can say anything in the past, present, and future.” Well, that’s not entirely true. I can’t say anything I want. I still can’t make complex sentences. I still don’t know what the correct word order is. I still struggle with vocabulary. But I am able to introduce myself, I can ask you about your day, I understand simple phrases. There is no doubt I have accomplished something. I guess I can congratulate myself. In Marshallese. Jeraam̗m̗an!