What the hell was I thinking? Learning three languages at once? I must have been crazy when I decided to do just that. But decisions were made, so now it’s not the time to give up – but to keep going and moving forward. In case of Marshallese, it simply means trying not to forget what I have managed to learn so far.
I started learning kajin Ṃajeḷ in January 2017. That’s more than three years ago. Sometimes I wonder how much I should know by now. Should I be able to communicate reasonably well or very well? Should I understand everything? Should I be capable of writing an essay for example? How many mistakes should I be allowed to make? Never are such questions easy to answer, because we all learn at different pace. Yet we ask them anyway, constantly comparing ourselves to others – I suppose that’s our human nature. But, so what if someone else has made bigger progress? So what if someone else knows more words than you? So what if someone else’s grammar is better than yours? Learning is not a race; nor is it a competition. That’s why I don’t feel guilty that after more than three years of my Marshallese adventure, I am still a beginner.
What I have noticed recently is the fact that I forget. I forget the vocabulary, I forget the grammar rules – basically, I forget everything. Ok, that’s a lie. I actually remember the things I learnt at the beginning of my journey. Probably because a) I managed to commit them to memory and b) I’ve revised them a thousand times ever since. But the rest? Let me just tell you, it’s not good.
I do learn new material – every month I go through a new lesson – but I also, or rather more importantly, focus on the knowledge and skills I have already acquired. Or not acquired; I’m not quite sure which is true for me, because… Because I don’t remember. I just don’t remember! Damn it, I don’t remember! And I ask myself every single day: “Why?”; “Why don’t you remember?”. Well, I think I know why.
No exercises. That’s the reason. No exercises equals no practice. No practice equals one of the biggest problem learners face – disuse. If you can’t use a language, at least through exercises, you forget it. And you can’t really prevent it. It happens. I feel it more and more with each passing day.
Sometimes I try to say something in Marshallese. I create a sentence in my head and then translate it into kajin Ṃajeḷ. If it’s simple – “I’m sick” or “I’m going fishing” (I don’t even fish) – I can do it with no difficulties at all. But if I construct a sentence that’s more complicated, I’m completely lost. Suddenly I start to think: “Do I know how to do it?”, “Do I know this word or not?”, and I realize that if such questions appear in my head that can only mean one thing – it’s time to go back to the beginning. But how do you do that?
Despite the fact that I review the material over and over again, I don’t feel more confident. I don’t feel like I know or remember more. I read, I learn, I revise, I read, I learn, I revise, I read, I… Doesn’t this sound boring? It certainly does to me. And, what’s even worse, this method does not seem to work. I am aware that it would be different – much different – if I was able to use the language. Yes, you have to revise; but you also have to use the tongue (quite literally in this case).
So maybe that’s what I should do. Maybe I should revise less and concentrate on putting the theory into practice. I can’t do exercises, but I can read more, and write more, and speak more… No, I can’t speak in kajin Ṃajeḷ; perhaps in the future? Anyway, if you think about it, why do people learn languages? To use them. They want to communicate with other human beings. And I want the exact same thing! What’s the conclusion then? I must finally change what I should have changed a long time ago – I need to start using the language on a daily basis. It’s about time, because – for heaven’s sake – I have been learning Marshallese for three and a half years now!