Attempting to learn a new language has plunged me, without an oxygen mask, into a swirling vortex of newness, and discomfort that I try to avoid in my daily life. I have been attempting, somewhat consistently, for the past few months to become proficient in my fiancé’s native tongue–Tongan. And this language baffles me unlike anything else. My brain gets twisted around itself as I try to master the various words, and try to emulate the sounds that he makes, in my own stumbling less-than-perfect way. Oddly enough, it is not the logistics that I struggle with as much as the raw humbleness that working on this language has begun to forge in my otherwise prideful heart.
Ah, these twenty-six letters of the alphabet. I know them well. Up until the time I began working on this bewildering language, I relied solely on my smug satisfaction in twisting, and wielding these words to my own advantage. I adored words. I thought I loved language. But then I began this journey, and realized that I only loved the language that came naturally to me. The language that I was proficient in. The language that gave me authority as opposed to taking it away.
And that is why I have felt the weariness of learning Tongan so very draining on my own spirit. Because learning a new language means going back to square one, and beginning anew. Tongan lessons have made me the child when I would prefer to be the teacher. I have learned that I am neither better nor worse than other people at learning a language, but–dismally–average.
I remember, as a child, sitting with my Dad or Mom, and working on a reading lesson every day. When I got words right I would get a special sticker. And every day when I pull open my Tongan textbook I think about those stickers, and it gives me hope to pursue my next lesson.
Despite all the discomfort of leaving my native tongue, and attempting to learn another, I am grateful. Because in the midst of all this fear, and mistakes I have learned humility. I have grown in greater respect for those around me who are speaking, daily, in their second language. And the thing that keeps me repeating in rote all of my Tongan vocabulary words? The hope that someday I will be able to converse with my fiancé, and his family in their native tongue, and give them the respect and grace that they afford me in all of our interactions.
Malo e lelei! Fefe hake?