Learning a language at age 37
What am I thinking? Why did I think I could do this? I am trying to learn a new language after 37 years of speaking English and a small smattering of Spanish. Yes, I learned a bit of Kiswahili when I spent 3 months in Kenya but I don't remember much since I don't use it on a regular basis. Then again, that was when I was 23 and didn't have a husband, a child and years of other experiences clouding my brain.
I always wished that I had been brought up in a house where a language other than English was spoken. However, coming from a typical American background where my heritage ranges from Scotch/Irish and Norweigan to German and who knows what else.....there was no language that was passed down. I grew up in an area of California where Spanish was a helpful language and took 4 years of it in school but again, I wasn't ever in a situation where I could speak it often enough to keep up with it. I wanted to study French in a language immersion program when I was in college, however the class was cancelled because I was the only one signed up for it. That lead me to my amazing 3-months in Kenya with an organization called NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). The purpose of that trip was to learn survival and backpacking skills in the outdoors/wilderness as well as learn about the Kenyan culture and languages. My life-changing journeys took me to sleeping in a boma on the Masaai Mara, sailing in dhows through the Lamu archipelago and making many friends from various Kenyan tribes as well as the muslim community in Lamu.
My passion for learning about and from other cultures was cultivated before this trip but was cemented in my psyche when I returned home. I ended up falling in love and marrying a man who turned out to be half-English and half-Indian (from India) and my life was suddenly intertwined with the strong cultural background that I had been craving my whole life. My new relatives welcomed me with open arms and were patient with me while I learned new customs and protocol. Well, let's face it, they are still being patient with me as I stumble through these lessons.
When our son was born 1 and 1/2 years ago I decided that I really wanted him to grow up hearing another language in his house. My husband's father (who was Indian) didn't speak Hindi or Gujurati to him in their house because at the time they were the only Indian family in his town and he didn't want them to feel any more different than they already did. So my husband only speaks English. I decided that this was important enough to me to take on a new language. I knew learning Hindi would be hard but I didn't know how hard. Not only am I learning a new alphabet and how to write and pronounce new "letters" and sounds, but I have to re-learn all the grammatical terms and sentence structures and then re-organize them. I really don't know what I was thinking.
I have been taking my language class for 2 hours a week since last October and I am still only able to put together a very basic sentence. There are times when I just want to give up and quit or "take a break" and revisit it in a few months, but I know if I do that I probably won't be able to pick it back up again. So everytime I feel this way, I think of my son; I think of my new family in India as well as the ones who now live in the States; I think of my husband's father and I think of being able to communicate with a new group of people.
The people I have met in my classes have really helped me to explore the parts of the Indian culture that have been interesting to me. Since meeting my husband, I have been fascinated with his family's religion, ceremonies, traditions, food.....everything, but always felt a bit self-conscious pursuing this knowledge beacause my husband was not brought up with very much of these things in his house by virtue of his mixed heritage and his life growing up in a small town. I hope that my interests at some point reach to him as well as our son and that we are all able to speak a little bit of Hindi and re-incorporate these traditions into our family.
So here I sit, with my notebook and textbook open, my assignment half finished and my audio stories ready to go......writing about my struggles with this new langauge but too overwhelmed to delve into it right now. I'll just keep telling myself to keep at it....keep watching those Bollywood movies...keep searching for children's Hindi movies and tv programs....and keep my fingers crossed that I will at some point have an opportunity to re-visit India and immerse myself in my newly adopted culture and language. Keep your fingers crossed for me! :-)