Opposite Worlds and Divine Blending

I am part of an online community of missionaries and expats around the world. I’m super thankful for this space that helps me find people in similar situations like myself and it makes me feel less alone. One of these groups has weekly discussion themes and encourages the expat women to post and blog according to it. This week the theme is opposites.

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Literally me in Honduras fanning away my sweat as I imagine the opposite of whatever current scenario happening if I were in the USA

After reading some of the posts, I have come to reflect on some seemingly opposites in my own life. In the last year I’ve become a little obsessive with comparing my life here in Honduras to my life back home in the states. I don’t know if this is a stage of culture shock and I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to justify or reconcile in my own mind but I annoy my own self with frequent comments that I make like, “back in my country…” reminiscent of Phoebe from The Magic School Bus.

So, inspired by a guest blogger on the group’s blog, I thought I would just make a little list of things contrasting my life now to what it might be if I were living in the U.S.: (as interesting as my daily life in Honduras might seem to some in the states, my daily life in the states seems pretty interesting to many in Honduras – for example, it is quite shocking to people in the majority world that we in the states let our central heating and air units run almost nonstop year-round)

  • in the U.S. I would use a dryer for my clothes; in Honduras I use a clothesline (this is just one reason why clothes-washing is a more complicated and involved task from start to finish – there’s no throwing in a couple jeans to wash last minute because you need them the next day.)
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but… As God as my witness, I will have a dryer again!

  • in the U.S. I would wear a lot of makeup and fix my hair more; here I wear minimal makeup and opt for braids or buns most days
  • in the U.S. I would probably use a dishwasher (depending where I was living); here I hand wash dishes multiple times a day and my hands and nails suffer from it
  • in the U.S. I would ashamedly eat lotssss of microwavable foods; here I cook more (thus dirtying up more dishes) or eat dirt cheap street food
  • in the U.S. I would live in a completely climate controlled atmosphere at a comfortable 68º pretty much 24/7; here we use only fans with open windows and can’t control the temperatures, smells, or noises that bombard our senses
  • in the U.S. pest control is a breeze; here it is almost a daily battle with ants, mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, and geckos (and once, an iguana in our bathroom)
  • in the U.S. I would keep up with my favorite T.V. series like This Is Us and Law and Order: SVU; here we have no T.V. (but thank God for wifi & Netflix! even with fewer options than in the states)
  • in the U.S. my water pressure would be great and I’d have constant hot water in any faucet!; here we use an external heated shower head that is only hot when the pressure is really low (not to mention we can’t drink from the faucets)
  • in the U.S. I would have SO. MUCH. closet and drawer space; here my husband and I share a single zip-up mobile “closet” and use foldable storage bins
  • in the U.S. I would drive solo anywhere at literally any time of the day or night on great road conditions; here the roads are hazardous, traffic is typically heavy, other drivers are unpredictable, my husband and I share a vehicle and it is stick shift and I’m not comfortable driving it just yet… so I don’t drive :/ (but I will! It’s a goal of mine)
  • in the U.S. I would speak mostly in my first language and communication wouldn’t require much mental energy; here I will go days on end without having a single conversation in English and sometimes it leaves me feeling exhausted
  • in the U.S. I would feel comfortable in public (just the right amount of being acknowledged + being ignored); here I’m stared at everywhere
  • in the U.S. I can suggest to group of friends that we go out for dinner and everyone understands they will pay their own bill; here “he who invites pays” so group outings are few and far between 😉

etc., etc… The above list is specific of my particular situation in either of my “two worlds.” It’s not to say that it would be representative of all living in the states nor all living in Honduras. This is also a very superficial list and doesn’t touch on the subject of violence and fear that is one of the biggest factors of any psychological and emotional changes that I might have experienced in the last couple of years – changes that I most definitely would not have undergone had I stayed in the states. These are my opposites. I live every day trying to figure out how I can stay active in both worlds… and if I should. Some days, I wonder if I’m holding on too much to my comfort zone and other days I wonder if I’m losing my true self in the midst of assimilating into a new culture. Some days I feel brave and accomplished and other days I beat myself up for wallowing in self-pity. (because, I definitely have days when I just want ac and crown moulding and chick-fil-a and a hot bath and to feel comfortably normal)

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What if I could settle for living with these two opposing sides – appreciating the parts of me that have “Honduran-ized” while not feeling guilty for still wanting little American pleasures while living abroad? What if it was God’s plan all along that my upbringing, affinities, calling, and all the new experiences blended together to form a completely unique me?

I visualize it like I’m right in the middle of a Venn diagram where it’s overlapping and that’s where the really interesting stuff happens. I shouldn’t feel forced to sort through things placing them neatly on one side or the other. And if something is temporarily out of reach on a certain side I don’t have to feel like a martyr because it isn’t part of my life at that particular moment. I know I would never be fully content completely on one side or the other anyway.

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nothing to do with the actual content of this post – I just appreciate the Venn diagram humor

I have a never-satisfied longing for my fam back home to truly understand my daily life in Central America. I have to accept that they are not going to understand. I have a never-satisfied longing for my husband to understand my upbringing that is quite the opposite of how he was raised. I have to accept that he won’t truly understand my emotionally-charged nostalgia surrounding the holidays and family beach trips. He’ll one day get to experience that with us stateside but it won’t compare to the memories I have as a child. And I have to accept that our kids will most definitely have a very different experience than either one of us had growing up. They too will have to learn to live with a divine blending of cultures and that will bring its own challenges and rewards.

So, here’s to moving forward and being fully present in the middle of the diagram! Opposite worlds can blend and our lives are enriched because of it.

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How Do I Become Fluent? A Language Learner’s Guide

I occasionally get messages from students taking a foreign language (specifically Spanish) asking how to become fluent. There is no one-track, follow-these-3-steps guarantee to gaining fluency but with a few years of study and practice it’s doable so I thought I’d share some tips that helped me on my journey to fluency in Spanish. (and ones I’m using currently, although not-so-consistently, to learn Arabic)

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Language learning is a lifelong journey. We never stop expanding our vocabulary in any language, whether it’s our native tongue or not.


Three messages I’ve gotten recently:

 

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The best learning “tactic” you can have is the desire to learn. My personal motivation was traveling to Honduras as a teen and realizing the need to be able to communicate with the people there. If you want more convincing check out the infographic below about the benefits of a bilingual brain.

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Either way, find your why and your language journey will be so much more meaningful and will be what gets you through the lulls and moments when you feel overwhelmed.

That brings me to my next point… you will feel overwhelmed and like you want to give up and like you’re in over your head and oh-my-gosh-I’ll-never-get-the-hang-of-this-language, why-does-everyone-understand-except-me! I can’t tell you the times I walked into my college Spanish classes with sweaty palms and an abnormally high heart rate. It can be nerve wracking and I think a lot of people give up right around that time. But that is exactly where you have to push on through.

Learning a language will only happen for those who don’t mind looking foolish. If you are self-conscious about how silly you might sound then chances are it will be much nervousmore of a struggle. Because here’s some news: YOU WILL SOUND RIDICULOUS. You will. There is no getting around the fact that as a language learner (LL) you are going to mispronounce words and use the incorrect verb tense and just flat out say things you didn’t mean to say like one time when I told someone I had “a horse in my bathroom.”

*Things to keep in mind

  • Receptive language (comprehension) is typically developed before expressive language. I hear so many LL’s say, “I understand most of what they say! I just can’t answer back!” That’s normal.
  • It’s very unlikely that you will go from zero to fluent in just a year’s time. Allow yourself plenty of time to learn the language and don’t beat yourself up about what feels like slow progress. It’s hard to put a time limit on language proficiency because there are so many factors and we all learn differently.
  • You’ll probably have to invest financially. To learn a language you have to be intentional with your time and money. (but I hope through this blog post to give you some money- and time-saving tips you can use on your way to fluency)
  • There are four parts to learning a language: hearing, speaking, reading, writing. Make sure you are practicing all four!

 

Once you’ve discovered your motivation and accepted the fact that there will be moments when you will feel like giving up and that you will occasionally sound dumb, let’s talk about some practical ways to start and/or supplement your language studies.

  1. Take a class. I’ve known people who have become fluent just by immersion (see below) but if you live in a country where the target language is not prevalent (U.S.) you need to start here with some kind of formal class with an instructor, preferably one you can interact with, not an online class.
  2. Immersion. Whereas the class will give you the foundation for grammar, vocabulary, basics of pronunciation; immersion is the best and fastest way to become conversational and then fluent. It is suggested to have some formal training in the language before this step. Immersion is best carried out by traveling to the country or culture where your target language is spoken in every day life. This works best if you surround yourself with individuals who do not speak your first language. (and/or marry one of them like I did!)
  3. Practice outside of class time. IF you have the desire to learn you will have the desire to practice. (which is how I knew I desired speaking Spanish more than I desired playing the piano when I was younger) 😉 And if you have a busy schedule like I imagine you do, there are ways to multi-task while practicing a language.
    • I used to listen to Coffee Break Spanish podcasts while cleaning and doing laundry. (recently I’ve checked out Pimsleur language program CDs from my local library as I’m trying to learn Arabic and I love their teaching method. I’ll listen to them in the car.)
    • In high school I found a local Spanish language newspaper that I would pick up occasionally to try to read. I’d mark words I recognized and try to figure out the gist of the story. Most local libraries also have children’s books in Spanish.
    • Watching cartoons (for me, it was old Disney movies) that you know the characters and storyline will help give you confidence in the language and you won’t feel as lost as you hear the foreign words. It’s exciting the first time you start recognizing words or phrases and can understand their context in the story.
    • Listen to music. Many popular songs in English are translated to Spanish but just remember that most are not translated word for word. A couple artists I would listen to were Kari Jobe and Hillsong in Spanish. Having music or the TV on in the background as you do other things is helpful even if you aren’t directly paying attention. It is training your ear to the sounds of the language whether you are conscious of it or not and is an easy way to learn popular phrases.
    • Make friends with speakers of your target language! I would keep in touch with friends in Honduras but I also got involved in a tutoring ministry during college based in a neighborhood of majority Mexican and Guatemalan families. Building relationships with these families face to face made me feel comfortable trying to speak their language and motivated me even more.
  4. Apps on your phone are great tools to aid in language learning. Google translate IMG_0515can be used in various helpful ways, (not in translating large texts) for example I use it to “test” my pronunciation in Arabic by using the mic and speaking a phrase I’ve learned and then seeing if it understands me. DuoLingo is fun because it sets up language lessons as a game that covers the four areas: hearing, speaking, reading, writing. It keeps up with your level, lets you set personalized goals, and sends you reminders to practice. This app now offers courses for over 60 languages! (which is crazy distracting for someone like myself who probably has Language Learning ADD) I like the Spanish Dictionary app which works as a simple English-Spanish dictionary but also has vocabulary trivia, important phrases listed by category, and a Word of the Day feature. Mango is another good program offered by some local libraries. A good supplemental website for Spanish (that still doesn’t have an app to my knowledge) is StudySpanish.com – there are good grammar explanations, verb drills, quizzes, audio of speakers from different Spanish speaking countries to hear the difference in accents.

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Happy language learning! It is quite an adventure. ❤

What advice do you have for language learners?