So many aspects of learning a language are totally unique. It seems good to keep making note of them, if for no other reason but to reminisce later.
Sounds. This is the biggest surprise to me so far – there are sounds I just can’t make! For those who are unfamiliar with Indian languages, in Hindi there are 4 different D’s, and 4 different T’s. None of them is ever used in English. These, however, are not my challenge; they are coming along just fine. It’s the R’s I’m having trouble with. There’s a rather Spanish sounding ‘R’ – barely rolled, tongue forward in the mouth. No problem. Then there’s this ‘R’ that’s way back in the throat – I can’t even get my tongue to go back that far! THEN there’s that same ‘R’ (throaty) with an ‘H’ added. (I swear it sounds more like a ‘D’ than an ‘R’!) For the life of me, I cannot make this sound properly, and it’s not for lack of trying. I have sat listening and mimicking for collective hours. Is there improvement? Yes. But precious little!
Blunders. What would language learning be like without them? I will never know. This week I had two favorites, one of which was just silly, the other much more significant. Silly blunder: while out practicing, I encountered a teenage girl who looked happy to see me. I stopped to practice, thinking it was an obvious chance to talk with someone who looked like they wanted me to! So… I stopped. She stopped. She asked how I was. I said fine. I asked how she was. She said fine. And we stared. For a long, painful moment, we stood in silence as I wracked my brain for ANY of the fine phrases I’d learned in the last month. Nothing. Finally, she gave me a funny look and said she had to get going. As she walked away, I blurted out one word, totally unpremeditated and surprising myself. Loudly and boldly, I turned and said the word for “son.” I do not know why. I’m sure I looked as confused as she did as we walked away in opposite directions. Who knows?
The other blunder had more consequences. There is a group of about six children who absolutely love me. They are two families, I think: children of a rickshaw driver and of a fruit seller. They don’t live in our neighborhood, but hang out near their fathers’ work stations after school. They love to talk to me and are my constant customers – I mean practicers! Anyway, one day last week, they were asking me a question I just could not understand. They kept repeating a word that sounded like “room” and asking me something over and over again. “Room?” I repeated. They nodded vigorously. “I didn’t understand,” I admitted. So they started pantomiming. The girl pointed directly at the ground, and the boy got down on his hands and knees and looked like he was scrubbing it. Then they repeated their question. This time I recognized the word for “when” within the question. I took it to mean, “When do you clean your floors?” I answered “daily.” Their eyes widened and they smiled really big. “Really?” Stupidly, I answered, “yes.”
So yesterday, Ross and I were walking home from some shopping. As we rounded the corner to our street, this group of children came running toward us, crying out and laughing and in every way looking delighted to see us. They grabbed my hands, and pretty soon we were leading a small parade toward our house. It did seem like they wanted to come over. Ross, who understands much more Hindi than I do at this point, confirmed my suspicions. “They’re saying they want to come to our house.” I tried to explain that we were just getting our bicycles and then leaving again, when I heard the word “room”. Aha! It seems when they said “room,” they actually meant… “room!” They asked when could they come and see our room? I answered, “Daily!”
I am an idiot. (Ross wants me to cross that out.) Now I have to find a way to explain that our house is not really our house, but our friends’ house. As much as I wanted to have them all over for a tea party, I simply cannot do that in someone else’s home. <sigh> Not sure how I’m going to get out of this one!
That’s it for today!