The first fruits of language school

In some ways, our days here are fairly routine — not exactly headline material. We devote our days to learning Khmer (the language of Cambodia). Most days, this means mornings at school, afternoons with 1-on-1 teachers, and evenings with flashcards.

Lots of flashcards.

The thing is.. even as taxing as it can be, with so much time in a day devoted to training our brains to think differently, we’re already seeing some incredibly encouraging ways in which this is paying off. We’ve mentioned some here and there, but for posterity, here’s a more complete list:

  1. We can attend a predominately (90%) Khmer church. Not that we can keep up with what is said during services in Khmer (most is later translated to English) — but even now, we’re picking up some words and phrases. And more importantly, we’re not entirely out of place before and after church — we have the tools to carry basic conversations with everyone.
  2. We have community with our neighbors. We can chat with them when we are out on the street (most commonly when we walk Geordi a few times a day). Conversations are still basic, but many are willing to meet us part way, mixing some Khmer and some English and some exaggerated gesturing. (We’re going to be awesome at pictionary, just you wait).
  3. We can honor our neighbors. In Cambodia, honor and respect is very important. It’s traditionally more respectful to address people by their title than by their name. And the smile you get when you address someone with the proper title in Khmer… priceless.
  4. We’ve gained credibility with other organizations. Cambodia is a bit jaded when it comes to NGOs. They’ve seen so many expats come in with a lot of dreams and a budget, and leave again in a few years once one or the other runs out. Time will tell what our ultimate impact is as an organization, but committing to learn the language (and learn it well!) seems to be less common than I would have expected. Leading a conversation with Khmer instead of another language opens doors (even if we have to change to English for more detailed discussions).
  5. We gain credibility in everyday situations. We fit in that much more quickly — I can’t count how many times someone has expressed shock discovering we have only been here two months. We can also negotiate prices closer to the local rate than the tourist rate (although we still tend to be on the generous side).
  6. We’re already dreaming partially in Khmer. Strange, but fun.

All this work is part of the bigger goal — even if as Laura’s recent post said: we’re not there … yet.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

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