Sometimes I feel like I live in a sitcom complete with laugh tracks. Often, I am the cause of the laughter, especially when it comes to speaking another language.
I haven’t found scientific proof yet, but I’m pretty sure that studying multiple languages results in the loss of important brain cells and my ability to communicate, or lack thereof, is a side effect of that loss.
I was in a taxi with one of my daughters and her friend. The taxi driver tries to have a conversation and using my extremely poor Chinese I got it all wrong.
Taxi: Are these girls your daughters?
Me: One is my daughter and the other is her friend.
Taxi: Where do they go to school? Do they study at home?
Me: They don’t go to school. They study houses.
Taxi: (looking very strangely at me). So they study at home?
Me: No, they study houses. (Then I realize what I said. Meanwhile, the teenage girls in the backseat are totally UNhelpful and cracking up, at me!)
This is one of MANY language mistakes that characterize my life these days. Often the taxi drivers will tell me that my Chinese is GREAT! That is my clue to keep my mouth shut before they realize that in those first two sentences I exhausted my vocabulary. Living, working, and attempting to communicate in a second (or third) language is challenging and exhausting.
Right now, I’m studying Chinese because we suddenly have several workers in the kitchen of our restaurant that speak no Korean (and of course no English). Up until now, I’ve been able to get by with Korean. In the market, I know enough Chinese to find what I need and if I get into a pinch…I try to find someone nearby who speaks Korean. I’ve discovered those Chinese phrases I use in the market are completely useless in the kitchen.
The fact that anyone understands me in any language (including English) is a direct result of God’s grace. He just gives them ears to hear the words I am speaking because I know that the majority of Korean and Chinese that comes from my mouth is incorrect. This is not a bad attempt at humility. My Korean really is lacking, on many levels. The grammar, the vocabulary…did I mention grammar? I am embarrassed by my lack of ability compared to the length of time I’ve been studying.
But, back to Chinese…
Because I’m studying this amazing language, I’ve decided that I should try to use it more often. Unfortunately, my use of Chinese involves a lot of actions and body language because my vocab is so low. So, basically, I not only sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about but I also look ridiculous!
The other day I went to a store that delivers to our restaurant. I was looking for a particular item and if I found it, I wanted to ask the owner to deliver it to Gina’s. Luckily, they didn’t have what I was looking for at that time. I say “luckily” because the only way I could think to describe my relationship to the restaurant was to say “the father of my children runs the restaurant.” Who knows what thoughts that would have put into the poor man’s head.
Not too long ago, I spent 10 minutes explaining to one of our new waiters, in Korean, how our pizza buffet worked. When I finished talking, he looked at me and in perfect English said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Korean. Can you tell me again in English or Chinese?” At least he was polite and didn’t interrupt. It might be time to start requiring our workers to wear labels. Something along the lines of, “Hello, my name is ______ and I speak ______.” My label would say, “Hello, my name is Gina and your guess is as good as mine as to what language I’ll be speaking.”
I know I’m not the only person to struggle with and through language. And honestly, I love the studying, learning, and reading aspect of language. If I could just get the connection to work between my brain and tongue. But it isn’t all bad. There are some incredible “WOW” moments that come from studying languages.
When we are huddled together with our brothers and sisters, and their voices are crying out to our Father, I might only catch snippets, but our Father doesn’t miss a word. Then, there are those times when we are singing or reading the Word and the precision and beauty of the Korean language just makes me sit back and listen in awe. And those times when I hear, with understanding, and I’m able to speak Truth into someone else’s life. I know that understanding isn’t normal for me. It is my Father at work in me.
I’ll probably never be fluent in Korean and Chinese, but I’m ok with that. I’ll keep learning, keep trying, and keep trusting the Creator of all Languages to speak through me and use me in spite of my imperfections. So glad that our work here isn’t dependent on my language ability but on His strength working through me.