I spend at least 12 hours a week studying Greek. And yes, I’ve learned some-
and am thankful for what I’ve learned but WOW is it tough. I’ve always felt like I was pretty good at language learning, but learning Greek is like getting hit by a truck of language learning pride. It’s a complicated language, but of course not impossible and we are making progress “slowly- slowly” (as the Greeks would say). It’s remarkable the total triumph I feel if I am able to have a 3 sentence exchange with a stranger that we both understand. I’m able to trick people for about that long and then they carry on about something, my plan crumbles, and I have to confess I can’t actually understand them. What happens next is totally a learning process as well. There’s 3 options. 1. They go, “Ah” And walk away. 2. They say “Ah” and then start speaking to me in English. Or 3. They say “Ah…” and then repeat the Greek message they are trying to get across more slowly, more loudly, and with more hand gestures. Option 1 crushes me every time. Option 2 is convenient sometimes, but often I get lost between being humbled and being humiliated. I have to admit to myself that they can speak to me perfectly in my language, but here I am in their country and I ran out of words in 30 seconds. Option three is delightful.
I have 2 friends that don’t speak any English at all: my neighbor, and my grocery store lady. But I love them and they love me and I’m so thankful for them. Neighbor cooks for me, makes sure I remember to take my coat, and always kisses me hello and goodbye. Grocery store lady is completely invested in my success in the grocery store, and therefore my livelihood/sanity. She walks the aisles with me showing me what’s on sale, and hands me the coupons for the day when I get there. Every now and then we can’t quiiiiite communicate what we are trying to say. For example its hard to act out “Which one of these is real butter?” or “Is this laundry soap or fabric softener” or “Do you know what Maple Syrup is?” If this happens she faithfully recruits someone to translate.
I just started volunteering to teach English at a support center for refugee women and children. The staff that work at the center are so special. They work so hard to create a safe and loving environment for these refugee women and children, and it is beautiful. They have developed something truly outstanding. I’m not even sure the staff at this support center realize how special they are. I’m so excited for the day when I can tell them, in Greek, how great of a jobI think they are doing.
I don’t have experience teaching adult women, or teaching English, so I was pretty nervous when the opportunity to teach one of the women’s classes came up. These women are Farsi and Arabic speakers, but they hope to become proficient in both Greek and English as they establish their new life in Europe. I tried to just channel what I thought was important so (no surprise if you know me at all) every lesson I make sure they learn at least one new feeling word. Happy, sad, confident, thankful, disgust, anxious, worried, excited etc. I ask them at the end of each class how they are feeling, or to use one of the new words in a sentence. They can make up a sentence about anything- they don’t have to talk about themselves if they don’t want to. But when these women express themselves… it is so very powerful. I am amazed by them. They say, “I feel confident I can learn English.” “I feel happy because I learn new words today.” “I disappointed my lawyer not help me.” “I frustrated yesterday I wait for 6 hours at refugee office.” “I feel anxious about war in Syria.” “I disgust the taliban.” They have such important thoughts and the second they learn new words so much of what they are trying to express comes together. One of the women asked me what “suffering” means. I’m not sure where she heard it. I explained the weight of that word and the intensity behind it. When I was done they were all quiet and one of the women put her arms out, gesturing to the whole class and said. “We suffering. We all suffering. All refugee, we are suffering.” Words are powerful.