Monday, October 31, 2011

Language Learning: Why is it taking so long?

As we approach the 9-month mark here in Bolivia, the question we get asked the most right now is, "When are you going to be done studying Spanish?"

You've probably seen programs that advertise "Fluent in 6 weeks or your money back" and the like. Well, like most things, it just isn't that easy. The big question is how to define fluency.

Our language progress is measured using a system similar to the ACTFL standard for proficiency testing. Essentially, we have regular proficiency evaluations that very accurately place us on the ladder of progress. Basically, it's 4 levels, broken into 10 sub-levels, as in this very boring chart I made just now:

Where are you right now?
Our evaluations establish our "floor" of language use. That is, when we reach a particular level, it means that we never speak below that level. Our last evaluation, at the end of August placed me between levels 5 & 6 and Kaylee right on the high end of level 3, reaching for 4. We will be having another evaluation in another month and both hope to break into the next BIG level!

What is your goal?
Obviously, we want to speak as well as possible. Our organization has established a standard that we do not teach publicly until we have reached at least Advanced: Low (level 7). I am shooting to reach Advanced:High (level 9).The reasoning behind this is simply explained by a mistake I made in class recently:

I was talking about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and got to the part about Lot's wife turning to the city and becoming a pillar of salt. I said:

Ella dio una vuelta a la ciudad. (She walked around the city). . .nope. . .um:

Ella dio la vuelta a la ciudad. (She turned the city over). . .nope. . .er:

Ella se dio la vuelta a la ciudad. (She turned toward the city). . .Whew!

How would you like to sit under a teacher/preacher that made mistakes like that? The only reason I changed my statement is that my instructor corrected me. If I had been teaching a Bible class, I would have just kept on going after the first statement, without realizing that I had led everyone astray. Not a big deal, right? But what if I made a similar mistake when teaching about the life of Christ, or the nature of salvation?

Unimaginable harm has been done here because of people teaching at low-level "fluency."

But isn't Spanish just a trade language? Why learn it so well?
Yes, that's true to a point. We do plan to do the bulk of our ministry in the Guaray├║ language (an indigenous language completely unrelated to Spanish). However, Spanish is the most widely-spoken language in the country, and anytime we are out of the tribal area, we will need it! Also, we are building relationships now with the local church here in the city. For them to share in our future ministry, we need to be able to accurately share with them.

However, the most important reason is that we work with Bolivian nationals! At this point, it looks as though we will not have any expat missionaries on our tribal missionary team. The other families that are getting involved in this tribe are Bolivians that have gone (or are going) through our organization's national training program, similar to what we did in the US. For us to work and fellowship together, we must be able to communicate with them at a high level.

When will you finish and move into the tribe?
That's a complicated question! If we continue to progress as we have, I hope to finish my Spanish study next spring. Kaylee will hopefully finish around the end of the year or early 2013. A lot of that depends on what I get involved in after I finish Spanish and how much I can take over at home to give Kaylee more study time.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What is it?

Vote in the poll below, or take a stab at it in the comments and let us know what you think!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Election Day Barbecue

Think about what it would be like to host a group of 10 friends and their 5 children for an all-day barbecue in your home.

Now imagine that you just met all of these friends 8 months ago, barely speak their language, and do things quite differently than them, especially in the kitchen.

You may be able to imagine how Kaylee and I feel today: tired.

This all started because Sunday was Election Day here in Bolivia. Due to political/civil concerns, there is no driving allowed and it is prohibited to meet in large groups, no matter how peaceful. Because of this, church is always canceled and people stay at home, except to walk to the local school to vote. A week ago, I was with a few of the guys and they mentioned that they wanted to get together and do a barbeque and a movie. I volunteered our house for multiple reasons: we have a bigger-than-average grill and a video projector, our house works well for parties, and it would be another great opportunity to get people into our home.

The idea is that everyone pitches in $3.50, then the organizers go buy a mountain of meat, rice, and potatoes.

The plan was that they would all go vote early and show up at our place between 9:30 and 10:00 am. Of course, what really happened is that our first guests showed up at almost 11:00. :) Kaylee was busy making donuts to serve as an appetizer. I started a fire on the grill and got the terer├ę going around.

Here in Bolivia, the meal preparations are as much a part of the social event as the meal itself. Everyone's first question when they arrive is, "What can I do?" Everyone jumps in and gets involved in preparing meat, making llajwa, peeling potatoes (for fries), washing dishes, etc.

The problem is that we're not used to this. . .our kitchen is stocked with enough stuff for one or two people to prepare food (something we obviously need to change). People here have different standards for dish-washing than we do. Some of you ladies will empathize with how difficult it can be to share your kitchen, but with the added stress of culture and language issues, it is extremely tiring!

After an excellent meal of grilled chicken legs, t-bone steaks, chops, sausage, cheesy rice (a local favorite), french fries, and salad, we started our movie. Kaylee and two of the ladies played Sorry (new for them. . .yay Kaylee!) in the kitchen while the kids played with playdough that Kaylee created a couple days ago.

At 6:30, when the movie ended, everyone helped clean up and was out the door around 7:00 (yes, 8 hours later!). Kaylee and I popped the girls in their jammies and beds, and then at 8:30 I headed out to play walleyball with many of the same people (3 more hours!)

A crazy day, but one full of learning experiences, linguistically, relationally, and spiritually.

A photo slideshow:

If you click on the photo, you can go directly to it in Picasa to see it larger!

Friday, October 14, 2011

When I Grow Up. . .

I have never thought of myself as an adventurer, I love control too much. As a girl I learned to downhill ski just like everyone else in my family but I hated it. I know there are those that absolutely love cruising down the slope with the wind blowing and a mountain of white in front of them. . .not me. I much prefer a cozy couch with a warm cup of hot chocolate and a good book. Ahh, a good story, enough adventure for me!

Well my story has brought me to Bolivia. Who would have thought that I would be a missionary wife?! This first move, although very difficult in ways, has been quite smooth. Living in the city, with all of (or most of ) the luxuries of the US, we are quite comfortable. Quite honestly, the language is the largest barrier but even that is slowly coming down. Now don't get me wrong, there are a LOT of differences between here and there but this move has been relatively easy.

We are steadily moving forward and know that our next move will be only a year or two down the road. That's not much time! As we look ahead we realize that this move, from the city to the jungle, will actually be a harder move than our 5,000 mile move to a different country. We'll be losing luxuries, moving into a hot and humid climate, and surrounding ourselves with bugs, spiders and snakes I don't even really know exist yet (oh, and rats too!).

I was recently chatting with a group of experienced missionary wives, one who has lived many years in the jungle of Bolivia, and some of the stories they had to share were enough to shake me to the core. What am I doing?! Where are we moving? God, when did You make me an adventurer? I love being a homebody, a wife, a mom, even a homeschool teacher, but a missionary. . .am I cut out for this?

One of the women shared this thought with us,
A first-term missionary wife buys flour and throws it out when she finds bugs in it. A second-term missionary wife buys flour and picks the bugs out. A third-term missionary wife buys flour and cooks it with the bugs in. A fourth-term missionary wife buys flour and doesn't even notice the bugs!

Sadly, I have to admit that I was that typical first-term missionary wife. We bought whole-wheat flour and oats in bulk towards the beginning of our time here. After a couple of weeks I opened up the container and had moths flying in my face. I starting filtering through it and found more bugs, a grub, and patches of eggs. I couldn't stomach it and ending up tossing the flour. I did keep the oats and filtered through it all and making sure to cook it well when I used it.

I know Nathan looks forward to the adventure a good vehicle and a jungle road brings. All I can say, I know I will survive by the grace of God. :)

All that said, I know that God is greater than any circumstance I will ever encounter. I'm thankful for this adventurous life and the many ways it is going to stretch me for many years to come, Lord willing. I am excited to look back and see the many ways that God was my strength when I was incredibly weak and unfit for the situation. Already He has proven Himself so faithful. To God be the glory as we travel this path.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wanted: Our Own Vehicle

Ever since we arrived in Bolivia, just over 8 months ago, we've been riding around in public transportation. On one hand, it has been a blessing: we have been able to explore Cochabamba without worrying about knowing where everything is, going the wrong way down a one-way, or running out of gas. On the other hand, I really miss the joy of driving, we rarely go outside of our routine (much less, the city), and everything takes waaaaaay longer to get done. That, and we're planning to move to the jungle. . .

I have been doing local research to add to what I've been slowly learning over the last couple years. Because we plan to spend most of our life here beyond the pavement and civilization-as-we-know-it, we need a vehicle that is tough, reliable, capable off-road, easy to maintain, and easy to fix. In a word: Toyota.

We are looking primarily for a Toyota Land Cruiser or Hilux, with the Nissan Patrol in the running as well. These vehicles are legendary worldwide for the characteristics mentioned above, are common here in Bolivia, and parts are readily available. We are looking mostly at models from the '90s, mostly due to price and availability.

A few weeks ago, I took an opportunity to go to the Venta de Autos here in Cochabamba. Basically, there's about 4 city blocks on both sides of a park area that gets loaded with vehicles of all makes, models, and styles every Wednesday and Saturday. Here is what I found:

Basically, there's an awful lot of shiny vehicles selling for a lot more than we feel we should spend. Take this 1999 Nissan Patrol for example.
It would be a fantastic vehicle in all respects, as far as I could tell, but at $24,000, it's beyond us.

This 1987 Toyota FJ75 Land Cruiser would be a fantastic choice. It was in unbelievable mechanical condition and had new paint too! All too often, people here focus on the paint and chrome and don't do maintenance. Obviously not the case with this one:
Price tag: $18,000

We saw several Toyota Hiluxes, but this 1993 was the best of the bunch:
At $13,700, it was also the best deal.

Of course the prices don't include winch, tires, or other equipment we'll have to purchase to make a vehicle jungle-ready.

Please pray for wisdom as we continue to look at the options and for the finances we need to make a purchase.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday at Our House

Wednesday mornings are usually time at home for us. We don't have classes, and it's market day in the city, so we generally avoid going shopping.

For Kaylee, it is laundry day and school time. Anne is slowly working into Kindergarten studies and Addi and Lydia have preschool time. I spend the bulk of the morning sequestered in our little study room.

Addi matching colors to make shapes (and naming most correctly!)

Anne working on a maze from a lesson (she enjoys them and does ones much more difficult than this)

Lydia had a bad attitude, so her class was held in her bed. She was investigating can stacking.

I am writing a lesson on Music, the Bible, and Culture

Monday, October 3, 2011

What's in a Vowel?

Like English, Spanish has 5 vowels in the alphabet: A, E, I, O, U. However, in English we're fairly liberal with them, and actually use around 15 different vowel sounds when we speak. That's not the case in Spanish. Spanish vowels tend to be much more pure (always sound the same). Unfortunately, that can get you into trouble, if you're not careful!

A few days ago, I went next door to the butcher shop to buy some meat for the grill. We are slowly building a relationship with the butcher and his wife, and she told me once that when I could speak better, she wanted me to teach her the Bible. On this particular day, while her husband was cutting some meat for me, she started to ask me questions. To my delight, I was able to answer them, and we spent an hour chatting about many different Biblical subjects! This was a tremendous breakthrough for me as a language learner.

However, as I excused myself to leave, I indicated the meat and intended to say "Todavia tengo que pagarle" (I still have to pay you), but because I was not careful with my vowels, I accidentally said "Todavia tengo que pegarle" (I still have to hit/beat you)!!! Whoops!


Kaylee and Anne walking past our butcher shop (as seen from our balcony)

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Click on the photo to see a larger image.

The sunset here has been awesome. If you've checked out our Picasa photos you may have realized how often we grab the camera as the sun is displaying its radiance. It's just so hard to resist. I have to say though that this night was amazing. The Cristo statue is a great reminder of why we are here and we have a great view from our home. This night the sunset was the perfect setting and again a great reminder of why we live. The second photo is added just so you can see how awesome the spotlight was.

The photo below is just a bonus. Addi and Lydia were completely silent one day while I was working in the kitchen and Nathan and Anne were reading books. Well it didn't take long for Daddy to figure out the trouble. Our house plant was a great distraction. This photo was actually taken two days later when Nathan, Anne and I were in the office. We heard Addi and Lydia having a great time. Honestly their laughter was contagious until Nathan began to think that they may be at it again. This time they were throwing the dirt, not just digging in it! I couldn't resist grabbing the camera although Addi was already with Daddy in the bathroom getting a good "talking to" and clean-up. :) (Oh, and if you're curious, that's just dirt out of the pot, not a black-eye!)