Language learning is beyond insanity.
It is the most bizarre idea anyone ever attempted. To learn an entirely new way to see the world around and inside you….thoughts, actions, realities… in words. To try and tell your brain that what has meant one thing since you were say, 1 or 2, is something ENTIRELY different (and in a different order, and tone BTW).
How very, very strange. Almost twilight zone-level-strangeness.
We have been chugging along this language track for about 10 months now. In a perfect 10 months there would be no days consisting of headaches, exhaustion, apathetic feelings towards language, insecurity, brain fatigue, memory blocks, bad attitudes, speaking blocks….or sick-day-holiday-skip-days-kids-at-home days either…
But unfortunately, we didn’t somehow opt out of those things called LIFE when we started this daunting process. Shucks.
And yet, with God’s grace right with us each tiny, seemingly insignificant (no for real!) step of the way….we are learning to speak(ish) the beautiful Thai language.
And since ‘speaking another language’ sounds like one thing to folks who have yet to really do so….we want to let y’all peak into our journeys as were progressing down this language train track.
CAVEAT, all you lovely-well-intended friends who said “oh kids learn languages so quick, they’ll be flying past you and speaking fluent in no time!”
No. No. Nope.
If only it were that simple.
Learning a language is INCREDIBLY complex, like physics-level complex, and while young kids have more brain potential to do such a thing, they are not just sponges who suck it all up with out intentionality and huge struggle. Truly, apart from VERY young kids being TOTALLY immersed in a second language (happening at home, at school, at play, in TV…ect) we have not found this idea to be true (with our kids or other TCKs).
Camden- Cam is in a bilingual pre-school 5 days a week. The schools intention is to help Thai kids learn English, so only the afternoon is in Thai, but all but 1 (lovely) teacher are Thai, so he is learning basic Thai all day long from them with the routine, ect.
It is often said that kids who are bilingual at a young age end up speaking later than a 1-language kiddo, and while Cam would not be put in that camp, we think its a close comparison. The brain is learning to file words and concepts in each language, and since there are two languages coming in, it takes longer for the language to come out in its proper channel (language A/language B). So after being here for 10 months we are finally starting to see more Thai language actually coming out, and definitely comprehension of more things. He is such a brave little guy- and his love for life is probably one of the best attributes in attempting another language.
Tessa- Tessa is in a bilingual school as well (The School of Promise), while instruction there is more like 70% Thai, 30% English. While outside of school she really wrestles with nervousness in using Thai, in school she feels quite confident. Her comprehension is phenomenal, and her ability to speak is a close second to her amazing comprehension. Sometimes in public we ask her if we understand what someone said, and often she can help us out on a few missing words or phrases. Ha! What a help that is! Tessa has really excelled in the English language, speaking in full, articulate sentences at 2. Learning a new language is not in isolation to how you learn and engage with your own language. We really see her unique success as an extension of her well-adept English skills, as well as her high-interest level in Thai.
Lucas- Lucas is also at The School of Promise. The beginning of school was quite rough for Lucas, as he is a highly-feeling person, and is pretty aware socially. So not fitting it, and being told that, really affected him a lot. That element isn’t gone, but it’s improving, and so is his ability to ‘handle’ that harsh reality. At first he said he had no idea what was going on for a while, and now he says he understands what’s going on, and what’s expected of him! Amazing! Like usual, his comprehension is a lot stronger than what he can actually say, but both are improving. We think his 2nd year in school is when a lot is really going to come together and ‘click’. We are so proud of him TOTALLY getting out of his comfort zone, and most days, having a willing spirit and good attitude about tackling this language/culture giant.
Nikki- Nikki is at The School of Promise part-time. She had a much more eager attitude about starting at a Thai school, and kind of jumped all in! She has been to several schools in her life, and she has learned a definite level of resilience. It was hard for her at first being the only black student at TSOP, but again, she had some experience to pull from, and we were amazed how well she has navigated that. Kids have seemed to accept that she’s a part of the school now and the ‘novelty’ of her having much darker skin than their own, has started to wear off. Nikki has been keenly observant and has had strong comprehension for some time now, and those two skills have paid off in Thai for sure! She, like the rest of us, has better comprehension of what people are saying, but remembering how to say things right is hard for her. Nevertheless, she’s definitely the most brave of the kids, and she will initiate a conversation, when ever the rest of us maybe won’t. We’re amazed how she has managed all of this transition, and still kept her fun-loving, eager approach for life!
Lauren- As if most of you didn’t know, I (Lauren) write these posts, with my trusty side-kick editor and add-a-few-things-guy, Luke at my side. It’s hard for me to summarize my language learning, as my view-point is not from the outside. Luke and I have different strengths, and that has played out well for the most part in learning Thai. My memory (when it comes to intentional memorization, not getting groceries!) has always been a strength for me, so my retention of the LOAD-fuls of vocab words we get is typically more than Luke’s. Remembering the tones (that each word has) is a tad bit easier for me too. I so wish I was further along, and still didn’t get stuck SO often, but this language gig is not one you can control and tame….its a process that you MUST submit to. And submission has not always been my best skill 😉
Luke- Who would have ever thought that out of the intro or extrovert, the former would be the braver one?! Such a surprise to both of us. Luke can come up with what to say more quickly than I, quite often, and I can help by reminding him of certain words here and there. When it comes to needing to approach someone and use Thai, Luke is often the leader, as I chicken out with the start-up more than I want to admit 😉 Then once we get started, we’re a good team, and with 2 of us listening and responding, there’s DOUBLE the chance that we’ll actually make it semi-successfully to the end of the conversation. Phew. In this language game we are always needing to boost our chances.
So there is, the 10 month (very official) language assessment! At this point we really need STAMINA and a revitalized motivation to KEEP GOING. We recognize we wouldn’t have gotten HERE without each day plugging along word by word….HOWEVER, looking into the future and seeing WHERE we have to go….is still incredibly daunting. Maybe even more so now. And the feelings of hopelessness and the desire to abandon the language track is strong some days. Yah know how they say the more you know, the more you realize you DON’T know…..yeah…that about summarizes it!