Life as an Insect Inside a Glass Jar:
Language Learning Through Immersion
(Sic Semper, Malinowski and the Tropical Seashore…)
What does it really feel wish to stay as an insect inside a glass jar? The praying mantis was faraway from its setting all of a sudden, and plopped right into a clean, brilliant glass vessel, together with different things that resembled its unique house– a number of sticks, pebbles, and an ant to nibble on. I feel people who wrestle to study a language by way of immersion in a very totally different tradition know greatest what it’d feel wish to be the praying mantis you captured whenever you have been a toddler, or to turn into that baby again. At the very least that is how I feel here in Tanzania as I wrestle with learning Kiswahili. I look out from the jar with a couple of sort-of-familiar objects in any respect those individuals wanting in, and typically, the individual whom I can most relate to is a two-year previous.
Why is language studying by means of cultural immersion like being the insect inside that jar? When learning a language in a new culture, everyone sees one another clearly. We see each other’s movements, colours and habits. We share the same time zone and surrounding social setting. The insect and the individuals even share the identical materials gadgets, placed within the jar, and the jar itself shares the same bodily and social setting. But readability of understanding ends abruptly by seeing only. The insect remains behind a thick wall of glass, and nonetheless, the two-year previous is seldom understood if he babbles or cries.
“Imagine yourself as an insect, suddenly plopped down into a clear, bright jar in another society.”
Like all discipline, anthropologists learn their ‘founding fathers.’ Considered one of whom is Bronislaw Malinowski, the Austrian scholar who found himself unable to return to Austria from British New Guinea when World Warfare I broke out. So he took the opportunity of his internment overseas to review techniques of change. Malinowski, who happens to be my “intellectual great-grandfather,” romanticized the story as, “Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach…” However I ask, imagine yourself as an insect, out of the blue plopped down into a transparent, shiny jar in another society. Sorry Bronislaw, language faculty shouldn’t be a romantic tropical seashore!
Maybe out of satisfaction or embarrassment, most ethnographers never share the method of language studying (besides Nigel Barley!). A couple of share the awkwardness of studying a brand new tradition, however solely as if it have been improbably divorced from language (is that even attainable?!). Still, many anthropologists pursuing superior degrees never discovered a brand new language– either because they selected a thesis by which studying a brand new language was not crucial, or because they relied on translators. In the long run, many have verified degrees and revealed papers, whereas having efficiently skipped past the troublesome part– notably, complete language immersion by dwelling with native families. They nonetheless know just one language. Sorry, dwelling in a hostel, and the sinking feeling of returning to the lodge room at night time, paid for by your liberal grant fund, does not rely as cultural immersion with language-in-use.
“And the feeling of smiling back, completely unable to express myself is like a smothering pillow or an asthma attack that no one can hear.”
Throughout full cultural and language immersion, a melancholy will ebb and move with the patterns of every day life in your new tradition. Imagine yourself inside the confines of that shiny, clean jar, in which you’ll be able to see the wonders of your new world. Colors are amplified by mild refractions by means of the jar, with rays of shiny sunshine energizing you and dramatic sky darkenings adopted by sheets of water pouring from the skies. Sounds are shiny, and clear, but echoed and distorted, typically abnormally loud, and different occasions muffled and inaudible as sounds mix collectively.
Some days, a way of journey leaps out of your breast with opportunities to follow new phrases or even idioms when you journey to an unknown vacation spot for hours by automotive, or bounce on the back of a motorbike, or stability a toddler and a sack of coal in your lap in an overburdened bus. Different days, tiredness is so heavy, it’s exhausting to smile, eat, move, or perform in any respect, much to the concern of your hosts in possession of the jar. Is the insect okay? Should we take this customer to a hospital? I’ll always remember the confused smiles, as eyes attempt to pierce the glass in understanding. Who is this new individual? Why have they got these unusual habits? And the sensation of smiling again, utterly unable to precise myself is like a smothering pillow or an asthma assault that no one can hear.
But experiencing day by day life in your new surroundings, sharing the same sensory experiences as these outdoors of your jar, with out with the ability to perceive what is occurring is just one divide fortifying the clean, glass wall of the jar. You bounce along muddy or dusty roads to go to So-and-So, with out having a clue what’s happening. The individuals outdoors of the jar either don’t know you don’t know, or the thought of your confusion doesn’t even enter their mind.
“The crowning experience of living inside of a jar is the feeling of living inside of yourself– of not being understood. It’s a feeling best described as something between an invisible prison cell and that asthma attack, which I assume feels the same as being suffocated by a pillow.”
Nevertheless, the crowning expertise of dwelling inside a jar is the feeling of dwelling inside yourself– of not being understood. It’s a sense greatest described as something between an invisible jail cell and that asthma assault, which I assume feels the same as being suffocated by a pillow. So as to add to the confusion, there are genuine outpourings and choices and generosity. Especially offerings of care and help that you recognize you’ll be able to by no means repay, hospitality that has made you cry in gratitude. But the lack of ability to precise your ideas, emotions, struggles, and confusions stays. The confused appears of genuine concern (at greatest) and the gaping, open-mouthed stares and laughter (at worst) stay. Your thoughts and physique have a reply, however it stops behind the back of the throat.
At the moment, I don’t know what we’re doing. Typically I find out about things at a moment’s discover. Or, we’re leaving proper now. But I wait two hours. Most of the time someone addresses me, I need to reply with, “What? You are saying? Say again? Slowly, please. I don’t understand.” Or, at worst, a wave of the white flag– a totally blank stare with my greasy hair and eyeglasses standing on end and slipping down my sweaty nostril, wanting like I need to cry. I belief my new kin in my new country, because Baba and Mama lived right here, they have been married here. My pitiful 6 months pales in comparison to years. So I’m never scared. I belief and love these people who look after me, utterly. However the feeling of loneliness and isolation within the glass jar is an excessive amount of some days.
“The glass of my jar is composed of language and culture…but language is an intimacy I don’t think is well understood.”
I grip the edges of the glass jar, typically I knock on it. Typically I need to put up my fists and spit, when someone factors, “Hey look, an alien visitor!” however the spit lands on the within of the glass, solely to block my view and remind me of my place and my exotic nature. Different occasions I look out and admire the sensible, scary and loving beauty. But the very actual, clear and powerful border that separates me from my new surroundings is culture and language, not the bureaucratic calls for of passports, levels, and even language courses. The glass of my jar is composed of language and tradition.
At the university the place I obtained my diploma, there was just one (although very thorough!) linguistics class, seemingly taught as a putative obligation to the 4 area self-discipline I typically discuss with as anthro-apology. However language is an intimacy, an intimacy I don’t assume is nicely understood. Typically, it looks like linguistics is the red-headed step baby of our self-discipline.
“What will happen as cultures, societies, and languages continue their paths towards convergence? When I looked down at the little boy on the floor, maybe because it’s easy to love a baby, I grabbed my shirt and silently wept.”
Here in Tanzania, I’m blessed beyond my potential to offer because of be dwelling with a household with a two yr previous. He’s a latecomer to the household, so I think about he’ll be clever past his years and nicely socialized together with his elders and leaders in schooling and worldwide relations. However his father advised me one night time, within the language I’m learning, that someday, he will face a linguistic crisis hinged upon two languages– the language of my culture (English) and the language of his tradition, which I’m struggling to study (Kiswahili). What is going to occur as cultures, societies, and languages continue their paths in the direction of convergence? Once I appeared down at the little boy on the floor, perhaps because it’s straightforward to love a baby, I grabbed my shirt and silently wept.
“He calls me dada, or sister. On those days, it feels like the two-year-old understands me better than any of the adults.”
These days, the little boy’s favourite phrase is dudu, which is the basis word for insect, in Kiswahili. We is perhaps anyplace, although typically at house, and he appears to spot a bug– scurrying beneath a sofa or flitting behind a curtain. Dudu! He exclaims out of the blue. Dudu…I found a dudu! Typically, the insect is just too small for anybody to see, or we’re unsure if he truly noticed a dudu. Or perhaps the dudu is invisible to us, however very real to him, just like the walls of my glass jar. Me feeling like an insect in my glass jar, him in search of dudu. Even on the times I feel most isolated inside my jar, he has never referred to as me dudu. He calls me dada, or sister. On those days, it feels just like the two-year-old understands me higher than any of the adults. Not solely because we’re both learning a language. We’re working towards social context together, we’re working towards language-in-use together. And we’re in all probability confused collectively and smile together. However he has the benefit that, as a two-year previous, this is expected. For myself, as a 30-something-year previous, I find it one way or the other painful to return to a child-like state.
Perhaps those moments where he spots a dudu that nobody can see, it’s simply me he sees. Over time, he’ll grow up and grow to be mature. He’ll study both Kiswahili and English. And he gained’t see these sorts of dudu like me anymore. He’ll be immersed in his language and culture, and the glass jar will turn out to be invisible. And perhaps, if I’m still in Tanzania, I hope to have left the glass jar created by the language barrier, the boundary having disappeared for each of us. When he faces both languages, I hope he will open up to me, in both language. Till then, at the least there’s a two-year previous who typically sees the dudu in the glass jar.
(Thus All the time, Malinowski and the Insect in the Glass Jar…)
See also, by Tony Waters:
Language Learning, Stigma, and Protecting a Probably Spoiled Id
This submit was edited whereas we danced to “Vunja Mifupa” by Samba Mapangala.