We have begun one of the most important tasks of missionary work: learning the local language! We are so excited to be starting Thai classes! Actually, there are several local languages, of which we would like to learn two, Thai and Karen. We are taking Thai language classes from a private teacher, who is coming to our place to teach us. We chose to start Thai because it is the main language, and so most interactions, like shopping, will be in Thai.
Since we have been here, the most difficult thing is not understanding everyone. I guess I didn't realize how much of my adult identity was wrapped up in reading, writing, and speaking. I feel so helpless when I listen to the people around me, even kids, and it just sounds like gibberish.
Our first lessons have a few phrases, like “sawatdee” (“hello”) and “pay nay kha (“where are you going?”)?” But the focus is on the main phonetic sounds of Thai. To be precise, we are learning to babble in Thai!
Learning to babble is actually more necessary than it would seem. Thai has several sounds that English does not. They have one vowel, for example, that is approximately in between a short “i” sound the short “u” sound. Working on that vowel has, unbelievably, made my tongue muscle sore. Then there's the “ng” sound, which we have in “-ing” words, but unlike English, “ng” can start a word. Thai not only has a “d” and a “t” sound, but also has an in between sound where your tongue hits the back of your teeth (it's also described as a non-aspirated “t”). In our lessons, our English “t” is spelled “th” and the non-aspirated sound is spelled “t”. Oh, and they don't have either of the English sounds for “th” in their language at all. Confusing, don't you think? Our Thai teacher says not to worry, just keep practicing and listening.
After we master the basic phonetic sounds, we will start to learn a few words at a time, and a few phrases at a time. Already, I get excited when I hear one word that I know from our phrases. Who knows what the Thai person is really talking about, but at least I recognized one word they said.
I feel like a baby, or toddler, trying to learn how to talk all over again. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) In this case, it seems that I need to become as a little child to help others, of Thailand, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, the humility needed for learning a new language seems to be part of Jesus continued work in changing me to be like Him.