Our First Language Evaluation

I feel like every day we experience firsts here in Papua New Guinea but this week we experienced a very special first, our first language evaluation! While here in Papua New Guinea we will be learning two languages. The first language is the national language spoken here in PNG which is Tok Pisin. After we test out of this language, which usually takes around 6 months, we will then transition into looking for a tribe to move into. Once there in the tribe we will begin to learn their heart (tribal) language.

For the last 7 weeks Dave and I have begun the process of learning Tok Pisin. Dave gets in around 40 hours a week of language learning while I get around 15. Those hours are divided between time in the village with our language helpers and then time back at home processing the information we’ve gotten, imputing information into a database for further studying, practicing what we’ve learned and then planning for the next language session.

This last week we got our first language evaluation to see how we are progressing as well as to become familiar with the whole process. Days leading up to the eval we were extremely nervous. The way the evals are set up is that the consultant will go into the village and sit with you and your language helper while testing you in different areas. The consultant wants to get you to a point that you can’t communicate anymore and then they are able to decipher how much you know. Basically they want to see at what level you fail. So in a sense we got to experience failure this week! Yipee!

We were very nervous going into this evaluation... can you tell?

During our evaluation we decided to go to David’s language helper, Gabinus. We ran through some basic drills of body parts and naming objects in and around his home. After that Gabinus asked David and I to do preform certian commands like, “Go touch the banana tree. Pick up two spoons and put them inside the cup. Turn the cup over and place the spoon on top.” This was to test our comprehension level. David and I then asked Gabinus to do certain commands as well. I was feeling silly and asked Gabinus to pick up the banana leaf and put it on Dave’s head. Gabinus thought that was pretty funny, as did I. After the basic drills we moved into the fun part, storying. First our language consultant, Aaron, had Gabinus tell us a story and then we were to repeat in English what Gabinus said. After that Aaron asked us to tell Gabinus stories. I was asked me to tell Gabinus how a man marries a woman in the states and what the process looks like. That was a big stretch for me and my 7 weeks of Tok Pisin vocab. Dave’s story was a little bit more fun as Aaron asked David to describe to Gabinus what my dress looked like on our wedding day and what my dress represents… big pause then lots of laughter. Dave’s limits were definitely met in that story as oddly enough virginity had not been a topic of their conversation recently.

Snapped a picture of Dave durring his part of the eval.

The man in the green shirt is Aaron, our language consultant and the man on the right is Gabinus.

A couple days after the evaluation we sat down with our language consultant and got an overview of where we are at in the language learning process and what steps we should take next. There are 10 levels in the language learning process, Basic low/med/high, Progressing low/med/high, Capable low/med/high and then Proficient. Dave and I both ranked at level 4 of 10, progressing low! We were so happy with this news! Dave did a lot to make it so that I could be right beside him in language learning and I am extremely thankful for it! He goes out and spends three hours getting certain words and phrases then comes home, teaches them to me and within 5 min I have them memorized. On certain days he takes the kids for a few hours so that I can go into the village without kids to get some good language session time. (Learning language is hard enough, throw in a baby and a four year old and things get crazy lol) He does a lot for me to be able to learn along side him and I am extremely thankful. There is still so much to learn and I’m sure some times he will pull ahead but I’m thankful for his help in giving me this start.

More than anything we feel great thankfulness for Gods grace in allowing us the ability to learn what we have thus far and for your sacrifice and partnership in allowing us to do this job. As we were walking to the language evaluation I leaned over to David and said, “Can you believe we are walking in the jungle of Papua New Guinea, learning Tok Pisin?!” What a privilege it is to be here!


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