My situation is different. I am encouraged to speak English in the classroom. When I leave school at the end of the day, I head to town and a fair amount of people speak English to me. As I’ve said in earlier posts, it’s common for me to see someone on the street and say, “Mālō,” because I want to practice my Samoan, and for that person to say, “Hello” to me because they want to practice their English. I have cultivated a reasonable amount of friendships with host country nationals who live near me, and though most of them are native Samoan speakers, English is the language they prefer to use primarily.
I’ve been back to the training village 10 times this year; easily more times than any other volunteer in group 81, save for those who were dating people in the host village and were going back and forth a lot early on. I make a strong effort to immerse myself in Samoan culture and, yes, language.
They say it takes an average of 7 years to become fluent in a language, and sitting through and comprehending an hour-long staff meeting necessitates a pretty high level of fluency. Even the members of group 81 who speak great Samoan still talk about how they understand maybe 40% of their staff meetings.
I have a working knowledge of Samoan, and I can clarify concepts for my students, hold my own in a conversation with a taxi driver, barter at the market, laugh at the security guard’s jokes outside the Peace Corps office, and tell my host family stories about teaching. But in an hour-long staff meeting where I’m not the only one giving nonverbal cues, where it’s not really appropriate for me to stop a speaker to clarify a word, where for whatever reasons my vice pule speaks so softly she’s nearly inaudible, there’s bound to be information that eludes me.
And even then, as I said in yesterday’s post, I can often ask 2 people about what was said at a meeting and get 2 contradictory answers because beyond language, there are all kinds of politics and hierarchies and cultural nuances that go into a staff meeting.
Finally, most of the year our staff meetings haven’t gone on for more than 30 minutes, but they’ve been going long lately, to the point that even if they were held in English, my eyes would be glazing over by the end.
As I said at the beginning, I am insecure about my language skills (thus this post), and I recognize I haven’t made the progress others have. But I’ve tried my damnedest, and I’m completely satisfied with where I’m at after living in Apia for a year. Sure, there are still times when I’m caught off guard, but I think the most fluent of volunteers would report a constant flow of surprise. I will continue to maneuver through life, school and otherwise, as best I can.
I hope you’re well. Pictures below.
The Year 13 boys wanted to take a group photo, so I suggested this background.
Then they suggested this background.