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Spoiler: it's not at easy as they said it would be...

The Huang family newsletter


The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State has a language difficulty ranking. There are four groups. For someone whose native language is English, group 1 represents the easiest languages to learn, and group 4 is (as they put it) the "super-hard languages." Topping the list in group 4 are Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese.

Within group 1? French.

After about 30 weeks and 600 hours or so, one should expect to function at ILR Level 3* in both speaking and reading. (ILR Level 3 corresponds to C1 in the CEFRL European system.)

So, basically, French should be easy.

Then why do we have such a hard time with it?

Solène does her independent study in the corner of our French classroom.

It’s a struggle day-in and day-out. We learn something, we forget it, and then we have to learn it again. And then we forget it again. We speak, we fumble, we get tongue-twisted. We talk and then we observe the faces of confusion around us. Did we not pronounce something right? Did we misconjugate a verb? Or did we simply use the wrong vocabulary?

It should be easy. But it’s not.

To be fair, for the English speaker, French has a lot going for it. You don’t have to learn a new alphabet or writing system. There is a lot of overlap in Latin roots. Some 30% of English words have French roots.

We’re also not exactly new to the language learning business. Kimberley’s mother tongue is Mandarin; but she also speaks English and Cantonese fluently – as well as a few random phrases in Japanese. anDrew was, at least at one point in his life (and somewhat counterintuitively given his Chinese-Korean roots) conversational in Spanish and Swahili – as well as a few random phrases in Korean.

It should be easy. But it’s not. There could be a number of reasons for this. (Or, as detailed in a previous newsletter, just one.) Maybe it’s our age. Maybe it’s our motivation. Maybe it’s our environment.

Nolan tests out some Greek pool waters

I (anDrew) recently chatted with a Morϻoɳ friend about his two-year mission to Brazil after his first year of university. The LDŜ church is widely known to have some of the most effective language study programs in the world. Take a 19-year-old kid, hide him away in Utah for 3 months, move him abroad, and he’ll then be knocking on doors and discussing Jeȿưs Chriƨt and Joȿeρh Sϻith in a language he wasn’t speaking 10 weeks prior. No matter what your thoughts on the LƉS church, that is impressive. I asked my friend what the chᵾrḉh secret was to learning languages so quickly. He thought for a minute and then answered simply: “It helps that we have the power of the Ḩolɣ Ṩρiriṭ aiding us to learn the language to do His work.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Does my struggle in French mean that I do not have the Ӊolɣ Ṩρiriṭ aiding me as such?
It should be easy. But it’s not. So we putter along, thankful for the small improvements we can see in ourselves, hoping for more improvements that escape our detection, and trusting that someday, sometime, it will start to make sense.
 
*For those interested: “Individuals classified at level 3 are able to use the language as part of normal professional duties and can reliably elicit information and informed opinion from native speakers; examples include answering objections, clarifying points, stating and defending policy, conducting meetings, and reading with almost complete comprehension a variety of prose material on familiar and unfamiliar topics such as news reports, routine correspondence, and technical material in trained fields of competence.”

And now...for some family pictures!

anDrew's uncle Howard from Atlanta (far right) came to visit us for a couple days right as anDrew's parents were leaving. Nolan and Solène were happy to bask in the love (and gifts) from their great-uncle.
We recently returned from the CMDA biennial CME conference in Greece. We only stayed five days (the conference lasts two weeks), but we were thrilled to meet the majority of our future teammates in Gabon and many other physician friends from across the African continent.
Not only recently was it Easter Sunday, it's also Solène's 백일, the Korean celebration of her being 100 days old! We had a small celebration with pizza, friends, and strawberry cake.
French and sitting up straight: it should be easy. But it’s not. Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us along the way.
     
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anDrew
: docdrew@gmail.com

Kimberley: kimboley@gmail.com
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Copyright © 2018 The Huang Dynasty, All rights reserved.

This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan and Solène Huang: their journey from the US to Canada to France and, ultimately, to Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, West Africa, with the Post-Residency Program of Samaritan's Purse (World Medical Mission).

The views and opinions expressed here are solely ours, and they do not necessarily represent those of Samaritan's Purse or World Medical Mission.

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