Since my last language update, a lot has changed, a lot of time under the bridge. I get the question now, more than I used to: Are you fluent? My answer: Enough. Maybe you could call it functional fluency. When I speak to new Khmer people and they comment on my Khmer, my answer is usually ‘some days enough, some days not enough’. I can enter a conversation with a Khmer person now and most days I can understand what they are trying to communicate with varying degrees of clarity concerning details. I don’t feel nervous talking in Khmer anymore. Five years of language investment and I’m reaching the stage where I am generally comfortable communicating in Khmer. Do I still get lost when two Khmer people are speaking to each other? Absolutely. Are there times when I need to use English because I don’t understand? Yup. But these times are becoming less and less.
In the classroom my need for a translator is diminishing. Since January I’ve started to teach without a translator present. I say to people that the quality of my content that I can deliver would go from an 80% with a translator to a 70% without one. I would be missing some insights and descriptive clarity, but I can get the most important points across now.
One thing I have noticed. When I began teaching I couldn’t really read technical Khmer language so I used to write my own notes in Khmer and get them checked and then use that. Since returning I have moved to a situation where I write my notes in English then get a translator to translate it into Khmer for me. My reading ability means that I can use their translation in a way that I couldn’t in the beginning. As a result my reading of Khmer has improved while my typing of Khmer has slowed and become more tricky.
The way I look at my learning of Khmer up till now is that my language learning has been an investment that I now get to reap the rewards. I can go deeper relationally. I can go deeper in my ability to communicate and I don’t get a headache from using Khmer too much like I used to. I still get tired after using Khmer. I still get lost when using Khmer. But I’m content with my ability while all the while still seeking to improve. Improvement at present is particularly around listening to Khmer sermons to flood myself with input language times where I’m just getting more and more used to local phrases and ways of expressing things.
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