Translating a lecture from English to Khmer
In 2018 I have already transitioned from classroom language learning to independent language learning. Now as I edge closer to October I’m transitioning out of full time language learning. With the goal of teaching in Khmer, part of my time this past 6 months has been lesson prep. To streamline my language learning with my lesson prep I geared my language learning towards learning stories from the OT; thinking through how to explain themes and topics that arise from those stories. In a sense, my language learning has been more specific than in the early days. In early days, I was learning basic Khmer for a variety of different situations and on a variety of different topics. Now my language learning (intentional learning) is much more narrowly targeted. Having the goal of teaching in Khmer has actually been really helpful for motivation, a massive carrot.
As I transition away from full time language learning, I’m not really leaving it. What I’m leaving is my independent learning category. For I’ll be still learning massive amounts of Khmer as I teach in it. It’s just that learning won’t be the primary goal, teaching will be. And I guess that’s the case in our native language as well. We never actually leave language learning fully, not even in English. What changes is that it no longer becomes the primary goal, but a secondary bonus. So while I’ll transition from language learning in one sense, in another I’ll never leave it — life long language learning.
What this looks like in practice can be seen when I contrast pre-August break and post-August break. In both periods I was doing language learning and lesson prep. But, pre-break, with my language helper I was more getting help with language learning stuff (rather than lesson prep). Once I came back I got my language helper to help me with my lesson prep. Though, because I am seeking to teach in Khmer, there was still a lot of language learning going on. I’d ask him to show me where my mistakes were, but not fix them, so that hopefully I’d learn from my mistakes and not make them as often. In this sense my language learning and lesson prep had merged. Pre-break, they felt like slightly different streams. It’s kinda nice just having one project to work on rather than two, particularly when the language learning side of things is never ending. But teaching has a definite goal and end point (the end of semester). The brilliant thing about the merge is that I’m getting to work on a long term thing, with the advantage that teaching gives the sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished the semester.
One of many big transitions for our kids; ready to get on the plane to Cambodia
You could say that life is about transitions. We transition from childhood to adulthood. We transition from study to the workforce. We transition from job to job. We transition as family life changes, from being children to either having children or being part of an extended family as an adult.
My life prior to Cambodia had many transitions (from tennis to physiotherapy to ministry and further study), and life in Cambodia continues to have transitions too. But the transitions feel different at the moment. Maybe it’s because of the pace and size of these most recent transitions. So much change! Prior to coming to Cambodia we moved down to Melbourne for some missionary training. Then we transitioned to partnership raising for 6 months. Then we moved to a new country and completely new culture. In this transition came learning the language. And soon I face another major transition; teaching in this new language. As I mentioned previously, this first three year term is like three first years back to back.
As I reflect on transitions more, what I think mission transition brings to the equation is often all those normal transitions we have (study to work, changing family situations) continue in a midst a different context or in the transition from one culture to another (backwards and forwards between two countries). These more normal transitions take on a different light in a different place that has different values and way of life. Such that smaller transitions feel bigger and so we just seem to be going from one big transition to another. My thought is that even as we settle longer into Cambodia (and so may have less transitions here), missionary life (for us) means backward and forwards between Australia and Cambodia. So while other life transitions in Cambodia may settle down some what, just around the corner is another major transition.
I feel like where this leaves us is that transitions become a normal, regular part of life. Maybe that’s where transitions feel different as a missionary. I feel like most transitions are big events that come along once every little while. Whereas here it feels like there is always one just around the corner. Maybe missionary life normalizes transitions. They become the new norm.
At any rate, these next two posts will explore what this latest transition is shaping to look like, even before I’ve fully transitioned.
As I look back over this series on transition, what springs to my attention is the many ways that I’m learning to learn. We learn from our actions for next time. We learn when we assume we should be teaching. We learn from our feelings and through our feelings. And we learn from mistakes – ours and others. This series has captured a few different ways or tools to help me learn. And the focus of this learning has been on the self, self awareness. But self-awareness on its own isn’t the goal.
Self-awareness goes hand in hand with other-awareness.
There is a wider goal in self-awareness than just getting to know one’s self. Learning about ourselves is part of learning about a new culture. As we’ve been speaking about going to Cambodia, we’ve used the language of learning; “we’re going to Cambodia as learners.” But we don’t just do our learning when we arrive. Part of our learning about Cambodia will come from our learning about ourselves. The self-awareness learning we’ve done in transition is ‘perfect’ preparation for learning a new culture.
See you in the next series.
In the previous post I reflected on our mistakes as opportunities for learning. But other’s mistakes also provide that potential as well. Obviously, we don’t learn from other’s mistakes in the same way as our own, but we can still learn. While it would be great to learn from other’s positive actions towards us, its often in people’s negative actions (of hurt or wronging) that provide fertile ground to reflect on ourselves, our personalities and culture.
Here’s an approach that I have found helpful and hope to use in Cambodia. As I reflect on another’s actions towards myself, I view it through Three “I”s and then ask, What do they do better? The first part of this approach contains three potential ways to summarise someone’s actions toward us. Sometimes (although, probably very rarely) people intend injury. Most of the time, their actions that hurt us come from either ignorance or incompetence.1 Generally, people don’t operate in the first “I”, but in the second two. What this reminds us to do is to lessen our reaction of injustice from “They’re out to get me,” to “They didn’t realise,” or “They couldn’t help it.” This is not to excuse their actions, but just to put them in perspective. It should also be said that ignorance and incompetence isn’t a full assessment of someone’s actions, but a catchy phrase to see wrong doings as unintentional rather than intentional. The second part of the approach is more positive. Everyone does things differently. Difference can be viewed as bad, but if we approach it as difference is a chance to see a better way, we may learn even in the process of being hurt or wronged. This should be obvious, but in the moment we easily forget.
These two approaches to other’s actions work well together. The first approach helps to take some of the heat out of our reactions towards what others do. With the heat reduced we may be able to take another look at what was done. The second reminds us that there are positives to the way someone else does something that we haven’t seen and that we can learn from. As we go to Cambodia, hopefully these two lenses will characterise our reflections as we process the different ways that people do things to us. Its often in the hard interactions that we learn about ourselves and others. Hopefully three “I”s are better will be the way we navigate our new culture.
The other night I was taught some major lessons in a chess game with a good mate. My conqueror said, in loving instruction, “Keep an eye on the whole board and watch out for the forks.” As I peeled back the many layers of my competitive spirit, I found something odd underneath. Failures and mistakes are a chance to learn. I should know this implicitly and yet it came home to me in a new way. As I played chess a second and third time (still losing), I took those lessons with me. Mistakes and failures are a chance to learn and grow, an opportunity. If I’d been more concerned about my pride and focused on the results I would have missed the gold that is found in our mistakes and failures.
The importance of this reminder for me is timely as we move to Cambodia. I’ll move from a culture where I can delude myself that I’m not making any mistakes. That ability to deceive myself of my abilities will be destroyed in a culture where I will make many, many, many mistakes and fail in very obvious ways (often with the locals laughing at me in a lovely sort of way). Mistakes and failures as opportunities means there’s a freedom to our learning and living. Failures and mistakes aren’t obstacles, but opportunities. In this sense there’s a real freedom in failing.
God in his wisdom has set up being saved by grace so that, after being saved, we don’t exist in this life of perfection (or need to aim for it). Instead grace means the causal link between our lives and salvation is severed. We are freed to fail. Not to aim at failing, but freed when we do. Freed from the condemnation that one wrong move may cost our eternity, or that the sum of our good will be weighed against our bad. There is a wonderful recklessness that frees us up, not fearing our failures, but learning from them. I’ll need this reminder as we learn to be Cambodian – there are things to learn from my mistakes and failures.
Who is more patient, a parent or their child? Being a parent, I’m easily inclined to go with where I’m at. That is, as a parent, we need to be patient with our kids. And there’s a truth to that. Kids are learning to control their emotions and we need to be patient as they grow in their own capacities.
Yet transition has brought a new perspective to me. As I’ve been thrown out of normal rhythms and routines, with the stress involved, I’ve noticed something else. My offspring are having to put up with a lot from me. I think I kid myself if I try to tell myself that I’m the patient one. They have to put up with plenty. They put up with my times of crankiness, the times I don’t come through with what I said and the times when I get super focused on something unimportant at their expense. And often they are patient without even realising it. Certainly there are times when they’ll chuck their tanties. But alongside these outbursts, they are also putting up with a fair bit from me. Who is more patient? There was a time when I would have said, parents, definitely. Now I’m not so sure.
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity can have life-giving results. Curiosity is not only useful when exploring new places or things, but it turns out that curiosity is a good way to explore ourselves as well. We see this particularly in relation to our feelings. Being curious about our feelings enables us to grow in our self-awareness; something which will be all too necessary for our family as we are thrust into a new culture and place, bringing with it a whole set of feelings.
Feelings in this case, are more than just a chemical reaction. They are bodily forms of knowledge.1 My main point is that feelings can function as sign posts. They can give us clues about what we are thinking and valuing. For example, feelings of anger may highlight that I feel like an injustice has been committed or they may point to a love that I didn’t know I have (or have to a such an intensity). Rather than quickly dismissing our anger, if we are curious about it we may learn new things about ourselves. Not only may we get more insight into the situation, but we can also learn about what we were thinking and valuing and we may even learn about what another person is thinking and valuing as well. Questions like, why did I react that way, or what does my anger tell me about ‘me’ may help draw out what is going on underneath or behind the scenes. Curiosity regarding our feelings can help shed light on who we are and what we love. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can be a useful approach to growing in self-awareness.
One of the key applications from my time at St Andrews Hall (our CMS training earlier this year) was on the topic of journalling. I’ve been journalling for a number of years now. But this new insight was really helpful. The suggestion was to have two concurrent journals; one journal for what you observed on a particular day, the other journal for your state of mind, your feelings that day; basically where you were up to. The point is that our observations are affected by how we are feeling, how we are travelling.
Now this isn’t necessarily a new insight, but its easy to forget. The real value of this double journal (or you could just have both aspects in the one entry), comes from a distance. We won’t necessarily remember how we were feeling as we read back over our diary entry. But having insight into how we were going enables us to assess our observations and read them through the way we were feeling. Normally we associate double vision with blurriness and inaccuracy. But this kind of double vision actually aids the accuracy of our observations as we interrogate our own state of mind. The highs and lows of entering into a new culture will affect the way I observe things and the conclusions that I draw from those observations. Whether in the honeymoon phase of entering a new culture, or further down the track when home-sickness hits, this second journal (or recording feelings) may help me to read my own observations well.
Including next year, our family will have transitioned 5 times in 4 years. We will have moved intercity, interstate and soon overseas as well. Transition has become the new normal for this season of our family life. There are both joys and challenges. But particularly transition provides an opportunity to grow in self-awareness. We are thrust into new situations constantly and are learning much about ourselves (often painfully).
One of the benefits of our training in St Andrews Hall is that it can be seen as a dry run for next year. Moving interstate (while not as hard as moving overseas) still mimics that process for our family. Taking note of how Sam and I and the kids reacted and related will give us clues about what to watch out for. The way we solved things at St Andrews might provide good strategies to implement in Cambodia. Practice won’t make us perfect, but hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes for next time. In that sense a ‘practice’ move is gold.