- Foreign language classes are required in high school and college.
- Being bilingual is necessary to find a job or get better pay.
- Linguists and anthropologists are motivated to learn languages for their research findings, and some just enjoy the mental acrobatics involved!
- Then there are those who want to become part of a new language community, either because of missions, an interest in the culture, friendships, marriage, etc.
I loved foreign language classes, and knowing Spanish helped me get jobs. I also love linguistics and figuring out how languages work. However, I'm not a student anymore, not looking for a new job, and cold, hard data quickly loses its charm. Obviously I'm learning Garifuna because I want to communicate with people in their own language.
But this resolve can be rivaled by excuses, especially when things get more difficult and less fascinating than when I first started learning the language. Sometimes I'm tempted to think:
"Everyone speaks Spanish. I love Spanish!! Isn't trying to communicate in my second language enough of a challenge? Plus, I live in a Spanish-speaking city, so I'm not surrounded by Garifuna, and living in a remote community isn't an option now. I bet people get tired of answering my questions and repeating themselves several times when I stare at them blankly. So why try?"
"This language is incredibly complex and different from Spanish or English. It takes a lot of time and energy. There are no formal classes or textbooks. Is this really worth it?"
This is when I have to remind myself (repeatedly) of the many legitimate reasons for learning Garifuna. The most obvious reason is it is Fernando's language; it's what his family and friends speak. We go to a Garifuna church. He speaks English and understands my culture, so I want to do my part!
Another reason is that I taught second language acquisition and want to go through this process to help others learn languages. I have to practice what I preach. And, I confess, it is a lot of fun! I would be going crazy if I couldn't dive in and see how Garifuna works.
When it comes down to it, my biggest motivation is God's love. If Jesus spoke with and lived with the people He loved on earth, I want to follow that example. As the Bible says, I could speak all languages but, without love, just be making noise. In other words, without love, it is meaningless. Good thing Garifuna is so hard because I can use lots of practice in having love be my ultimate motivation!
Today I was remind of this "why" when I ran into a Garifuna lady selling coconut bread (another motivator!!!) and, instead of taking the easy out with Spanish, started the conversation in her language. Her smile was the highlight of my day.