Speak Easy

When I was in the Philippines last summer, when I sat among family and watched the way they spoke instead of listening to the words, I often yearned to take Tagalog class in the Fall. When I felt isolated during the post-dinner conversations, surrounded by relatives, I would reinforce my will to whittle away at this language barrier, somehow.

It hasn't been as easy as I expected. Ever since those years of French in High School, I've come to suspect that learning languages is not one of my strengths. Even when it comes to vague definitions of "language" like HTML and Javascript, I often stop just before I reach any level of usefulness. It would be easy to blame it on the wiring of my brain, some natural order of things beyond my control. But as a Creative Writing major, someone who thrives on the word engine and the craft of language, taking Tagalog has been a lot like getting shot in the kneecap. Four days a week for one or two hours, I fall to the ground and grit my teeth through the pain.

It's not bad. It's a fun class, great teacher, great classmates. It just takes away from me what I'm supposed to be good at: articulation. I built up this knowledge bank of words, of ways of expressing and communicating and conveying and whenever I take this class it's taken away from me. My tools are gone and I am still asked to build a house. It's an odd feeling, one that I'm not yet accustomed to. I am honestly one of the least knowledgeable people in the class. I've never been this close to the bottom, but it's humbling and awakening.

I do what I can. I endure the awkward pauses when trying to conjugate the infinitive forms of verbs and pull up the word for "to walk" in my mental rolo-dex. In the moments between each spotlight of a question, I wonder why it has to be this hard. I wonder why I can't even understand the language, why my parents never thought to instill it in me as they did with my sister, why so many think raising your kid bilingual hurts their chances at "making it" in America, why the language and the country becomes increasingly more English-based every day.

There are no good answers. Nothing that satisfies, only ideas that sit and stir dully. Before I get the chance to ponder on them some more, it's time to turn to page labindalawang walo, whatever that is. I look to my neighbors to see where I'm supposed to be in the book.