Something to Celebrate
Since I joined the Columban lay mission program in 2000, I have learned three different languages: English, Filipino (Tagalog) and Spanish. Since my assignment to Myanmar (formerly Burma) I am learning yet another language – Burmese!
Some people tell me that I am so lucky because I can speak four languages. But honestly I don’t have much confidence to speak any of those languages. It seems that all of the languages are mixed up in me! When my Burmese teacher asks me something in English, many times I answer “Si!” (yes in Spanish) since Peru was my last assignment. When I get surprised, I express myself “Ay, naku! Jesus Maria Josef!” as the Filipinos do!
Luckily my two companions in our house, Columba and Lenette, speak Tagalog so we don’t have much difficulty among ourselves saying something in Tagalog.
From my past experience of learning different languages, I realize that everyone needs some time to get used to speaking a new language. Some people can get the language a little bit faster, and some might need more time to get it. As I see it, I am not a quick learner. So when I arrived in Myanmar, my concern about learning Burmese was not how fast I would get it, but rather how much I could enjoy learning this new language!
Burmese is a “very new language” for me. In Burmese, they have their own alphabet and characters with four tones including nasal sounds with which I am not familiar. And they use their own characters for numbers as well as using the Arabic numerals (1,2,3…..) so I was not even able to read the bus numbers going to school at the beginning. Their numerals are mostly round shapes that, to me, look like a kind of design, and it took some time for me to discover how different from each other they are! They look very similar, but all are different letters.
For example, after my language class, I practice how to draw those letters correctly. One by one, I draw the letters repeatedly in a blank notebook. I feel that I have gone back to when I was a 6-year-old child and had just started learning how to write Korean! Thank God, I found that it’s interesting. I made a joke to my friends that I fell in love with these lovely Burmese letters.
Now that some time has passed, the beautiful designs have now become like letters to me. I can write them more quickly and in a better way without too much confusion. I still need more practice to properly pronounce them, but the Myanmar people can understand what I am trying to say. How smart they are!
I remember one TV program in Korea about some elderly women who missed the opportunity, as children, to learn Korean. When they got the chance to study Korean in their later years, they really put their heart into their studying. They drew the letters very carefully but happily with their shaking hands. It was beautiful scene, and I admired them as I saw their smiles. They wrote their first letter in Korean for their beloved families and to say thanks to their husbands, daughters, sons and grandchildren for their support, encouragement and patience.
My Burmese is getting into better shape now, and I look forward to writing my first letter in Burmese! That will be something to celebrate.
Originally from Korea, Catherina Son is a Columban lay missionary living and working in Myanmar (formerly Burma).