Delving Deeper Than the Words: RPCV Makes Language Resources Accessible
By Ana Reigstad on Friday, September 13th, 2013
After his Peace Corps service, Ray Blakney (Mexico 2006-2008) started an online language school — with a personal Third Goal project called the Peace Corps Language Archive. Here he provides a unique perspective on language acquisition, using his experience of learning Spanish in Mexico:
“The memory of the experience is probably still fresh in your mind, whether you are serving in the Peace Corps now or you served 50 years ago. You had just gotten off the plane in a foreign country. You were immediately bombarded by a dizzying array of new sensory inputs. New smells, new sites, and usually the most disturbing— new sounds.
Why are these sounds so disturbing? It is probably because those “sounds” are other people talking and you don’t understand a word of what is being said. Almost equally as bad, nobody seems to understand what you are saying. You feel like a 5 year old again, depending on others for all your basic needs.
Goal: To Tell a Joke in Spanish
I know that is how it was for me when I touched down in Mexico as part of Peace Corps – Mexico Group 3. I came into Mexico not speaking a word of Spanish. My first few weeks of pre-service training were full of embarrassing moments as I struggled to learn Spanish. But luckily for my training group and me, we had great teachers and staff to support us along the way.
One of the most striking things that I realized as I was learning Spanish was that I was not only learning the grammar and vocabulary, but I was also learning about Mexican culture. If you sit down and examine why they use certain words, or why they have certain ways of saying things, you can obtain a deeper understanding of your Peace Corps host country. In fact, my goal in Mexico was to be able to tell a joke in Spanish and have the Mexicans laugh.
As any Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) will tell you, humor is not just a matter of translation, but of understanding the other culture. The most striking example of this for somebody in the U.S. is watching a British comedy. We understand the language and the words, but most of the time, we do not find it funny. Humor is the heart of any culture and can be wildly different between countries.
After finishing my time in the Peace Corps, I started Live Lingua, an online language school to help bring this understanding to people all over the world.
As a secondary project, and as my Peace Corps Third Goal project, I also created the Peace Corps Language Archive. The goal of this project is to help PCV’s bring home the experience of learning another language, and, in the act of doing so, help friends and family learn about another culture.
Feel free to use and share all the resources in the archive as you see fit. If you have any Peace Corps language training materials that we are missing, please send them in so we can add it and share it with all the other RPCVs, PCVs and soon-to-be-PCVs out there.
Gracias, salamat, tesekkürler and thanks!”