Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Close Encounters of the Diverse Kind

I just devoted my whole summer to Arabic, day in and day out, working hard, with blood, sweat, tears, and everything in between. For all that work, I got a certificate in the mail, an evaluation of "advanced plus" from a third-party language tester, and that sweet, special feeling of being able to say "I speak Arabic."

So what do I do, upon getting back to Berkeley, to keep up my Arabic, to prevent the attrition that happened last time around? Enroll in an advanced Arabic class, right?

Wrong. I, on a whim, sign up for beginning Vietnamese. Commitment issues, anyone?

Vietnamese, though, is awesomely fun. The language, meh: I hate vowels, and suck at tones, so I just have to keep reminding myself that this is good for me, if only because I now know how to pronounce "pho."

The class, though, cracks me up, mostly because it is so. freaking. Asian. The teacher quietly and politely calls s tudents to the front of the class, where they quietly and politely read the assigned dialogue out loud, after which we quietly and politely applaud. Really, though, I find it so funny because the class roll looks something like this:

Kevin Nguyen
Lisa Nyugen
Michelle Nguyen
Steven Nguyen
Tiffany Nguyen
Hannah English Surname
Joseph Tran
Linda Tran
Phyllis Tran
etc
etc
etc

That's right: I am the only non-Asian student in the class. We did a speaking exercise the other day about our nationalities, and we went around the room answering, which sounded a bit like this: "I am Vietnamese-American." "I am Vietnamese-American." "I am Vietnamese-American." "I am Vietnamese-Cambodian-American." "I am Vietnamese-Indonesian-American." "I am Vietnamese-Chinese-American." "I am...American?" Good thing the word for "American" has a rising tone--if I sound underconfident, well, it's just the language.

You know that entry in Stuff White People Like about how white people like being the only white person around? (Now you do.) And about how ethnic restaurants are only judged to be good if they're full of non-white people? Well, maybe I should start judging my language class experience by the same criteria: it may not be the most effective teaching in the world, and I may be miles behind my classmates the heritage speakers, but at the very least I am having an authentic experience.


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(Oh, and I'm going to write about my trip soon, I promise. Until then, I'll whet your appetite with this picture, taken in Bethlehem:

I think my new strategy for blogging about this trip might just be to, every post, promise that I will blog soon, and include a picture with the promise. It's not a bad strategy--if I post every, oh, few days or so, I could get through my pictures in only a few years!)

5 comments:

The Joo said...

How many languages will that bring you up to? And how does vietnamese rank on the difficulty scale?

my name is amy said...

vietnamese. because why not, right? excellent. and my trip blogging strategy is also looking more and more like it will be the perpetual "coming soon" method you propose.

Anonymous said...

banksy strikes in bethlehem!

Annie said...

tiffany! and phyillis!

Petra said...

The Joo--

Vietnamese makes 10, but that's just really bits and pieces of those 10--not nearly as impressive as the number might sound at first, trust me. And so far Vietnamese is super hard for me, but that's just the tones and vowels. Give me a little time to adjust to those before I really make a judgement.

Amy--

Someday we will blog for real.

Anonim--

Yes indeed! How did you know?

Annie--

Those were for you:)