Sora and I began our language lessons with BeBe M. today. She is a very skilled language teacher who evidently knows many languages and is adept at explaining the ins and outs of the local language (Cebuano/Visayan/Bisaya, though the former two may also denote different dialects spoken elsewhere) to foreigners.
I noted with amusement that the vocabulary in the first chapter of the textbook can be combined to say “I am a very fat, tall, rich, handsome American Christian missionary.” (Tambok kaayo, taas, dato, gwapo Amerikano Kristohanon misyonero ‘ko — but I’m not sure that’s at all right, and it may violate syntax rules about conjunctions and series of adjectives that I do not yet know.) Ate BeBe also explained — too late, perhaps, but better than never — that there is only a slight difference between “good morning” (maayong buntag) and “good prostitute” (maayong buntog). This seems to me to be too bad to be true, as though the language were designed with booby-traps to give native speakers maximum amusement at the expense of beginners!
Those who know Sora and me will know that we are rather frightfully competitive by nature. And in this case, we are having a friendly contest to see who can learn Bisaya faster. Sora has an impressive advantage in working at the birth clinic, where she will be able to converse with the mothers, guards, and Filipina midwives at least three days a week. (At the end of the lesson, Sora had Ate BeBe record some questions for her to ask her patients at the birth clinic: stuff like “When did your labor begin?” and “How many wet diapers has your baby had today?”)
My main advantage lies in having learned and taught several languages myself, so that I am aware of places to watch out for tricks of idiom and have practice with inflection and synthesis of grammar. But that won’t be enough to beat Sora. To win, I will have to be more deliberate about forcing my broken Bisaya on the local population and begging them to converse with me. The guards at the gate of our apartment complex are one target audience, and I have already forewarned Raymon and Ronan that I will be badgering them with conversation. Our helper Flor M. is another, and she has already expressed amusement at the way I immediately greet her with any new phrase I’ve learned in the local tongue. A third place to practice will be at church, where the congregational singing includes praise songs half in English and half in Cebuano.
In hindsight, I think it was providential that we didn’t get in touch with Atè BeBe until after our first month here. It would have been too stressful trying to learn language while getting settled into our apartment and starting work at the school and the birth center. But we are quite comfortable now (notice how I’ve been posting about delicious pork!), and just obtained a good vehicle for transportation. So the time seems right to jump in with both feet.