Cebuano Lessons Begin

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.

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6 comments on “Cebuano Lessons Begin

  1. Devon Horsman says:

    I am so glad things are going good! I thought all this posting about pork was Sora at first:-)

  2. David says:

    New languages and great new meat, what could be better? We pray for you every Wednesday night. David Truax

    • mattcolvin says:

      Yes, it’s going great, Dcn. David! We are so glad to have our parish’s prayers on our behalf. We will sorely miss you all this Ash Wednesday. Not sure what we’re going to do about ashes this year.

  3. Mark H. says:

    Kumusta ka, Matt? I hope the last couple of decades have treated you well. I was randomly Googling old friends just now and was silently impressed by the online snippets suggesting how you’ve conducted your life since we lived in Bowie, but then I absolutely HAD to send you a comment when I saw that you are learning to speak the language of much of my mom’s family, who mostly lives on Cebu. Sus Maria Hosep! My parents will get a kick out of that when I tell them! Talk to you later. And if I ever see you in person in the future, I promise not to try to flick switches behind your ears….

    • mattcolvin says:

      Maayo man kaayo. Ikaw?

      I thought of you when we made the decision to come here to Davao, but I didn’t have any contact info for you. It is good to hear from you. Played any euchre in the years since ERHS?

      Since leaving HS, I have…

      Played more quiz bowl than I should have.
      Spent a semester in Italy.
      Married a Canadian mother of 2, and got her to put her midwifery studies on hold to marry me.
      Got a PhD in Greek and Latin lit.
      Did not obtain a professorship in Classics.
      Taught at a Christian school for 8 years.
      Published a few articles on Heraclitus and one translation of a 16th century Lutheran confession.
      Lived on an island off the coast of British Columbia, with a dairy cow and chickens.
      Built a wood-fired brick pizza oven.
      Stayed married up to this Valentine’s Day (and beyond) to the same woman, who has borne me 4 more kids.
      Got ordained as an Anglican deacon (working on advancing to the priesthood soon).
      Bought and sold a house and bought another one.
      Become a missionary and moved to the Philippines with the same woman, who was a fully trained midwife with a thriving homebirth practice and two employees.

      What have you been up to?

      • Mark H. says:

        I am fine, too, salamat, but–switching languages for a second–stercus sacer, you have been busy. Belated congratulations on all of your accomplishments and blessings!

        For contact info, the e-mail address I used to post these comments will work. Send me a note, and I’ll fill you in while trying not to be too boring. I don’t want to pollute your blog with off-topic personal history.

        Regarding euchre, I think I played some games against AIs a few years ago, but no humans. I haven’t played cards too much since ERHS, although I did happen to play cards with my wife a few days ago.

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