When we first arrived in Nepal last summer, I think it took me about two months to readjust to hearing and speaking Nepali again. Although I had spent almost five months there before and spoke Nepali on a pretty regular basis with Tri while we were in the US, it was still a shock to hear so much Nepali at once.
Once I eased into the Nepali environment, I was able to start practicing and improving. The first time I was in Nepal, I was so overwhelmed. I was adjusting not only to a new language but also a new culture, living with a host family, and being away from Tri. Although I learned a lot of Nepali at that time, I didn’t pick up on many of the little things: the slang, the abbreviations, little words ( like “na” and “ni”) that are often added in for emphasis. Before, my Nepali probably sounded very stilted, but during these last months in Nepal, I had more time and energy to focus on picking up the bits and pieces that made my language sound more natural.
However, I’m in kind of a weird place with my Nepali. I understand most things being said and can respond to a lot of things, but people tend to think that I can speak more than I actually can. I’ve gotten really good at having some conversations. For instance, when I meet someone new, I can speak to them fluently about where they’re from, what they’re family is like, where I’m from, how I learned to speak Nepali, etc. I’ve mastered this basic conversational material, but problems start to arise when they think I can fluently talk about everything. If they start veering into a subject I don’t know much about or haven’t learned the Nepali vocab for, I may generally know what they’re saying, but I may not be able to respond in the right way. And when it comes to higher-order conversations or discussions about theoretical things, I get very lost. A lot of it is because I don’t recognize the words, but it’s also because I have trouble expressing myself and my thoughts in Nepali.
I’d love to get better, to learn more, to become more comfortable with the language. What I want to get better at is discussing politics or literature. Honestly, though, I don’t think that’s going to happen easily without taking a class or at least finding a teacher willing to spend time working on Nepali with me.
At this point, I don’t think I’ll get a chance to take a class and expand my Nepali in that way, but I have started trying to speak more Nepali with Tri. While we were in Nepal, Tri and I mostly spoke English to each other. I would usually need a break from a long day of hearing Nepali, so I always wanted to gab in English with him when I got home. But now that Nepali isn’t the majority language, I want to switch back to speaking with him in Nepali as much as I can.
One of the problems I face, though, is the risk of alienating others. I had a friend in college whose brother was in a relationship with a Chinese woman. They both spoke Chinese, and she used to speak to him in Chinese in front of my friend’s family. Her family didn’t like it. The US is particularly negative towards languages other than English, and I always feel a little worried when we say something to each other in Nepali while others are listening. I wish I didn’t have to feel that way. And if we ever have kids, I wouldn’t want to pass on that anxiety to them. I wouldn’t want to give them the message that speaking Nepali is something to be ashamed of. I don’t know. Maybe I should just relax about it and get in the practice when possible, even if others are around. I’d be interested to hear from others who speak a minority language with their family or friends…
What methods do you use to keep your language skills up? Do you feel anxiety about speaking it in front of others? What do you do about it?