Language is Life Like Rice is Life

The number one question I get from people back home is “how is your language?”. That’s a very fair and logical question. Instead of giving a good or bad answer I am going to explain to you what our language classes look like as well as some of the practicums we have done.

We have been doing language classes since the first day we arrived. Everyday for at least four hours. I’ve been here for six weeks and we have training six days a week. Take a minute to imagine how many words, phrases and sentence structures that is. Our notebooks are over flowing, are brains are like half wet sponges (we are trying to retain but some days it just isn’t happening), and we are trying to create different systems to remember things. Some of us have millions of flash cards, some have study guides and some have specific notebooks. I’ve tried them all and I have landed on having a class notebook and then transferring to a smaller notebook when I study to add in some more repetition. Where or not my method is working for me is unknown. I can’t even track my own language improvement because some times days are blurs and go by so fast.

At my site we have three language teachers and six trainees per room. We are with our respective teacher for 2-3 weeks before groups and classes are switched around. We are heading into our final round which is three weeks long. Three more weeks to cram Khmer into my head and try to speak for fluidly. Most nights we have homework and start the class off by going over the homework and then moving into the new phrases, words and sentence structures that are on the agenda. For example: we might learn 6 words to describe taste and how to ask someone how something tastes and how to respond if someone asks us. After we do that for a while we typically have our first ten minute break. We congregate outside and chat and head over to the snack stands to buy some sugar/unhealthy snack that will temporarily wake us up. I’m obsessed with the milk and honey wafers they have so I buy those often. Sadly, I crave the sugar quite often now. I need to break the cycle soon so I don’t do this at permanent site. The break always feels too short and then we are called back to class to learn more or review something. We get one more ten minute break and then the end of our language sessions are typically dedicated to technical health language. We learn in segments depending on the health topic we are covering that week. For example: last week was maternal health so we learned lots of technical terms for ANC checkups. After we finish that we are released and go home for lunch or dinner depending on the day and how our schedule is laid out for that day.

(Some photos of my language groups below)


To practice language more we do one or two practicums a week. Often we are going into schools, the health center or the community and talking to local people about our specific health topic that week. One of the first weeks we were here we went to the health center and asked the health chief questions about the facility and took a tour. Below is a photo of the first language group I was in with our Language and Culture Facilitator, the Health Center Chief and two of the nurses.


Another week we had a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practicum at the local primary school with about 80 students. I was in the proper hand washing method group and helped teach the student the 8 steps to properly wash our hands. In the photo below you will see me going over the method with a student as she washing her hands.


This past week we got to do my favorite practicums thus far. We worked with a Village Health Volunteer (VHV) to present some health education information to a first time mom at her home. We went on the home visit and talked to the mom about nutritious food she likes that she should eat during her pregnancy as well as danger signs she should watch out for. Later in the week we also went to the local referral hospital and observed and ANC check up of a third time mom, toured the facility and spoke to one of the midwives for about an hour to an hour and a half. Below you will see a photo of my second language group with the midwife and our Language and Culture Facilitator.



What I failed to tell you is that all of these practicums are done completely in Khmer. It’s an incredibly useful experience to be able to practice our language in a real life situation with people who don’t listen to our Khmer everyday. We have more practicums coming up this week so hopefully they keep getting progressively better as they have been the last couple weeks!

From the Eastern Hemisphere,

❤ Ren

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