When I decided to volunteer in Laos it didn’t even cross my mind that I would have to embark on the journey of learning a language. I mean, I am still trying to learn Spanish! You see, when I was in Nicaragua I worked with people who spoke English, the large majority of people on my tour spoke English. I was speaking all the time.
Thus, when I arrived at the shelter in Pakse, where I would be working and living, it hit me. No one spoke English. I had to learn Lao. Now I have made a concerted effort but it is a difficult language to learn. On top of learning the minuscule differences between the SIX tones, I also have to learn to read another symbol alphabet.
However by far the hardest thing is being quiet for the majority of the day. If you know me, you know I am a complete extrovert & that I don’t shut up. I talk all the time, even in my sleep! I love being the centre of attention and always put my two cents into a conversation. So you can imagine how hard it must be for me to not say anything at all.
If you don’t know me, think of the Simpsons episode where homer has his jaw wired up.
However, it is a blessing in disguise for a few reasons.
It has let me become an observer
Although I love talking, I know that sometimes I talk too much (yes mum you read that right). This experience has let me take a backseat and observe situations to the full. I see a lot of things I wouldn’t see if I was involved in the conversation and it is making me notice smaller details.
I have gotten some long over-due down time
I can now just sit down in a room and be alone with my thoughts without someone interrupting. It is amazing how much clarity my thoughts and ideas seem to have when I don’t have to worry about justifying them. It has allowed me to regroup which has shone light in a few areas of my life which need attention.
I can see the power and universality of body language
Only communicating through hand gestures and facial expressions is a very interesting experience. It’s obviously a lot harder to convey what you’re thinking but it’s amazing when someone understands you. It’s also the source of much amusement sometimes.
Finally, it is really pushing me to learn the language
Because even though it is an interesting experience being quiet I still love talking and can’t wait until I can hit my daily 20,000 word quota.
Have pity on the next English speaking person I come across – I have about 100,000 words banked up and ready to say!