“The whore of Babylon” and other such essential phrases for language learners

I would not recommend that a language learner go to any specialized group for their language education. Can you imagine trying to learn English in a laboratory full of research scientists or in the midst of a Dungeons and Dragons game?? I speak from experience when I advise against learning a language from a conservative religious community.

I have two reasons why, and they go hand-in-hand.

1. It’s going to be a real blow to your self esteem

I think confidence when learning a language is an extremely valuable asset. Confidence enables you to initiate and participate in the types of conversations that allow you to learn. And without confidence, you end up sounding a lot more clueless than you actually are.

One of the quickest ways to blow confidence is to enter a conversation that requires some specialist knowledge. For example, you might be in the midst of a lovely conversation about the weather. But suddenly, the topic switches to exactly how lightening is produced within storm clouds or to the various cloud names. Basically you’re screwed: you lose track of the conversation thread and start to question whether you understood anything at all.

Of course, as any language learner could tell you, this can happen in any conversation. It doesn’t take long to get derailed. Because although I may know all the words in a sentence except for two, I will still be lost as to the meaning if those two words are key.

Case Study #1

Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t realize you are in a specialized group. Once Daniel and I were in a group of Romanian speakers discussing some of our culture shock on visiting the United States. Daniel explained (in Romanian) how we had an especially hard time shopping in Walmart. I could understand everything Daniel said to the group around us. Then, an older gentlemen jumped in to the conversation. Suddenly, all I could pick up from what he said were some words here and there.

Now I am way past the point where I should only be picking up occasional words. By now I should understand most everything except for the occasional word. I instantly got frustrated.

Later, I asked Daniel to tell me what the man had said. Apparently the gentleman had explained that Walmart locations will be used as concentration camps for Christians when they are persecuted during the end times.

FACE PALM.

Okay, so that’s why I didn’t understand what he was saying! The problem in this example is that I didn’t know the words for “concentration camp,” “persecution,” or “end times” in Romanian. It turns out most of my Romanian language focus has been on words that you might encounter in the grocery store or in a school classroom. I haven’t been brushing up on my conspiracy theory vocabulary.

Basically, it’s not me. It’s them.

I found myself in the presence of a man with very specific opinions on conspiracy theories, and yet I still questioned my Romanian knowledge as a result. Thank goodness I have Daniel to help sort me out when a blow to my confidence is unfounded. Because honestly, I need all the positive energy I can get to continue this journey with Romanian.

2. You are going to learn all sorts of words that NOBODY uses

But sometimes specialist language is appropriate to learn – maybe just not for an intermediate student. For example, knowing how to say “concentration camp” is useful if I want to have a historical discussion about the Holocaust with a Romanian speaker. At some point I might have this conversation. Right now, though, this kind of vocabulary is a little too advanced for me.

However, there are other words I believe are never necessary to learn. One such word in English might be “aichmophobia.” In normal language we just say “a fear of needles.” Is it necessary to know the official term? Likewise I find that some religious language falls into the same “unnecessary” category.

Case Study #2

The other day, Daniel and I were visiting a new church in Chișinău. We had been warned by a friend that the pastor of that church has been preaching on the Book of Revelations exclusively for the past 2 years. Woof. We could’t quite believe that this could be the case.

Unfortunately, the sermon started and we saw that our friend was right. Quickly I zoned out – both from a lack of understanding enough of the Romanian and simply because I wasn’t interested. That is, until Daniel leaned over and wrote the word “curva” on a sheet of paper I had in front of me.

I looked over at him and mouthed “what does that mean?” He wrote “whore.” He whispered back “the preacher has already used that word 10 times during this sermon. You need to know that word to understand what he’s saying.” For all you familiar with the Book of Revelations in the Bible, the preacher was referencing the Whore of Babylon again and again and again….

I have two problems with this. One obvious problem is that of being a language learner interacting with specialized words. In fact, this is the whole point of my blog post. But the other more important problem is that I left a religious community with the words for “shame” and “whore of Babylon” ringing in my ears and not the words for “love” or “freedom” or “forgiveness.” That, my friends, is a big problem regardless of what language you speak.