I had hoped that by this point in my stay I would be able to write about how quickly I’m picking up Indonesian, how confidently I interact with shopkeepers and bentor drivers, and what fun I am having learning new words and phrases. Unfortunately, things have turned out a bit differently than I expected and, alarmingly, I find that my attitude towards learning Indonesian is somewhat indifferent.
Oh, I had high hopes in the beginning. I downloaded free learning Indonesian podcasts. I ordered the Bahasa Indonesia version of Rosetta Stone months before I even left for Indonesia. I looked forward to the evenings when I could escape the normalcy of my everyday life to click on my Rosetta Stone boxes and daydream about my upcoming adventures in Indonesia.
But since arriving in country, I have not used Rosetta Stone even once. And this is not because I spend my spare time chatting with the locals instead of sitting in front of a computer. Nope, it’s because I feel utterly and totally unmotivated to learn the language. It’s not a heritage language for me (like French), it’s not related to English (like German), it’s not a major world language (like Chinese or Spanish), nor is it top on the list of “critical languages” we need to learn in order to intercept terrorist messages (like Arabic). Furthermore, I’m not dating an Indonesian, living with an Indonesian family or working in an Indonesian-only language environment. So, what, really, is the point of learning it?
And this is where I get disappointed. For years, I have imagined myself to be a “language person”. I majored in French in college. I learned to speak German fluently while in Switzerland and loved learning Swiss German as well. I studied applied linguistics and second language acquisition in grad school. And to top it off, I’ve been a language teacher for the past seven years and know a ton of language learning strategies. I thought I would pick up Indonesian automatically. I thought it would be a mental challenge I would delight in.
But somewhere along the way I lost the desire to learn the language. Maybe it was after walking by piles of smelly garbage, or dealing with bathrooms at work with no soap, paper or light bulbs. Or maybe it was living in a house that needs constant repairs. Or maybe it was avoiding bentor drivers who declare their love for me. Maybe I heard the phrase, “Hello, Mrs.!” one time too many. Or maybe it was having people change plans at the last minute all the time. Maybe the fried food, the nausea, and the diarrhea played a role. Or maybe it was getting ripped off by the same bentor drivers that previously declared their love for me. Maybe it was the frustration at not finding clothes in my size or being able to walk around town by myself. Maybe it was the lack of an explanation about how the academic schedule is supposed to work. Maybe it was the nights spent listening to the rats above my head. Maybe it was witnessing my neighbor beat his 8 year-old son with a plastic bat for crying too much when his mother took off with me for dinner one night. Maybe it was all of these things.
There has been no “honeymoon” period for me here. I didn’t get off the plane and think everything was oh so wonderful and beautiful and exotic. It has been tough here from the start and I pretty much instantly decided that this is not a country I will be spending a long time in. Perhaps distancing myself from the language is some sort of unconscious protest; I will not be drawn in. I will not acclimate. I don’t belong here. I don’t want to belong here.
So where does that leave me? I am becoming the person I always hated; I am becoming the foreign expat who doesn’t speak the local language and becomes frustrated when others can’t speak English. I hope this will change, but right now I’m just not feeling very motivated to learn Indonesian.