Saulo likes pay day!
With each week that passes here in Samoa, the end of my amazing journey here seems to be drawing closer. It’s now about five months away. To look at five months by itself may seem like a good chunk of time, but when you put it next to the 26 months I began this experience with, it seems so much shorter. Recently, I’ve been making a conscious attempt to accomplish personal goals which I had set for my time in Peace Corps. One of those goals was to have a very good understanding of the language before I reached my close of service, this December.
Learning a new language has never been something that has come easy to me, so there are still many days where I am blown away at what I have learned and absorbed in the past 21 months here. Although I’ve felt for a while now that I’ve had enough language to be effective as a teacher at school, and a respected member of the community, I was still left wanting to learn more. I didn’t want my time in Samoa to come to a close and find myself wishing I had tried harder with the language.
When I was in Australia recently, I came up with a plan to get my language skills more polished and pushed to a new level. I decided that I wanted to have one of my year 8 students, and good friends, Saulo, serve as my tutor on a weekly basis! His English is probably the best of anyone else’s in the school, and I have always felt more comfortable speaking Samoan around my students, as opposed to older village members.
I told him about my idea and what it would entail. We would meet every other day during the week after school for a lesson. To help keep me accountable, I asked if he would give me a test at the end of each week’s lesson. Also, Samoan children aren’t given any allowances, so I thought by paying him five tala a week, it would help teach him the value of earning money, as well as make his work feel more legitimate. After I proposed the plan, he eagerly said he would help me.
This past month we’ve been having our lessons and it has been such a great experience. Some days that we meet, he comes prepared with a lesson. Since he and I are good friends and spend a lot of time together, he knows what all my bad habits are in terms of the language. During our lessons he’ll remind me of a time we were walking through the village and I said something wrong, and then he goes on to teach me the correct way. I never realized that he was that aware of what I was saying to other people, but he really does know where my weaknesses are.
For other lessons I’ll make a list of questions I have. All I have to do is ask him what a certain phrase or word is in Samoan and he writes it down without much effort. When we both are stumped, we turn to my Samoan/English dictionary, which he has come to enjoy looking at. From the very beginning of this idea, I knew that not only would our time together be helping my Samoan, but also his English. I think this may be something I’ve disguised from him, as all the attention usually seems to be about me learning to speak his language more fluently.
Since I’ve been teaching him in my English classes since last year, he has picked up on a lot of my teaching habits and ways of doing things in the classroom. Now that he is teaching me though, it has been interesting to see him formatting his lessons and tests in the same ways I do for my English classes! The tests he writes for me are normally similar to the ones I write, but he has also come up with great ideas on his own.
Because the Samoan culture has such a great amount of respect for the elderly, as well as for village leaders and the pastors of churches, being able to use the formal parts of the language can go a long ways in helping establish oneself in the village and being respected by community members. When we’re walking down the road together and are approaching someone, I’ll quietly rehearse my greeting with Saulo as we approach the person to make sure I’m correct. He usually nods his head, or will add something he thinks I should say. I can usually tell that they are pleased that I took the time to greet them in the proper manner, and I think it shows them that I respect their culture and traditions.
I’ve also enjoyed asking Saulo for help with phrases I can use with the kids. Walking through the village and talking to them in some of their informal or slang phrases has been fun to do and it’s always interesting to see their reactions. It has helped the kids to become more interested in me, and for them to be less timid when we are together.
I think he really appreciates being able to help me and takes a lot of pride in it, especially when he hears me using phrases and vocabulary he has taught me.
Taking my first test!
Saulo and I after the big test.
My first test was an 81%, although every test since then has been an A!