We have played Jeopardy and a saliva-free version of Spin the Bottle. We have danced to mnemonic rhymes. We have brought in family pictures and discussed them at length. We have done it all in Armenian as part of our intensive language learning. Classes take place for 4 hours a day, five days a week, including Saturday mornings. This goes on for 10 weeks and then we are taken to a Hansel and Gretel type forest and left to fend for ourselves–well, sort of. So far, we have tackled the possessive pronoun, the past (through the present perfect) and the future. I would tell you that the future is bleak, but I don’t know that adjective (?) yet. Language, it turns out, is easy to pick up when you have an imaginative, energetic and expert teacher who is determined that we will swim (lorhal–think phlegmy French sound in the middle) not sink (suzvel) when we are released into our different and diverse Armenian communities for two years’ service in June.
Sona is a fabulous teacher. The usual drilling and white board writing is supplemented with lots of moving about and raucous laughing. This week we did a speed dating exercise with three of our group of five women given stick-on moustaches to help them get into the roles of Grigor, Gagik and Armen. The aim was to practice our vocabulary on likes and dislikes. It was hilarious. We go on forays to the school tuck shop to ask the price of things. We fish two or three kids out of regular classes to talk to about their birthdays. For homework, we ask our hosts to tell us what time they make coffee, or drive to work, or call their Aunts. Conversations involving Aunts and Uncles are particularly complex in Armenian, because it is necessary to specify whether the said relative is the sister or brother of either your father or mother. Depending on gender and genealogy, they must then be referred to as My father’s sister or my mother’s brother etc. That tricky possessive again. One American dared to ask how to refer to a woman married, for example to one’s father’s brother: an Aunt by marriage. I have many of these, and love them. Apparently in Armenia though such a person is never spoken of– an interesting glimpse into family dynamics.
The standard of teaching in our villages is particularly impressive when you stop to think that the Peace Corps teachers have no access to a photocopier or printer. When we learn our numbers through playing Bingo, Sona has had to hand produce the bingo cards. When she provides handouts, she writes them out five times, one for each of us. She is in class every morning at 8am pinning up visual aids prepared the night before. She has a PhD. Sona, and all the other language teachers– all women aged between 30 and 60– leave their homes and their families for 10 weeks to support our learning in remote villages. Like us, they live with local families. We get a fabulous service, delivered with verve, creativity and a smile. They miss children’s school concerts. Husbands’ birthdays. Mothers’ hospital appointments. I can’t imagine it. I certainly don’t know how to say it in Armenian yet. It’ll come.