I’m now two weeks into my F.A.S.T. Indonesian course here in DC. I have now idea what F.A.S.T. stands for. I know that it is 29 weeks shorter than the regular course. Still, though, it is pretty intense. 5 hours in class per day, plus the expectation that one studies for another 2 hours or so. If you spend any time organizing your notes and reviewing online, you can get there pretty easily.
What I do know is that so far, it is enough to dredge up the remains of German and Greek from years before along with the crumbs of Spanish, Nepali, Italian, Fijian and French from travels or from when I make the sexy-talk. “ou est la bibliotheque?” (See the Lyrics here!!) After seven hours a day I find it difficult to do anything but babble even in my own mid-west mother tongue..
I’ve been trying to remember, and I can’t recall ever studying just one subject this intensely. It is a different way of learning and I think there is something to be said for it, if the teachers can make it interesting.
You seldom address another person in Indonesian by their first name alone. It is always with Ibu (bu) for females or Bapak (Pak) for males. My class name is Pak S.A.M. There is woman in our class from Thailand. Her name is Nanna and thus, Bu Nanna is a source of mild amusement for me whenever she is called upon.
We have two teachers (Gurus) for the six students. Both gurus stand less than 5’3″ and are very patient. On day-one they talked about our learning styles and whether we were “highway learners” preferring to get our knowledge the most efficient way possible, or “open field learners”, off blazing our own trails.
Bu Maria is the driver and the highway teacher, teaching us from on ramp to exit ramp. Pak Irwan is the open field teacher. He is the “Mr Miagi” of instructors, always throwing us curve balls. After a few hours of practicing a rote dialogue he preaches mystically in his thickly accented English, “Don’t answer the dialogue. Don’t listen to the pattern. LISTEN to the question. The answer always lies in the question!” And we go on, waxing verbs and painting pronouns.
Instead of always reading dialogues, we often practice by writing our own “Dick and Jane” stories. I sometime can’t resist throwing Mr Miagi a curveball of my own by pairing up Abdul with Bambang in a relationship.
Mr Miagi sputters “What are you saying here, Pak S.A.M? Are they boyfriend and boyfriend?!”
“Ya, Pak. They are”
“Oh.” He really is a patient man.
Our first two weeks culminates in a trip to the Indonesian Embassy. The Ambassador is throwing an end of Ramadan reception (Eid) and we are all invited. We spend several hours polishing up our conversations, so we are prepared for whatever questions the ambassador may throw at us.
We arrive and head to the reception line. We shake hands and wish him well. He thanks us and says nothing further.
We pass through the buffet and mingle amongst the crowd to practice our skills and quickly learn that we know 200 words of Indonesian and that is less than three year old. Which is what I’m sure we sound like. I got very good at saying, “I’m sorry I don’t understand” and “Could you please repeat that?”
I’ve got a lot to learn.