After more than 8 years in Thailand, I would like to think that I speak and understand Thai at a fairly high level. I can usually teach and preach in Thai, and carry on conversations without major problems. My language is not perfect, of course, and I can’t speak or understand 100% of what I would like to. But in general, my Thai language ability seems to function okay for what I need to do.
But sometimes it all falls apart. I can’t find the right word. I stumble over what I want to say. Someone tells me something and I can only guess what they are trying to communicate. And it always hits me by surprise. Why is it that normally I do okay, but today my language ability has regressed about 5 years? I’ve had this experience many times. Seemingly out of nowhere, my language ability disintegrates before my eyes. But I’ve learned to not get too discouraged by my bad language days.
Because that’s just what it is: a single day.
I have bad language days and good language days. Most of my days are fairly good. But sometimes they are not. And I need to remember the fact that even though my Thai is particularly awful today, that is not indicative of my Thai ability in general. Other days, my Thai seems to be fine. I can understand people. I can say what I want (for the most part). And my life seems to function fine when I am in a Thai-speaking context.
But when those bad language days come, it is tempting to get discouraged. “I’ve been here how many years, and I am still really this incompetent?! Perhaps I should go home.” When that discouragement comes, I have found it really helpful to remember: This too shall pass. For some reason my language is abysmal today but tomorrow will be different. Progress in language learning is like the growth of a solid investment in the stock market. Long-term growth may be really good but along the way, there are numerous negative dips that may tempt investors to sell. But if you stick with that stock over the long haul, there will be a good return.
My bad language days are a good dose of humility, and a reminder that I need to continually work to improve my Thai. I don’t like having bad language days because I want to feel competent and in control all the time. But I think those days are good for me because I reminded of my weaknesses, my need to depend on God, and my need to take a long-term perspective. Today might be bad, but that’s not the end of the story.