Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Biggest Challenge of Our Mission By Far

Prior to moving to Sarajevo, Dionne and I served in a ward with a high Hispanic population. Despite the two years there, I did not pick up any Spanish. I have always struggled with foreign language. My first college report card was all A's (including Physics) except for my German class (B). And two years among my friends in Kaw River did not turn this weakness into a strength!

Dionne and I are now 9 weeks into our mission. The regular missionaries who reported to the MTC with us are now just arriving in country. They have been studying the language all of this time. Dionne and I will both be way behind them!

I want to take this post and talk a little bit about the language; Bosonski. It is a cross between Hrvatski (Croatian) and Serbian. Since Bosnia is made up of three primary ethnic groups (Bosniaks - primarily Muslims, Serbs - primarily eastern orthodox, and Croats - primarily Roman Catholics), there is not an official alphabet. Kids are taught in the Latin alphabet (used by Bosniaks and Croats) for two weeks and then in the Cryllic alphabet (used by Serbs) for two weeks. Official signage includes both alphabets.

Latin alphabet in a classroom. They do not use X, W, Q or Y. They have special C's, D's, S's and Z's.
It is not required or expected that senior missionaries learn the language. But Dionne and I both have a strong impression that it is going to be important for us to be more than just functional. So we are trying to learn this crazy language.

Bosnia is divided in two; the Federation and Srpska. Many of the Srpska signs, like this one, are only in Cryllic.
Dionne and I learn differently. She likes to hear something, write it down, and apply it. I tend to like to study something and then think about it my mind (like on a run or a walk). We realized this as we started taking weekly one-hour language lessons from the MTC. After two joint sessions, we began taking independent lessons with our tutor. We compare notes but cannot study together!

There are two useful textbooks for BCS...the red and the blue. Dionne likes the Red better since it is filled with exercises. I gravitate to the Blue since it has grammar rules. For me, the rote memorization was frustration without an idea of what was going on!
Now I am going to make a blanket statement that is going to sound insensitive and harsh. Realize that this statement is made after 10 weeks of language study. This language is crazy! Absolutely insane! Everything conjugates in this language. Nouns all conjugate based on their "case" (subject, accusative, dative, etc). There are seven main cases and everything conjugates based on whatever case the noun is in (and also whether or not it is a male, female, or neutral noun). The adjectives also conjugate based on which noun they are describing. And, of course, verbs conjugate based on the noun that they are describing (as well as the standard past and future tenses). The whole thing is crazy!

If I could only learn new words I would be okay. But trying to reasonably figure out the conjugation rules is driving me batty!

Let me give a quick example of how a verb conjugates...and note that this is easier than the noun and adjective stuff.  The verb that means "to believe" is "vjerovati." But if I want to say "I believe" I use "vjerujem." If I want to say you believe it is either "vjeruješ" or "vjerujete." He believes is "vjeruje," we believe is "vjerujemo," and they believe is "vjeruju." Remarkably, Bosnians know all of this like the back of their hands and make these conjugations while speaking 100 miles a minute. When I try to do it, it just gives me a brain cramp.

I have memorized about 500 words so far. And I can communicate for simple things using single words. But putting together real sentences has been a problem. The MTC has put together two very useful spreadsheets which summarize all of the grammatical rules on two pages. Once everything is explained there is a certain sense of logic to the language. And I generally can form a sentence if I have 10 minutes to mentally consult this spreadsheet. But 10 minutes per sentence is not very functional!!!

This page summarizes the noun and adjective conjugations. Everything depends on where the noun is used in the sentence, whether it is single or plural, and whether it is masculine, feminine, neutral or a special case called feminine fourth. Someimes prepositions are used and sometimes not. And they often have special rules associated each of them as well. Hopefully you can understand our headache!
The first month I was here, I was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting. Because we have both English and Bosonski speakers, we usually speak in language and then translate into English. I decided to not use a translator. I took the challenge of writing my 10 minute talk and then translating it into Bosonski. And I did it without the aid of Google Translate (cheating!).

It took me almost 8 work hours to translate my talk into Bosonski. And, unfortunately, I did not have time to practice reading the talk out loud as much as I would have liked. Let's just say...lines like "On je koristio njegovog blaglova da zaključi dva značajani propovedi" do not easily roll off the tongue.

While it was great practice for me, the one Bosnian member in attendance pulled me aside after and talked about some of my many language problems. I asked him to look over my translation skills...he took my talk, worked on it for a few minutes, and then summarily announced to me (in typical no holds barred Bosnian fashion)..."this is not how we say this...this is not good."

My talk after it was marked up by a member. 
Not only is conjugation a major issue, Bosnians say things in quite different ways than we do. So you kind of have to learn how they say things. For example, the translation for the phrase "I am full" is "Ne mogu više." You would think that you could match up the words and figure things out. So, logically, I = Ne, am = mogu, and full = više. Not even close. Ne mean "not," mogu means "able to," and više means more. So the literal English translation is "not able more." So I have just memorized what "ne mogu više" means and tried not to think about the why too much.

Here is another example. We have been singing translated LDS hymns. I keep expecting that I will understand a title. But I have yet to make sense of one. Take, for example, the hymn we sang this morning. "Ne Mogu Bez Tebe"...or literally translated as "Not Able to Without You." What hymn do you think that is?

 The literal translation of this hymn is "Not Able to Without You"
As I sing this hymn, I keep looking for the word "sat" which means hour or a word that means "need." The English title of this hymn is "I Need Thee Every Hour." Dionne and I were able to piece together many of the words but could not figure out the logic. It is just going to take more experience and practice speaking with our Bosnian friends.

One of the dictionaries that we have bought to use as a resource. Dionne tends to use Google Translate while I have resisted using it so far. I am using a language app to study words.
Here is one of the coolest things I have heard translated so far. I was giving a testimony and one of the Elders was translating. I talked about roller coasters. The Elder was not sure how to translate the term "roller coaster." The Bishop later stood up and explained that the literal translation of the roller coaster in Bosnian is "vlak smrt" which means "train of death." Now that is cool!

This is pretty easy to translate. "Knjiga" means book. You indicate possession by adding "ova" to a word.
One final translation. To get our visas, Dionne and I had to go to this building. The literal translation of the words on the door is "House of Torture (or Pain)." Which is what they proceeded to do. 

If I would have known that they would have to draw blood again on the mission, I may have rethought my willingness to come!  

My scars from the "house of torture"
Loku Noč!

Just to clarify the falsification in translation made by Denny, Poliklinika does not translate to "House of torture (or pain)"! It translates to "poly clinic", meaning it is a clinic with multiple clinics inside. He's such a baby! Just didn't want anyone going around saying Bosnians call their medical clinics "house of torture"!  Love you all! ~ Dionne

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