- Learning the language is one of the best ways to the hearts of Albanians
As soon as I accepted my invitation to become a Volunteer in Albania, I started learning Albanian. With some of my closest friends being Albanian, I picked up little language here and there, and learned some more online. Before I arrived, I knew basic greetings, days of the week, months, and numbers.
However, the real journey didn’t start until Day 1 in Albania. During orientation in capital city, Tirana, we were put into groups and taught basic Albanian. My thoughts were “who created this language? This is ridiculous… I will just find friends that speak fluent English“. Well, when I arrived at my host family’s house, they did not speak a bit of English. Just my luck, eh?
But thankfully, our faithful and patient LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators) taught us Albanian from the very beginning. I will brag that I picked up the language quickly, and that I learned I have a gift of language learning. Sweet! I even bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Albanian to read, but unfortunately, I have stopped after Chapter 1.
Even though first few months were rough without proper language, I even gave a speech at the swearing-in ceremony in Shqip. What a crowning moment!!! That was honestly one of the best moments of my service: being able to represent my friends and colleagues in our journey.
Fast forward some time, and it’s been over a year in Albania. I am able to communicate fluently with HCNs in Albanian. I can also now differentiate between the difficult alphabets: ‘l’ vs ‘ll’ and ‘ç’ and ‘q’ (sometimes). Despite the redundancy, small conversations (even in dialect sometimes) with locals I meet during a hike, at the treg, or on a furgon, really makes my day shine even brighter. Those are the memories I cherish most.
The little Albanian I speak, regardless of its correctness, makes the locals very happy. As an overachiever, I think I should know more Albanian than I do now, but the HCNs I come in contact with are always proud that I speak such a difficult and demanding language. And trust me, I still learn new things every day! (I learned today an expression for “I wish the same for you” in Albanian exists as “in your head” WHAT?!)
As I shared in my previous post about language learning, this is not the first time I’ve been immersed in language, but this one has been the toughest. It has been a journey, and will continue for another year. Learning this language has really helped me speak to my colleagues, students, and be able to understand the bits and pieces of what is going on in my community.
As an outsider, no one feels the need to share news with me. So, I took it upon myself to read my local news everyday and learn new words. I follow local pages on Facebook and read posts by HCNs and comment in Shqip. I talk to local friends about happenings in our small city, as well as rest of Albania. Albanians love to talk about politics, even American politics. While I don’t get to share raki and ekspres with the older men, I still get to hear bits and pieces of it at a lokal. Having advanced language skills helped me learn more about my community both passively and actively, and has become one of the most important assets of a Peace Corps Volunteer.