Spotlight on Language: Meet Jillian

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Today we are kicking off a weekly rotating spotlight on our Kaqchikel language students.  Six people attended Kab’lajuj Ey, (KE) our Kaqchikel Maya intensive language immersion course, this summer.   This week we asked Jillian Moore about her experience.

Jillian Moore (right) practices Kaqchikel with her teacher Magda Sotz Mux (left.)

Tell us a little bit about your background and interests.

I studied biology and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. My interests are in rural and indigenous health, particularly in how environmental factors affect women and children through anthropological and epidemiological lenses.

Why did you decide to enroll in the Kaqchikel immersion school, Kab’lajuj Ey?

While searching for a way to become involved in promoting indigenous health in Latin America, I came across the organization Wuqu’ Kawoq. To work in these Mayan communities, I consider it essential to speak the local language. Kab’lajuj Ey provided an affordable and unique environment in which to learn.

Describe the experience of learning from KE’s native Kaqchikel teachers.

Our teachers were patient and regularly expressed they were grateful that foreigners were learning their language. It was eye-opening to be taught by teachers from different communities. They often shared words or phrases unique to each of their homes, evidence that Kaqchikel is not confined to the standardized rules outlined in our books.

For example, when reviewing phrases commonly used in medical consultations, our teacher, Magda, emphasized it is proper to ask patients not about specific diseases, but rather about how they are suffering. Patients may understand illnesses differently than medical professionals do, not necessarily attributing certain distress to a disease. Language is integral to how we conceptualize the world. At KE, in addition to learning words and phrases, we were acquiring a new perspective.

Why do you think it’s so important for people who want to work in Kaqchikel communities to learn to speak Kaqchikel?

I believe that all people have the right to receive social services in their native languages, especially in the domain of health. A patient is already in her most vulnerable state, and to use her own words to describe her condition can only bring comfort and improve the outcome of the consultation. Furthermore, for professionals like physician, researchers, or nurses to use a language like Kaqchikel commonly considered to be used only by those in need helps to promote the use of the language (and culture) in the community. Finally, to understand deep cultural meanings and nuances that shape the lives and worldviews of our patients, it is essential to learn their language.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about learning to speak Kaqchikel?

In addition to recommending KE, I would advise them to spend time in a home where Kaqchikel is spoken. For me, though more difficult at first, it is essential to learn a language from participating in daily life and conversation. I plan to use Kaqchikel principally for interviews and medical consultations. It is important to me that I learn to speak Kaqchikel as the people do.