I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Winter Language Class co-organized by Field Station Guatemala and the University of Maryland. I am also very grateful to Wuqu’ Kawoq for hosting this project and sharing about their work with rural indigenous communities. For two weeks seven other students and I participated in an intensive Kaqchikel class. The teaching strategy was designed to mirror the way that children learn a language. For each lesson, the teachers would start with a dialogue acted out between themselves. They would use new vocabulary and preform simple skits to show the meaning of words. We the students would listen and begin piecing together what they were saying before trying to speak. The teachers would then help us work through phrases and eventually basic conversation.
This was an amazing experience. I was very impressed by the teachers` professional attitude, their empathy, and their terrific mastery of the language and its cultural implications. The teachers Magda Sotz (Ixkamey) and Edy Guajan (Lajuj B`aatz) earned my most profound respect and admiration, as well as Pedro Mateo (Lwin), the Field Station`s Executive Director in Guatemala, who organized the language class carefully and very professionally. Together, they created a welcoming and engaging learning environment that helped us learn quickly and made the long hours enjoyable.
In addition to the class itself, the other students and I had the opportunity to stay with a Kaqchikel families from Tecpán and so were allowed to gain insight into modern Kaqchikel life. The warm hospitality I experienced during these two weeks was outstanding, and the conversations I had with various family members helped me to gain a stronger understanding of the language and local culture.
At the end of the class, I feel like I have a very solid base to continue studying Kaqchikel and am able to have simple conversations. Furthermore, I was introduced into this beautiful language`s structure so different from Indo-Germanic languages that I have learned before. I`m fascinated by the holistic world view expressed by the language`s vocabulary, syntax and grammar, a world view that Kaqchikel shares with the other Mayan languages. Unfortunately, Guatemala’s indigenous population continue to suffer from discrimination and many have come to see their language and culture as barriers to prosperity. In this context, Maya language classes foster indigenous pride and make important contributions to creating a more equal and just society. Guatemala`s indigenous languages are one of the most precious treasures the country has to share and therefore they need to be protected and respected.
If given the opportunity, it would be my pleasure to come back and to collaborate with this language program in one way or another.
Ciudad de Guatemala, February 5, 2019
Dr. Carlos Alberto Haas
Institute of Contemporary History, Munich – Berlin, Germany