Monday, December 13, 2010

God bless the Flashcard

See these buildings down here? 

This is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for my church.  The place where Mormon (LDS) Church missionary volunteers go to learn how to be missionaries and teach people about Jesus, perhaps learn 6 years of foreign language in 8 weeks, and eat waaaaaay too much Captain Crunch cereal. 

In 1990, someone at one of those desks in one of those buildings changed the course of my academic life.  Mine, and my children.  Even before they were children.

I went on a volunteer mission to Portugal, the Canary Islands actually, off the coast of Western Africa. 

Of course, being a simple girl from Alaska (the Old Alaska, before it became the sole property of Sarah Palin), I didn't know much Portuguese language. 

Ok.  How about none.  Zip.  Nada (which is spanish).  I didn't even know a Portuguese person.  Not too many of those interested to come to Soldotna for King Salmon fishing or hanging out at the Dairy Queen.

Sooooo, needless to say when I got to the MTC, I struggled.  I floundered (or halibuted if you are from Homer (inside Old Alaska joke)).  I did my best to learn the language. 

And I failed.

I carried my dictionary around everywhere.  I carried my properly conjugated verb card that included all the perfect tenses of the words "domir" (to sleep) and more importantly "comir" (to eat). 

No luck. 

I prayed.  I fasted.  I even dreamed in Portuguese in my sleep, but no luck.  I could not remember the words. I couldn't do it.

I was a MTC flunky. 

Me, and the boy in my group who was failing worse than me.  Man, he sucked at Portuguese.  Which actually he had good reason.  His mother was German and he could barely speak English as a native language.  So, with his perfectly good excuse in hand, I was the worst of the group.

So, fortunately for me, the MTC decided that God's mission call for me to go to Portugal wasn't a mistake and they had something that could help me.   Meet the Learning Center.

I went to the MLC (missionary learning center--translation:  Foreign language learning for Dummies) and was "tested."  It was embarrassing for me.  I had never struggled with school (well, there is that whole subject debacle called Math--but sheesh, I am a Recreation major, who needs to know more math than "My streamer and party favors budget is $25.00"....?). 

If the Lord wants a humble people, he had one that day.  I was embarrassingly humbled.   I mean they didn't even send the German Mothered Boy to the MLC. 

So, I took my test and figured they were going to take away my mission call ticket to Portugal and exchange it for one for one a little closer to Idaho. I could remember most of the words they spoke there.

The nice lady in one of those buildings sat me down and said basically the following:  You are struggling. We are actually surprised how "highly intelligent" you are (they did say that phrase I remember...and by the way, what the heck was she trying to say?) (apparently they had seen me try to speak the Portuguese).  You seem to have some sort of block when learning information that has to be repeated.  But we have the answer for you.

Meet "The Flashcard." 

Flashcards?  Weren't those from kindergarten when we were learning our letters?  Weren't those from third grade when we were learning our times tables? 

Did people who had achieved my height use flashcards?  Where would I find Portuguese ones? I asked.  "Oh, you can't buy them.  You will have to make them.  Yourself.  All of them, for the whole Portuguese language." 

And good luck with that.

Sure enough, that language woman, Sister DeBois (can you believe I can remember her name after 20 years but I couldn't remember a simple phrase like "Where do I buy the delicious ice cream?") was right.  :)

I did what they said and sure enough, it worked.  I knew where all the delicious ice cream in Funchal was...thanks to the Flashcard.

When I got home from my mission, and started back into school, I had my secret academic weapon.

And it worked.  I not only knew where all the ice cream stores in Logan where (I could remember the words for asking that important question ) but I also graduated from college with honors (thanks Mr. Flashcard).

Fast foward twenty years.  Look what I found on my kitchen table yesterday.
The Boy's science cards

The Girl's cards for one class

It is Finals Week in Andersonville and I really never thought about it until I saw them all strewn about yesterday.

I accidentally taught the kiddos to love flash cards too.

One, my kids are "highly intelligent" but have the same sort of freakish block to retaining information.

Two, I should have bought a serious amount of stock in the index card market 20 years ago.

Thanks Sister DeBois and "donde está o gelado reserva?"  :)