All my different language-learning materials play a different role. I currently use flashcards, books, articles in the language, and helpful friends. I clarified this last week the specific role each one plays in my learning process.
I took a different tack for working on Somali this week. I didn’t look at my normal book, La soco af soomaaliga, at all, but went through my flash cards (almost) every day. Instead of a textbook, I found a news article and worked on translating it. Simply translating native-level texts, though, was harder than I thought it would be. Thanks to these roadblocks, though, I learned a lot about where my weaknesses lie.
I realized I have a few weak areas that I really need grammar to fill in. Parsing sentences and clauses prevented me from grasping what was going on, except for the most general meaning. In spite of problems, I could figure out the general meaning with a dictionary: A new court in Mogadishu was beginning to hear cases. When I translated the clauses, though, I felt like I was finding more nouns than the verbs could support. I believe there were some relative clauses in there that could produce this problem, but I couldn’t distinguish those easily enough. In other words, I needed to know more syntax and word order.
To be honest, I have a hard time distinguishing between Somali grammatical categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and particles/prepositional phrases. This exercise brought some of my weaknesses to light.
- I confuse nouns and verbs. This realization surprised me because I know that nouns often end with an article, and verbs end with their normal endings, but I still have a problem.
- Adjectives throw me off, since they can end with an article, too. So I can’t tell an adjective from a noun.
- The famous Somali particles, for example, oo, ee, uu, can have multiple meanings and serve various grammatical functions, and some are homonyms with prepositional phrases.
I think I should probably ditch La soco… for the time being. It teaches very simple phrases, but I need more complex phrases to make progress. I think Colloquial Somali would help in this regard. I think a book like La soco works better when you are surrounded by native speakers; you need a grammar book when you don’t have people explaining sentences to you.
Luckily I have an ace in the hole. A Somali friend at work offered to explain things over SMS if something suddenly comes up. That’s great to know. Plus we can have lunch together for more in-depth discussions.
This week established the importance of grammar among the various sources for Somali learning. I have my flashcards, conversational book, dictionaries, and various Somali acquaintances. A grammar book allows me to parse out more complex texts so that I can learn more from on-line articles for native speakers.
What sort of materials do you prefer? How much grammar did you have to know before you could translate newspapers and basic native texts?