Week 11 of loving Somali: Living the Polyglot Dream

Living the dream is time for celebration!
Living the dream is time for celebration!

I’m living the polyglot dream. This term was coined by Lucas Lampariello at his blog by the same name, and I mean by it that I managed to keep my love of language at the forefront of my mind and found many opportunities for and much joy in immersing myself in languages. While I set aside time this week to be sure I was working hard on Somali, I kept my ears open when I could speak or listen to other languages. I managed to engage Somali, Amharic, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Dutch.


In Somali I’ve found that the time I have to work on homework tends to be on the weekends. I do vocabulary a few minutes per day, and talk to folks when I can. For longer periods, I do Somali grammar exercises. That rhythm has worked well for me.

Working on Somali nouns showed me one of the hardest things about the language. My deepest linguistic work has been in Semitic languages. (My PhD is in Ancient Hebrew, and I minored in Arabic.) I knew that in Arabic, the verbs are pretty regular, but the nouns are very irregular; you have to memorize the plural of each noun. I found this week that Somali, too, forms the plural according to several different idiosyncratic patterns. Furthermore, some of these use tone alone to distinugish different forms of the noun. I know this will take a lot of work, especially in listening because tone is not written.

Good luck came to me on Friday, however. There was a breakfast and awards ceremony at my kids’ school. My daughter couldn’t find any of her friends to sit with, so I found the most Somali-looking family I could find to sit with. Luckily, I accurately identified their ethnicity, so I got to speak my budding Somali. He taught me a great word: Hambalyo! “Congratulations!” Hooray for a great experience!

Amharic, Spanish, Dutch

Friday I left for a trip to San Diego. At the Minneapolis airport I got to speak my micro-Amharic, as I often do (“Are you Ethiopian?” “How are you?” “Thank you” and not much more). I know the women at the sandwich shop are almost all Ethiopian. My friend at work taught me a really useful phrase for these situations: Sra ndit now? (now pronounced as the English negative “no”) “How is work?” That makes for great conversations, and the folks were even responding to me in Amharic.

Now that I arrived in San Diego, I’ve been trying my best to practice my Spanish. In the hotel gym today, I overheard a group of guests speaking Dutch, so I turned off my earbuds and listened to them. (I hope this isn’t rude…)

French, Russian, Portuguese

Over the past couple weeks I’ve made some additional chances to live the dream.

  • I had meetings in French and Russian with my overseas colleagues at work.
  • I found a funny Portuguese podcast, “Momento da manhã.” Although it’s over my head to understand, I enjoy hearing and refreshing my language ability.
  • I also found a cool Russian sci-fi podcast Альманах фантастики, Al’manax fantastiki, where they read short stories (under 20 minutes). The story I listened to was very challenging. I understood the majority of words, but keeping up with the story boggled my mind a little.

Sometimes I feel I don’t do enough for my languages, but looking at my inventory for the recent past, my account looks like it’s “in the black.” Counting up seven languages for the recent past looks like good engagement! I’m grateful for the opportunities I had, thanks to my local community, work, travel, and podcasts.

Are you living the polyglot dream? What did you do?
Didn’t you live the dream this week? What’s holding you back?

Photo credit: massdistraction / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


10 thoughts on “Week 11 of loving Somali: Living the Polyglot Dream

  1. Paulina

    I used to live the polyglot dream at work some years ago. My colleagues and my clients came from all over the world. Sometimes I switched from German to French to English to Spanish to Italian several times in one day. Times have changed: we often use local providers now, which made most procedures easier and faster, but also took a lot of fun out of work.


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  3. Rachel

    I spent the weekend at the Sgoil-Ghaidhlig Naiseanta (sundry accents missing) in Melbourne – a great chance that comes around only once a year to speak Gaelic with people who actually understand what I’m saying (and aren’t afraid to correct my grammar, vocab, and pronunciation). Having learnt only “common” languages before, I had no idea the joy that comes from getting to use a language properly (and freely) for the first time. The let-down now I’m back in Adelaide is a bummer, though…


    1. Awesome! You’re living the dream! Sounds like a great time.

      I have a little letdown every time I leave the airport. That’s where I can speak some African languages–especially Somali. Even when I leave downtown to go back to the suburbs I feel it.

      What do you do to prepare yourself in between Gaelic adventures?


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