HELP! How do I get out of the intermediate level doldrums?

How can you help me progress to the next level?
How can you help me progress to the next level?

I’m running into the doldrums of language-learning, making slow, even imperceptible progress. What do the following language-learning activities have in common?

  1. Translating sentences in my book;
  2. Translating actual news articles or podcasts;
  3. Visiting a Somali cafe.

They are all a) great activities and b) very time-consuming.

In the beginning stages, I could pick up a book, run some flash cards, or work a couple exercises. I could accomplish something in 15 minutes. Now my exercises require 30-60 minutes to accomplish something, yet my schedule still prefers 15-minute language-learning chunks.

Without consistent progress, I’m running out of steam and motivation, so I find it even harder to make larger chunks of language learning time. How do I get over this?

Hitting the intermediate level wall

I’m hitting a roadblock with Somali and it feels familiar because I hit the same one with Farsi a couple years ago. After about two years I get the basics down pat, but then I no longer make much progress. The intermediate level of language-learning demands a different style than the basic level.

I know most of the basic grammar of Somali and a good amount of vocabulary. I know the verb conjugations, the noun declensions, the focus particles, and various word derivation rules. Some details might slip my mind occasionally, such as plurals of nouns. The vocabulary is sticking because I’m using flashcards daily on Anki.

As a result, my experience shows me that the intermediate level requires work that is more tedious for me. I can understand the snappy dialogues in my book. That’s exciting, but I learn little. Reading a real newspaper article or listening to a real news podcast requires several minutes per word. I learn a lot, but I have to set a bigger period of time aside. If I stop the article I’m translating and come back, I’ve got a lot of work to remember before I re-start.

Going to Somali coffee shops gives me a great boost, but these visits are also time-consuming. The cafes are all 10-20 minutes away, so I have to plan on about 30 minutes of travel time. If I stay for 40-60 minutes, then I have to dedicate an hour or an hour and a half—which is a long chunk of time for me right now. I love doing this, but there’s not place to fit it in my daily or weekly plan right now.

Podcasts have not been helpful because they move too quickly for me to catch new vocabulary. I can seize on the common words, like “is,” “but,” or “new,” but other words might be swallowed up by speed or dialect. I had the same experience with Farsi, though I listened daily to Farsi SBS and BBC for a few months.

What do I do? I have a couple of ideas:

I haven’t been working on exercises in my book. I think I could still gain something there, but it’s a more grueling process than before. I as said, the grammar is pretty clear. Putting it into action, sentence by painful sentence can be agonizing. simply because I have to bring all the rules and vocabulary together.

Another idea is to consolidate short, daily language sessions into fewer, longer ones. Perhaps I shift to 1-2 hour-long sessions per week instead of daily 10-15 minute sessions.

What do you think? I need your help. How do I get through the intermediate doldrums?

Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter / CC BY



11 thoughts on “HELP! How do I get out of the intermediate level doldrums?

  1. Valery

    I think you are having such called plateau (if i not mistyped here)) right now.When you get to some level it start to seems that you’re not making any progress or even make it worse than you did it before.But it might be that your brain just messing it all to put in new right order.(I’m not good at explaning if you have opportunity you can watch “Learnini how to learn” on Coursera where it all clarified)So it’s better for you to stay in the same type of learning(I mean frequent short chunks) or change them for something new just to keep yourself interested.
    P.S. If I remember it right the plateau theme is described at Benny Lewis blog as wel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make good points. Thank you. I think part of it is the monotony of the rest of my life. I have to make sure there are openings to go have fun in the language–or in any language, for that matter!


  2. I’m currently running a research experiment with artificial languages to investigate how adults learn languages with a different orthography. It seems like there is a bias for accessing semantic information over phonological information in some languages, and vice versa in others.

    Could be more stimulating if you alternate learning with O-P information (orthography to phonology – i.e reading aloud or transcribing) and learning with. O-S information (orthography to semantics – i.e associating the written word with a picture or organising in categories). May be useful to consolidate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very interested in hearing more about you research. Can you tell me more?

      Could you give some examples of O-P and O-S exercises? What would they look like? I would certainly like to try some out.


  3. I found that besides daily grammar work or work with a language informant (all of which are good but can get tiring) taking an interest in the wealth of Somali traditional literature and giving an attempt at translating it into English, beyond making the language learning more interesting, also added to my cultural knowledge and helped with understanding thought patterns and common ways of expressing things (sometimes quite different from the way we would express things in English). I will past one story in below:

    “Nabad Go’day Ma Xiranto”
    Nin baa beri guri mas ku jiro degay. Markaasuu maskii arkay. Maskuna mas daallin ah ma ahayn. Maalin walba carruurta iyo xoolaha dhexdooduu iska mari jiray oo waxba ma yeeli jirin.
    Maalin dambe uun baa ninkii tashaday oo is yiri, “Oo waar, horta maskanu yaanu xoolaha iyo carruurta kaa cunin ee maad dishid?” Markaasuu maskii oo geed jirriddii ku hurda u yimid oo is yiri, “Seef qoorta kaga dhufo!” Markaasuu la waayey oo seeftii jirriddii ku dhacday. Markaasaa maskii toosay oo cararay oo god galay.
    Habeenkii markii la seexseexday buu maskii soo baxay oo ninka wiilkiisii curadka ah qaniinay. Markaasaa wiilkii dhintay.
    Subixii baa ninkii maskii u yimid oo ku yiri, “Waar, masyahow, aan wacatanno oo is deyno!” Markaasaa maskii yiri, “Waar, ninyahow, berigii horeba waa taynu nabadda ahayn ee aad goysay; haddana intaan anna seeftaa jirridda ku taal arkayo, adna wiilkaaga xabaashiis arkayso, wacad inoo ma xirmayno ee ina kala kaxee!”
    (from Xigmad Soomaaliyeed by B.W. Andrzejewski and Muuse Galaal, p.35)

    There are many, many more of these and there are whole series of Somali stories about Cigaal Shidaad (the funny coward), Wiil Waal (the famous and wise king), Carawello (the cruel queen), and Dheegdheer (the cruel cannibal woman); just to name a few.

    There are also thousands of proverbs. Here are just a few:
    1. Nin daad qaatay xunbo cuskaday.
    2. Mukulaal minankeeda joogtaa miciyo libaax bay leedahay.
    3. Been fakaday run ma gaarayso.
    4. Nin buka boqol u taliya.
    5. Nin tuur leh siduu u seexdo isagaa yaqaan.
    6. Dameer isku hallayn bay hooyadeed dabada uga nuugtaa.
    7. Timir laf baa ku jirta.
    8. I jiid aan ku jiidee waa gacmo daalis.
    9. Beertii aad labaatan jir ku beerato, lixtan jirkaad ku nasataa.
    10. Barasho horteed ha i nicin.

    There are also riddles (which would be told and the answers guessed by nomad youth around the fire at night after being out watching the animals (camels or goats and sheep) all day:
    1. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Saddex nin oo nin waalan sita.
    b) Waa saddexda dhardhaar iyo digsiga saaran.

    2. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Ul qurux badan oon la qaadi karin.
    b) Waa halaqa (mas, bahal).

    3. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Nin cas oo ceel ku jira.
    b) Waa carrabka.

    4. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Habar belo ah, riyo boqol ah, haruub buqul ah.
    b) Waa qorraxda, xiddigaha iyo dayaxa.

    5. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Laba nin oo gambar isla fadhiya oo salaan gaari waayey.
    b) Waa geesaha lo’aad.

    6. a) Googgaa b) Cadale
    a) Wax suulkan dhan oo sac ka yar weyn.
    b) Waa rah.

    Have fun!
    I have lots more like these – with suggested answer sheets for these as well – but try your hand at translating and understanding them first. Go over them with a Somali friend and try to get their explanation as well. Some of the proverbs don’t make sense outside of understanding Somali culture – especially the art and science of livestock rearing. Others are quite useful and if you can put them into conversation at the appropriate time gain you some respect in the language:
    e.g. Ilkaha wadajir bay wax ku gooyaan. & Far keliya fool ma dhaqato!

    Hope this helps you along a bit in your Somali language adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just for fun here are two versions of a well known Somali story (one from the North & one from the South):
    “Waa Yaab”
    Ninka ina Cali Qablax la odhan jiray baa maalin dundumo hoos fadhiistay. Ina Cali Qablax na wuu indho la’aa. Markaasuu dundumadii taabtay. Markaasuu ninkii la socday ku yidhi, “Waar, horta bahashan dundumo la yidhaahdo iiga warran!” Markaasaa ninkii yidhi, “Dee, aboorkaa habeenkii candhuuftiisa ku sameeya.” Markaasaa ina Cali Qablax yaabay oo yidhi, “Hal waa yaaab, halna waa yaabka yaabkii, halna waa ammankaag.”
    Markaasaa ninkii yidhi, “Kow.” Markaasaa ina Cali Qablax yidhi, “Dundumad inteer le’eg aboor baa sameeya waa yaab, halna waa yaabka yaabkii oo habeenkii buu sameeyaa waa yaabka yaabkii, halna waa ammankaag oo candhuuftiisuu ku sameeya waa ammankaag.”
    (from Xigmad Soomaaliyeed by B.W. Andrzejewski and Muuse Galaal, p.33) (Northern)

    “Duddun Iyo Aboor”
    Oday baa carruur duddun harsanaysaa u yimid oo yiri, “Maandhooyinow, hal waa yaab; halna waa yaabka yaabkiisa; halna waa amakaag iyo argaggax.
    Duddun aboor baa dhisay waa yaab; misna habeenkii buu dhisaa waa yaabka yaabkiisa; misna candhuufo buu ku dhisaa waa amakaag iyo argaggax.”
    (from Waarimaysid ee War Ha Kaa Haro by Yaaquub, Xasan ‘Baabraqiis’. (Xamar: Wakaaladda Madbacadda Qaranka, 1974) p.16. (Southern)

    Have fun.


  5. Pingback: The biggest struggles language-lovers face: Solved! – Loving Language

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