Recently I’ve been talked to some folks about practical tips for learning less well-resourced languages. La Polyglotte works on finding on-line resources for African languages, and Lindsay Dow specializes in practical tips for language-learning. I’ve expressed to them that I have the feeling when I hear language-learning advice that won’t apply to the languages I’m learning.
But let me be honest now. I haven’t actually tried everything that people suggest.
So I decided to run an experiment. Shannon Kennedy authors a great blog as the Eurolinguiste, and she recently blogged on 30 5-minute language exercises. I wanted to test which of these suggestions would work for Oromo. I was surprised not only at how many of them apply, but I also gained insight into what sorts of tips are the most universal.
In this part 2 of this post, I analyzed the second 15. You can find the first 15 in part 1.
- Read a few text excerpts on Bliu Bliu.👎 I love Bliu Bliu, but it doesn’t have Oromo, even among their scores of “Beta” languages. Somali does exist, but it’s been in beta for over a year. Since much of the Bliu Bliu platform depends on Google Translate, the quality of the latter determines what Bliu Bliu can do with it.
- Participate in the Instagram Language Challenge hosted by Lindsay Dow 👍 The Instagram Language Challenge that Lindsey hosts would help keep me on track, as long as the other items are in place. (Like, I’d have to get on Instagram.)
- Find a Facebook group for people learning your target language. 👎 I was not able to find one for Oromo. Thanks to this suggestion, I created one.
- Spend some time thinking about your language learning goals. 👍 This is reasonable advice. Another of Shannon’s articles can get you started off right.
- Start to put together a playlist of music in your target language. 👍 Since this suggestion is related to #7, I found some music in Oromo. The playlist I found is in #4. I don’t have Spotify, so I couldn’t confirm what Oromo music they offer.
- Subscribe to LearnwithOliver’s newsletter for your target language. 👎 I can’t find Oromo on the site.
- Visit a news site in your target language. 👍 There are plenty of news sites in Oromo, so this suggestions works. Without some of the other parts in place, like a good dictionary and grammar book, looking up words and deciphering headlines could be harder than one would guess.
- Join an online language learning course and watch the first video. 👍 I’m nervous about what is out there for these courses, because I haven’t seen them tested for less commonly studied languages like Oromo. I think maybe Shannon’s, “Say Goodbye to Shy” might work, only because most of your material will come from your interactions with natives.
- Label a room in your house with sticky notes. 👍 This would work nicely. All I need is a basic dictionary for this, which I have on this app.
- Find a word frequency list in your target language. 👎 I cannot find this anywhere.
- Take a look at your language’s page on Omniglot. 👎 I was shocked that I couldn’t find this. Maybe I can convince one of my friends to help fill this out.
- If you haven’t already, learn two of the most important sentences you could know in your target language. 👍 I love it. It assumes that you have an informant who can give you these phrases, and a community with whom you can use the phrases themselves. Here in Minnesota, though, you should be able to find such people for Oromo.
- Spend some time with the writing system. 👎 Oromo uses the Latin alphabet (since the second half of the last century), so this exercise won’t be useful.
- Talk to yourself. 👍 Great suggestion! I won’t last five minutes yet, but I should be able to get there in time.
- Find a study buddy. 👎 With less resourced languages, finding speakers or teachers of the language can be especially difficult. Even with a language of over 30 million people like Oromo, they don’t advertise they speak it. The use of Oromo is a political issue, so advertising it can be complicated. Moreover, fewer learners leads to lower demand for teachers, so you run into more difficulties finding someone who can teach. I’ve had great conversations with folks at iTalki who would love to encourage participation by speakers of less commonly taught languages, but it’s an uphill battle.
In this second round, the results are eight thumbs-up and seven thumbs-down. The grand total stands at 17 thumbs-up and 13 thumbs-down. On the one hand, I stand corrected: there are a lot of things that I can do to work on Oromo every day—no excuses.
On the other hand, these suggestions underscore how under-resourced these languages are. Almost all of the suggestions that rely on apps and even on social networks can’t help. One can find resources that are consumed by native speakers, such as music and videos and news, for a language with so many speakers as Oromo, but for an endangered language with thousands instead of millions of speakers, even those resources would be difficult to find.
Speaking with native informants of the language remains. The next step is to produce content for other language learners, or even to train native speakers with an interest in teaching the language. I’m not ready for either of those. I think that groups like Wikitongues are starting to provide some resources. This only plausible next step if these languages have any hope of catching up with the pedagogy-rich languages of Europe and East Asia.