I need your help. I’m to solve some of these, the most difficult questions any language-lover has encountered.
Are you learning to speak a language? What do you do if you have the following problems?
- You are studying a rare language, or one that is not taught often.
- You passed the beginners stage, are fluent in basic greetings and introductions, but want to learn more.
- You listen to native speakers, but only understand every tenth word, sounding something like, “He…with…five…that…was.”
- When you try to speak to native speakers, they switch to English.
- You’re dying to know how people “actually talk” in your language, but they oversimplify everything for you.
- Once you think you understood, you ask native speakers to repeat what they said, but they rephrase it and defeat the purpose.
Are you a linguist working on a rare language? Have you had these problems?
- You need more data, but data in your language is hard to come by.
- You want to hear how people actually speak when they’re not speaking with a linguist in the room.
- You want native speakers to explain variations in the language, for example, whether a given expression is common or rare.
- You want to discuss with other linguists about a particular dilemma.
In this blog I’ve mentioned here and here the large problem of self-study, that is, pulling up after one plateaus. What brings success at the early stage of self-study does not work in the next stages.
Moving from producing and comprehending a few rote phrases to the broader range of actual speech can frustrate me to tears. I want so badly to understand what native speakers are saying, whether on a podcast or in a cafe. I try to keep a conversation going around the few topics where I own a good chunk of vocabulary, but I can’t do that more than a few minutes.
Many of the “native speaker” programs on line haven’t helped. I’ve found that iTalki can help find a teacher who can get me over the hump, but some languages do not have teachers representing them. The multitude of Hello Talk-type apps put me in touch with people who are beyond my level and who prefer to speak English to learn. And texting takes a lot of time.
Some languages don’t offer a lot of learning material. I discussed the main issues I’ve run into here. I’ve picked up a few languages to work on over the past 5 years, but none of them offer a breadth of material suitable for intermediate learners, because not many people learn the languages. These languages include Farsi, Somali, Swiss German, and Oromo.
Recently I’ve been working with the language-preservation-minded folks at Wikitongues, so I’m thinking more about the work of strengthening a dying language. Many linguists record words that the speakers know, creating a “talking dictionary” for the next generation. Disembodied words—as anyone who studies flashcards knows—only helps us so much. We need to know how sentences are made, and how those sentences fit into an conversation.
So what do we do?
Sorry, I don’t have any solutions today. Please see the posts I link to, but I’m feeling against a wall today. I need your help!