Selfish acts of tourism: Languages at home and abroad

What are you doing, O Polyglot, to make sure you're not this guy?
What are YOU doing, O Polyglot, to make sure you’re not this guy?

Bequeathing a good community for my children to live in is my highest priority. More basically, being good means nothing if I’m not doing good. So if I’m spending time, money, or energy on something besides my community, I’m obliged to question it.

I’m a language guy, so I spend a lot of time and energy on languages. If I’m following this assumption, then I should be studying languages for the sake of my community.

Choosing a language, therefore, must also build up my community.

Community, not the “exotic” or “new,” must motivate me. How do I study and acquire languages to build up others, rather than myself?

If traveling runs the risk of exploiting people, even a little, I’d rather stay at home and build up my community.
Loving language

Language love is not about the money—or is it?

Use languages to build your local community = Ecolinguism
Use languages to build your local community = Ecolinguism

I’ve been following recently this discussion about my ecolinguism concept. (If you’re not familiar with this idea I coined, please see this post where I define it.) One direction that the conversation has gone in relates to my post where I critique digital nomads.

The argument in the discussion assumes that we as privileged, rich Westerners have a duty to help others with our wealth. Hence one must address the question: is it better to learn a language in a poorer area, such as Venezuela, or in a richer area, like the suburbs of a major US city? Where the people are poorer, there we have a greater duty to help. Moreover, it is oversimplification to call this action “colonialism” because colonialism brings with it wicked behavior historically. A blogger sitting in a cafe in Bali should not merit this label.

Another line of reasoning undermines any duty we have to immigrants and outsiders by questioning the definition of “needy.” Often Westerners look down on non-Westerners (such as immigrants, especially of other races). They may look down with disdain, and so hate the “intruders,” or with pity, and want to “help” others. The argument goes that the only way to look on these others is as equals. They do not “need” our help, but we reach out to them as brothers and sisters.

I believe that money is not central, and that human beings are not equal.

I believe that I have a duty to leave the world a better place than how I found it. Here’s how I do it by loving languages.
Why loving language

How do you teach adults a foreign language?

Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain--the school I visited
Lauaxeta Euskaltegia, Getxo, Spain–the school I visited

Ever since I planned on going to the North of Spain, to the Basque Country, aka Euskal Herria, I was on the lookout for where I could learn more of the local language, Euskara.

Euskara is a language unique to the North of Spain and Southwest of France, unrelated to any other language (though many theories exist regarding its unlikely relationship to other languages). For more information about the language itself, I would direct you to its Wikipedia page. I will focus here on my own experiences with the language.

When I went to the North of Spain in July, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class of Basque for adults at the Lauaxeta Euskaltegia in Getxo, Spain. This school offers classes to locals who want to become better at this language. They offer various levels of courses, and I sat in on the basic class.
What I learned

Irish & Basque: Unnecessary languages! (Or are they…?)

What makes a language useful?
What makes a language useful?

Recently I read the article, “Can anybody truthfully say that Irish is a necessary language?,” where the Irish author, Rosita Boland, expresses her frustration at the time wasted (12 years!) at failing to learn the first national language of Ireland.

Ms. Boland suffered at studying this language unsuccessfully at school. She writes, “The disgrace, as I see it, is being forced by the State to study a compulsory language for which I had no aptitude, absolutely no interest in, and no choice about throughout my entire school career. Where is the pedagogic sense in that?” To be honest, this sounds like my 14-year old’s laments about learning to divide polynomials: “How am I ever going to use that?”

I agree with my 14-year old, so I can’t dismiss Ms. Boland’s complaints out of hand.

But the author’s complain goes deeper. Not only did she fail to learn this compulsory subject, her country’s Constitution ties her Irish identity to it. She further argues, “It is written into our Constitution that Irish is our national language and the first official language. English is recognised as a second official language. That does not make sense.” She resents that her Constitution would define her by the subject that she hated and failed in school.

While she is right that Irish cannot be spoken outside of Ireland, does that make it less “useful”? Is this the only standard of “usefulness”?
What’s useful?

Do language-learning tips work for Oromo? I was surprised! (pt. 2)

What are the best ways to study Oromo?
What are the best ways to study Oromo?

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.
Find out what works

Do language-learning tips work for Oromo? I was surprised! (pt. 1)

If I run the numbers, will my feeling still hold true?
If I run the numbers, will my feeling still hold true?

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 had 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.

For part 1 of this post, I analyzed the first 15. I’ll finish the last 15 in part 2, in my next post.
Find out what works

Learning Somali: Interview with Loving Language at la Polyglotte

My friend, la Polyglotte
My friend, la Polyglotte

My friend at “La polyglotte” did an interview with me recently that I thought I’d share with you. It’s called, “The community at the heart of learning.” In it I discuss my background in languages, and my current process in learning Somali.

I’m proud to say that I did the interview completely in French. It was the first time I spoke French publicly, that is, outside of a simple conversation, since high school.

The “Polyglotte” is a fascinating woman, whom I met at the Polyglot Conference in NYC back in October. She comes from Paris, and her parents from Senegal. She advocates for the importance of African languages, so we’re kindred spirits in this way. These languages often get left out even in polyglot circles, since most polyglots focus on European and East Asian languages. But now that people see more economic and personal opportunities in Africa, interest in the continent’s languages is on the rise.

Enjoy!

You’re already learning languages like a baby (Don’t be fooled)

Babies have a language advantage: Cuteness!
Babies have a language advantage: Cuteness!

No language-learning program knows what it’s talking about when they say they can show you how to learn a language like a baby. There’s no other way.

My kids revealed the secrets of language-learning to me. I was teaching them Russian with they were between 4 and 7 years old. I spoke with them and they went to a Russian class for an hour per week.

I knew the difficulties of learning Russian, but I was fluent by that point, even having worked as an interpreter and translator. I had figured out the tricky parts of the grammar, but my kids’ grammar was hopeless. I didn’t know what to do.

I told their teacher that the kids always messed up verb conjugations and noun declensions, so that all verbs were second person and all feminine nouns were in the accusative. He smiled and said, “Yeah, kids always mess those up.”

I always messed those up, too!

Russian is just hard!

Distance and stereotypes: Longing for language love in Turkey

Just another tourist in Istanbul
Just another tourist in Istanbul

“Do you have a book in English to learn Turkish?” At the large book fair next to one of the universities in Istanbul, I figured I’d find something I’d enjoy. “In English?”

He handed me a phrase book.

“No. To learn Turkish. Grammar.”

He handed me a Turkish grammar book—in Turkish.

“In English?”

He handed me a learning grammar. This was it.

“How much is it?”

“How much?”

He started leafing through a catalog.

“You have to order it?”

“…sorry. No English me,” and he looked to the ground. He pointed at the price on the page. I paid, said, “Teşekkür ederim” (“thank you”), and left.

I have an easy time connecting with others thanks to my language “superpower.” But what do I do when circumstances eliminate that ability?

Here was a young man, selling language books next to a university. How could we not have something in common? But I would never know. At the end of my recent trip to Greece, I spent a day-and-a-half in Istanbul. Without being able to speak any Turkish, I had a disappointingly difficult time connecting with people there.
Unable to connect?