Becoming our betters selves through love and language

Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?
Are we ready to leave our comfort to pursue wisdom?

We are missing out on a learning opportunity as a society. Rather than encourage the perpetuation, growth, and exchange of language, fear drives out languages. Building walls to keep out foreign others takes precedence over listening to new voices that may know more than us. Forcing them, in spite of their past and present struggles, to talk to us in our language insults and degrades them and us.

Alternatively, we could learn the languages around us, and put our resources and our prestige behind teaching these languages to our children. Let my children speak to their friends’ parents in their language, while their friend speaks to me in mine—or teaches me hers. Learning the stories that come from “the old country” holds a mirror up to our society, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly, for us to celebrate, to correct, or to apologize for.
What are we missing?

Discoveries on an #Ecolinguistic Expedition

Let's set out together for exploring our hometown!
Let’s set out together for exploring our hometown!

Friday I considered an ecolinguistic expedition day. I set up an Instagram account (richardlanguage) where I started logging the languages I see around me.

Join me by posting pics of the languages around you and tagging them #ecolinguism!

In this first day, I didn’t go out of my way, but recorded why I saw as I walked along my normal Friday afternoon path to Oromo Table.
What I learned

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

Why don’t they learn our language? or How did they manage to do it?

How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?
How would you study after a day in the life of an immigrant?

Continuing on the theme of “Why don’t immigrants learn our language?” (see this post and this post) I wanted to present why the situation is not as simple as people think.

Most people who complain about this in the US speak English only, and so remain blissfully unaware of the complications of learning another language.

My more sophisticated brothers and sisters in Europe likely learned English, and so understand the difficulties. Nevertheless, they learned their foreign language in the comfort of their local school surrounded by family and friends taking care of them.

Immigrants have it hard because of their circumstances, both the situation they left and the life they have in their new country. Learning a new language creates even more work and difficulties in addition to getting by in this new, foreign place.

Yet they learn.

When I used to teach, I remember the reaction of my students when I would add an extra reading assignment. “We don’t have time,” they would inevitably say. I would smile and tell them that one day they would learn what “busy” meant, but at the moment, they were not busy.

We are not as busy as we think. This is what many of us have to grow into when we think about immigrants, and a valuable lesson immigrants can teach the rest of us.

Let’s look more deeply into their circumstances. It’s humbling. We’ll see that the question is not, “Why don’t they learn our language?” but “How did they manage to learn our language?” At the end, I’ll give you a few ways to use your favorable circumstances to the advantage of others.
How they learned

Lose your accent! English “L”

Place your tongue correctly for the different English L's
Place your tongue correctly for the different English L’s

You can sound like a native.

English has different ways of pronouncing “L”, especially in the US. Generally at the beginning of syllables the tip of the tongue goes up, what we call a “light L.” At the end of syllables, the tip of the tongue stays down, as well as the middle of the tongue, what we call a “dark L.”

This video demonstrates the different pronunciation of dark and light “L” in different contexts, using multiple examples.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: M Glasgow via Foter.com / CC BY

Lose your accent! English vowels and American diphthongs

Enjoy using your tongue to pronounce American English vowels correctly!
Enjoy using your tongue to pronounce American English vowels correctly!

You can sound like a native.

Non-native speakers often give themselves away with their vowels, as English tends to pronounce them as diphthongs. American English diphthongizes them in a unique way. (In fact, you can tell a lot about a variety of English by its diphthongs.)

In this video I explain the Standard American English diphthongs of /ey/, /ow/, and /uw/ of my native dialect, having grown up in a middle-class family in Nebraska and Colorado.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Derek K. Miller via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Lose your accent! English “th” (with American English “r”)

Don't get frustrated! You can pronounce "th" like a native.
Don’t get frustrated! You can pronounce “th” like a native.

You can sound like a native.

This sound challenges most learners of American English because it requires the speaker to position the tongue with the tip slightly beyond the teeth. On its own, the sound is not so hard, but articulating it alongside other unique English sounds—like the American “r”—brings its own troubles. This video helps you put the sound into context with other difficult sounds, but thinking about where your tongue is and what it is touching will help you pronounce English better.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: ta||tim via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Lose your accent! American English “r”

Focus on your mouth and discover the right accent!
Focus on your mouth and discover the right accent!

You can sound like a native.

This sound challenges most learners of American English because it requires the speaker to point the tongue up while not quite touching the roof of the mouth. If you can say “t”, though, you can say “r.” Watch this video and you will learn to feel where your tongue is.

Even though speaking with a foreign accent seems like a normal state, you can learn how to make the sounds that sound easy in the mouths of natives. This video series increases your awareness of all the parts of your mouth you use for speaking. A language never felt so good!

Dr. Thomas Coates blew my mind. He taught me how my tongue, lips, jaw, and teeth create language. Like a Chinese calligrapher learns how each finger holds a brush, like a yogi breathes with specific depth and stretch of her diaphragm, I took the first steps towards mastering language: losing my accent.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Tim Kirman Photography via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Practical tips for learning Somali in Minnesota, Part 2

a fire to be tended dab qoryo (xaabo) u baahan
[depicted]
a fire to be tended
dab qoryo (xaabo) u baahan
As I said in “practical tips, part 1,” languages don’t require a book to learn. They only require a community. Books help when you don’t have people around, but when you meet people who speak your language, make the most of the encounter. Introduce yourself, tell them how much you love their language, and see if they can help you advance. When I saw this sign, I knew I needed some help.

Doing the necessary work

The next time I went downtown, I saw at the light rail stop an advertising campaign consisting of multiple signs, each in Spanish, Hmong, or Somali. I wanted to learn more about the one depicted to the right.

a fire to be tended
dab qoryo (xaabo) u baahan

I recognized a couple of words: dab “fire” and qoryo “wood.” Please don’t underestimate how awesome I felt to see two words I actually knew in a single sentence!

As I was walking down the sidewalk towards my meeting, I was thinking about the sign. “Firewood”? That word doesn’t occur in the English. How odd that seemed! Was I understanding it correctly?

Why wonder? I stopped the next Somali folks I saw and asked.
See what I learned

Practical tips for learning Somali in Minnesota, Part 1

This is what studying Somali looks like for me.
This is what studying Somali looks like for me.

Languages don’t require a book to learn. They only require a community. Books help when you don’t have people around, but when you meet people who speak your language, make the most of the encounter. Introduce yourself, tell them how much you love their language, and see if they can help you advance.

Let me explain how I learn Somali in Minnesota. Realize that I don’t live close to a Somali community, that is, I don’t run into Somalis on a daily basis. I have to drive intentionally to where I know Somalis frequent.

Memorization lies at the foundation of my Somali work. I read some books and articles just to glean vocabulary—individual words and phrases. I put them into my Anki deck, and I go through my deck every day at about 5am. I do it at that time because the day gets too busy otherwise and I forget.

When I get into Minneapolis, where the largest concentration of Somalis live, I take advantage of my visit.
Read about a recent “lesson”