Week 28 of Loving Somali: Looking honestly at progress

Take a better look--your happiness may surprise your!
Take a better look–your happiness may surprise your!

My life is wonderful, yet sometimes I imagine I’m supposed to be living a different life than the one I’m living. At those moments, I get overwhelmed by so many things, find I’m not letting myself sleep enough, and feel down. Languages are my passion, but they’re not everything in my life, or even the best part of my life. They make me feel alive and happy. The moment they no longer make me feel good reminds me to take a step back and look at the totality of my life and remember how wonderful my life is. What am I really doing in my life? What progress am I actually making in my language?
The reality of my life

Week 13 of Loving Somali: Am I my brother’s teacher?

The teacher watches as the student struggles--and learns.
The teacher watches as the student struggles—and learns.

Good teachers don’t mind watching students struggle. Some even purposely cause their students to struggle. When it is time for the student to progress, the teacher pushes the student ruthlessly until the student gets to the next level. The student may not believe in himself or herself, but the teacher does, and so opposes the stubborn self-doubt of the student. As my brilliant 7th grade math teacher, Ms. Leona Penner, said, “Patience is for the birds.” This award-winning teacher believed that coddling students prevented them from reaching their potential. Learning requires struggling through discomfort, and the only comfort comes from inevitable progress that results from struggle.

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Week 4 of loving Somali: Joy, pumpkins, and goat meat

Do you look like a pumpkin? Is that a good thing?
Do you look like a pumpkin? Is that a good thing?

Studying Somali brings me joy. I love discovering this language. Granted, I’m like Christopher Columbus, “discovering” people who didn’t know they needed discovering; I’m not exactly a pioneer. Nevertheless, my “discoveries” bring my mind to a world that at least I didn’t know, coming in contact with people so much like me, yet from a life that is so different. The newness of contact envigorates me.

This week I didn’t study as much as I planned, but I still had the opportunity to see a new landscape. I learned about a market filled with mango, goat meat, and pumpkins. I also got to see new ways of ordering language, of expressing oneself. Maybe my dear readers would like to help me with some of the sticking points I came across this week? This never gets old for me!
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Week 1 of loving Somali: Exotic discoveries

Has your language produced exotic fruit?
Has your language produced exotic fruit?

So far I’ve kept to my goal of studying two chapters per week of La soco af soomaaliga and memorizing vocabulary daily with Anki. The book is not organized in a really clear way, and it doesn’t translate all the vocabulary. Fortunately, Google Translate manages Somali (barely) and I found an awesome Somali dictionary app.

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The hard work of loving language

Time to get started again!
Time to get started again!

What do you do when language-learning stalls?

I’m trying to get back to work–language work. Other than my brief Portuguese stint, I haven’t done much language-learning this summer. My heart calls out for more languages!

I’m not getting enough from just the feeling of loving languages. A feeling won’t help me get connected with others, won’t give me the rush of new words and sounds and ideas coming through my mouth. Love is an action, isn’t it?

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Just make progress!

Even with dips--make progress!
Even with dips–make progress!

I’ve been uninspired–but I’m not ready to give up.  Work has been demanding, and my friends and family have kept me busy.  I’m trying to approach my languages differently, hoping the change of pace will inspire me.  I had the flu this last week, which halted some progress, too.  I want to hold fast in my mind that progress of any kind is important progress, even if the results don’t always look how I want.

Last week I Skyped with some new italki pals.  Because Iran is 10 hours later than me, I have to think creatively about how to connect.  Before I leave for work has presented itself as the most convenient time, as it can be free time on my side and it comes right after work in Iran.  Unfortunately, it means I have to get up earlier and plan ahead.  I still have to get used to that.  The advantage is real live Farsi talking!  All the vocabulary I’ve been working on for months is cementing itself finally.

I wrote a little in Farsi this week.  One small feature I like about italki over Livemocha is the “Notebook” feature, where you can write whatever you want.  Native speakers are encouraged to comment and/or correct it.  I wrote about being sick!  I had to learn “headache” and “fever,” which are helpful to know anyway.  The fact I was living through the precise situation, wrote about it, and received feedback on it very quickly helped me learn.

I watched the movie, “Day Break” (“دم صبح”), while I was sick.  I couldn’t do much but lay in bed, but I thought I might as well watch something in Farsi.  I’m glad I did.  The movie was well-acted and produced, and portrayed how one’s regrets and fear of death can trap someone in life.  I learned some Farsi and a lot about life.  I learned about the website viki.com, a treasure-trove of high-quality foreign TV shows and movies.  They also have an iPad app.

This combination of active and passive memory work helped me a lot.  I discovered I’ve been doing too little passive memory work.  All my word-memorization during the past several months focused on active memory.  Then, when I talked to the neighbors, I couldn’t understand a response.  Hearing and understanding require work and are necessary.

On a side note, Somali went less well this week.  One of my Somali work friends said on Friday, “You didn’t speak very much Somali this week!”  He noticed before I did.  Thank goodness I have people who can call me on my language use and habits.  I’m just breaking even there.

For encouragement, I watched the great Polyglot Discussion: a roundtable discussion over Google+ of seven well-known polyglots.  They traded views and advice about learning languages.  The advice was not particularly new, but I find a discussion among enthusiastic participants invigorating.  Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I crashed in bed with an Iranian movie rather than a TV show in English.

I have a couple of projects I would like to work on.  I would like to produce some kind of language-learning materials for informal settings.  More specifically, when I speak over Skype or when I meet at the language table with people.  I would like to find a way to take advantage of native speakers, without putting pressure on them to teach when they are not comfortable doing so formally.  So I would like to put together some dialogues with simple vocabulary–like in many textbooks–that apply to the work setting or lunch.  I want to be able to talk about finding means to study languages, eating lunch in the cafeteria, and dealing with the stress of work.  I need to go back to look at some resources that I have for inspiration.  These sorts of resources would help all of us participants learn more and feel more productive.

In the end I learned that I should be easy on myself and work on my language as I can.  When I can, I should do active memory work.  When I’m tired, I can do passive memory work.  I’ll try to get up early when I can so that I can chat on Skype.  In my spare time, I’d like to work on some curriculum.  In the end, making any progress is progress all the same.  It doesn’t always have to be pretty.

Have you been making progress recently?  Any kind of progress?  Be honest!

Anyone want to help make some curricula like I described?