How did I end up in Little Oromiya?

How well can fit in? How well are you trying? Do you even want to?
How well can fit in? How well are you trying? Do you even want to?

While I know classrooms from my time as a professor, I forgot life as a student. Familiarity and nostalgia return with excitement as I enter my new class.

Studying languages comes naturally, but I didn’t do so in a classroom for years. This time I am venturing far from Europe, even the Middle East, ending up in the provinces of Ethiopia. When I saw the East African language, Oromo, in the class catalog, when I had to google the language when I saw it, I was taken. Reigniting my language curiosity with the pilot of obscurity, Oromo sets me on fire.

When I show up, the teacher looks like he is expecting me.

The look surprises me. I introduce myself.

“Ah, Richard,” he confirms. Confirms? I taught hundreds of students but never “confirmed” a student when he arrived to class the first day.
Richard in Little Oromiya


What are your language stories?

What story do you need to tell?
What language story do you need to tell?

I have so many stories. I’ve told them here, but I haven’t worked to craft them in a nice way.

I’ve been listening to story-telling podcasts recently like “Snap Judgment” and “Homemade Stories”, and it’s been bugging me that I haven’t told any of my stories in a really interesting way.

Upon reflection, I realized that I haven’t heard many polyglots tell a lot of stories. How could that not be? Learning languages to a high level requires lots of adventures and failures—elements of great stories.

This realization motivates me to do two things:

  1. Put some stories down. I need to start writing down these stories in a nice way. I bumbled my way through so many situations, failing to understand and to be understood.
  2. Have some adventures. I want to have new adventures, too. I don’t just want to tell my 20+ year old stories.
Do you have some great languages stories? Please tell us your adventures! Do you know of polyglots who tell good stories? Let me know who to read/listen to!

Photo credit: The JH Photography via / CC BY

Tutors: The key to picking up a language abroad

Find a nice language teacher for your next trip
Find a nice language teacher for your next trip

I just realized that I have used a language-learning technique multiple times without realizing it. When I travel to another country, I get a language tutor. That way I get some directed learning before I go out to speak to the people. As a result, I have advanced quickly in my language while abroad.
Finding a tutor

People don’t speak languages, communities do

Entering the community means unexpected conversations
Entering the community means unexpected conversations

I have often heard, “Talking to people is one of the best ways to learn a language.”

The truth is, talking to people is the only way.

People use all sorts of means to learn languages. Recommendations vary from listen to music or watch movies, to study books, memorize vocabulary, and post on social media. Modern technology changed the method of delivery of language data, but not the content.

Nevertheless, every method is preparing you to talk. As a baby, everyone learned how to speak their native language. Reading and writing came way later. Polyglots are judged on how they speak, not how much grammar or vocabulary they mastered.

How do you learn how to speak? You can’t learn how to speak by yourself, or even with one other person. You find a group of native speakers and you talk to them. You need a community.

When I learn community languages, I aim to speak to the people in my town who speak them. Setting speaking in a community as the goal of your language-learning will determine your success.
No language without speaking in community

Speaking Languages to Hear Others: Coming Home

snowy doorknobWhen people think of learning other languages, images of faraway, exotic landscapes and peoples flood their minds. When they arrive in that distant land, they imagine they will observe those new people before returning home to show photos and recount tales of adventure.

I have lived this life, but recently I questioned this purpose. Is travel about bringing home photos and stories? Is it about exciting experiences? Or is it more profound?

(Please read the rest of this guest post on the “Languages around the Globe” blog.)