There are all kinds of language learning methods. LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical), GPA (Growing Participator Approach), community education classes, hiring tutors. Some methods require people to only listen for a set period of time, no speaking allowed. Some require classroom study. Some prohibit grammar study. My personal favorite is one called: Whatever It Takes in which you do every possible thing to learn a language.
To learn Somali I started with a book called Colloquial Somali* which came with cassette tapes (yup, I said cassette tapes). This link will take you to more of my Somali language learning recommendations. I tried to study while living in Minneapolis, in preparation, and there are almost 100,000 Somalis there so it was possible in theory. In practice, I landed in Somali with about ten useable words. To learn a difficult language, I really had to be there.
Once we landed, to learn Somali, I drove my house helper nuts by following her everywhere, pointing, grunting, and writing things down in a miniature black notebook. I also sat on the steps and watched my kids play in the yard and played grunt-and-point with our guard, and wrote things down in my notebook.
After we had to flee and landed in Nairobi, Kenya for a few months, I took an actual language class. The class was taught by a German who spoke thickly accented Somali and we were each assigned Somali tutors. The grunts and points started to meld into actual sentences.
Later, in Djibouti, I hired my first official language helper, several actually, and for quite a few years, it felt like the only people I spent time with, the only people I called friends, were people I paid. This was totally fine with me. I needed people in my life, they needed jobs. Plus, they were wonderful women. I met them on the bus, at the playground, through other connections. I rotated through language tutors every few months as they moved on to other jobs.
We worked through vocabulary, grammar, stories. I recorded our conversations and we listened to them together to be sure I understood it all, they would correct my mistakes. We translated things like The Three Bears or Dheg Dheer (the Somali cannibal woman with a big ear who eats children). I wrote my own stories in Somali and my tutors edited. I listened to the radio, watched the news, read online articles.
Then, my kids started attending a French school. And voila, I had to start learning French.
To do this I bought the Rosetta Stone program, used old textbooks, watched Dora the Explorer and Teletubbies (and literally repeated lines from these cartoons, word for word. To kick neighborhood children out, I pulled a line from the Teletubbies: C’est l’heure de dire au revoir, c’est l’heure de dire au revoir. I think they thought I was nuts but they left). I did my first graders’ homework. I did aerobics in French. Eventually I started reading Harry Potter books. I took classes at the Alliance. We spent six weeks in France at language school.
The Whatever It Takes method included making a fool out of myself, playing like a toddler, getting in way over my head, studying like crazy, devoting hours and hours to language study when I would much rather have done something else, feeding my family terrible food because I was studying, spending money, crying, making friends, giving horribly humiliating speeches which were met with cheers (thank you, friends I paid), and more crying.
People ask if I am fluent and I’m not. I have a high standard for fluency and don’t expect to ever attain to it. But I’m highly conversational in both Somali and French about deep matters of the heart and about practical matters of life.
How about you? What language learning methods have you used? Loved? Hated? What do you recommend?
*If you are studying Somali and don’t have this book you need to correct that mistake and purchase it now. It isn’t perfect but it remains the best one out there. Unfortunately I looked it up on Amazon and it is $90.00! Yikes. Borrow someone’s copy.
**I should also say that my degree is in Linguistics. I am naturally drawn to language and enjoy the learning process, even though it is stinking hard.
My husband and I have worked for 20+ years with global workers (missionaries, humanitarian aid, etc.) and language learning is a common discussion theme (not a surprise). In any given work team, people learn at different rates and it can become a bone of contention when the learning rates (and strategies) mean that some folks connect in the community more quickly than others. After all these years, my favorite language advice still comes from my brother, who moved to a new country 30+ years ago with a spouse who had a masters in that language and he had not a word. His advice? “You have to speak a language to learn it.” And related comment: “you have to be willing to look the fool to learn a language.”😊 Sounds a lot like “whatever it takes” alongside pointing & grunting until words begin to appear (alongside hilarious vocabulary errors that are not funny in the moment but provide a lot of laughter later!) Thanks for this practical & helpful blog!
Yes! Whatever it takes. :-) My favourite method is to listen to audio books and read along. That's fun for someone like me who loves books. Unfortunately, it focuses on input and not output. My incoming comprehension levels are way beyond how I usually speak. I'm going to go back to classes, though. One of the main things on my "after the war" list is to learn to actually speak Ukrainian. (I'm completely comfortable and conversational in Russian, like you said about your languages. In Ukrainian, though, I can comprehend whatever I hear, read, fill out forms, etc, but I can't TALK, and I need to.)