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Showing posts from 2015

(Not) The End

How time has flown! I can't believe it's the end of the term already.

Though I've been very cognizant of my progress over the past 15 weeks, it is still somewhat shocking to go back to Week One and remember where I started. I re-read my very first blog post and was reminded that I knew N-O-T-H-I-N-G when I started. It's helpful to remember this when I get frustrated with things that aren't sticking. Remember Lauren, at one point you didn't know that verbs start with oku-. You'll figure this out too, eventually. 

This semester's progress will probably feel the most satisfying compared to future semesters. After all, when you start at zero, every gain seems relatively huge, because it is. And so, I'm on to the next chapter, where I'm no longer a beginning-beginner, but just a regular old beginner. I am optimistic about my learning next semester, but I'm also cognizant that the work will probably feel a little harder. I'll be moving on to m…

Truly independent learning

Throughout this course, we've learned about how to empower ourselves to take control of our own learning. I've been feeling myself take ownership for my language learning by setting its direction, keeping myself motivated, and seeking out unorthodox methods of learning and problem-solving. It's been a weeks-long mindset shift, and I feel more confident than ever about my ability to learn independently.

BUT. It's all been within the context of class, and to some extent, in keeping up with assignments and expectations of class. I can't deny that extrinsic factors are motivational! What's going to happen in the coming month or so, when I'm on vacation, and off the hook? I worry about this a little. I have a tendency to completely unplug when it's "time." In case you, my classmates, haven't noticed, I seem to really need breaks and downtime in order to make the most of my on-time. (Thus, weekends!)

This is where the rubber really meets the roa…

Okusiima (or: to appreciate)

Maybe it's a bit cliche, but I take the traditions of Thanksgiving very seriously. Of course, the food is important, the football's fine, and spending time with loved ones is critical. But the one Thanksgiving activity that matters more than anything to me is to spend time reflecting on the things I'm grateful for.

When I lived in Ireland, my American classmates and I put together a Thanksgiving dinner for our Irish friends. It was a fun cultural sharing experience; we got to introduce them to the meaning behind the holiday, which they really had no knowledge of, as well as to quirky American foods, like puppy chow. But, when the time came to go around the table and say something they were thankful for, everyone turned their eyes downward and started shifting in their seats. This level of public earnestness made my classmates a little uncomfortable. You're really going to make us do this?

As it turns out, "acting grateful can actually make you grateful." And …

Back to the grind

After last week's high, I had a feeling that this week would be a bit more of a challenge. And I was right!

Like the week before, I was able to spend a long chunk of time working on Thursday afternoon. Unlike the week before, however, I was working on totally new material: prefixes for each of the ten noun classes. You see, in Luganda, each noun is assigned into one of ten classes, and each class has different prefixes to use for the adjectives that describe these nouns. Numbers, one of the most basic adjectives around, are where I began this journey. By the end of my session on Thursday, I was hoping to be able to do the very basic task of saying things like "five men," "three pumpkins," or "eight flowers" with some level of accuracy. After several hours of work, I certainly understood the concept, but I had to labor over each word as I wrote it down.

While I am sure that this is normal, that it's okay to approach new material so slowly and with …

The boost of a breakthrough

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I am a slow starter. When I am beginning something new, I tend to hang back, observe, and try and make sense of things from afar. And then, one day (and no one can predict what day it will be), things come together and I experience a breakthrough. And suddenly the whole world looks different for me.

My freshman year of college, I tread very carefully. I was too aware of the statistics that say that only about  65% of students who begin college actually graduate. As a first-generation college student, even though I excelled in high school, I worried that I would somehow become one of those statistics. I took only three classes that first fall, and I didn't even think about getting involved with extracurricular activities. Instead, I hung back and tried to figure out how being a college student worked. While my peers were running for student government, joining greek life, or trying to work in professors' labs, I just watched. And then, one day in spring quarter, everything sort…

A Gymnast's Guide to Balance, Learning, Evaluation, and Practice

Growing up, I was a (very unaccomplished) gymnast. I loved everything about gymnastics, but I particularly enjoyed the balance beam. I loved being up above the ground, I loved the opportunity to do fancy tricks while dismounting, and I loved the challenge of staying upright on just four inches of wood. Though I could do very few difficult moves in any of the events, on the beam I could do a 720° turn - in high school gymnastics, considered a high superior move - consistently and with ease. The skill of maintaining balance was something I enjoyed and excelled at (I think this may have leaked into other parts of my life!).

As I progress in my Luganda study, the metaphor of the balance beam has a strong resonance for me. While you are up on the beam, even the most basic movements, so easy on solid ground, become difficult. You must learn to move your body in a completely new way to suit the constraints of the beam. And, as you move across the beam you are checking in with yourself consta…

Okusoma mpola mpola / To learn slowly

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As with most things in life, it seems that quality trumps quantity in language practice. Most of the reading that I have done about adult language learning emphasizes the benefits of short, deep, daily language study rather than infrequent cramming. I have been trying to integrate this strategy into my weekly language study by working on Luganda daily, with at least some success. (Weekends are still hard!)

The result of this steady, slow work is slow, steady progress. Which is, of course, a good thing. The language gains I make weekly are (I hope!) durable and not just committed to my short-term memory. As I continue on, I notice all the ways in which my Luganda is improving. From this past week:
- I am recognizing many more words while listening to Radio Simba, and sometimes even recognizing different verb tenses
- Using the present tense verb conjugation feels more and more natural to me
- My occasional exchanges with my officemate include a wider range of greetings

Additionally, ye…

on showing up

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When I think about the last couple weeks, this quote from Woody Allen springs immediately to mind. "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Showing up should be easy - I mean, it's just beginning, being present, giving something a try. Showing up isn't finishing something, being perfect at something,  working yourself into a frenzy over something.

But showing up can be really difficult. Not showing up could mean just not putting in the time. Or not really giving the task at hand your full attention. Or letting negative emotions get in the way of starting in earnest.

These past couple weeks, showing up - as in, making enough time - has been a challenge for me. Amidst lots of competing priorities, I have struggled to make enough space for daily Luganda study. It's a challenge I encounter daily - and usually manage to overcome - but it's a challenge nonetheless.

But when I do begin, it feels good. I am making progress. It's slow and patchy, and filled wit…

Twin learnings: Language and culture

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Diving into the study of Luganda, I have been struck by the many ways in which cultural learning is embedded in language learning, and vice versa. This is a theme that has also come up a lot in our coursework. Since we are always using a language to gain access to a particular culture, of course it makes sense that we'll be learning more about that culture through language learning. And, it makes sense that a better understanding of the culture will help us become better learners of the language.

Examples abound for me with Luganda. During my very first weeks of study, when I was just doing basic greetings, a common interaction to find in written descriptions of greetings was this exchange: "Mmmm."
"Mmmm."
Indeed, during my first session with my language mentor, I was taught when to insert an appropriate "Mmmm." Having lived in Uganda, I picked up an implicit understanding of what "mmmm" means, and how to sprinkle it into speech. However, I …

What's working: Mentorship and Omuzanyo!

After much thinking, some planning, and a little anxiety, I finally had my first conversation with my language mentor last Friday. It was overall a great experience - I think I gained more in that one hour than I have in my weeks of study to date. 
My mentor, who teaches Luganda professionally, was ready to jump right into a traditional teacher/student relationship as soon as we connected on Skype. I asked him if it was alright if I discussed with him this course, my goals, my needs, and my prior experiences with learning Luganda. Of course, he said, and we discussed those things for the first part of our conversation. Though it felt uncomfortable to redirect him, I believe it was important to set the tone as being a little different than a traditional class setting, and to flag right away that I might be a bit of a different student. Indeed, throughout the rest of the conversation, we both referred back to the original discussion when necessary. It was just one small step, but I am h…

The importance of a musomesa (teacher)

As I embark upon this independent language learning journey, I feel a bit disadvantaged. I haven't ever truly mastered any language I've studied (much to my chagrin), I haven't ever done an intensive course in Luganda, I'm not in Uganda, I am a better visual and written learner than speaking and listening, the list goes on.

However, I do have the major advantage of having someone in my network who has trod this path before me: Lindsay.

While our language learning journeys are undoubtably very different, Lindsay has already been a tremendous help in orienting me to independent Luganda learning. In addition to sharing books with me and pointing me to some helpful online resources, Lindsay is sharing her mentor with me - perhaps the most invaluable language learning gift of all. Though I did ask around to around to other American friends who have learned Luganda, in the end, working with Simon, Lindsay's mentor, seemed to be the best option. For me, the mentor-finding…

Creating Omuzanyo

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This week has been a fun one! I've finished up the major planning of my course of study, and am beginning to put it into action.

One of the experiments I am trying is to use a game to incentivize my study - both the frequency of it, as well as the diversity of methods that I'm using. The game is called Omuzanyo, which just translates to "Game," and its point is to track effort, not proficiency. Proficiency will still be assessed in the manner I described in my independent study plan, and is still important to measure.

For Omuzanyo, I will keep track of my points on a daily basis. I have set a target of 70 points per week (which I am measuring from Monday - Sunday, in the same fashion that the Baganda consider the week). I don't know yet if this number is realistic while still pushing me to put in a lot of effort, or if it sets the bar too low, or if it's just right. I am taking the next two weeks to see how it goes, and will reassess then whether or not it…

The basics

This week I began my study of Luganda - starting with the most basic of basics.

The first time I tried studying Luganda, in 2008, it was by studying a very long list of words, and trying to memorize them. Needless to say, it wasn't the best method for me. Though flashcard-style memorization has worked for me in the past (I loved it during GRE study!), within the context of an entirely new language, it was not the right way for me to learn.

So, I am using the beginning of my language study to institute a new way of learning - one that's better suited to who I am as a learner.

Accordingly, I wanted to spend a lot of time gathering knowledge of the basics of the language. How is it organized? What rules exist for speaking and writing? Is it tonal? What tenses exist? By having a general understanding of these types of questions, I think I'll be much more ready to understand what I'm taking in when it comes to learning individual words, phrases, and pronunciations.

I've …

In the beginning

In the beginning, there were scissors.

That is to say that as I begin this language-learning journey, scissors are sort of my starting point. As of this week, one of the few words I know the Luganda word for is scissors. "Mpako makanse!" My colleagues would often direct me, usually alongside other Luganda requests that I never understood.

Although I spent my first month or two in Uganda taking regular Luganda lessons, it just never stuck. Maybe it was because of my teacher's somewhat rote instruction style, or because of my fear of sticking out even more than I already did (not only a mzungu, but a mzungu that seriously could not speak properly), or because life quickly got busy in Kampala. Whatever the reason, my Luganda remained at the most basic level.

Which brings me to today, a new beginning with the dynamic, multisyllabic, and elusive (to me!) Luganda.

This week has been mostly about planning. I've been thinking about what didn't work during my first attemp…