Okusoma mpola mpola / To learn slowly

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, yesterday I did a little experiment with myself. At the very beginning of my Luganda learning, I started using another user's Quizlet flashcards for basic Luganda. At that time, I tested my knowledge using the "Learn" function of the site, and I correctly identified 4/54 words, or about 7%. Yesterday, I quizzed myself using that person's flashcards again - flashcards I have not been using - and I correctly identified 71/169 terms, or about 42%. I will be coming back to this method of evaluation as the months go on to measure my progress!

As I continue to monitor this slow progress, however, it's hard to not wish I was progressing a little faster.

For example, I thought earlier in the week that it might be a good time to dive into some reading practice and try to understand a children's book. I opened it up, and immediately recognized that it was several steps past my level, and that I would likely need to use some strategy to comprehend the book.

I started by using the reading strategy described in the Peace Corps Volunteer on-Going Language Learning manual. That strategy suggests the learner read through the piece multiple times, narrowing in on the reading's meaning each time. However, I found that my basic skills are too low even to be able to do that - no matter how many times I read the piece, looked for context, identified key words that I didn't know, etc., the children's book was still far outside of my grasp. I didn't get down on myself too much about it, but still! What a frustrating feeling!

Similarly, and unlike almost all of my prior language study, I am finding that I am having a harder time decoding words while conversing with my language mentor than I am producing words. This is the exact opposite of what I experienced with both French and Spanish, and it's been a strange feeling.

In both of these cases, I am making deliberate tweaks to my strategy each week to try and address these issues. For example, for the reading comprehension issue, I think that part of the problem is that I have been focused especially on verbs and conjugation in several tenses. I have spent very little time expanding my range of nouns. For the week ahead, then, I plan on learning a handful of new nouns. In the case of the listening comprehension, my plan is to increase the amount of time I spend listening to the radio or watching videos. I think that part of the core problem is that I am not getting enough exposure to the spoken language.

So, while slow and steady definitely wins the race, I am left wondering: how slow is too slow? How steady is too steady? And, how do I continue to celebrate the small successes of every week?


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