Showing posts from 2016

mangu mangu

Mangu mangu: Luganda for fast or quickly. (For some reason this pair of corresponding words feels improbable to me; maybe it’s because it’s not a very speedy word to say.)
I learned the word this summer while in language school, relatively late in my Luganda learning for such a basic and frequently used word. While reflecting on it at the time, I realized that it was sort of apropos that I had learned the word for slow (mpola mpola, similar to Swahili’s pole pole) so much earlier than mangu mangu. While life in Kampala is certainly a lot of hustle and bustle, I find that the overall pace of things is a bit slower than here in the US. While I’ve certainly had a lot of reasons to ask for someone to do something mangu mangu while living in Kampala, I never have, and instead I’d learned to go with the flow and be patient with the pace of things. Indeed, asking a boda boda driver to drive mpola mpola was a much more useful word to have in my vocabulary than anything to encourage speed.

obuwanguzi (success)!

The word of the week is obuwanguzi - success! I'm happy to report that I experienced success on several different levels this week.

In terms of time and effort, it was a very good week. I met with my language mentor twice, both of which were productive conversations. I watched a number of news segments in Luganda, read the newspaper regularly, and kept up with my long-term learning on Quizlet. I did some writing practice, and I did my monthly test of vocabulary. I listened to the radio and to Luganda music. And, as has become usual, I kept up a whatsapp conversation with a friend (it was fun to show him a photo of the snow today!).

But success showed itself to me in other ways, too.

One evening, I was listening to the radio in the background while I did some other work. As the hosts came on to discuss the news, I turned the volume up, hoping that I would catch some words here and there. When they began to talk, I realized that I was actually understanding them. They gave updates o…

the capable form

With the Thanksgiving week behind me, I am feeling the pressure of the imminent end of the semester.

The Thanksgiving break was okay - I was able to keep up a minimal amount of Luganda activity over the holiday. I didn't completely ignore my Luganda commitments, but I didn't put in the effort I would over a normal week, either. That matched my expectation for myself, so I am fine with where I am.

However, as I look ahead to the final weeks, I think about all the progress I still want to make. For example, there are several tenses that I have wanted to practice more of, since I can produce them but not very quickly. The more written practice I give these forms, the easier it will be more for me to use them while speaking. For example, after practicing writing the "not yet," and "still" tenses, I am increasingly able to produce them in conversation. Over the summer, I learned a raft of tenses, but without dedicated practice on each one, I often get them mixed…

what a better week looks like

Last week I documented a bad week of Luganda study, in the hopes that this week would be better. And better it was! I more than reached my weekly point goal, earning 74 points total, and kept up with my studies even though I spent the weekend in Chicago visiting friends.

So, what does a better week look like?

Monday: 1 hour of exercise work, an hour and a half of listening to the radio, and Quizlet long-term learning. My mentor had to cancel our lesson today because he was having connection problems.

Tuesday: A half-hour of Luganda exercises, an hour of conversation with my language mentor, and Quizlet long-term learning.

Wednesday: Trying out a new activity using a physical copy of a newspaper, highlighting what I understand and adding new vocabulary from what is missing. Luganda radio and Quizlet long-term learning.

Thursday: Using the same method I tried the day before, the newspaper activity. A couple Whatsapps back and forth with a friend. Luganda long-term learning. Read two Bukedde…

what a bad week looks like

This past week was a fairly unproductive one for me - both for my Luganda study, and for my other work as well. I was on track to have a great week, planning to get a lot done, when the election came and completely disorganized me. While the fallout from the election is definitely a conversation for another time (and venue!) suffice it to say that it had a significant impact on the amount of work I was able to do, and my overall motivation to work at all.

In any case, I thought it was interesting how my understanding of what a "bad week" looks like has changed over time. In my earliest weeks of Luganda study (and grad school), I would struggle to reach 35 points total. But now a "bad week" is still a week with where Luganda plays a big role. After this most recent "bad week," I had earned 49 points.  Let's take a look at how this bad week played out:

Monday: 45 minutes of Luganda conversation with my mentor, over a terrible internet connection which dr…

tracking progress

I have settled on a pretty optimistic approach to my language learning over the past year of independent study. Last year, after some reflection, I realized that I am good at reframing things in a positive way. This positive attitude helps keep me motivated, and it helps me push aside negative thoughts that might otherwise slow me down. My optimism isn't limited to my own language study, but it sure does help it!

As I've been reflecting lately, I think the ability to track my progress is a critical element of what has helped keep me optimistic. In having multiple little indicators of how I'm doing, I can see evidence that I'm learning, which keeps me excited and motivated to learn even more.

When I step back and think about it, my ISP and my weekly practice is littered with these things. I track my Omuzanyo points every week, my Quizlet long-term learning gives me a snapshot on how I'm doing with my vocabulary acquisition, and I have a number of activities I come b…

dreaming of summer

This past week, I spent a good amount of time thinking back to the summer.

Not because I needed a reminder of glorious warm weather, or of many hours of freedom (though I do find myself getting lost remembering those good ole days!), but to reconnect with some language learning goals and approaches that I'd wanted to focus on this school year.

While I was studying in Kampala, I tried to focus my attention on the classroom work as well as the art of conversation and engaging in daily activities in Luganda. I did not do a lot of independent vocabulary memorization and written grammar practice because I knew that those activities were something I could focus on in the US, when I had less access to Luganda in daily life. However, I did create a mental list of things I wanted to practice when I was back in the US.

Although I've been implementing bits and pieces of the mental list in my language study this semester, this week I refocused my attention on it.

For example, one thing I …

in the middle

This week represented the mundane middle of language learning.

I had no particularly high highs, no depressingly low lows. I acted mostly in accordance with my ISP and did the things I was supposed to do. I met with my language mentor twice, and completed the homework he'd given to me. I studied vocabulary, listened to music, and read the newspaper. While my weekend didn't live up to my expectations, the rest of the week was just fine.

This middle ground is a sort of tough place to be. When things are humming along well, motivation is high and progress is easy to see. When things get bad, it can be a kick in the pants to get back on track. But being in the middle can feel a little . . . mediocre. . . and it's easy to get stuck in a rut.

One place where I did find a little bit of motivation was outside of the study of the language itself. I had dinner with another Luganda learner (!). He is a friend's husband, and he lives in Uganda full-time. He just happened to be pas…

small wins and new resources

This past week was a particularly busy one for me, and yet I was able to keep up with my Luganda study pretty well.

One success of this week was simply keeping up with daily, small actions to support my learning. For example, I had several extended Whatsapp conversations with my friend Richard about the US election, much of which was done in Luganda. Richard continues to be good at correcting my mistakes, which happen a lot in this format since I don't look up words or agonize about my writing as I text. My lack of a crutch and his willingness to suggest better ways of saying things provides helpful real-time feedback. He clearly still really enjoys being a teacher.

I also found a couple new resources this week. Curious about what Ugandan artists might exist on Spotify, I searched for "Ugandan music" and was delighted to find several massive Luganda playlists. I listen to a lot of Spotify as I do other work, and it's great to have these playlists to turn to rather th…

losing my inhibitions

This past week was not a demonstration of my best effort in language learning. While I did put in some work, I didn't reach my weekly goal for omuzanyo and I didn't find time to work on Luganda each day. Most of this is because of a low-grade cold I picked up that stalled me across the board. Headaches are bad news for sustained language learning, turns out. But, I also hosted a friend and then my dad and uncle towards the end of the week, and I was not as diligent about fitting Luganda into those days as I should have been.

I just got off of Skype with my language mentor, which has me reflecting on some of my emotional progress as it relates to language learning.

A year ago, after a weak week (haha) of studying, I would've been a basket of nerves prior to meeting with my language mentor. I used to sit down and review like crazy just before our meetings, worried about my (lack of) progress and what he would think of me.

My attitude has changed a lot over time. Instead of f…

buli lunaku (every day)

Last year, one of my big challenges was finding time for Luganda every day. I'd seen the research that said that a little bit of language study every day is better than cramming a lot of study in less frequently. And my own experience was consistent with that as well. Though I could technically get through the same amount of material by studying a lot just a couple times a week, my recall seemed to be better when I checked in on the language every day.

I found that daily work was a lot easier said than done. First of all, as a 1st year PhD student, it took me some time to develop a sense of how to balance things. Secondly, my weekends were crazy. If we weren't hosting friends, we were traveling somewhere. It felt nearly impossible to fit Luganda into my packed weekends. Finally, the longer I put off studying Luganda, the less motivated I was to pick it back up. I dreaded that feeling of failure when I came back to it.

But, I knew that getting to a daily practice was important.…

putting the pieces together

This past week was a good week, one in which I both made progress with my language study and felt validated about my approach to it.

The week started with my first two morning sessions with my mentor on Monday and Tuesday. I felt a bit of anxiety going into them, since I haven't spoken much Luganda since July. So I was very pleasantly surprised when the conversation began and I got straight back into it! After a couple minutes of conversation, my mentor paused to compliment me. "You have really improved!" he told me. "Amelia did good work with you this summer! Oli muyiizi mulungi! (You are a good student)."

It's hard to overstate how much of a boost this gave me. One of the hardest things I'm finding about independent language study is how difficult it is to assess my progress - not to mention the lack of positive reinforcement! So to get this kind of validation - unprompted - was really helpful.

Beyond that, he also told me that he thinks I am at an in…

change change change

One of the most fun things about language learning is the quick, and constant, change. One day you are completely unable to make meaning out of vowels and consonants put together in a certain way; fast forward just one year and you're learning such advanced vocabulary as the word for "to confront someone who owes you something," and writing emails to friends in your target language.

One of the hardest things about language learning, though, is also the change. I've been reminded by that this week as I try to settle in to my new schedule and grapple with this new, more advanced, stage of independent learning in which I find myself.

I can't say that this week has been a huge success on either front, to be honest. The sheer quantity of reading for other classes, a number of beginning-of-the-year receptions, my birthday, and all of the other things that make up a first full week of school seemed to expand into every crevice of my available time and made it hard to fi…

past, present, future

Well. I'd planned to write one big final reflection of my time in Uganda about language learning, culture, and an overall assessment of my summer.


Things got busy. The goodbyes during my last week were non-stop. Old Ugandan friends, new Ugandan friends, new ex-pat friends. Lunches and dinners and last-minute jaunts across town to visit families. And before I knew it, I was on a plane out of town, at sunset, crying because it was over.

I still planned to write, and I was still so busy. So it never happened.

The CliffsNote version is this: I learned so much. It was an invaluable time. The language learning, first and foremost, was amazing. Though four hours a day of one-on-one instruction was draining, it obviously did wonders for my speaking abilities and listening comprehension.

But the incredible view into Ugandan/Buganda culture was another major takeaway from the summer. Every single language lesson was imbued with cultural learnings. From what women at different ages…

finding joy in Luganda during a tough week

Greetings from a warm and quiet Kampala. Everyone is tucked into pubs watching the Euro Cup final game - I can hear cheers from nearby crowds - but I'm taking advantage of the stillness of the guest house to reflect a bit.

It's been a strange week for me. I have been very distracted by what's going on at home, and very upset about the lack of progress and acknowledgement of structural racism in our country. I've been craving time with other Americans, to discuss and mourn and process alongside me, but my life here has been spent with Ugandans most of the time, and Europeans the rest of it. The shooting in Minnesota has been particularly painful for me, as it happened mere blocks away from where my mom attended school, and a 20 minute drive away from my own home. Meanwhile, however, my Luganda has been going very well this week, and I've had a couple of moments of language-learning exhilaration. It's been a week full of low lows and high highs.

My successes this…

panic sets in

I'm not exactly sure how it's happened, but I have less than two weeks left in Kampala.

As this week wore on, I started to sense a bit of panic rising up inside of me. Have I done enough? Have I learned enough? I finally feel settled in - and now it's time to go?

Part of the panic probably stems from the fact that this week was, apart from daily class, a bit of a waste. I came down with a cold that everyone in my guest house seems to be sharing, and after class every day I was very, very tired. I went home to nap and to read, but had less engagement than normal with daily Ugandan life. I felt guilty about it - but also too tired to do anything else.

Additionally, now that I am solidly outside of the "beginner" Luganda stage, I find it is harder for me to gauge my progress. Now that I am well past the early stages of just being happy to remember how to count to five in each noun class, or how to make a singular word plural, I am within the murky waters of an inter…

A pause for some metacognitive reflection