Just the right thing I needed in order to drill the “ONE LANGUAGE AT A TIME” thing home: came across a link to a 30-Day Speaking Challenge in a Facebook group and decided to get in on the action before the new month of November came in.
You can read more about the challenge here: http://hugginsinternational.com/30dayspeakingchallenge/
For those of you who probably don’t want to click on the link, I’ll share the concept here: film / record yourself speaking a bit of your target language for thirty days in a row, publish the results in a group and get feedback / encouragement / what have you.
Now interestingly the language that I chose was Lao and there’s a strategic importance behind it:
- It’s small enough for me to be passionate about it, but also is close enough to Thai to the degree that maybe a speaker of it could help me even if he or she hasn’t made much exposure to Lao. From what I know: they seem to differ in their pronoun usage as well as in some key words, not also to mention the fact that they use different (although similar) writing systems. What’s more, Lao tends to include pronouns in sentences and speech more often than Thai does (which can omit the pronoun the same way that Burmese or Japanese ordinarily would do. In layman’s terms: in Burmese I would say “have food” in order to indicate “[I] have food”, “there is food”, “we have food”, etc. That’s not passable in English [except in VERY casual speech] and in that respect Lao resembles English in which the pronouns are commonly used.
- It’s tonal and if there is ANY language I would strongly need a community for, it would be a tonal language.
- I correctly predicted that most people doing the challenge would be doing European Languages, wanted to get “other continents in on the action”.
- I’ve had more exposure to my other tonal language, Burmese, as well as significant practice using it. That said, I may consider doing Burmese in a future 30-day speaking challenge.
- I’m not an absolute beginner in Lao (A1 at the moment)
I just submitted my second recording to the spreadsheet and may consider publicizing the 30-day result depending on how much I like it. Hey, it seems that I’m 1/15th of the way done!
Here’s how I predict the challenge will affect me:
- It will make me take my construction of the “Temple to Lao” more seriously.
When I was interviewed by Ari in Beijing in April, I mentioned the fact that the most important thing for learning a language is the fact that you need to build a “temple” to your target language within your time routines.
The only real way I’ve been doing that so far is with my YouTube channel. Sure, reading Lao dialogues out loud with some funny commentary and messing up the tones can be entertaining, but there’s so much more I could be doing.
I could become as immersed in Lao culture the same way I was with Greenlandic or Yiddish. I could truly feel as though understanding this poor and “forgotten” country is something I shouldn’t back away from.
My peers in the group have been very supportive of me thus far, and I’m thankful for that.
- I Will Learn to Have More Mercy on Myself
I don’t speak languages from East Asia very well (although Burmese is by far my strongest out of…two…). I should expect to make mistakes and realize that I’m not getting any Lao trophies or getting to watch any Free Lao YouTube movies without any subtitles without a lot of work. And that work is going to involve discipline, learning how to make sounds I’m not used to, and, very importantly, on the importance of tones.
I hold myself to extremely high standards. A lot of people in the group are uploading recordings upwards of three minutes on the first day. Most of them are learning European Languages and are native speakers of European Languages so they have an advantage that I just don’t have. It’ll take me longer for me to make progress in Lao than it will for an English speaker to make progress with French.
And that’s okay.
And sometimes I worry that I mess up the tones entirely and completely.
And that’s okay too. For now!
- I Will Be More Inclined to Explore Lao Culture and Identity as a Hobby as a Result of This Challenge. That will Enforce my Desire to Learn It More.
Already within these two days I’ve begun to see it happen. I’m monumentally increasing my exposure to Lao and commitment to learning more about it, even if it involves reading books and travel blogs in English.
I’m beginning to see more of what the world looks like through Laotian eyes. And with each new culture I feel more human, more fulfilled and more righteous.
- I Will Be More Inclined to Focus On One Task
I have a bunch of languages to improve, but I think that if I give the lion’s share of my focus to one task, I’ll be able to gain confidence more quickly and that will carry over to my other languages, both ones that I speak fluently and ones that I don’t speak as well.
Come to think of it, I’m feeling a lot better focusing more on improving just my Lao rather than improving Lao alongside Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and Tajik. I can maintain those on the side (or what I know of it), but I think that this focus is helping me fall in love.
And it seems that this is the beginning of something lovely!