Happy Birthday to Kathy Gimbel! (My Mom!)
Well three months of Fijian is, in a sense, over! But my studying and love of the Fijian language will, as things stand, never cease!
Did I become fluent in it? At the VERY least, I have a solid grounding in things related to tourism and getting around. At the most, I may be able to teach classes in Fijian will little of an issue!
A lot of people ask me if it is possible to learn a language in a short amount of time, especially given the endless debates about Benny Lewis’s “Fluent in 3 Months” name. (Do we need another reminder that the title is actually a challenge rather than a promise?)
Here is my honest opinion: in three months, it is VERY possible to assemble the FRAME of a language. This means that you (1) understand the pronunciation (2) understand how sentences are made (3) understand how various parts of speech (e.g. adjectives, nouns, verbs, etc.) are formed and where they go in a sentence. (Example: in a language like English an adjective would go before a noun in modifies, in Fijian it would go after, hence “the Bible” would be “iVola Tabu” [yes, the word “tabu”, from where we get the word “tabu” in English, DOES also mean “holy” in addition to something not spoken about or treated with holiness!]).
Once you make the FRAME, you start filling in the “picture”, which is vocabulary from which you acquire from reading / using the language / other means. I’m already 700+ words into my Fijian Memrise course (I intend to put the whole glossary of the Lonely Planet Guide into it!)
Anyhow, here are some observations:
- With languages closer to English, you can fall into the trap of having the illusion of knowing MORE by virtue of the fact that you understand more of it. With languages more distant from English, your active vocabulary should be your primary focus.
Learning how to say basic sentences (and then, later on, more complicated sentences) is a confidence builder that will enable you to assemble the “frame”, however slowly.
In learning Fijian, I turned on audio about three weeks in and I could barely understand any of it except for when they lapsed into English (which, predictably, does happen in radio broadcasts—English is an official language of Fiji, after all). This actually got me away from immersion (which was the path of least resistance when I was learning English Creoles, for example) and more focused on my active abilities.
In a sense, this was an advantage – because I focused a lot more on my own acquisitions rather than expecting passive work to “do everything”. I did do some immersion at points, even when I felt I wasn’t really ready, in order to pick out key words, note sentence structure or, best of all, improve my accent. (The Fijian “r” and “s” in particular are very juicy—not surprisingly, many people from places like Papua New Guinea will speak English with heavily rolled r’s and thick s’s that sound like the “ce” in “Joyce”)
Even what may seem like heavy disadvantages can be used to hack your brain into getting it doing what needs to be done.
- Don’t Stress About Your Accent. It Will Come Eventually!
I remember one time that I was reciting Fijian phrases for a friend I remarked that I was “speaking Fijian with a New York Accent” (wait, that was last night, wasn’t it?) That said, I repeated the phrase in something that sounded more like natural Fijian as spoken by a native speaker.
I was really worried that I sounded like a “white person” in my first batch of recordings for the 30-Day Speaking Challenge, but interestingly enough I noticed that the more Fijian I spoke, the more I would be attuned to the pronunciation norms, especially when I would listen to Fijian music during my commute. (Warning: a lot of contemporary Fijian music does rely heavily on auto-tune, so some may prefer radio over music for that).
This is a good thing to keep in mind for my next three-month mission (May – July) as well as for future ones.
- Sometimes Speaking Exercises About Your Life Cannot Prepare You for All Situations.
Fijian pronouns have FIFTEEN forms. Let’s have a look at this chart, shall we?
Guess how many of them I was using in my speaking exercises? Usually just “au”, “eratou” and “era” (sometimes pronounced as “iratou” or “ira”). For those unaware: paucal is for a GROUP of things, plural is for a LARGE GROUP of things (or speaking about a species or type of person in general).
And then of course the possessives were even odder because there are multiple possessive forms depending on whether you own the object substantially, will eat it, will drink it, or … miscellaneous.
I had to do a bunch of table recitations (and use them in sentences) in order to get this “missing information” in my head, because these pronouns and possessives ARE important!
- Focus on What You DO Have Rather Than What You are Lacking!
Little I can say to this other than what I just wrote. In going through my Memrise lists there were so many words I didn’t know or recognize, but the important thing is to not get discouraged and move forward!
- In the Event of a Rarer Language or One Whose Native Speakers You May Not See Often, Don’t Overthink It.
I can imagine that actually being in Fiji will be a significant guide for me to “conform” and patch up on my knowledge accordingly. I’ll learn a lot of aspects of formality and slurred speech than I may have not been able to pick up from my books or from the speaking exercises accordingly. I intend to believe in myself!
I’ll continue to be working on Fijian accordingly, but now that I’ve “assembled the frame”, I think I could turn my focus elsewhere. I’ve been working on Fijian almost non-stop for the whole year, and I’m itching for a new project.
So for May – July (as things stand) I’ll be doing Kiribati / Gilbertese (in addition to “sides” of other languages) and for the fall (August – October) I’m likely to focus on Hungarian. These were two languages I’ve dreamed of learning and this is the year they’ll get the attention they deserve!
Lastly I’d like to thank all of my readers for believing in me and writing supportive comments. Also! Ask questions! Suggest future articles! This blog continues to exist because of readers like YOU!