I have been playing at learning Swahili for about 6 months now. I am researching investigating, writing and creating in English so the brain cells for acquiring a a new language with a different structure and culture does not exist . I am not opening my mouth to make the sounds needed to speak Swahili . I am stumbling and fumbling, blindfolded and trying to catch a spinning elephant which keeps knocking me down and frustrating me.
I reach out to my friend Jason Levine aka Fluency MC “Learning a second language, involves a number of familiar variables . These include age, learning style, and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, to name a few. What has the most powerful impact is (1) relaxation (2) exposure and input . Too many classrooms and self-study experiences bore and stress students. Only in exceptional cases they get large amounts of input in the second language. I developed a concept for learning that I call the (new) 3Rs: Relax, Repeat, Remember. When relaxed and having fun while continual listening, reading, speaking and writing practice, one acquires a second language with greater ease.” Hmmmm, Ok Jason you didn’t tell me how to relax and get in the driver’s seat and arrange this language in my own brain. I am not having fun!
I reached out to two native speakers Benjamin Milk from Kenya and Nasreddin Jamal Hoca from Tanzania. I decided to follow Jason’s advice and relax. Listen to the Swahili at night while I slept and in my car while I drive and practice in workbooks during the day. I guess my errors in the workbook activities overwhelmed the two native speakers. They sent me free downloads of two textbooks which were excellent and better than the ones produced in the United States. Normally books written in the language learner’s culture perform a better job of making second language learning comprehensible because they can compare and contrast the differences. The two books from my native speaking friends were excellent.
Life gets in the way for most adults learning an additional language and I am no exception. I started communicating with Ethiopiansabout the research that I want to do in Africa and my heart and brain went into overdrive. I felt like an addict who had been given her drug of choice. Research is my first love. Ok, Jason Levine so much for relaxing, repeating and remembering. I am able to do neither of the three. I started listening to see what I could absorb. Playing with the numbers so that I would not forget them was all the practice that I could manage.
I talked to Awgichew Arega daily and I was totally fascinated by his pronunciation of English words. My brain became a globe that spinned counterclockwise out of control. It spun off of its axis as I talked to his Ethiopian friends. I had no control of my brain; it was in orbit and crashing all over the place. My brain was unhinged and off in a galaxy all it’s own. I was drunk. Ok, Jason how do I relax now!!
hindbrain) trying to emerge. I wrote down what I needed to do for the day with the few brain cells that I had left. I took notes with me so I could remember what errand I needed to complete. My brain was spinning so fast that it made me dizzy. It crashed around the room and I found myself lost in thought when I needed to be working. I forced myself to work on one thing at a time and to continue until I finished.
I started to listen to videos on Amharic language, alphabets, numbers, phrases and sounds as well as the Swahili.”This seemed to calm my out of control brain. There was a small, still voice deep in my subconscious which whispered, “You need to tackle these languages together just like you did with the European languages. Select which languages that you want to learn, Amharic will not release you and then practice those sounds daily.” My frontal lobe stepped up, “we are overloaded already!! How are we supposed to relax with all this new stuff to learn? You still expect us to “earn your living” The mid brain spoke” I can’t remember what I don’t get and I can’t reinforce what I don’t have in the first place.” The hindbrain spoke “I can’t do this by myself, you in the middle and the front need to pull your load”.
Then came the opening of the way. Jeffrey Barlian asked two questions in Global English Forum on Facebook. Jeffrey Barlian“Is it possible for non-native adults to learn and speak English like native speakers? I am consciously aware that I subconsciously mispronounced some words in the recording…What do you think?”Jeffrey Barlian again “Yesterday, one of my colleagues raised an egg-chicken QUEST-ion to me…”Which comes first? Language or Culture?” Is language a way of thinking? Is culture a way of living? Do both serve as way of survival?” I answered Jeffrey, “Yes it is possible to learn a language like a native speaker, I learn some phrases perfectly when I learn another language, and culture proceeds language. Language is a part of culture, culture exists when people don’t talk.” I went to bed listening to my nightly Swahili. Jeffrey’s question’s wrenched me out of my sleep at 3:30 A.M in the morning. I jumped out of the bed and went to YouTube to listen to four African languages. I got this!!!
There are more sounds in Amharic than any other language that I have ever encountered. I am attracted to this country and this language because I can hear the sounds!! The brain forgets sounds that are not reinforced at 18 months of age. Mymature brain recognizesthese sounds that it has never heard before far past the time that scientists predict. I made a connection with sounds that I knew at birth but lost the ability to hear. The scientists are all wrong! The globe spinning counterclockwise represents my brain searching for the sounds in Amharic from sounds in other languages that I have learned. I becamefrustrated and confused when my memory did not have them. I accepted science claims despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Awgichew and other Ethiopians sent me some videos with Ethiopian dancers from the Wollo Province. This is an ancient province in Ethiopia. They have a dance, which I practice during the past 3 months. They move their entire upper body. It opens the chest and brings circulation to the stomach and diaphragm; it uses the neck like no other activity that I have ever seen. So I use this dance to open my upper respiratory system and keep it flexible so that I can make the different sounds that I hear in other languages.
Amharic predates the other languages. This dance movement brings circulation to the upper respiratory system, which allows the continuous reproduction of these different sounds, which passedthrough generations with less corruption. This is the only logical hypothesis and conclusion. I excitedly find YouTube videos of the different African languages listen to the sounds. My hypothesis is validated by what I hear. The opening of the way is getting larger.
The opening of the way gets larger as I realize that I am stumbling over my own ego. In the European languages, I took two monthsand invested 1000 hours in active language learning. I spoke the target language 8 hours a day and mostly talked to myself. I answered all my English-speaking people in the target language and could care less that they didn’t understand me. Friends and family avoided me but they couldn’t judge me because they didn’t know the language. Plus avoidance gave me more time to work. I completed workbooks, 2 hours a day, worked on the computer 2 hours a day, watched video or TV 2 hours a day, and listened to the target language while I drove and while I slept. I did several of these activities at the same time. This was my submersion process.
My time belongs to others at this point in my life, family and job. It frustrates me to relinquish control of my own life and to take so long to learn something. It makes me feel stupid and I don’t like this feeling. So now, thanks to the support of all my friends, I am back in the saddle. The door has been opened and I can move through.
I resigned from my job and in 10 days, their problems will not be my problems. I enlist my grandson as my language teacher, he can hold up flash cards and I tell him the answer in the target language. Eight year olds make great teachers. I listen and practice the sounds of 4 African languages for at least an hour a day on the computer. I complete the activities in the Swahili books at least 1 hour a day. I chew sugarless gum to keep the brain alert. My frontal lobes shout for joy, they finally receive the stimulation they need to relax and be happy.
The Wollo Ethiopian dance becomes a part of my daily routine to open the upper body to make different sounds. Chewing the sugarless gum helps develop the muscles in the mouth and jaw to make this process complete. I return to the gym and all physical activities with Swahili on my Iphone and earphones in my ear to reinforce the language. I talk to myself and focus while moving which reinforces memory. The motor cortex, temporal lobes and all parts of the midbrain tingle with anticipation. I continue to listen to the language while I drive, sleep , cook or engage in other mundane activities. So the hindbrain sighs in relief, no more working alone. So we work on short term memory, declarative memory, and semantic memory and devise a plan for episodic memory. Episodic memory will occur when I have real experiences with native speakers. Long term memory is within my grasp. I am on my way. The opening of the way has occurred and I have walked through that door.