The fidel is the Amharic letters. I have avoided them because they seem very calligraphic and I am not sure how to reproduce them. I realize that knowing the fidel and being able to read in Amharic script and communicate in this alphabet. I found a workbook which makes this process easier. My goal is to design my own workbook to practice the fidel from the perspective of an American adult trying to learn the language.
Foreign language materials designed for children age 4-7 fail to address the needs of adult learners. Popular languages English, French, Spanish and Portuguese fill this gap with young entrepreneurs who design full interactive lessons. African language teachers treat their language with such reverence that it becomes a political vehicle. They put the political and religious agenda before the needs of Amharic language learners.
The Amharic language learners would be Aid workers, missionaries and foreign corporate workers. Translators and guides earn a living from foreigners who lack Amharic skills. They wield a great deal of power. They control interactions between locals and foreigners. No one relinquishes power easily. Ethiopia receives 3.5 Billion in aid making it the fourth largest recipient of official humanitarian aid in 2010. Ethiopia received the equivalent of 11% of its gross national income (GNI) as aid (ODA) in 2010. So keeping foreigners in the dark gives Ethiopians more influence in this interaction.
The best Amharic language programs were published years ago. I find the recent materials to be helpful but they rely heavily on memorization. It occurs to me that the learning materials will evolve as the teaching methods in the country evolve. Most Ethiopians seem to believe that most Amharic language learners are the children of ex-pats living abroad with some exposure to the language at home.
I find that I memorize the sounds better when I write the letters. I know 2 ha’s, ma, sa and la. I am getting sound symbol relationship in Amharic. As a visitor in Ethiopia, this means that I can read signs and menus. I know that reading will come naturally as I learn letters that are necessary for me to navigate my way around Ethiopia even with friends.
I approach Amharic much more relaxed than I did in the country. I felt overwhelmed when people discussed me in front of me with no indication that I understood them. My roof leaked in the house where I stayed and I awoke in the middle of the night to re-arrange my things so that they wouldn’t get soaked. Late night mopping adversely affected my personality and my concentration during the day for studying language. I also worried and wondered when out during the day, that it might rain and flood while I was gone and my things would be destroyed.
I developed a chest cold in Ethiopia which made making sounds in the back of my throat painful. I chose to nurse my throat and avoid these sounds. It slowed my ability to speak the language correctly but not my ability to understand the language.
Language teachers want language learning to fit this neat orderly process. Teaching a language can’t be neatly compartmentalized. I believe that Ethiopians want to make sure that foreigners value their culture and use language as a vehicle to protect their culture from outsiders. Many people speak English and develop English materials that we can not control it and what part of our culture is shared. Make no mistake learning English in the U.S. or the U.K is clearly political if you only interact with native speakers. The difference with learning major European languages is that you have so many learning and teaching aids to teach yourself.
Language learning is not an abstraction, it is a means to an end. People have a need to communicate and verbal language allows one to communicate. Language is developmental. The development is not always even and predictable, it is sloppy and disorganized. Correcting someone constantly before they have internalized concepts is worthless. It is a learner based experience because the learner decides what tools s/he needs to meet their needs.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human development conducted a study of 20 month old infants from various countries who spoke a variety of languages. Despite the different grammatical structures, babies learn nouns first and then adjectives. This natural progression allows one to express their needs and desires.
Somehow we accept this natural progression for infants but tend to be impatient with adults learning a language. We overcorrect and ridicule. Many Ethiopians are pleased that I have taken the time to learn their language. People trust you more when you can speak their language. They assume that you understand and respect their culture. So I know that it makes sense to be cautious. The best way to decide who to trust and not trust is to keep the lines of communication open.
Americans smash language. We use fewer words with maximum punch. Many cultures find this style to be crude and offensive. Making mistakes and lots of them are all a part of learning a new language. The sooner you make the mistakes, learn to recognize your errors and correct them the sooner you transfer the language from short term to working memory.
So I began to open my mouth and make mistakes. I talk to myself and use the tools available. I create my own tools to move this process along.