African Languages on My Brain: Communicative Intent

GE DIGITAL CAMERAGE DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0528I started my day with Swahili. I practiced the sounds with the Youtube video. I became annoyed with the explanations.  I didn’t want to hear explanations. I wanted to hear the sounds of Swahili with the symbols and repeat them. I played a number game. The game involved addition and I kept messing up. The time clock created anxiety for me and it interfered with my focus. I decided to create my own game. I downloaded addition from the computer. I decided to add and subtract using Swahili. My activity was untimed. I relaxed and read the problem and answer in Swahili.

I remembered that my friend Emmily had pronounced some Swahili for me, which I recorded with my phone. I could listen to her voice in Swahili, which I recorded from Skype on my phone. I really had more options learning African languages than I had with European languages 10 years ago. I simply needed to utilize them to learn the language.

Learning a new language opens a door to new worlds. Once you get past the initial greetings and pleasantries, you learn about a people from their worldview.  Swahili people ask each other “What’s the news”?  I like that worldview. I see it as “What are you going to tell me that I don’t know. It sounds less self-centered than the American greeting of How are you?

I listen to my friend Kulman Sam’s videos on youtube. There are many videotapes on youtube but his are the best. He tends to be direct, focused and to the point. I like that. I see songs for free in Swahili along with movies and subtitles. So the tools to learn Swahili are there.

I listen to the language tape to the workbook in my car. One of the problems with people who try to teach language without a language background is that they include too much politics. They proceed rapidly through the words without supporting and scaffolding each lesson. Each lesson should have 80% of information, which has been introduced prior, and 20% new information.  Many programs choose to introduce a lot of cultural elements and fail to include sufficient exercises to reinforce concepts.

Language must meet the needs of the speaker.  The speaker needs to know how to take care of basic needs in the language, seeking food, shelter, health and safety. The model for language learning should follow the Maslow hierarchy of needs; one has to be able to communicate their physical needs. The second level of need is safety needs. People communicate to ensure that their safety needs. Maslow’s states that the next level of needs involve love and belonging.  Esteem follows love and belonging and self-actualization tops the pyramid.

Amateur language teachers start at the top of the pyramid. They want you to know their culture and values. They want to make sure that you don’t insult the speakers of their language who share their culture. People learn to communicate to meet their needs and not yours. Infants learn to say Mama and gesture to get fed. They cry to get something from the caregiver, not to meet the esteem needs of the caregiver.

I practice the sound today and then the greetings. Any person who speaks the language can be your caregiver. I get most of my information to meet my needs from children. So I need to be able to greet all those I meet. I focus on numbers.

Numbers are such a part of your life when traveling to a foreign country. Everything has a price and you need to know the price. You cannot leave the country with too much cash.  When you arrive at the airport, you need the address to where you are staying. You also need the flight number. You need to exchange currency when you arrive. So the exchange rate is important.

As you travel through the country, you must learn what everything costs and decide if it is overpriced or worth the money. You need a budget and a budget is filled with numbers. Language learners must learn to recognize the numbers when natives speak them as well as be able to articulate the numbers clearly to venders.

Knowledge of numbers satisfies my need to communicate on all levels. It assists me to communicate my physical needs for buying food, transportation, accommodations, etc. Numbers allow me to fulfill my safety needs, directions, distance, exchange rates etc.  Communicating numbers allows me to fit in and belong as I navigate my way in a different world. My esteem becomes boosted as I gain more independence. I train teachers so being able to teach math and show others how to teach math satisfy my self-actualization needs.

Numbers are Universal and so are needs. Numbers provide me with an anchor. Understanding numbers gives me the comprehensible input to make sense of issues attached and associated with numbers. It provides me with the confidence to make mistakes and stumble through a culture and language quite different from my own.

Anxiety is the greatest inhibitor to learning. Anxious people experience fight or flight and find it difficult to integrate new information due to a perceived threat. Once you feel confident about a certain aspect of the language then you can move forward with other areas.

The songs in Swahili add rhythm, which facilitate memorization of the language. The brain likes harmonies and melodies. Information can be easily integrated into long term memory. Humming a song triggers the emotional aspects of the memory and allows recall.

I realize that I have simply been lazy. The new ways of learning a language are just as effective as the old ways. I have just as much control of the information as I have had in the past. Technology adds a broader dimension to language learning it allows for more natural exposure in the language. Amateur videos can be just as effective a tool as professional videos. The key is to practice.

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