Tag Archives: Language Learning

My New Anthem?

I had to share this… since my pitfalls in learning Nepali sometimes make me think, “I can only imagine… if I’ll ever learn!”

My personal favorite lyrics– “I can only imagine/when the day comes/when I find myself/with a loosened tongue,” “When they ask if I have eaten, will I say uh-huh or khae?” and “Surrounded by Nepalis, what will my mouth say?”

So enjoy this Friday fun video:

So What Am I Doing About It? (Language Part II)

To see my rant from yesterday visit HERE.

I’ve been hesitant to write a blog post on this subject because sometimes when I make “bold statements” afterward I hit a wall and fizzle out. But I’ve actually gotten into a good rhythm in the past week or two, and I want to try and keep it up. I hope that writing about it will motivate me more (fingers crossed).

So I  pretty much own every Nepali learning tool under the sun. I’ve even started an email campaign for Rosetta Stone to come out with a language learning cd for Nepali (to no avail).  So what do I have?

The last few times I attempted to learn on my own I used Teach Yourself Nepali and A Basic Course in Spoken Nepali (a resource P brought back from Kathmandu a few years ago which I think was developed for use by the Peace Corps). I took a very expensive and short lived Nepali language class in Boston where the tutor used “A Basic Course in Spoken Nepali” as well as Nepali a Beginner’s Primer (full text available online) from Cornell University’s language program. Another reader mentioned he was using “Nepali a Beginner’s Primer” and seemed to like it (I think he said there were tapes available too– if you don’t have a native speaker in your home). When I took a few language classes in Nepal in 2009 my teacher used “A Basic Course in Spoken Nepali” as a guide, but we didn’t really use any text book. I also have a few small Nepali dictionaries, but I haven’t gotten that far with them yet– actually I still have trouble looking up words because (besides the first line of letters– Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha, Nga) I always forget the order, so the dictionaries are a little useless to me right now unless I take a lot of time with them.

I’ve had one book on the shelf for a long time that I’ve (time and time again) neglected to pick up and try to use in earnest– until last week. So far, so good.

It’s A Course in Nepali by David Matthews. It’s a no frills book (as you can probably tell from the cover… that’s probably why I waited so long to crack it open)—unlike “Teach Yourself” there are no diagrams, pictures or cutesy dialogues starting each chapter. As one reviewer wrote, “[it] is a very well written textbook, it does not assume any previous knowledge of the language… [however] this book is not an easy textbook, [as] it tends to cover all important grammatical points of the language, making the book very dense… If you are not serious about studying Nepali, or just want to learn some phrases for a short trip to Nepal, this book is definitely not for you, in that case you should buy Lonely Planet’s Nepali Phrasebook.” (which I also have).

But if you want to be a serious language student, I think this book might be exactly what you’re looking for. As the reviewer stated, “The exercises are well designed and closely correspond to the content of each lesson.” And there are plenty of dialogue exercises and translation pieces to practice with. I found that in the first few chapters there was enough new material that I didn’t easily feel bored and skip lessons (and lose interest) which can happen with books like “Teach Yourself” if you already have the basics (I mean, how many times do you need to learn “namaste?” “namaste,” “mero nam C ho,” etc). Again, it’s no frills, but I feel I am learning and retaining more than I have before. My notebook is starting to fill up with notes and the answers to exercises.

The other nice thing is that I feel I have found a happy medium between learning in Nepali script and learning in English transliteration.

This is the age old debate when you are trying to learn a foreign language that uses a different alphabet. Do you spend all your time learning the alphabet, and run the risk of it being weeks or months before you can actually start saying tangible things? Or do you skip the alphabet and go back to learn it later, once you got the basics? I’ve had tutors with both philosophies.

When I was taking the short lived but super expensive language classes in Boston, my teacher felt it was really important that I learn everything in devanagari. He insisted that I would never pronounce anything correctly unless I learn with the Nepali alphabet since it is so phonetic. Writing “sa” for श or “bha” for भ would never help me “speak like a Nepali” but writing everything exclusively in devanagari made it hard for me to memorize words, and I wasted a lot of (expensive class) time getting bogged down with the script.

When I went to Nepal and took a few classes, I went the complete other way, and told the teacher I could care less about reading, I just wanted to communicate orally on a basic level. We wrote out everything in English transliteration phonetically– “perfect pronunciation be damned!”– and I felt I learned a lot more in a short period of time.

But now I want both—to speak and to really know the words, to understand what it is when I see it. I’m still in the phase of “perfect pronunciation be damned” … as long as I’m understandable, but visualization is very important for me. I realize that I am a visual person. You can tell me a phrase ten times, but until I write it out and see it on paper, its not going to stick. Right now I feel I can do that. I know the alphabet (save for a few of the more unusual letters/sounds which I need to be reminded of) well enough that I can read nearly everything that I need to (so far) in the book, but since everything is both written out in devanagari and English transliteration I can take notes both ways. I also know how I pronounce things, so if the author uses an English spelling I don’t recognize (usually a funky phonetic letter like “ʃ” for “sa”), I can easily use the spelling I know from other material or from knowing the word from friends.

It’s still new, but I’m moving along. I’ll keep you updated. And hopefully this time I’ll actually succeed in becoming at least conversational. If I can have a good conversation over tea in the next month, I’ll be over the moon.

If anyone needs help learning devanagari script I’d recommend the Teach Yourself Beginner’s Hindi Script. I used this before going to India and found it very helpful in setting me off in the right direction.

Another Rant on Language

If you want to read others start HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Okay… I’m going to “out” myself.

“My name is C and I have a problem. I’ve been dating my Nepali significant other for seven years and I still can’t speak his language.” (believe me, I blush with shame simply typing the words).

How sad is that? It often makes me feel like a failure, and 2009-2010 has really been the year to rub it in.

Let’s start with our visit to Nepal in the summer of 2009. I took a few language classes, enough to make me almost feel like I was starting to get somewhere. Only to go back to P’s family’s house, be asked all sorts of questions I didn’t understand and for P’s dad to shake his head with disappointment, “She’ll never learn.” When I got back to America, I basically felt like I was back to a linguistic square one.

Then last winter a close friend and I got into an argument one evening. I forget how the discussion started but I was basically told that “Obviously it wasn’t a priority for me to learn Nepali, otherwise I would have done it by now.” That it was basically my fault, and that I “didn’t care enough” to properly learn it. Ouch. That one stung really bad. It still makes me angry to think about it. Perhaps it stings most because I’m worried it is a little true.

Later I was telling another close friend about our discussion and that friend said, “Yeah I agree. It’s either laziness, or lack of interest. You would have done it by now if you really wanted to.” Ouch again.

Then there are the other non-Nepali friends who seem to have a passing interest in the language, who will come for a dinner gathering and learn a few Nepali phrases, and use them in conversation nonchalantly—stuff like “Khana mitho cha” (the food tastes good), or “Malai pugyo.” (I’m full), or count to five—something like that. Inevitably someone will say something like, “It looks like they know more Nepali than you do C!” Which, even if it is said lightheartedly, also hurts. I know quite a lot, at least more than that, thank you very much.

Or the people who think it must be easy to learn the language because I’m surrounded by Nepali people. That I should be able to learn the language by osmosis or something because my head rests next to P’s on the pillows at night. If it were that easy I’d be a Nepali literary critic by now!

The whole thing sucks and makes me mad. Why would I want, in the last seven years, to be the one constantly left out of conversations, or not getting the jokes, or having to wait for a translation? I’m tired of listening to an evening of song and dance and glazing over after a while because I can’t understand and I’ve gotten bored. I don’t want any of that…

But it also sucks because learning a new language is hard work. Being committed to doing that is a full time job. I sometimes feel like people forget that. It’s not like I can listen to Nepali music on an ipod at the gym and tomorrow I’ll magically speak the language. To really learn it, to be able to speak even marginally well, it will be hours and hours of studying, memorizing, quizzing myself, making vocabulary flash cards and practicing conversations. Either in my head or with other people. It’s a major undertaking, and a time consuming one.

Especially when there aren’t any classes. I love language classes. Learning a language in a class is decidedly less work. Sure one has to study, and practice, but a class gives so much usable practice, and really helps to boost one’s confidence. What I wouldn’t give for an affordable, easy Nepali language class option.

I realize that I have used the “but there is no class” excuse for far too long, and I’ve wasted too much time sitting in a room full of Nepali speakers without understanding. I’ve made bold declarations before, but I think I’ve finally reached a point where I need to learn or forever be shamed as “the one who will never learn.”

Why now? Why have I finally reached this ultimate point of frustration? A few reasons:

A)     The reasons cited above

B)      I’m getting married in a few months. Lots of Nepalis will be there and I want to talk to people if I can. P’s family will also come, and I want to speak to them, and finally have them impressed with my language skills instead of shaking their heads in disappointment. Also if we go to Nepal after our marriage I’m sure I’ll be “shown around” to people as the new member of the family, and it would be SO NICE to speak to people instead of silently nodding my head when appropriate. Did I mention how terribly boring it is not to be able to speak? Can you tell how much I like to talk?

C)      It’s also REALLY important to me to be able to speak this language before we have children. Bi-linguality is going to be a major part of our childrearing. Not that I’m planning to have any soon, but language learning is a process, and the time to start learning is definitely not when the baby is trying to learn as well.

D)     And more selfishly– P’s cousin’s American boyfriend recently left for Nepal. He’s a cool guy, and I like him a lot, but I have nightmares of him learning Nepali—which will be a great thing for him, but another reason for P’s  family to be disappointed in me. P’s cousin’s boyfriend plans to stay in Nepal at least 6 months (perhaps longer!) which I never had the luxury to do, and if he takes classes and hangs out with people, I can definitely see him learning a lot.

E)      I have four Nepalis living with me right now. What better opportunity do I have than to hunker down and start learning already? I have a bunch of speaking partners in-house.

F)      Did I mention how *sick* I am of not understanding and contributing to the conversations going on around me?

Since this post is already getting long… tune in tomorrow to hear what I’m going to do about it.

“Nepali Bhasha” State of Mind

Don’t worry, I won’t start singing Billy Joel songs…

In my earlier posting on learning Nepali I wrote about my frustrations and embarrassment in not being able to properly speak P’s native language. For the past 6+ years I have been surrounded by Nepali people… friends, neighbors, classmates, family… and instead of really gritting my teeth and doing some good old fashion language prep and studying, I’ve made about 10 million excuses as to why my language capacity is still at the “beginner” level.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ve definitely improved along the way. I’ve taken 20 hours worth of disjointed tutoring lessons in a “nearby” city and a similar number of hours of intense crammed language training in Nepal in order to satisfy a language requirement for a degree I am working on. These lessons coupled with being surrounded by the language have helped me to pick up vocabulary and phrases even simple verb conjugations–especially after coming back from Nepal–but now, I need to get serious, start focusing on grammar and really bring the pieces together.

So I basically set myself an ultimatum, or a bit of accountability in that posting, closing out with:

I wanted to declare that I am going to make a committed effort to learn far more Nepali this year than I have been able to do thus far, and hopefully the blog will keep me on track.

So luckily Gori Girl left this comment on the post:

Hmmm… would you be interested in doing a group thing, where everyone commits to so much studying each day/week and check in, report on progress, etc?

The answer is a BIG FAT YES! I think the more people that hold me accountable (and I am happy to do the same for others) the better! So if anyone wants to get in on a learn-your-partner’s-language-pact, by all means feel free to jump on board.

I’m debating what is the best way to allow readers to keep tabs on me, while updating you with the interesting tidbits along the way. I’m open to suggestions… but for now I might just write a “Nepali Bhasha” post every now and then, or start a new tab on the header bar across the top of my blog called “Nepali Bhasha” (similar to “recipes” or “books”) and keep an ongoing “language notebook.” Hmmm…

Anyway- I wanted to give a “shout out” to AS who has agreed to be my language tutor. Language is tricky. Some people are good at teaching it while some people simply aren’t (ahem, P), even if they are good at teaching other things (like GIS, so don’t be sad P). AS and I have agreed to meet 1-2 times a week for 30 mins to one hour at a time to practice speaking, learn vocabulary and grammar, and gain confidence. We have only been at it for a week, but it helps to get into a “Nepali bhasha state of mind” for a set aside period of time every week.

So– off to my tutorial session!