Mikonai's Swahili Log

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mikonai
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Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby mikonai » Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:48 pm

I've had multiple false starts over the years with Swahili, but recently the (vague) potential to go abroad to East Africa is giving me a reason to pick it up again, on top of my usual consistent desire to actually learn it. Hopefully keeping a log here will help keep me motivated as well!

The major factor in my prior false starts is that I live the grad student life, so I'm on an academic schedule: Semesters swallow all of my time when they're in session, and then I have some breaks over Christmas and during the summer where I do research (so I still have work), but at least I have more flexibility to schedule in relatively intense language learning.

Unfortunately the semester is about to start up in about two weeks, and I have only in the past few days been working on my current bout of Swahili studies. I think I need to embrace the academic scheduling cycle, and come to terms with the fact that I can't always study Swahili as intensely as I would like, but I do need to find a rhythm that lets me make some progress (or at least not backslide) the rest of the time.

Another issue for me is that I am having difficult finding input materials for Swahili. When I learned Italian I consumed a lot of media in Italian, and specifically I was able to find lots of things that actually interested me. I don't enjoy engaging with the news, unfortunately. And I haven't been able to track down much literature or films in Swahili. For now this may not be that important, since I'm still a bit away from being able to digest those things anyway, but it will likely cause me trouble sooner or later.

Goals
  • Long term: Reach a B1 in Swahili
  • Moderate term: Find a sustainable pace of study for even when I'm busy (and keep up that pace)
  • Extremely short term: Take advantage of my remaining few weeks of break to catch up on Anki cards and


Resources
  • Assimil's Le Swahili Sans Peine. Pros: I really liked Assmil's Italian course and the parts of the German course that I did. Cons: It's in French and I don't read French. In the passive wave I can make do by muddling through the French and looking up the Swahili words I can't figure out, but I'm not sure how to do the active wave, or whether I even can. Maybe I will try to understand and/or transcribe the Swahili dialogues, and check them against the book.
  • Living Language's Swahili course. It seems to do a decent job with grammar and vocabulary, and it has some reading exercises which I really appreciate. The dialogues thus far are a bit... meh.
  • Language Transfer Swahili. I am still deciding how I feel about it in some ways, but on the plus side it's all short audio bits so I could more easily listen to it on my commute or otherwise fit a lesson in small gaps of my day.
  • I've also assembled an Anki deck with some pretty comprehensive vocabulary, and another with the vocabulary from my Living Language Swahili course. I'm currently working through the Living Language vocabulary (about 700 vocabulary items) to try and work through before the semester starts. Then at least I can focus on maintaining it when things get busy. I'll plan to work through the more comprehensive deck at a much slower pace, or even put it on hold if I am struggling to even get through the Living Language deck.
  • Duolingo, which is meh but at least gives me some gamification, right?
  • Oh, and I found the syllabi and class materials for a series of Swahili courses from Five Colleges. So far draw on a book by Hinnebusch, Mirza, and Stein as well as the Living Language text I already have. The activities go rather slowly (as does the Hinnebusch book; good grief they spend five lessons just on greetings!!) so I'm not sure that I want to stick to it very carefully, but they also have some other good resources on their page so I want to keep track of them.

Too many resources? Probably. Certainly more than I will want to follow in parallel long-term. But in the past I have flourished by jumping from thing to thing as I got bored so it's nice to keep my options open. For the few weeks I have I will probably keep multi-tracking, but then come mid-January when my schedule restricts I will cut back to my Anki reviews and a slower pace on Assimil or Language Transfer or something.

At any rate, my plan for this log is to post updates approximately weekly (so I have to fess up if I haven't made progress!), or if I am making decent progress perhaps more frequently. But this post has gotten long enough. Back to work with me!
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby Brun Ugle » Sat Jan 05, 2019 11:44 am

I would suggest trying to aim for at least twenty minutes a day during busy times. You can probably carve out that much time, even if it means studying while eating breakfast or something. Twenty minutes isn’t enough time to do much, though, so you should probably just pick two resources to alternate between and leave the rest for less busy times or add them in when you use up the ones you’re working with. You won’t make a lot of progress with so little time per day, but you’ll make some and you’ll avoid backsliding too much. Also, you’ll probably find at least some days when you can fit in a little extra time.

Regarding what to do with Assimil: Maybe you can just type the dialogues into a translator when you have some extra time. Fix the resulting English a bit if necessary and paste it in a document for when you get to the active wave later.
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby SGP » Sat Jan 05, 2019 12:10 pm

mikonai wrote:I've had multiple false starts over the years with Swahili, but recently the (vague) potential to go abroad to East Africa is giving me a reason to pick it up again, on top of my usual consistent desire to actually learn it. Hopefully keeping a log here will help keep me motivated as well!
Subscribed to it right now.
I, too, had a few ... not really false starts, but ... phases of learning Swahili, then not learning it again. In the very beginning, the Verb Agglutination was difficult for me because of not being used to it. And the noun classes weren't too easy for me either. But I'd say that in reality, they aren't that difficult. It just takes some time to get used to them.

There is another post that may interest you as well, it is about my currently Swahili learning approach.

Another issue for me is that I am having difficult finding input materials for Swahili.
This really isn't too easy sometimes. Swahili is very East Coast Based (Africa, not US). Also, it isn't among the most wide-spread languages on the Internet either.

[*]Duolingo, which is meh but at least gives me some gamification, right?
While I am not the biggest fan of The Green Owl anyway (not even close), as for Swahili... it is a different story once again. First, I don't even know if its status already changed from beta to official. Second, when I tried it out (even if it already would have become a post-beta version, but I don't recall), there were several major question marks in my head.

It seemed that some correct sentences would be labelled as wrong, not just because of The Owl not knowing them, but even because of some errors within the course. Not entirely sure either. But any smaller language's course (relatively speaking), like Swahili, could contain errors much more easily, because of the small number of native/near-to-native speakers.

In addition, it could be useful to keep in mind that the number of Second Language Learners of Swahili could be much, much bigger than the number of its natives, even in Kenia. Because as they say, "too many" people learn it as a second language only, because their mother's tongue is an Ethnic Tribal Language. Not sure about Tanzania.

And yes, those people definitely can achieve next-to-native fluency, but I am not sure how many of them (%) actually were able to do so. Another thing to keep in mind is that some (especially the younger ones) may be under the influence of Sheng, sort of a mix between SWA and EN. Not having any issue with it, however, it can influence one's ability to speak [Ki-]swahili Sanifu ("pure" Swahili).
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mikonai
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby mikonai » Sat Jan 05, 2019 4:41 pm

Brun Ugle wrote:I would suggest trying to aim for at least twenty minutes a day during busy times. You can probably carve out that much time, even if it means studying while eating breakfast or something. Twenty minutes isn’t enough time to do much, though, so you should probably just pick two resources to alternate between and leave the rest for less busy times or add them in when you use up the ones you’re working with. You won’t make a lot of progress with so little time per day, but you’ll make some and you’ll avoid backsliding too much. Also, you’ll probably find at least some days when you can fit in a little extra time.


You'd... be surprised at how poor my time management can get. During my busy seasons I often wind up skipping breakfast! So 20 minutes seems like rather a lot for those seasons, and in a way I don't want to demotivate myself but not finding that much time. For the middle and end of the semester I think I would be happy if I could do even 5 minutes most days, or something to keep from backsliding too much. If I find extra time that's great! But sometimes the mental capacity just isn't there. I'm rather dumb and lazy you see :P


Brun Ugle wrote:Regarding what to do with Assimil: Maybe you can just type the dialogues into a translator when you have some extra time. Fix the resulting English a bit if necessary and paste it in a document for when you get to the active wave later.


This is a good idea! Google Translate is relatively decent with French, so that should help quite a bit. And then I have a nice kind-of English Assimil course...



SGP wrote:I, too, had a few ... not really false starts, but ... phases of learning Swahili, then not learning it again. In the very beginning, the Verb Agglutination was difficult for me because of not being used to it. And the noun classes weren't too easy for me either. But I'd say that in reality, they aren't that difficult. It just takes some time to get used to them.


Agglutinative languages are certainly very different, but I've found they appeal to me a lot. Once you get your head around the fact that everything you care about is on the verb, Swahili especially is extremely regular, with one suffix per meaning (although I have yet to figure out why the tense prefixes change when you negate a sentence...). Noun classes are intimidating and I imagine I will make many agreement errors, but as I've been working through them they don't seem quite so bad as I first thought.


SGP wrote:While I am not the biggest fan of The Green Owl anyway (not even close), as for Swahili... it is a different story once again. First, I don't even know if its status already changed from beta to official. Second, when I tried it out (even if it already would have become a post-beta version, but I don't recall), there were several major question marks in my head.

It seemed that some correct sentences would be labelled as wrong, not just because of The Owl not knowing them, but even because of some errors within the course. Not entirely sure either. But any smaller language's course (relatively speaking), like Swahili, could contain errors much more easily, because of the small number of native/near-to-native speakers.


I have to say the Swahili course is not one of the better ones. They pushed it out of beta early for a marketing campaign, and although it's gotten better it still leaves quite a bit to be desired. On the other hand sometimes what I want is to do a few grammar drills and it works well enough there. I'm not sure I would really recommend it to anyone though (not even as much as Duolingo Spanish or Italian), not at this point.


SGP wrote:In addition, it could be useful to keep in mind that the number of Second Language Learners of Swahili could be much, much bigger than the number of its natives, even in Kenia. Because as they say, "too many" people learn it as a second language only, because their mother's tongue is an Ethnic Tribal Language. Not sure about Tanzania.

And yes, those people definitely can achieve next-to-native fluency, but I am not sure how many of them (%) actually were able to do so. Another thing to keep in mind is that some (especially the younger ones) may be under the influence of Sheng, sort of a mix between SWA and EN. Not having any issue with it, however, it can influence one's ability to speak [Ki-]swahili Sanifu ("pure" Swahili).


This I can verify! I think it's still the case that most learners of Swahili learn their tribe's language first, and then Swahili later (or maybe not, depending on how isolated the tribe is). As I understand it this is very true in Tanzania, maybe even more than in Kenya, since Kenya has much more infrastructure than Tanzania does. Relatedly, Kenya has a lot more English in it, and in more remote parts. Last I knew, there was very little English in Tanzania, except perhaps around Dar. Tanzania also has a reputation for more "beautiful" or "correct" Swahili. Even Kenyans will admit it! Of course, it's about the only thing the Tanzanians have over Kenya, because otherwise it is a much poorer country.

Overall the prospect of people speaking "impure" Swahili with me doesn't bother me, so long as they'll speak Swahili as they speak it. My real aim is to be able to work and communicate in these places, especially in areas where the reach of English is relatively poor. There are too many tribes with distinct languages and too few resources for them for me to learn all of them, so Swahili is my next-best option. Perhaps once I'm there I can pick up some basic greetings and phrases in the other languages that are around.

By the by, here is an interesting (and important) cultural tidbit I got from someone who did a lot of work in Tanzania: It is impolite to ask someone their tribe of their language. Instead, what you do is you take a guess, and greet them in that language. If you guess wrong, they will tell you (probably in Swahili) "that's not my language", and then you apologize and try again. But you don't get to ask what they call themselves, certainly not at first. This is perhaps less important if you're staying in the major cities, but if you are visiting rural villages or coming to a tribe's homeplace for the first time, even if you speak mostly in Swahili, it's important to greet them properly when you arrive.
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby zjones » Sat Jan 05, 2019 5:42 pm

Swahili is one of the languages on my list, so I'm excited to see someone here who is learning it from scratch! I look forward to following your progress. :D
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby SGP » Sat Jan 05, 2019 7:50 pm

mikonai wrote:Agglutinative languages are certainly very different, but I've found they appeal to me a lot. Once you get your head around the fact that everything you care about is on the verb, Swahili especially is extremely regular, with one suffix per meaning (although I have yet to figure out why the tense prefixes change when you negate a sentence...).
Yes, usually one suffix (or affix) has a single meaning only.

It's just that I wouldn't fully rely on it, because there might be a few cases where a suffix (or an affix) is used for more than one meaning. Like "ku", which means both of "to" (as in e.g. "to eat", kula, or "kulala", to sleep), and "you" (singular) as an object. But even then, in at least many situations one could disambiguate once again because of the particular suffix's (or affix's) position in the specific word.

Any non-negated and non-imperative verb for any person (singular and plural) consists of three parts, generally speaking. This applies to the past, present perfect, present, and future tenses.

(1) the pronoun marker: ni / u / a (singular, 1st to 3rd person), and tu / m / wa (plural, 1st to 3rd person).
(2) the tense marker: li / me / na / ta.
(3) the verb's stem (which, as a general rule, equals the infinitive, but without the leading "ku-").

When any of these verbs is negated, they must change to indicate that they are negated. Yes, theoretically it would be possible to say "hapana" (no/not) and to then use their usual, un-negated, forms. But it isn't done like this. So... these changes simply are Swahili's way of stating that these verbs have been negated.

And as for the particular way of changing them for any of these four tenses, and also the habitual tense... not all tenses are the same. The ending marker would be deleted or retained. The same for the ending vowel. Etc. So instead of trying to mention any general Verb Negation Rule for all of those tenses (this couldn't be done anyway), it is a lot more useful to simply learn each tense's unique way of negation.
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby mikonai » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:19 pm

But the puzzle is that the negated form of a Swahili verb differs from the positive form in not just one morpheme, but two, even if hakuna doesn't enter into it. There's the negative prefix ha (usually, sometimes a reduced form depending on your vowels, or in the first person or imperative forms it's si), but then the tense form itself changes as well, and while I understand that and can clearly explain what happens, I do not understand why it behaves this way when no other language I've heard of does this (unless the forms are themselves combined).

For example, a-me-lala ("he/she has slept") becomes h(a)-a-ja-lala ("he/she has not slept").

There's a strange redundancy in the morphology: not only do you add the negative prefix, but then the tense marker me- changes to ja-. This is strange in a language that usually is happy to recycle forms. It'd be less surprising if negation and the tense forms were combined in a single fused morpheme (like Italian and Spanish fuse person and tense endings on their verbs), but these are clearly separate: there's even a subject prefix between them.

It's easy to describe what is happening, and it's not like there are so many grammatical forms to memorize that I have trouble remembering to do it (thus far anyway). It's just a puzzle because I don't get why Swahili would work this way when its grammatical inventory is otherwise so very economical. Neither the negative prefix nor the negation-only tense prefix is sufficient for negating the verb, as far as Swahili is concerned. But with the exception of the future, you get a more or less unique verbal construction with either one. Knowing why this is might be unimportant, in terms of knowing how to use it, but why does it work this way? What is this weird concord between inflectional morphemes?

EDIT: Come to think of it, I've seen something kind of like this once before, in a Nigerian Language. But the negative tense morphemes were also available in certain non-negated contexts, which I haven't seen in Swahili. Hmmmmmm...
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby SGP » Sat Jan 05, 2019 8:37 pm

That one I don't know either.
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby mikonai » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:31 pm

I've been trying to exercise my research muscles. Also known as "googling various Swahili terms and seeing if anything interesting pops up". I found a talk radio podcast and some short stories. It also turns out that there's a fair number of Swahili speakers on Twitter. One account seems to do a Humans of New York sort of thing, posting portraits and very short stories as told by the subject about their lives. I'm such a beginner that they're still rather difficult to work through, but if it's what I think, they're nice colloquially-written, simple and extremely short snippets to read. I might copy some into a notebook or post them here with some highlights and notes, when I get a little further along.

It's tempting to go full "linguist" and do a full morpheme-by-morpheme gloss for some of these. That might help me identify some new grammatical forms (a few prefixes pop up now and then and I'm not sure what they're doing), but I'm not sure it will actually help me with my comprehension since it's a rather intensive analysis.

I think I'll try to keep an eye out for other "entertaining" Swahili-language Twitter users. It's tricky to find them though, because it's not like they announce themselves as speaking Swahili, they just use Swahili, the same way I don't generally announce myself as an English speaker, I just use English. I may not even say the word English for long periods of time. So googling for "Swahili" or "Kiswahili" doesn't really get me much native material. I've had better luck searching for place names, or searching for a random common Swahili word on Twitter, which gets me a stream of Swahili tweets. Unless I choose poorly, and the same string of letters occurs in some other language, in which case Japanese or some such overwhelms the Swahili. I'm hoping that as my skills develop I'll be able to sift through the Swahili-speaking internet a bit better and start finding things that really interest me.


Otherwise I don't have much to report. I worked through some more of Language Transfer and I've been keeping up with Anki, and worked through some grammars on how the verbal extensions work. Most of them make sense, although I will need to see more examples of the stative before I really feel like it makes sense. I'm starting to feel like I have my head around quite a bit of grammar (Swahili is so delightfully regular), but I feel a bit "held back" about output and native input. I'm not sure if it's because I feel I don't have the vocabulary to say the things I want, or if it's just that, even though I understand a good chunk of the basic grammar, I'm just not accustomed to applying it practically.

I'm trying to moderate my pace a bit from the past few days, where I've been doing deep and intense Swahili study for most of the day. I'd love to continue at that pace, but pressing work/school matters are no longer willing to be ignored. I'll do my best to find some time for a lesson or some native input today, but my major focus unfortunately has to be elsewhere.
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Re: Mikonai's Swahili Log

Postby mikonai » Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:58 pm

I got a present! A friend of mine, when they heard I was working on Swahili, dug out an old grammar they have by E.O. Ashton. They apparently have two copies, so they gave me one. It's over 300 glorious pages cataloguing everything from the basic word order to the verbal extensions to the more obscure tenses to the various phonological processes that govern exactly what the causative looks like. It's oldish, from the 1940s, but it's exceedingly thorough, and I'm really looking forward to digging through it. I've been flipping to random pages and finding some new detail every time, even if it's a nuanced example or a phonological note on something I know the general idea of already. A lot of it is actually a bit fine-grained for me to internalize right now---and I think at my current point it's not useful for me to worry about it just yet---but it's fascinating and I think reading through little sections of it as I study new grammatical forms will be really useful in the long run. Plus it has that delightful old book smell :D

But, meantime I have a massive paper to write by end of Friday, so Swahili is mostly on hold while I devote all my time and brainpower to getting that done. I'm keeping my Duo streak alive and getting my Anki reps done, and I am trying to get a bit of native listening input in, but other than that, not getting kicked out of my program has to take priority.

See you on the other side! Probably with lots of comments from my new book.
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