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Some people have wishlists of things they hope to get for Christmas, or places they would like to go to on vacation. As a language nut, I understandably have a long list of languages that I would like to learn. There are so many interesting languages in the world, and so little time to learn them!

Looking at the languages I have tackled, however, the thing I’ve realized is that I only become proficient in a language when I have a community of people to speak it with. Take Spanish, for instance—for the past 9 years, I have spoken Spanish on a weekly basis with Spanish-speaking Christians, and thus I have gotten pretty good at speaking it. However, I still cannot speak Greek, even though I have been studying it even longer than Spanish. And why is that? Perhaps it’s because I don’t know anyone who speaks Greek, and it is a language I only use for reading and writing.

Recently I watched some interview videos on Chickasaw.tv about Joshua Hinson, the current director of the Chickasaw Language Department. He grew up in west Texas, and dabbled in some of the Chickasaw language early on, but he didn’t become proficient in the language until he reconnected with the Chickasaw community in Oklahoma and began actively seeking out native speakers to talk with. Read More

Interview about Nahuatl

Read interview at Freelang

I hope all my faithful readers (who may or may not exist) enjoyed a happy Christmas yesterday! Mine was very pleasant here in Texas with my family, and we were even treated to a short snowfall yesterday evening.

Although I’m sort of in-between language learning missions at the moment, Nahuatl is certainly still on the brain, and I thought I would share with you some interesting reading about Nahuatl.

Beaumont, the webmaster over at Freelang.net did an e-mail interview with me a while back during my Nahuatl mission, and it is up on his site for your reading pleasure. We mostly talked about Nahuatl, but he also asked me about some of my other languages and plans. As my first ever interview, I rather enjoyed it!

I hope the interview will be encouraging, and perhaps even generate some interest in Nahuatl as a modern, living language. It seems like most learners go for the classical variety, but what many don’t realize is that Nahuatl is still a living, thriving language. I admit it’s useful to learn historical languages in order to read old texts, but I enjoy much more actually using a language to communicate and make friends. And through modern Nahuatl I have done just that!

And in case you’re wondering what Freelang.net is, it’s a useful website with wordlists for many languages, multilingual phrases, and even free human translation. I’m one of the volunteer translators there, and if ever you need a short text translated, you should check out Freelang! We are always happy to help.

Hope you enjoy the interview, and stay tuned for announcements about my next language mission: Korean!

Read interview at Freelang

Nahuatl Mission Accomplished

huastecaMnts

Another language mission has come to a close: Conversational Nahuatl in Four Months!

I was travelling in a Nahuatl-speaking part of Mexico during the last week of November, and based on how well I met my goals, I would say it was a success. I wasn’t too sure before the trip–my plans to speak Nahuatl with my neighbours every other day fell apart as more pressing duties commandeered my time, but nevertheless I can say that my experience in Mexico was very much enhanced by my speaking Nahuatl.

One of my goals was to preach a sermon in Nahuatl, and that was accomplished in La Soledad, Mpio. Tamazunchale, S.L.P. I relied quite a bit on my outline and notes, but when I think about it, it was comparable to the first time I preached in Spanish, and I believe that the message from God’s word was heard and understood.

I had a few minor goals as well, and one was not met, but the main one, although nebulous, was to be able to speak Nahuatl at a “conversational level.” I define this as being able to carry a conversation beyond “Hi, how are you?” I did this, and I was able to visit with several elderly people in Nahuatl. Although I did not understand everything they said, it was enough to carry on the conversation. Some of these people spoke very little Spanish, and all of them were more comfortable speaking Nahuatl, so I say that that part of the mission was accomplished. Read More

Nahuatl Update – Week #12

SAMANO MAJTLAKTLI WAN OME

I realize that I titled this post in such a way that might lead you to believe that I have been posting an update every week. And while I have certainly not done that thus far, I am going to begin this practice, mostly to ensure that I work hard to make sure there is something to report each week.

Yes, it’s week 12 of 17 in my mission to reach a conversational level in the Nahuatl language, and I would say it’s going pretty well. I’m not as far along as I would like, and I will blame that on a responsibility I took on to teach a Bible class on the prophets every Wednesday night. This has been taking up a lot of time, and while I don’t regret the decision, I do wish I had more time to devote to Nahuatl.

Be that as it may, I have been practicing on a regular basis with my Nahuatl-speaking neighbours. I set for myself the rule that at least every other day I will speak in a non-English language (preferably Nahuatl), in a conversation that is more than exchanging pleasantries. I’ve stuck to this, but it may be time to step it up, either by doing it more often, or setting aside time to sit down with native speakers and have an extensive dialogue more often.

I began learning Nahuatl five years ago, and up until this mission, I had just been studying the grammar off and on. As a result, I have a good knowledge of how the language works; I just need to work on proficiency and listening comprehension. Some of my neighbours talk rather fast, and it takes them repeating it a few times before I catch on, but that is just a stage in learning the language—I remember when I was there with Spanish.

So I have five weeks left to become conversational in Nahuatl, and that also means that in five weeks I will be traveling south to Mexico! I am very excited. It’s one of my favourite parts of the world, and I haven’t been there in two years.

¡Hasta mostla! Nimomachtijtok chikawak.

Iron Horse, Iron Bird, And Other Entertaining Nahuatl Words

Sometimes I forget that Nahuatl is a Native American language. After all, the people I speak it with are not feathered Indian chiefs riding the plains, nor are they ancient Aztecs who read from pictographic codices and make human sacrifices. They’re just normal, modern people who happen to speak a language that has been handed down to them from time immemorial by their ancestors on this same continent.

But there are a few words that do make me think of it as an “Indian” language. Among them are teposkawayo, tepostototl, and teposkamanali. These are all compound words, and the first element is the word tepostli, which means “iron” or “metal.” You may recognize kawayo as a loan word from the Spanish caballo (horse), and thus you have the Nahuatl word for “car” or “vehicle.” Very clever, eh?

The other two are similar. Tototl means “bird,” so naturally tepostototl is their word for airplane. Finally, kamanali means “word,” “speech,” or “language,” and adding tepostli to the front creates the term they use to refer to a radio.

I always think it’s nice when speakers of various languages coin new words by combining old ones, instead of just borrowing them from mainstream languages. Granted, Nahuatl has its share of Spanish loanwords, but these few iron words demonstrate the language’s flexibility in describing new things in this modern era, technology that Nezahualcoyotl would never have dreamed of.