Mirëdita Shqip

(Hello Albanian)

A Language Learner’s Diary
by Dominik Lukeš http://dominiklukes.net

2003 (2011)

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 1

Table of Contents
About this document - April 2011..........................................................................................................3 Reason for writing this (2003) ...............................................................................................................3 What are my goals..................................................................................................................................4 What resources are available..................................................................................................................4 Day by day diary (2003).........................................................................................................................5 June 24, Lesson 1, Glasgow...............................................................................................................5 June 26, Lesson 2, Glasgow...............................................................................................................5 July 6, Day 1, Albania, Tiranë............................................................................................................5 July 7, Day 2.......................................................................................................................................5 July 8, Day 3.......................................................................................................................................6 July 9, Day 4.......................................................................................................................................6 July 10, Day 5.....................................................................................................................................7 July 11, Day 5.....................................................................................................................................7 July 12, Yet another day.....................................................................................................................8 July 13, Sunday..................................................................................................................................9 July 14, Week 2..................................................................................................................................9 July 19, End of Week 2......................................................................................................................9 Language level audit 1 (Saturday evening).......................................................................................10 Vocabulary audit 1........................................................................................................................11 Grammar audit 1...........................................................................................................................11 Pronunciation audit 1....................................................................................................................12 July 20, Sunday................................................................................................................................12 July 21 – 23, Monday – Wednesday.................................................................................................12 Friday, July 25 – End of week 3.......................................................................................................13 Sunday, July 27................................................................................................................................13 Monday, July 28...............................................................................................................................14 Tuesday, July 29...............................................................................................................................14 Wednesday, July 30..........................................................................................................................14 Post Script (2011).................................................................................................................................15

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 2

About this document - April 2011
This is a language learning diary, I kept for about a month while I was Pre-Service Training Director for Peace Corps in Albania. I was not able to continue to the end due to a lack of inner commitment and an overabundance of work-related commitments but I think the diary captured the early stages of language learning that often set the tone of frustration for the rest of the time. I hope it can be of assistance to language learners who believe that they are "bad at languages" compared those who are "good at languages". I'm generally thought of as the latter by others but as this diary indicates, it certainly does not feel like it firsthand. The diary started while I was teaching Czech at the University of Glasgow having previously worked for the Peace Corps as a Regional Language Coordinator which took me to about 15 countries in the region working with local language teachers and American learning local languages. Thus my various experiences. I left the names unchanged: They are either a matter of public record or not identifiable. At any rate, no one but me is shown in a questionable light.

Reason for writing this (2003)
I’ve done quite a bit of language learning in my time and my results were a mixture of success and failure. I’ve succeeded when I learned in the environment where the language is spoken and failed in secluded classrooms. That’s why after eight years of studying Russian, I could say almost nothing but after a month in Russia I was able to say things I’d never even heard from the classroom. That’s also why last year, after a month in Romania with just a few lessons from a local teacher, I could communicate better than I can in French despite an intensive month-long course I took in Prague. I know there are people who thrive in the classroom, though, and not do so well in real life. A man I know claimed that his English actually went down hill after a three-month stay in Scotland. But I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with language in any setting. They say they’re too old, not too bright or just not good at languages. Not so. I’ve done a lot of research into learning and teaching styles, I’ve taught language for many years and I’m a trained linguist. I’ve seen hundreds of Peace Corps Volunteers learn and not learn languages and I’ve worked with and trained dozens of teachers of over 10 different languages. Everything I’ve done and read about convinced me that most people’s problems with languages are actually self-inflicted. Intelligence has nothing to do with it: even people with serious brain damage can learn a foreign language. Age has nothing to do with it: last year, when I taught Czech in Glasgow, the best student in my second year class was a retired university administrator in his sixties learning his first foreign language. And, there is no such thing as innate ability to learn a foreign language. Everybody can do it to some extent. Here is how: take lots and lots of time, an inordinate amount of hard work, motivation, commitment, mix in a dollop of frustration, even the odd tear, put it on a see-saw of disappointment and elation; make a complete and utter fool of yourself twenty times a day, and … There’s your foreign language. People who see me go through country to country think I’m a good language learner. But I’m not. I’m willing to give up a lot of my dignity and play with words at inappropriate moments. What I have going for me is a lot of experience in learning and helping people learn. And I know some useful hints and strategies. So I decided to keep this diary of learning a Albanian in the hope that it will help the Peace Corps Volunteers coming to Albania realize what sort of work is involved in learning a language and perhaps give them some useful tips. Plus, although I’ve never done it before, I’m convinced that keeping a learning diary is very useful. I’ve recommended it to many people in my time so perhaps it’s time I take a dose of my own medicine. Here we go:

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 3

What are my goals
Setting goals is essential for language learning. So I’ve been told and told others. But revising the goals is even more important. Even with a lot of experience, it is hard to come up with realistic objectives. I have two long-term fuzzier goals. When the trainees arrive in two odd months I’ve like to be as far in my learning as they will be by about the middle of their PST and by the time I leave I’d like to speak about as well as they do. Given that they will have five hours a day plus a host family to learn from for three months, it may be a struggle but we’ll see. But I also have a number of more realistic and tangible goals. When I meet with a mayor or a school director, I’d like be able to address them politely. Say the right things, maybe even describe some of the more tangible things about Peace Corps in Albania such as how many people are coming, what they will be doing, where they will live and how long they will stay. I’d like to be able to talk to a hotel manager about things like people changing rooms, a change in the time for breakfast, a lost item or if we can use an extra meeting room. I’d like to be able to say thank you or sorry to a host family where a trainee lives. Maybe tell them when a trainee will be late or why they are late. When I pick up the phone and somebody rattles something off in Albanian, I’d like to be able to ask them who they are, what they want and if they could call later. Politely and intelligibly and understand what they say back to me. Then there’s all the day to day things like ordering in a restaurant, checking that a meal really is vegetarian. Maybe even asking for a slight modification to a meal. Asking for directions, giving the time, some small talk, all of those would be nice. Plus I want to be able to do most of these things with the full complement of tenses and cases from the very beginning. I don’t believe that I have to wait for the future tense until I’ve got the present down pat. In technical terms, I’d like to be somewhere between the Intermediate-Low and Intermediate-Mid level on the old ACTFL scale Peace Corps uses by the time I’m done with learning.

What resources are available
Resources are scarce. I have all the Peace Corps materials but they have very little English in them at the moment. I photocopied all the grammar sections from the Colloquial Albanian book I found in the Glasgow library. I also recorded the tape into MP3. Particularly the pronunciation section is useful. It’s not bad but definitely not the ideal textbook (few in the series are). The other thing I did was to go on www.travlang.com and copy all their Albanian phrases. And I recorded the sounds they offer into MP3. I was listening to it for a while. When I got in the country, I printed out the language materials sent to invitees. I will ask somebody to help me record them. I will need to find a dictionary and a good grammar book. I’ve heard one was published in Bulgaria. I’ll need to track it down.

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 4

Day by day diary (2003)
So here it comes. My actual honest-to-goodness day-by-day learning diary. I’ve never kept any sort of diary before. It either felt awkward or a waste of time. I hope I can get over the former and be mature enough to make sure it’s not the latter. Cast of characters: Me – in Albania to direct a training for Peace Corps volunteers. Chris – Programming and Training Director my boss. Terry – Country Director her boss and I’m staying at his house. Diana, Anila – Program Managers – my Albanian co-workers. The rest of Albania – a constant chorus.

June 24, Lesson 1, Glasgow
I decided I’d get a head start on Albanian so I put out a call for someone willing to teach me. I found a man named Sebo. Before I met him I had downloaded some phrases and useful words off the internet and checked out Colloquial Albanian from the library. Sebo is nice but not a patient man. A lot of frustration ensues both with self and teacher. Also, I immediately forget everything. So I listen to some MP3s and read phrases out loud in preparation for my next lesson.

June 26, Lesson 2, Glasgow
Woo and hoo. I remembered some things from the first lesson. Well, one thing. But, that is something. But during the lesson, I began to distinguish some patterns and formed a first sentence Nuk di por mendoj Prishtina është sqita e madha. (I don’t know but I think Prishtina is a big city!) Looks impressive but it’s really just language Lego from some stock phrases. It took a lot of lining things up to fit in the right holes, as well. With a gun to my head, I would not be able to reproduce it without looking on the page. But I did learn some conversation management phrases, like I don’t understand. It is a heady feeling in the early language classroom being a tabula rasa. New words coming into my head and I am sure I will never forget them. Of course, when the textbook is closed, I remember nothing. Damn! But at least creating mnemonic devices is fun: nenta = nine. Aha!

July 6, Day 1, Albania, Tiranë
As expected, I got everything wrong. I met a woman on the flight over and she informed me that despite assurances my Kosovar teacher exposed me to a very different pronunciation of the language from what is spoken in Albania proper. Ë at the end of words is silent and doesn’t make the vowel in the preceding syllable longer. It’s amazing how hard it is to unlearn something like that. Now I have to start mispronouncing a completely different dialect. Learned another useful word: fatura which means check. It so happens, that in Czech (no pun just fact) it means invoice. It has to stop being this easy!

July 7, Day 2
All the pre-arrival medium to light work paid off, I can say hello. Only, it turns out, at the wrong time. Mirëdita is apparently only appropriate after 12 o’clock. So we’ll see how long it will take me to learn the morning hello: mirëmëngjes. For some reason, I can also remember the word for August, gusht, which apart from being a neat party trick, has failed to further my communicative efficacy one jot. It had to happen sooner or later, I guess, but it’s still disconcerting. I met my first word nemesis. And, trust my luck in the scorching heat, it is the good old H2O or ujë. I first heard it yesterday and thought, what a piece of cake! It’s clearly of the same origin as aqua or Latin fame, so all I have to remember is this connection, and I’m laughing. Now, all I can remember is the Spanish pronunciation of agua and

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 5

whenever I want to order something, without fail, agua bubbles up. It makes me feel like one of those colonial caricatures who keep repeating the one word they’ve learned in a foreign language and assume that everybody ‘foreign’ will understand. Hopefully, like most rashes, it will go away soon. I noticed an interesting thing about the definite article. It is used with names of towns when you talk about them. So for example, the training site will be in Lezhë but everybody calls it Lezha which really means the Lezhë. The same thing works on my nemesis ujë which becomes uja. So if, as people are prone to say when speaking in English, Can you pass the uja? they are really saying Can you pass the the water? As somebody pointed out, it is a case of interlinguistic stutter. Gotta watch out for that. Tirana, like most capitals, isn’t a great place for the novice learner. Many waiters speak English or if they don’t, they see you as the perfect opportunity to start. It’s easy to say be persistent but it’s very awkward to slip in the falemenderit or fatura when you had to order everything else in English. But one has to try, doesn’t one! Met my future tutor. Unfortunately, she speaks amazingly good English, so the temptation may be too great to just slip into the comfort zone. But we’ll see. Also, I’m seized by a strange desire to learn as much as I can by the time I see her the day after tomorrow. It’s not unlike my Czech grandmother, who would clean the house before the cleaners got there so that they don’t think her slovenly. She was able to achieve the desired cleanliness, I’m afraid my road to Albanian fluency is longer than that.

July 8, Day 3
I finally got around to setting up my computer keyboard to type in all the accented characters. Now I can go back and correct all those misspelled words from earlier days. Had a full day of meeting with Albanians. I was able to catch some very basic words in the conversations I heard. And I was able to ask where the bathroom was Ku është banjo. Luckily, the response was a wave of the hand to a nearby outhouse (pleasingly the epitome of cleanliness) but I think that a drept is to the right (and straight) – bells of Romanian and Bulgarian faintly ringing in my head. One of these days, I will get the full set of words for directions. Had an interesting discussion with Diana and Chris about the definite article when used in names of towns. It seems that the definite article is used when the word is the subject of the sentence. But I remain skeptical. Research is required. I’ve been learning a new word every hour but it seems I keep forgetting them just as fast if not faster. So the net gain is very little. It has to stop being so difficult.

July 9, Day 4
Well, what a day. I’m still hung up on the definite article with names issue. My latest theory is that it has little to do with actual definiteness. It just depends on what preposition it follows. So from Tirana is definite: nga Tirana but in Tiranë is indefinite në Tiranë. Which leads me to think it might somehow be connected with the case endings. But maybe it’s a combination of both. One day I will figure it out. Diana was interpreting all day, and listening to the Albanian paid off. Now, I know that si not only means how but also as. Other words learned today (and not forgotten by now are): djathë, zgare, paçim, paç and that would be enough. I made an awful pest of myself in the car on the way back, repeating what I’ve learned and trying the conjugate verbs I remembered. And I got me a new nemesis. Numbers 6 and 100. I think they are (looking them up now….yes) gjashtë and njëqind. I got over my obsession with ujë and the word for seven (without looking it up) shtatë (quick check…yes, I got it right). But the highlight of the day was Kleta. My second Albanian tutor. This time from Albania proper rather than Kosovo, so I can learn the right pronunciation from her. Like Sebo, she doesn’t know much about the language but she speaks perfect English. I thought it’s better to have someone without English to make me say everything in Albanian but I found I have enough determination to repeat

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 6

things in Shqip (maybe better to throw in the odd Albanian word) even if we said them in English already. But I remember my dismal attempts at learning Kazakh when living with a family that spoke Russian as well. I learned almost nothing in 3 months and I know the temptation will be there with Kleta to just chat and not learn. I also realized how much the tutor’s personality matters. Repeating after the teacher or doing an exercise in the book can be a very exhilarating experience. Everything is going fine and I feel like I can never forget what I’ve learned. I’ve repeated it so many times and I’ve even used it in my own sentence. Learning is fun. But when the book is closed and the teacher asks me to reproduce some of the stuff I was flying with while the written word was still in front of me, it’s all gone. It’s enough to throw anyone in the pit of darkest depression and never want to learn again. But while Sebo took my immediate forgetting as a personal failure (both his and mine) and expected me to remember everything, Kleta is much more forgiving and with a bit of gentle prodding we parted amicably with the promise of more things to come. I tried to pay her in advance for future lessons but she refused. I didn’t want to push it not to make a cultural faux pas, but it would have been nice to have that extra incentive. Anyway, we have each other’s cell phone numbers now and set the next meeting for Tuesday. Despite all my long-ago training in phonetics, I still find it difficult to get some of the differences between the sounds of Albanian. Particularly l / ll and ç / q sound almost identical. Plus I still haven’t talked to a qualified teacher who could explain it to me. Ideally, I’d like to find a set of words where these sounds are what distinguishes meaning, like think and sink in English, that can be used to explain the difference between th and s. (There was even a book on English pronunciation called Ship or sheep – I doubt, there is something similar for Albanian.) So in the meantime, I made Kleta laugh by intently staring into her mouth while she was pronouncing different words. So I know that the tongue should lean against your gums for ll and move back for l making it sound soft. And I was told that Kosovars don’t pronounce the difference so I can always pretend that’s where I’ve learned my Albanian pronunciation.

July 10, Day 5
Woke up with a burning question. How do you say she speaks, I know I speak is flas but the third person eludes me. So even before going to the bathroom, I rush to Terry’s book one floor down and look it up. It’s flet (I gather speak is an irregular verb). At breakfast, I read about cases and conjugations. Compared to Russian (Rusisht), they are very simple but it will be long before I can remember them and longer still before I can use them properly. I found when learning Romanian that it’s easier for me to learn the conjugations out of sequence as needed. I could say I will go long before I knew how the future tense worked. But it was great when the time came to learn the tense to have a few words for the eureka! moment when everything falls into place. Before going to sleep last night I found myself repeating all sorts of Albanian words in some sort of pattern, which reminded me this morning of the great book from the 60s by Ruth Weir. It was called Language in the Crib and in it she described how she put a microphone near her child’s bed at night and on the recordings she found what was basically a language drill. The child was going through all sorts of patterns not unlike those found in a grammar book. I guess the language learning child is still in me. But ultimately language-wise, this day was a washout. Interviewing applicants all day in English so I used my newly learned Gezohën qe ju njoh. (I’m pleased that I met you.) on the first one but was too tired to experiment on the others. I did have my first byrek for lunch, so maybe I’ve ingested some Albanian with that.

July 11, Day 5
Read verb and noun charts over breakfast. It turns out at least one of the future tenses is relatively simple. Just put do before the verb and change the verb into the subjunctive which is similar to regular present tense. So for now I’ll just fudge the ending and hope for the best. I suspect that will be all the Albanian I learn today. I am learning it quite randomly and out of sequence but it seems to work for

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 7

me. I just need to beef up my vocabulary. It pleased me to learn that I talk is bisedoj which is very similar to Czech for debate. Na ishte një here një vajzë e vogël. (There was once a little girl.) At lunch time I browsed through a little bookstall and bought a well illustrated little children’s book about The Little Red Riding Hood in Albanian. I’ve had great results from trying to read stories I already know in the new language so I can guess a lot of the words. We’ll see. Plus I was able to impress people (under false pretenses) by showing off how to say once upon a time. One needs these little confidence boosters, doesn’t one. But I’ve been finding all through the day that the more I try to speak Albanian, the more the Albanians around me speak it back to me. It’s mostly just individual words but Diana even sent me a little email in Albanian and was tickled pink when I could understand most of it. Here’s an interesting mnemonic device. Vetëm means only and which is very similar to veto. Hopefully, I will now remember how to say Flas vetëm anglisht. It’s funny how these mnemonic devices work. Just yesterday I was talking to someone how vogel in German means bird and that is a great mnemonic device for the Albanian vogël. And today I saw that first sentence of the Little Red Riding Hood story and I remembered almost everything about that conversation except what the bird was supposed to be similar to. Eventually I figured out that it probably means little since I was able to fish out from the dimmest of recesses of my memory that vajzë meant girl. So, I guess, the mnemonic device worked except in a very roundabout way. It’s also funny how I was able to use one language I don’t really speak to help me learn another I don’t speak at all. (I suspect by the time I’m done, though, I will speak better Albanian than German.) Had my first total communication break down. And then a second controlled one. Somebody called me on my cell phone speaking Albanian while I was away from any Albanian assistance. I didn’t understand a word other than some name (Valjeta I think). So after saying (with much stuttering) Nuk e flas Shqiperi (roughly I don’t speaking Albania) all I could think was to say Telefonoj një ora (something like Call one hour) which I later learned was closer to Call at one but since it was two already I was hoping he got the message to call in one hour. He didn’t call so I guess he didn’t get it or at least didn’t want to go through another encounter with the butcher of Albanian. Anyway, later that night I needed to call one of the job candidates to ask her to come speak to us, but her husband had picked up the phone on my earlier try. So I prepared Dua beshidoj me Miranda and said it to him. I was met with a long stream of Albanian at the end of which Miranda didn’t appear, so I assumed she wasn’t at home, said ju lutem instead of falemenderit and hung up. All in all, the score board for the day reads: native speakers two, learner nil.

July 12, Yet another day
I came up with another bizarre mnemonic device. I don’t know how I know it, but the Latin for shadow is umbra (I guess from the English adumbrate) and, for the life of me, I couldn’t memorize the Albanian good evening which is mirëmbra. So if I think of it as good shadow, I can finally learn it. Of course, there will be a period of saying mirëumbra but that will pass. People have asked me, how I’ve learned English so well, and I used to answer that it was by not making the same mistake more than twenty or thirty times. I sure hope it will work for Albanian now that I’m fifteen years older, my short-term memory a good deal shorter and my long-term memory quite a bit more erratic. My shopping today brought me one notable language learning success and one spectacular failure all within the space of about 15 minutes. I went to buy a byrek, asked Sa kushton? Was told pesë something, paid 50 lekë and it was correct. Imagine the elation! A few shops on I bought three postcards and was told a number I couldn’t understand. So I showed the woman my money and she picked out 40 from my loose change. So I asked dyzetë? to check whether I remember the word correctly but she gave me a blank stare and started saying something which looked like she was explaining the price. So I thanked her and left none the wiser but humbled. The sound of my bubble bursting must have been heard in Lezhë! I was later told that sometimes people quote prices in old Lekë which had an extra zero. So maybe that was it. I’ll need to practice numbers with my tutor on Tuesday.

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 8

Taking stock: I used to boast that I (or anybody else really) can be at the ACTFL Novice-Low level by the end of the first week. And I’m pretty sure I am. I can say the numbers, some months, some days of the week, some food and a lot of the polite language. And if someone really tries, I can understand these things as well. Sometimes, people are given the Novice-Low rating after three months. I just don’t believe that. I will do my best to help all the language learners in my charge discover their potential to go well beyond that.

July 13, Sunday
Pretty slow start to the language learning today. I wasn’t planning to take a break but now I can see the benefits of some down time. I was a little worried I’d forget too many things if I let up but I suspect a little alone time was what my brain craves most of all right now. It’s been screaming for a decrease in the constant demand of processing new language. Plus I’m running out of things to say about my learning that would be interesting. Perhaps I should try using the forms I designed for trainees in Uganda in 1998 and have been peddling around Peace Corps ever since. It might help me fine-tune them. Maybe next week. I caught myself conjugating an Albanian verb in the shower. So much for downtime: punoj, punon, punon, punojmë, punoni, punojnë. Time to take a nap! Oh! And I should listen to my Albanian MP3s again. It’s hard to force yourself to do it when you’re surrounded by Albanian from all sides. But maybe I’ll get more out of it now that I can actually relate to what I hear in the recordings. I think I will make my own with my tutor on Tuesday, though.

July 14, Week 2
Revisited the explanation of stress patterns from my photocopy of Colloquial Albanian over breakfast. It seems I misremembered a part of it. The typical stress is on the last syllable (not the penultimate as I remembered). The stress is only displaced to the one before last syllable if an ending is added. Also in a lot of the words ending in –ë, the –ë is unstressed thus making it sound like it’s not there at all. I believe that it’s there as a bit of an unstressed, nearly imperceptible grunt. But I’m prepared to be wrong. At dinner, I spent about five minutes talking about why it will be easy to remember the Shqip word for honey. Then, I promptly forgot it. It’s mialt (if memory serves). It is similar to the Slavonic myod the Indoeuropean echoes of which can be heard in the English mead. The word for bear in most Slavonic languages is therefore something like medved or he who knows where the honey is. All this work, and it still only helps you remember one word. The advantage of knowing snippets of many languages seems pretty tenuous at the moment.

July 19, End of Week 2
What a week. From the perspective of keeping a language-learning diary, it was a prize-winning stinker. I was on the road for three of the four days since the last entry and had enough trouble keeping up with the “important” records. Regarding the language learning itself, it was quite a roller-coaster ride. It started on a high. I got a few words right, put together a few sentences with the right forms in the right places and I felt like I was going to learn this language in a couple of weeks. How could I not. Well, that lasted about until the morning after I learned about honey. That day I learned absolutely nothing. I could have blamed it on being busy (which I was) but somehow I also felt like I would never learn another Albanian word. That lasted me about until Wednesday afternoon when I learned a new proverb: “Vetëm i zoti e ndzier gomarin nga balta.” (Only his owner, can pull out the donkey out of mud.) That spurred me on somewhat so I resisted temptation and didn’t call off a lesson with my tutor Frida (Kleta’s away so her little sister is taking up the family slack.) It went great and I felt great at the end even though we only did again what Kleta and I had done. Of course, the following morning the usual depression set in when I couldn’t remember almost anything from our lesson. But on the way to Lezha I got to practice reading out public signs to the amusement of my Albanian companions. I didn’t produce much during our meetings with our local contacts other then the usual ‘faleminderit’s. On the way back, though, I was even reading some Albanian resumes. This impressed Ardiana so

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 9

much she helped me practice my pronunciation. I made her repeat the difference between kur (when) and kurr (never) about a million times and I think I can just about reproduce it. She was the first person who was able to produce such a pair of words for me. She is going to regret her kindness because I’m going to bug her for more. Friday wasn’t too bad to start with. But then a disaster struck. I was trying out local buses with my guide Blerta and when a little child sat next to me, I couldn’t even ask her what her name was even though I had practiced that the night before with Frida. What a let down. Then I failed to memorize the proverb for “When you ask, you’ll get to Istambul.” I did learn, though, that wagging a thumb pointed upwards in a derisory manner means “no way”. But I managed not to crack and had another lesson with Frida at night. We learned about days, months and things like before and after. I also learned (and since mostly forgotten) the Albanian names for cases. That put a lot of things into perspective. Particularly the fact, that it’s a long way from learning something with a teacher to actually being able to produce it when the need arises. I also realize (as I have and then suppressed many times before) that sometimes you have to learn things that are not immediately useful and wait until their time comes. But it is hard without a meaningful context. At other times you remember the oddest thing without any reasonable context at all. Now I’m feeling fairly realistic about this whole thing. I may have to revise some of my initial goals but with a bit of work, I might achieve reasonable proficiency. Of course, I found out at lunch that I don’t know how to say the word bread (it’s bukë which makes it unlike that of any Indo-European language group I know of). But in my level-headed mood today, I took that in my stride as one of the things one must contend with in this business of occasional language learning. Another theme to the week seems to be mnemonic devices. I remember left through the hand of Midas – it’s majtës and right somehow got included with it as djaltës (but I may be wrong). I came up with a bunch of other mnemonic devices (named after a Greek slave) for a number of words such as donkey and mud. Arguably not the most useful words in the universe but you never know.

Language level audit 1 (Saturday evening)
The nifty self-assessment from Whole World Guide to Language Learning (written by a former Peace Corps Country Director) puts me at Novice-Mid. What an easy jump. But looking at the details of it, I’m not nearly as optimistic about ever reaching Novice-High (the skills required grow exponentially rather than linearly). I fulfill the general description: “Can express very simple needs in polite language. Uses mostly memorized words and phrases. Can say short phrases if given time to think about what he or she wants to say.” That sounds about right. With an emphasis on the simple. “Speaks in a heavy accent with many errors and confuses sounds that are similar. Speech is difficult to understand, even to teachers used to working with language students.” How could anybody not reach this level in two weeks of intensive language lessons? Let’s see how it shakes down in the detailed self-assessment checklist: Can respond to simple commands such as “stand up” and “come here”. Can greet people and take leave correctly. Check. Nobody’s asked me to stand up so far, but I know how to say and react to things like ‘come here’. Check. I can even do it incorrectly, the Kosovar way, if I want to.

Can ask basic questions using who, what, when Check. I can even differentiate between different and where. kinds of who and what depending on case. But sorting out my question and connecting words is my next task. Right after making a list of pairs of similar sounds. Can make simple statements and commands such Check. Sort of. I can do the former but again with

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 10

as ‘it is hot’ and ‘turn on the light’

the electricity off much of the time, I’ve never had occasion to do the latter. But I know how to say ‘insurance company’, so there. Check. Too right I can. Hm. Any chance of meeting this requirement was shot to hell by the phrase “can sing” but I can say two proverbs. So I guess, I rate a check.

Can thank people and make simple requests. Can sign one verse of a folk song or popular singalong tune.

Can perform at least one task at the Novice-High Let’s see. Turning the page now. Yes: Can make level. simple statements about family, age, address, time. Vocabulary includes names of basic concepts: days, months, numbers 1 to 100. Check. Check. Check. Check. Now give me something difficult to do. Here’s one. Learn the damn number 100. Took me two weeks, but the lady selling byrek finally made it click: njëqind – take that sucker! Now on to the next level. It asks me to know body parts and at least 100 nouns and verbs in appropriate contexts. It expects me to speak in short direct sentences but occasionally produce a longer more complicated ones when given time to think of them. It would also like me perform at least two tasks at the level after that. Tall order? Perhaps, but not outside the realm of possibility. Next language audit in four weeks time (each level takes progressively more time to achieve, I don’t think I’ll be in Albania any more by the time I should be Intermediate-Mid).

Vocabulary audit 1
To my shame I know only very few words. Mostly those I gleaned off menus and from grammar exercises. I’ve mastered the days of the week and months partly to help me with numbers but also partly because they were on one of the cards I printed out. I still lack any substantial number of nouns, adjectives or verbs although I’m not doing too badly on grammatical words. I know and can mostly conjugate verbs like punoj (work), banoj (live), kuptoj (understand), deshiroj (want, desire), bisedoj (talk), mësoj (teach, learn). I can say some verbs in some persons only flas, flet (you speak, he/she speaks), di (I know), dua (I want), pij (I drink) and I keep forgetting verbs like kushtoj? (go), duhet (must) and something that escapes me for eat, say and come. I’d like to say things like drive, bring, carry, buy, sell, read, write, study, etc. My nouns are an odd mix including kryetar (mayor) and shëndet (health) but not bread, and my adjectives are virtually nonexistent other than i keq (bad), mirrë (good), vap (hot), madhë (big), vogël (small). I’d like to be able to say things like beautiful, cold, and some colors. As for nouns, foods, clothes and professions would be nice to learn. I know a few prepositions and conjunctions which makes creating complex sentences slightly easier if only I had more things to connect. I can do the numbers now although I still have trouble understanding them.

Grammar audit 1
I’m not doing too badly on grammar: I know how to form the definite article for feminines and masculines and how to use it in some common contexts. My next goal is to figure out the plurals. I can mostly link an adjective with a noun and I can parrot the right case ending although I have trouble forming them on my own. Knowing the Albanian names for the cases may be impressive but achieves little. I can recognize one of the past tenses which uses a form of have (kam, ka, kami, kani, kanë) and the verb. But I have no clue as to the other past tenses.

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 11

I can roughly form the future tense in the first person with do të + subjunctive. It’s mostly because in the first person subjunctive is the same as the regular form but I can fake it in the other persons. The të + subjunctive can also link verbs to other verbs such as I can work: mund të punoj. I can but never have used the present progressive which just adds the particle po before the verb.

Pronunciation audit 1
I can do most of the sounds but there are several key contrasts that have remained beyond me: ç r l xh q rr ll gj keç kur (when) keq kurrë (never)

My Czech and Russian helped me with the n vs nj distinction and my Russian with bits of French make i vs y slightly easier although I still make mistakes. My next task is to find two words for every contrast where the two sounds are the only thing that differentiates meaning. Right now I only have the one for r and rr. My other problem is to remember when and how the ë appears in pronunciation.

July 20, Sunday
Not a day for learning new things but without trying to, I got to practice quite a bit of my Albanian fragments. We were walking along the beach and for some unimportant reason were accosted by an Albanian woman who invited us into her little kiosk by the sea and forced water and soda on us after we declined a bottle of wine. She and her husband were trying to have a conversation and I was actually able to say some important things about myself in Albanian: I’m from Prague. I’m a teacher. I live and work in Tirana with the Peace Corps. I don’t live in a hotel but in a house. I will work in Lezhë from August till December. And I and my companions definitely don’t drink alcohol. I’m sure there were lots of errors but at the end I even got to say: we must go. Here’s how I did it: Jam nga Praga. Jam mësues. Banoj dhe punoj në Tiranë me Korpusin e Paqes. Nuk banoj në hotel por në shtëpi. Do të punoj në Lezhë nga Gusht më Dhjetor. Ne nuk pijmë alkohol. Dua të kushtojmë. Must get it checked some day when I’m a little more confident.

July 21 – 23, Monday – Wednesday
Skipped a lesson with Frida on Monday and I really skipped learning for two days. It had been a busy day but I wasn’t that tired, just felt it was too convenient. In the two days until our lesson on Wednesday, I learned a few expressions such as the useless dy grosh (very little money) and not so useless ëeshtë një soj (it’s all the same). I am getting better with numbers though. I gave my mobile number to several people on Wednesday the Albanian way (i.e. twenty-one instead of two-one) and had one dictated to me. I can even usually recognize what numbers I’m given by food sellers. Of course, having semi-faked tiredness and business on Monday, I was really tired on Wednesday so the lesson with Frida was a little bit of a wash out. It consisted mostly of me reading out loud and occasionally asking what something means. We went through numbers, days of the week and names of months again and surprisingly I remembered most of them. Except I keep confusing mart (Wednesday) and mars (March). It is amazing how easy it is to slide into a pattern of pretend learning. I was reading through several longish dialogues without learning much at all. But I was so content just passively going through what was in front of me, knowing full well, it’s not going to last unless we do some exercises but the very thought of taxing my brain by actually trying to do something with the language was making me feel tired. I also remember as a teacher how easy it is to get lulled into a false sense that we’re making progress. The student is doing pretty well with the readings and any attempt at disturbing that flow will create a frustration on their part and a sense of disappointment on

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 12

the teacher’s part. When I teach I know not to trust these moments of relative calm (although it is nice to be reminded of it first hand from time to time) but Frida isn’t a teacher and I can just imagine the relief she must have been feeling when I didn’t do anything to disturb our shared sense of linguistic security. I must push myself harder next time, though, even if it will mean that she will also have to work more for her money. Thought: It is amazing how seductive rote learning is. In my last lesson with Friday five days ago, I repeated the formula exactly twelve times: the Yth month of the year is X e.g. moai e dytë i viti është shkurt. While I was doing it, I was thinking, now I will never forget this. Today, Frida said the sentence to me and I didn’t even recognize it. Having said all that in the previous paragraph, I think I can actually remember some useful expressions: e lirë (cheap), tjetër (others), akoma (more), mollë (apple), gota (glass), fjalor (dictionary), një gjë (something), doni (you want). All that out of about thirty new words I was exposed to today. Must do better.

Friday, July 25 – End of week 3
No learning happened on Thursday. I did read a bit in my grammar charts over breakfast but not much stuck. But today I had a lesson which pushed me over the edge. Somehow, Frida and I got stuck with this Albanian textbook that has been getting progressively less coherent. It’s breaking the two basic rules of good textbook structure: 1) Don’t practice new grammar on new vocabulary and 2) The exercises should have some relation to the dialogues at the start of the section. Today the cup hath run over and I never want to see it again. I’ll just use the Peace Corps materials which I meant to use anyway but got sidetracked into this. I learned a useful phrase, though: si zakonisht – as usual. Zakon is law in Russian, so that should be easy to remember. I also have a few more useful verbs: rri – stay, lë – live, ha – eat, pi – drink, hap – open, mbyll – close, and some more. What they have in common is that the first, second and third person singular have the same form. So conjugating I eat, you eat, s/he it goes like this: ha, ha, ha. Quite humorous. I have uncovered a mystery. The letter/sound/word e. That and its partner i pop up all over Albanian. They connect adjectives to nouns, they are part of the genitive case and third person possessive pronouns. That all more or less makes sense. But they also appear in an as yet unexplained manner before certain verbs and e alone could also mean her/him as in I see him. One of these days (famous last words), I’m going to make a chart explaining it.

Sunday, July 27
I spent about an hour formatting my language materials but at the end only about twenty minutes doing some of the exercises. Yesterday, at a party I impressed someone by my Albanian pronunciation so much that she started yammering at me in Albanian and I realized to my shame that I didn’t know how to say Speak slowly, please. I think I cracked the mystery of the randomly occurring i/e – they can also function as regular pronouns with family names and when they double up a regular pronoun, they function as clitics. The book says, they further specify the name. Which is interesting because it means that Albanian has three level of definiteness. Also I discovered that gj is the voiced version of q (like ç and xh) so now I know why I can’t pronounce either correctly. Made a plan to have a lesson of Albanian every day next week which I’m not going to keep – but as the Albanians and Czechs both say: hope dies last.

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 13

Monday, July 28
What a difference a sympathetic native speaker makes. Miranda who just started working for Peace Corps as a Community Skills Coordinator, is a former teacher and she talked to me në Shqip almost all the way through lunch. I could finally try out some of my sentences. Also she explained to me why the i is used in my proverb Vetëm i Zoti e ndxier gomarin nga balta. It’s because when zoti (Mr.) is used to mean the master of something, it is used as an adjective. Another language mystery solved. What a difference a good textbook makes. As advertised, Frida and I started using the Peace Corps language materials in our lesson today. Usually we go over an hour without really noticing but today I was pretty much beat after 55 minutes. It’s just like exercise. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. And it did hurt. There were exercises for everything so after a while we were just doing a few items from each and my head was bursting anyway. The word for child and family are annoyingly similar: fëmia and familja. But I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Tuesday, July 29
I made a half-hearted attempt at having a lesson everyday this week. Kleta got back from her trip abroad and after a day of waffling I finally tried calling her some time in the afternoon. Luckily for me, she didn’t answer the phone. Otherwise, although the day was more or less lost to serious learning, I did have some small successes. Miranda and I were interviewing candidates for a position in a public library in Lezha. Most of them didn’t speak English so I was listening in on the discussion. And it pleased me greatly when I could actually understand some isolated sentences and with one person who said he’d known a Peace Corps volunteer, I actually understood most of what he was saying on that subject. I was also able to decipher and translate an inspirational message on the library wall: Jam miku tuaj, vij te ju në se më ndoh (I’m your friend, I’m coming to you if you help me). And another one saying something like Librit ndryshin mendej, mendej ndryshin botën (Books change minds, minds change the world.)

Wednesday, July 30
In the car, on the way to Lezha, I finally completed my pronunciation chart of difficult sounds with two-word examples differing only in the sound (known to linguists as minimal pairs). They are: boy/evil, freckles/puppy, when/never and promenade/bay. Our driver who speaks no English started work today. What joy! Finally, I absolutely have to speak Shqip to someone to make myself understood. Of course, I could always ask somebody to translate but what would be the fun in that. Today, after we dropped Miranda off at her home, I drove alone to the office with him and he explained to me that he was going to wash the car and I told him he could do it tomorrow after he came back from the embassy. Of course, it didn’t flow quite as effortlessly as that but the point was made. He washed the car straight away anyway, but I’m sure that was just him being conscientious. My lesson with Frida was the usual mix of progress and circuitous meandering through the landscape drawn by my flights of fancy. My insistence on saying certain sentences in Albanian even if I only know two words out of five slows us down but we did go through a full unit and translated a dialog in another. My vocabulary is building slowly but I decided to make flashcards to help. Although, mindless repetition doesn’t seem to work for me, I think occasionally reviewing what I’ve learned should be very helpful. …

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 14

Post Script (2011)
I stuck with the diary for a month. I eventually got a lot better at Albanian and even lived with a host family. Then I went away for 2 years and forgot it all. Then I went back for 4 months again and it all came back. Now, almost 7 years later, I remember pretty much nothing but when I see Albanian, I can make some sense of it (up to a very abrupt point, anyway). I did achieve my goals but my learning decreased because as I got better my remaining time in Albania got shorter and so motivation to improve more went away, too. (I am greatly intrigued by some skills development theories that seem make better sense of this than language development theories.) Whatever I learned wasn’t easy or effortless. I spent a lot of time walking around repeating things in different ways and in different contexts and then forgetting them immediately. People say language learning can be fun but that certainly doesn’t apply to the entire experience. A lot of it can be fun, if you make it fun. But I can imagine it’s like running a marathon. There are moments of great enjoyment and moments of great pain and of deep despair, too. And whether one looks back at the whole experience as a great thing or an unbearable ordeal depends on many personal factors. Whatever they are. Learning Albanian was a great thing for me!

Albanian: Language Learner's Diary 2003 (2011)

Page 15