The Aim of Language Learning

Home/Djibouti Life, Expat Thoughts, Writing/The Aim of Language Learning

The Aim of Language Learning

New post at A Life Overseas today.

Practicing body parts

Practicing body parts

I posted a note on Facebook about a language lesson and received this comment, “Are you still studying language? I thought you’d be fluent by now.”


It has been more than a decade. What’s my problem?

I can make a list of excuses. I speak two, sometimes three languages. I had two-year old twins when we arrived and added another baby. My family endured an emergency evacuation, searing conflict, work crises…I could say this particular language is just plain too hard: there are few textbooks, the two that exist are error-filled and not my dialect. The written form is young and still working out spelling kinks. Or I could say I’m stupid or I’m not a language person. Or I haven’t worked hard.

In other words, I could blame language difficulty on situations, the language itself, or my failings.

Read more here. And join the conversation at A Life Overseas, or here. Comment, Facebook it, Tweet it out. I would love to hear your own successes and funnies and failures and frustrations and tips when it comes to language. Believe you me, I’ve had my share of all. And then some.

Anyone want to marry my husband? Eat the toilet? Plant corn seed in the liver? Am I tired or am I giving birth? Do I want garlic or tuna fish on my salad? Please put the ground beef in the air conditioner. Did I ask about washing before prayers or about the F-bomb?

And so it goes.


  1. Anita February 14, 2013 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    The Facebook comment above is clearly from someone who is either a genius at language learning or someone who has never had a full language immersion experience.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 15, 2013 at 5:53 am - Reply

      Yup. Have you learned some Somali?

      • Anita February 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm - Reply

        Not enough. I wanted my husband to speak to the boys in only Somali. I figured the kids and I would learn it at the same time. Nice theory. In reality, we all speak English nearly all the time.

        • Rachel Pieh Jones February 16, 2013 at 3:56 am - Reply

          Yeah, I think that’s about it goes for a lot of multi-lingual families. It is harder than it sounds at first! We tried to use French or Somali at home too, in the beginning, but turns out that we all need a break and go into English to rest! Although in the US, when overwhelmed, my son said he would start thinking in French, sort of like ‘finding his happy place’ or something. I thought that was really interesting.

  2. Martha February 15, 2013 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    That picture of Lucy is perfect! I’m guessing it will be a photo she will treasure as an adult.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      Martha I’ve got some amazing photos of that day, it was so fun. They were teaching her children’s games and she was practicing her Somali. You would love this family.

  3. Dawn February 22, 2013 at 5:37 am - Reply

    I’ll be beginning to learn a new language within a few months after moving to Thailand – this is a post I’m sure I’ll keep returning to. Also, I felt strongly that I had to send the full post to a friend who has been in India for 8 months and is learning a new language. She loved the article and said it was the best thing about language learning that she has read since beginning to learn her new language. AND, she said that she met you while at a conference in MN – small world. 🙂 Thanks for encouraging me even though I have not even begun language learning and for encouraging my dear friend in India.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 22, 2013 at 7:01 am - Reply

      Oh wow, small world! I’m glad you sent it to her and that it is blessing you both.

  4. Martha Wagar Wright March 31, 2013 at 4:14 am - Reply

    Hi, Rachel! Just found your site through a friend here in Uganda. Thanks for the positive comments about language learning. I’m a linguist by training but likewise don’t do as much as I could – or even would like to – in learning our local language. But I just keep coming back & learning SOMEthing, trying to re-learn things I’ve forgotten. I’ve found as our kids have gotten older they appreciate learning Karimojong more & really love that they can communicate with people, at least somewhat. (Maybe the best way to get children to learn the local language is to send them to boarding school – just kidding, of course!) I would hope that people could put more joy into language learning and stop finding fault – with themselves, with the language itself, etc. Enjoy what’s different about your new language – don’t hate it because it’s not like English! Find a dozen useful phrases and use them, even if you’re over-doing it. I’m sure I over-thank people all the time, but people understand what I’m saying anyway, and so we keep talking! Enjoy being laughed at! And even if you don’t, just keep moving along & learning something and going somewhere. It will all add up. And even your lamest efforts will not go unnoticed by your neighbours.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones March 31, 2013 at 7:11 am - Reply

      Great comment! Good advice too – use what you know, be laughed at, try, get with people, don’t give up…Beautiful that your kids have learned too.

  5. […] Stop putting off language learning. No one is too busy to learn at least a few words in the local language (of an international neighbor/coworker/student). Make their day by putting in the time, effort, and laughter to honor their language. […]

  6. […] not Somali, I’m a Somali-language learner. I relied heavily on Colloquial Somali in my early years. I’m bound to make mistakes in the […]

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.