Language On Your Own: Self-Study Tips – Part 6

This is Part 6 of a 12-part series.

The main tool you need is …

If you want to become fluent, your best friend is a dictionary. A good, reliable dictionary for any language – not just Native American — uses consistent spelling, gives example sentences and shows verb conjugations. Make sure the dictionary for your chosen language gives you that.  Then you can be sure you are getting the strongest help for self-study.

And yes, spelling does matter. Correct speech depends on correct pronunciation of words —

… and correct pronunciation depends on consistent spelling for the sounds. If you study from sources that emphasize consistent spelling, you will have good pronunciation and stronger reading skills. Plus, when you write in your language you can be certain that you will be understood.

A good dictionary will give you something else:  the most important words of the language, the ones you need to know and will use most often.

Core vocabulary

Every language has something called “core vocabulary.”  This vocabulary is made up of about 2,000 – 3,000 of the most common words:  the basics of conversation, questions, directions, and love songs.

You need to learn this vocabulary first. The sooner you can recognize common words, the quicker you can pick up on verb forms —


(Click to Enlarge: New Lakota Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Verb Forms excerpt)

… and sentence patterns.


(Click to Enlarge: New Lakota Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Sentence Structure excerpt.)

You will start to see how the words in your language combine with one other to express a complex thought.

For example, the New Lakota Dictionary flags the core vocabulary for you. The 1,000 most-used Lakota words are marked with a black diamond, and the next 2,000 are marked with a white diamond.

After you have mastered the core vocabulary of your language, learning will become easier. Once you can recognize common words, you will begin to understand much just from context:  when, where and how words are used.

A good dictionary also understands the importance of context, and so provides example sentences for as many words as possible.

Language is more than words!

You can speak a bit of your language with the vocabulary words in your short and long-term memory.  But words alone are not enough.

Without knowing sentence structure you won’t be able to make yourself understood – and you won’t be able to understand what’s being said to you.

Structures repeat and become patterns. It is sentence patterns that communicate meaning to another speaker.

All of these sentence patterns, taken together, are called grammar.

Grammar is powerful, because it gives direction to thoughts through words. To learn Lakota grammar, you need exposure to authentic Lakota. Start by reading texts and listening to recordings (these links are examples in Lakota). Read example sentences in your dictionary and say them aloud. Write your own sentences based on the patterns you see.

Part 7 will start off with a look at correct Lakota sentence patterns.


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