Rosetta Stone endangered languages project

Earlier this year I stumbled across Rosetta Stone’s endangered languages project.

I am really pleased that I did. So far it’s given me the opportunity to learn some Iñupiaq (North Slope, Alaska) and some Navajo (Arizona). The Iñupiaq course is available for free from this organisation. The Navajo course can be purchased online from Navajo Language Renaissance.

So what’s it like to learn an indigenous North American language with Rosetta Stone?

I’m a native English speaker with experience in Romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese etc …). English shares quite a lot of vocabulary with the Romance languages, so they aren’t massively challenging for English speakers.

I never believed that I could learn a language that’s very different to English. Now with Rosetta Stone’s picture-based method it feels possible.

Most of the lessons are simple. Often, all the student needs to do is match the word or phrase with the picture or repeat a phrase into a microphone.

It’s unlikely I will ever be fluent in Iñupiaq or Navajo. The courses are fantastic but I feel that I would need access to a native speaker teacher, a native speaking community, and an accessible grammar guide to really reach fluency.

I bought the Iñupiaq dictionary. It’s a brilliant book but quite intimidating. Iñupiaq has a lot of word endings. And by this I don’t mean the verb endings we see in French or Spanish. I mean word endings that express who, where, how, what, mood and more. All these endings also mean that Iñupiaq words are very long and can be difficult to remember.

For Navajo I got hold of Garth A. Wilson’s Conversational Navajo Workbook: An introductory course for non-native speakers. I haven’t started using it yet but I like the look of it. It’s been written for learners rather than linguists, and seems very accessible.

As a spoken language, Navajo is easier for me than Iñupiaq in some ways. The words are shorter and it’s easier to distinguish the sounds. Iñupiaq has some g/q sounds that are difficult to tell apart. Quite a few sounds also come from the back of the throat.

Navajo feels closer to Italian. However it does have some very interesting sounds that require that the speaker presses their tongue hard into the roof of their mouth.

Fiction in women’s magazines

Here in southern England we’ve had a hot, steamy week and several lightning storms. Also, a friend of mine has a lively, new puppy. So what with the humidity and the bouncing dog I haven’t felt much like felting.

Instead, I’ve been looking at the short fiction in women’s magazines. Woman’s Weekly is my favourite for fiction. My Weekly comes a very close second. There are other excellent story-carrying magazines, of course, including The People’s Friend and Take a Break’s Fiction Feast.

This type of short fiction is a very distinctive genre. If you wanted to write for these magazines you would have to read them for several months first. I’ve never seen fiction like it anywhere else.

Each magazine has its own readership. For example, The People’s Friend is for older people, whereas Take a Break sits at the younger end of the market. Writers should keep this in mind when deciding which magazine to send stories to.

I can only write that type of fiction after immersing myself in it first. It has a unique tone and flavour. Stories tend to be upbeat and focused on female protagonists. Sometimes they’re about single, domestic incidents. Other times they briefly and concisely cover a lot of action, even a lifespan. The narratives are firmly voiced, whether in the first or third person. There’s a great deal of telling, not showing.

Some of the magazines also regularly publish low price novellas called “pocket novels.” There is a blog post about My Weekly pocket novels here.

It’s been a useful week. I’ve signed up for a course in romance writing on the basis of it.


Felting and design

With dry felting we can make three dimensional sculptures. It’s simple. All we need to do is poke a clump of wool into shape with a felting needle.

I think it’s fair to say that dry felting is much like drawing with a pencil on paper. Any able bodied person can mark the paper in some way.

To draw really well, we need to do more than make marks. We need to be designers.

Imagine we want to draw a good, realistic picture of a bear.

  • We need research skills. What does a bear look like?
  • We need a sense of size and proportion. How big are the bear’s limbs compared to its torso? What size is its head?
  • We need composition skills. Where should we place the bear on the page? Is the bear walking, sitting or standing? What looks most pleasing to the eye?
  • We need an eye for detail. What colour is the bear? Is it a uniform colour throughout? Is its fur the same length all over? Does the texture change anywhere?
  • We need planning skills. How should we use pencil marks to communicate aspects of the bear? e.g. Do we draw strands of fur as they appear to be or do we stylise them with dots, dashes or little triangles?
  • We need to know what to leave out. Do we have to include all aspects of the bear? Or can we capture the bear essence by focusing on one thing such as the silhouette?

Dry felting is the same. To create realistic animal sculptures we need to do our research and make multiple decisions about size, shape and colour.

We also use our planning and research skills to make decisions about details such as eyes and whiskers. Will we use wool or buy glass eyes and fishing wire? Will we stitch features onto the animal with knitting wool or embroidery thread?

I am a dry felting beginner. I’ve made four animals without putting much thought into their design. That’s how I’ve come to recognise the importance of planning and research.

Yesterday I completed the brown bear in the second photograph. I’m now working on making a bear that looks more like a real grizzly in its shape and proportions. The new bear is going to be rounder and more muscular.


My fibre collection

Needle felting is a very easy craft for beginners. All it requires is a fibre such as sheep’s wool and a notched needle designed for felting.

Felting wool with a needle is like shaping clay with your finger. It’s different too of course. Wool is felted by inserting the needle repeatedly into the same area until all the fibres are interwoven.

I have been felting for around a month. I’m at the stage of learning about different kinds of fibres. It fascinates me that there is so much variety even in sheep’s wool.

These photos show a selection of the fibres I’m waiting to try out.