Week Three of Toki Pona is Apparently When Things Get Difficult

I was impressed by my progress last week, so this week had to be bad.

Learning Toki Pona has been an interesting and unpredictable experience.  The only part of it that’s really gone the way I expected was in the first week, going through traditional instruction lessons, because after that it’s been wildly different than I thought it would.

After last week’s blog of me being blown away by how I got to the same learning stage in a week and a half as it took to reach in six months learning Spanish, I thought that, perhaps, going into week three I’d see a similar warp-speed jump ahead in stages.  And, well, not so, I’m afraid.

Well, maybe yes so, but I’m just in the long and stretched out stage of things, so the leap forward wouldn’t be perceptible anyway.  I’m a stage where I’m trying to read widely (and am running into the limitations of available content in the language, unfortunately), and am finding myself able to read Toki Pona, but frequently not getting it very well.  The grammar is still a little strange and foreign to me, especially with some of the more complex structures for sentences, and it leads to me frequently understanding all the words in a sentence, but not quite stringing it together into a coherent sentence.

Toki Pona has, in its limitations as a minimalist language, plenty of built-in vagueness, but it appears that it isn’t so vague as to really hamper communication much.  Don’t try to talk in concrete numbers past one, two, or ‘more than two,’ and you’re probably going to be fine, as there are ways to specify quite a bit of information without even ruining the simplicity.  It’s getting to the stage of wrapping your head around the ways to deliver and process that information that’s the hard part.

This complexity flows into the feeling of ‘not so’ for me because I’m frequently reminded of how things were back in the early days of Spanish learning.  The closest analog I can find is comparing Toki Pona’s use of ‘la’ for forming clauses to trying to understand direct object pronouns in Spanish.  Both make sense when it’s explained to you, but understanding it in text or speech is another thing entirely, because there’s a need to think things through in an unfamiliar way.  It took me a long time to become familiar with direct object pronouns in Spanish, and I’m currently going through that in Toki Pona.  This feels like it might be the stumbling block that will hold me back the most on this mini challenge.

At least, that’s the big stumbling block for me, where other things might be a struggle for someone else trying to learn the language.  The verb/negation/verb structure of asking a yes or no question might be totally alien to someone else, but it felt very intuitive to me, so I picked it up quickly.  I’ve heard it’s very similar to how questions are posed in Chinese, so it might be totally natural to some learners who have more familiarity with Chinese, while harder for others without that experience.  I haven’t touched Chinese, but for whatever reason, the negation seemed like a totally natural way to ask a question (if you’re curious what exactly I’m talking about, you ask a yes or no question in Toki Pona by repeating the verb with a negating word between it, so ‘sina toki ala toki?’ which is literally ‘you talk (negative) talk?’ would mean ‘are you talking?’).

Also, the way that most opinions are expressed was also entirely natural to me, since they are grammatically very similar to the way you express a lot of opinions in Spanish. The way you say you like something is almost identical: ijo li pona tawa mi = me gusta eso = that is pleasing to me = I like that.  The exact order and language bits are different, but the expression of the thought is the same, so phrasing things that way doesn’t strike me as strange.

I’m getting a bit off into the weeds with specifics, but what I’m getting at is that I’m coming to the conclusion that Toki Pona isn’t going to be quite as simple to master as things were seeming last week.  Getting the vocabulary down was pretty easy overall, and that’s a big part of things, but it isn’t the end of it, and I have a feeling that I’ll need some time for everything with the language to become familiar and natural for me.  A scale of time that will likely extend past the length of time I’m willing to devote to this challenge.

That puts me at a bit of a crossroads, because I’m going to be switching my focus back to Spanish here pretty soon, and for a number of reasons, from the large ones like it being a higher priority language overall, to the small ones like it just being easier to find things that I want to watch and read in the language.  On the other hand, I’d like to keep what Toki Pona knowledge I’ve gained over the course of this challenge, and I would like to progress it to a really robust level if I could, maybe even use it in a productive way for the community at large.  Maybe that will mean mixing and matching for a bit and working on both Spanish and Toki Pona at the same time (whether that’s Toki Pona days during the week, or a bit of both each day), or that this mini Add1 Challenge becomes just a regular sort of Add1 Challenge, with more time devoted to just Toki Pona.  Just, y’know, after a break to work on Spanish for a bit, maybe.

Or, well, maybe I’ll have to take stock of things and come to the conclusion that Toki Pona just isn’t important enough for me right now, and let it go.  If the Toki Pona knowledge I’ve collected from this experiment does slide out of my head, it’s not like it’s that much time lost, I could always get it again with a few weeks’ devotion.

I suppose we’ll have to see.  A lot of this depends on how things are going at the end of the challenge itself, this process has been so unpredictable that it’s entirely possible that everything will snap into place and I’ll end up feeling satisfied with my level in the space of a couple days.  Who knows?  I sure don’t.

Now then, let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 7/07

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: 33% of nasin suli pi jan Melin, ~90 minutes

Wednesday 7/08

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: 33% of nasin suli pi jan Melin, ~90 minutes

Thursday 7/09

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: sike mama, ~60 minutes

Friday 7/10

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: sike mama, jan Linsi en soweli suli, meli lili pi len loje, ~90 minutes

Saturday 7/11

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: 1 chapter of soweli Wini Pu en jan pi ale ale ale, ~90 minutes

Sunday 7/12

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Watching/listening: 10 episodes of seme li sin?, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: jan Pipo en soweli Jejo, ~60 minutes

Monday 7/13

Spanish:

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes

Toki Pona:

  • Reading: 6 chapters of jan lawa lili, ~60 minutes

Total Spanish:

  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 0 hours 0 minutes

Total Toki Pona:

  • Total Watching/Listening: 10 youtube videos watched, 30 minutes
  • Total Reading: 2/3 books, 4 short stories, 1 comic, and 7 chapters read, 510 minutes
  • Total Time: 9 hours 0 minutes
  • Combined Total Time: 9 hours 0 minutes

An okay week overall.  It looks quite a bit like my numbers are trending downward here, which is partially because work’s been even busier than normal, but also because it often feels like I have to recycle the input that’s out there for me, which isn’t the most engaging reading I can be doing.  On the other hand, part of why it feels that way is because I need to go back over things multiple times to really understand them.

I had that trouble a lot this week, going so far as to need to abandon trying to read what was there of soweli Wini Pu en jan pi ale ale ale, a translation of the first three chapters of a Winnie the Pooh book, because it was just too hard.  I thought I’d struck gold there with more simple reading, but that Winnie the Pooh is a lot more conversational and playful with its prose than I recalled, and that leads to a lot of complex, murky sentences that I needed to constantly refer to the original on, to the point where it was unreadable.  Several of the things listed here, like Thursday’s numbers for sike mama, involved me reading and rereading something a few times, going through line by line with the English version, just to make sure it was clear for me.

Meanwhile, at the end of the week, I returned to try my hand at reading jan lawa lili a second time, and found it a lot more clear and quick than the first time, similar to what happened with the Spanish version when I returned to El Principito three months later instead of a week, mirroring those events to almost comical level.  It’s interesting how hit and miss Toki Pona can be for me, where some of it is super readable, and some of it is a dense, opaque wall.

Three weeks down now, I’m feeling overall positive about this experiment purely from an abstract, intellectual point of view, but I’m also a little relieved that there’s just one last planned week to go on it.  I’m going to do my best to stick the landing here and go out on a solid note, work and life permitting.  We are, as always, just seeing how this stuff goes.

Next week would normally be a blog in Spanish, but I think I’m going to skip that for this month in favor of finishing this challenge on a stronger note.  For now, I’m going to hunker down and try to get the most out of this strange experience as I can.  TTFN, and mi tawa.

 

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