Listening is a vital skill in any language, but particularly for Hmong, which has a complicated history with the written language. Hmong history tells of book swallowed up in the passage from China to Southeast Asia, forcing some of the most significant aspects of Hmong culture to be preserved orally: in paj lug, dab neeg, kwv txhiaj, and many other forms. This summer, I’ve integrated several different listening resources into my daily study. Below, find a short list along with the activities I used them for.
- Hmong TV Network Inc.
- As the name suggests, this YouTube channel is a consistent publisher, offering daily news casts and other assorted videos. While I primarily used this resource as-is (meaning I would simply listen to it to try and catch up on current events), I would recommend beginning or low intermediate students to supplement listening to the broadcasts with reading an English-language article about the stories they are discussing. Doing so will give you a point to anchor yourself as you encounter unfamiliar vocabulary and better ease the transition as you work to better comprehend spoken Hmong.
- The Music of Maa Vue
- In general, music is an excellent way to dive deeper into a language, learning expressive vocabulary and other turns of phrase that you might not encounter otherwise. Maa Vue is no exception; I like her music not just because her songs are beautiful, but also because she sings clearly and has captions on most of her YouTube videos, allowing me to check my comprehension in real time. Although I have a terrible singing voice, one activity I like to do is to practice my tones my singing along; the music helps guide pronunciation and the notes that Vue holds out helps to exaggerate my own success or failure in reproducing the correct sound.
- Hmong Bedtime Stories
- Do you whistle when walking home after dark? Maybe you’re foolish enough to point at the moon or, in a fit of passion, haus ntshav tes to prove your loyalty to your lover. Rest assured, the stories contained in this YouTube channel will ensure that you never do any of those things again. Not all of the stories on this channel are scary, but all offer excellent insight into Hmong culture from around the diaspora. Although I enjoy listening to the stories from beginning to end, I’ll sometimes challenge myself by pressing play in the middle of a video and seeing if I can comprehend it well enough to put the pieces together in time for the climax of the tale. I’ll use sheet like this one to help organize my understanding of the story, but even with that sort of aid, I find the activity to be quite challenging!
- For advanced students, the music of the qeej is said to mimic the Hmong language. You can hear tones, words, sentences, and even whole stories if you know how to listen. I do not possess the skill, but one way I’ve attempted to learn is through videos like the one linked above, where the man playing the qeej sings his verses before playing them. This is an incredibly difficult skill to master, so don’t feel bad if you can’t hear the words in the qeej, but rest assured that it is excellent practice in getting you to focus on hearing the sounds that compose the Hmong language.
- Lor Chang and the Issue of Translation in Music
- Listening can help you move between two languages; real-time translation is a difficult skill, especially for terms that don’t have exact equivalents, and it takes a deep understanding of both languages to successfully translate anything, let alone a song. One activity that I’ve found to be super productive is attempting to translate music from English into Hmong. It’s hard to know where to get started in attempting to do something like that, but luckily resources like Lor Chang will allow you to listen to someone else do the same thing! In particular, I like identifying particularly difficult-to-translate phrases, listening to how he has chosen to translate them, and then rationalizing whether or not I think he’s correct. Don’t get me wrong, he is always right; but finding instances where I don’t understand why he’s right are super helpful in pointing me towards what I need to study further.