Malagasy: Tips for Speaking Practice with a Language Mentor

Because of the particular dynamic of working with a language mentor vs. a drill instructor or TA, or a lecture instructor, it helps to state what you need and want. This helps keep the content on-track and as relevant as possible, especially if you have a friendly rapport and can easily be diverted into side conversations.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your speaking practice.

Malagasy from the Beginning

Start about by thinking in advance about what you’ve been working on or doing, which you can then tell them about while going through normal routines (e.g., while getting seated, walking up stairs, etc.). This way, the vocabulary will be in your fast-recall memory when you start the conversation, and you’ll be thinking about how to use it, rather than saying “No news” or something similar because you don’t know the words for what you want to say. That way, when your language mentor arrives, you can start immediately off in the language.

Here’s an example of what to avoid:

  • A: Salaam, Frederick! Vao vao ve?
    Hello, Frederick! Any news?
  • B: Tsy vao vao.
    No news.

The problem with this is that it shuts down the conversation before it can begin, preventing you from exercising other skills like listening, (re)formulating ideas, vocabulary use, etc. Compare to this:

  • A: Salaam, Frederick! Vao vao ve?
    Hello, Frederick! Any news?
  • B: Eny, vao vao. Niasa tamin’ny fomba firesahana amin’ny dokotera aho.
    Yes, some news. I have been working on how to talk to a doctor.
  • A: Ao tsara ve ianao?
    Are you okay?
  • B: Eny, nanao fanazaran-tena fotsiny aho.
    Yes, I was just practicing.
  • A: Faly aho fa salama tsara ianao. Lazao ahy bebe kokoa!
    I’m glad that you are in good health. Tell me more!

This more open-ended conversation can go all sorts of places, especially if the things you’ve chosen to talk about are related to your learning goals.

Prepare (and Follow) an Agenda

Before each session, look at your ISP and make:

  • A list of topics that you would like to discuss.
  • A list of any outstanding questions from your own self-study (this should be updated as things come up).
  • A list of new vocabulary that you’ve learned (so as to check pronunciation).
  • A list of special requests (e.g., “I would like to practice x because y.”)

Show these to your language mentor so that you

If you have created any new learning materials, e.g., in Pressbook, open these on your computer so that you have them ready to use. Having your ISP open is also helpful.

Pronunciation and Initiative

Once you’re settled into whatever learning space you are using, a great way to start out (and to precede a systematic review) is to read out loud the materials that you’ve created for your Malagasy language mentor. You’ll be surprised at how fast your reading speed gets! It also provides an opportunity for any pronunciation corrections or clarifications, especially since many Malagasy dictionaries avoid the use of diacritics.

When told a new word or rule, repeat it back and then write it down – this will help you remember it, and to concretize its pronunciation. Time permitting, go through your notes afterwards to match up this with your learning objectives.

  • Example Learning Activity tie-in:
    Follow step-by-step spoken instructions in Malagasy on a map to reach a destination in Ivandry from Antananarivo.

    • By Yourself:
      • Verbally drill directional vocabulary.
      • Write a list of common direction.
      • Practice verbally outlining routes from one location to another.
    • Related Activities With Your Mentor
      • List out the directional vocabulary in both English and Malagasy, as your mentor checks this against your provided list.
      • Have your mentor read the English terms while you translate them into Malagasy, and vice versa.
      • As you describe a route, have your mentor draw the route that you are saying on a map – but not say anything unless the step you describe is impossible.

Roleplay – and Switch Things Up

Chances are fairly good that you will have some learning objectives involving spoken communication. Tell your language mentor the basic scenario, who they are playing, and dive in with some roleplaying. After a practice round or two, tell them the specific objective that you are working towards, and ask them if they have any suggestions.

Make sure to redo the roleplay as the other party in your dialogue, so that you’re both asking and answering questions.

  • Example Learning Activity tie-in:
    Describe the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea in Malagasy.

    • By Yourself:
      • Check against your previously prepared answer key.
    • With Your Language Mentor:
      • Have your language mentor check your verbal answer against your previously prepared answer key.
      • Have them ask you to explain the symptoms another way: Tsy azoko. Lazao fomba hafa. (“I don’t understand. Say it another way.”)

If You Need to be Drilled, Prepare a Drill Sheet

Sometimes we just need a lot of verbal practice to achieve our goals and meet a more complex objective. If this applies to you, prepare a sheet of prompts, vocabulary, or other things that you’d like to practice with, print it out, and give it to your language mentor. Let them know if you’d like them to use synonyms and paraphrases to give your ear an extra workout.


  • Example Learning Activity tie-in:
    Identify in Malagasy 12 additional fruits and vegetables not commonly found in American supermarkets, and briefly describe their taste.

    • By Yourself:
      • Practice listing the fruits and vegetables, their colors, their textures, their tastes, and whether they should be cooked or not before eating. State whether or not you like it.
    • With Your Language Mentor:
      • Have them ask you what some fruits and vegetables are that you can buy in Madagascar but not in the United States, followed up by “What’s that? What’s it like?” and similar questions. You can do this in the street market, or print pictures of the produce.
        • Inona iny? (What’s that?)
        • Tahaka ny ahoana izy io? (What does it look like?)
        • Inona no tsirony? Mamy ve izany? marikivy ve? Mangidy ve izany? Savory ve? (What does it taste like? Is it sweet? Sour? Bitter? Savory?)
        • Mihafeno ve izy ao? (Is it filling?)
        • Tokony mahandro azy ve ianao? (Should you cook it?)
        • Tianao ve ilay izy? (Do you like it?)
        • Azonao atao ve ny mividy izany any Etazonia? Aiza ho aiza? (Can you buy it in the United States? Where, exactly?)

Pre-Plan for the Next Session

Before your session ends, talk through your ISP with your language mentor. State what topics you’d like to discuss the next time – they might want to prepare (or give you suggestions for preparing), too!


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.