Malagasy: Tips for Summer Language Learning

There’s no substitute for actual, quality time. No degree of quality will substitute for insufficient quantity. Usage makes everything easier to remember.

Learning a language takes time, effort, and follow-through. Because Malagasy is so distant to most of the world’s major languages, there is limited lexical similarity and many false friends, which can make it difficult to spot actual loanwords and their Malagacized forms. Regular repetition and practice reinforce both pronunciation and vocabulary.

Some general strategies to help building your verbal Malagasy:

  • When describing objects, diagram them or (if the physical object is accessible) point or touch at the relevant parts. This will make some of the linguistic commonalities more clear (e.g., how tanana can refer to the whole arm, with derivative words for many of its sub-parts).
  • When using pronouns, point to the (nearby or imagined) person(s) that you are referring to.
  • When using numbers, indicate the quantities with your fingers as you speak.
  • When referring to objects that you want to buy, point to them and then verbally and visually indicate the quantity desired.
  • When speaking in the negatory (“Tsy…” / “Tsia…”), shake your head.
  • When speaking in the positive (“Eny…” / “Ia…” / “Eka…”), nod your head.
  • When indicating directions, point and gesture to show the motions and actions.

These strategies also mirror actually practice in Malagasy when working across cultural/regional lines, and in professions where there is frequent contact with people from other countries or linguistic groups (e.g., street vendors and taxi drivers). Pedagogically, they have the benefit of multiple and tactile associations.

Simulating Everyday Life

One of the great ways to practice your everyday vocabulary is head to a store and start describing the things that you see. Bring a notebook to write down things that you find you don’t know the right terms for, so that you can look them up later!

For example:

  • Go to the grocery store and start identifying the fruits and vegetables. On future trips, start describing them in other ways, e.g., size, color, texture, taste, and cost.
  • Go to a department store or pharmacy and start identifying the items for sale. You can use many of the same descriptors as with the grocery store visit.
  • Go to a cheaper store and note the prices (e.g., Aldi or Trader Joe’s). Then go to a more expensive store (e.g., Whole Foods) and note the prices. Then write or improvise a dialogue where you try to negotiate the prices down to the cheaper store’s prices.
  • Imagine that you ordered something that arrived defective. Write a script in English for how you would describe the defect and ask for a refund, then translate it into Malagasy.

Focusing Flashcard Time

Make a deck of vocabulary flashcards and run through them twice. The second time around, sort the cards as you go into two piles:

  • Those that you don’t think you need to review.
  • Those that you need to review.

As you continue to go through the deck of things to review, some terms will seem more solid, so you can sort them out into another pile. When you are done, make a multi-column list of the terms (or phrases) in each pile, adding the date.

Do this for general and subject-specific reviews. You can compare these lists to tangibly view the progress over time.

Being Ridiculous

One of the most helpful devices for remembering something is to study something a little outlandish or ridiculous. Write a story or dialogue where the characters do something silly, stupid, or just plain crazy. Make them do things that you wouldn’t do – you’ll have a lot of fun writing it and practicing it, and it will be easier to remember!

Write About the Things You Really Want to Know

What are your reasons for learning a language? Write these down, then make a list of scenarios where these things or tasks might come up. This will give you a ready source of ideas for writing dialogues and assembling vocabulary lists for things that you want – or, most especially, need – to know. This will make you more interested and give you an extra bit of attention to detail as you set about studying and drafting materials.

Find a Rhythm

Whether it’s a certain time of day, a weekly check-in, or something else, look for ways to make your language study habitual, recurring, and frequent. Block time out in your study to do nothing but study the language – and defend this time. You will get more out of it from being 100% focused, and enjoy your off-time more, 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.