Whether you're learning Chamorro because it's a part of your heritage, for pure polyglot curiosity, or just to learn a few phrases to be a polite visitor to the Marianas, we have a gift for you. There are other sources out there that give lofty information about how to learn Chamorro yet provide no real substance. We've even seen a few other sites take material from this site as well (yes, we've noticed). However, the goal of this site is not monetary gain or fame, as all contributors to this site are somewhat anonymous, but to spread information and resources for Chamorro language and culture. Therefore in an effort to make your life easier on your path to Chamorro language acquisition and/or maintenance, we've compiled a list of ways to keep your Chamorro language learning on track along with book suggestions for further study in order to achieve your language goals.
The Chamorro language needs to be preserved, but it's up to Chamorros to take accountability and responsibility in ensuring its survival. There will be no one left to blame but ourselves if we let our own language slip through our fingers to be lost forever. This is all a part of the reason why so much on this blog is for free as it would be wrong to charge people who want to save the language. However, we do have a problem with others taking without giving this blog credit. For the rest of you with good intentions for Chamorro Language and Culture, here's some realistic advice and resources with explanations.
How to Learn a Language: Chamorro Style
1. Be Realstic in Setting Your Language Goals
Be honest with yourself. How much do you really want to learn? Whether you want to learn Chamorro for family or just for fun, you should set a goal for yourself according to what level you want to be on. You may wonder how long it might take you to learn Chamorro on a basic, intermediate, or advanced-fluent level and in reality it's entirely up to you. However, if you remain dedicated and committed to the language learning process, giving yourself a year at a time for each of the three stages is completely feasible.
If you're starting at a basic level, give yourself a year to learn grammar, sentence structure and basic vocabulary. Basic level students will often make mistakes and this is perfectly normal. This level of proficiency indicates that the person will find it extremely difficult to carry on in a conversation without rehearsed material. One might ask, how will one know if they're truly advancing in a language even at the basic level. One good indicator is that you'll start to dream in the language. So when you start using Chamorro in your dream dialogues, you'll know you're getting somewhere and take note of it!
At an intermediate level, one should be able to be able to handle casual conversations, yet with some errors, and be able to describe oneself and surroundings with little to no difficulty. At this level, one needs guidance but not frequently. Accent and pronunciation should be understandable, but there still may be flaws at this stage. Grammar and sentence structure is understood at this level in speaking, reading and writing.
At an advanced level, you should be fully confident in everything you've learned at the intermediate level and ready to handle yourself in all aspects of communicating in Chamorro. One should be at the level equivalent or near to that of a fully fluent and articulate native speaker. An advanced level speaker may still have occasional mistakes when it comes to Chamorro idioms and/or colloquialisms.
And of course, fluent, is the highest point where one could reach in Chamorro as in any other language. One should have fulfilled the criteria of the advanced level and be able to handle themself in any social situation along with demonstrated proficiency in reading and writing.
2. Choose What Interests You Most and Go For It
Whether it's swearing, tourism, talking to grandparents, history, preservation or any other personal reason for learning Chamorro, start with what you like. Think about what you want to know how to say regarding your interests. For example, if you want to speak with elder Chamorro relatives, one might want to be able to start a conversation and ask the person questions i.e. "Is there anything I can do for you?", "In which village were you born?", "What was Saipan like in WWII?" Anything. Write your list out and get going on a quest to get it translated into Chamorro. You can ask a native speaker or start with Chamorro dictionaries, but try looking up words on your own first.
3. Create A Study Plan and Style
What kind of learner are you? Do you remember things better by hearing a recording or do you need to write things down? Get a recorder, a notebook, anything to help you out, but for starters, a simple notepad at first will help you get motivated and ready to write wherever you go. Figure out your favorite method to keep track of your language progress and stick to it, but bear in mind that you need to be able to speak, listen, read, and write in Chamorro to be fully fluent.
If you're not sure where to begin, the best way to get started for the long-haul is with index cards and/or a notebook. Get yourself organized through creating tabs or folders for grammar, vocabulary, phrases, and extra paper to practice dictation. Consolidate your materials exclusively for Chamorro language and get started on your lists.
4. If Possible, Find a Tutor
One might not think about it, but if you live in the Marianas, particularly the CNMI, you should not be experiencing a shortage in tutors. Ask someone to be a tutor and of course, offer something in return whether it be monetary gift or a trade. A tutor is your walking dictionary, but make sure they're a native, fluent speaker. You don't have to hang around this person all day, everyday, but the more exposure to Chamorro you have, even when you don't completely understand the conversation, the better for your future comprehension. Try to make an arrangement of a couple hours per week or more if time permits for you or the native speaker.
5. Cheat Sheets and List-Making
Everywhere you go, you want to be able to pull out your lists or note cards when possible. Instead of playing with your cell phone or twiddling your thumbs, practicing your Chamorro is the cure for your boredom if you're truly a committed student. Whatever you're trying to learn, whether it's phrases or a vocabulary list, make it accessible at all times until you've mastered it.
6. Adopt the "Parrot Attitude"
Listen closely to Chamorro conversations and imitate the sounds and words in your mind. If possible, record your own voice and try to point out what you need to improve. Imitate the accent, obviously not in front of the people you're listening to, and pay close attention to which words tend to be used the most and which words you're not sure of.
It's boring, but it helps. It's not enough to know a few songs or a hymn. You may even try saying the rosary in Chamorro. There are plenty of old words, it's all in Chamorro, and there is plenty of repetition. If you can do this on your own, and without looking at a book or a cheat sheet, you're definitely on the intermediate level and on your way to the advanced level of Chamorro language learning. Repetition, association, and mnemonic devices will definitely help you in vocabulary retention.
8. Stay Disciplined
Falling off the language wagon is usually a cause for not advancing in this area of study. One day you're enthusiastic, ready to take on the language world and another day, it just seems to be too much. Stay disciplined. Language learning isn't easy, but if you really want to achieve a certain level of proficiency, make language practice a daily task.
Feeling uneasy, embarrassed, making numerous mistakes, and getting laughed at certainly isn't a great feeling, but guess what? Everyone who learns a second, third, or fourth language goes through the same process of humiliation. It is a linguistic rite of passage. Therefore, it takes humility to put your ego aside and place yourself in awkward situations. Force yourself to speak Chamorro whenever the opportunity presents itself.
10. Keep Setting New Goals and Never Stop Learning
There is no zenith in learning a language, but being able to communicate fluently should be your goal. Even when you are at the fluent stage, there are probably words you still won't know. And that's fine, so long as you strive to learn more words and perfect your communication in Chamorro. Keep setting goals for yourself and once you reach them, create more goals, and never stop learning.