Learning Uzbek

Uzbek log #1 First frustration

Written by Ioannes Oculus

This is my Uzbek learning log, an idea to preserve my thoughts as I progress at my university study. As written very late in the evening or in a hurry they may contain mistakes in grammar or style, so please give me feedback. I want them like this, written as things progress, “on the spot”, so that they will reflect my current mood, approach etc. This can be helpful to look at the learning process later with those little notes made on the way.

This week I started learning Uzbek. Or, to be more precise, I started studying it at university. It’s an exciting continuation of my adventure with this exotic language.

On the first day, the university experienced a blackout, so everything started on Tuesday, 5 October 2021. I woke up very early as the classes are in the morning in Tashkent. It’s still nighttime for me but who needs to sleep when there’s coffee?

I have some experience with learning the language. However, the first days have been very hard. I thought to be placed in a beginners’ or A2 group. I was afraid that it might be B1 and it would be a real challenge. I ended up at a B2 level. That was the first shock that made me wonder, how I am going to make it?

What I learnt that day was that the first month is dedicated only to language and other subjects will start in November. This will be literature. I can hardly imagine learning and reading books or stories with my level. It turns out to be true. On Wednesday we were given a very short story to read. I read the text and without translation, I understood maybe 15% of it. That means very little and I had no idea what the story was about. I translated most of the words and got the sense of the story, at least more or less. The problem was that I got it from the words, vocabulary lists and not from the text. Like when I learnt Latin and the grammar-translation method led us to create poor quality translations and discussing them. Only after I started working with Oeberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata I started understanding Latin as Latin and not as a weird code that needs to be decrypted and then one can work with the translation. Hoping, I’ll understand more from the Uzbek text, I read it again but it was not much easier. The number of new words was so high that I even couldn’t guess if I had translated the word or not, not to mention that I had no idea what it meant. The text was followed by some exercises checking the student’s comprehension of the text. When I was answering questions that should check my comprehension I had to translate them too and… I gave my answers to the translated questions from the translated text. It took me a few hours and I feel it was not an efficient way of learning. I worked in English, thought in English and Uzbek was a marginal thing in the process.

During our lessons, we have had some lectures on phonetics and lexis. This is quite easy as I know the topic already pretty well. It’s also a very interesting part as this is what I really like – linguistics. I don’t have to understand a lot to get the general sense and connect it with what I know. It could be called ‘comprehensible input’ in my case if not for one fact. I don’t understand what I hear well enough. I know what should be said but the rest is mostly guessing. So I fill too many gaps with my previous knowledge. I don’t know how to describe the difference in Uzbek between portlovchi undoshlar (plosives) and sirg’aluvchi undoshlar (fricatives) without gesturing and making some funny sounds of explosions. I know what they are from my education in linguistics.

Each day I review everything we covered and even more. To improve my chances I also listen to audiobooks (currently a detective novel “Seyfdagi pullar”) but as I hardly understand them, so I’m afraid it’s not going to be very helpful. We also are asked to watch films. The first one was Vatan with English subtitles and, again, it was English that was in my head. The other (I watched half of it so far) is Tilim qursin. The plot is easy to follow from what I see on the screen, so I can get along even without the text. I get some words or a phrase or two.

I also work on lower levels to improve my basics. Currently, I’m reviewing Nigora Azimova’s books Uzbek. An elementary textbook. At this moment I’m in chapter 9 which I find very interesting. I know the grammar, so I’m just reviewing it but at last, I have text which I understand in more than 80% which makes learning from the context possible. Maybe I should pay more attention to this than to the more advanced material?

I also took an extra lesson on Italki with my Uzbek teacher today and I’ll have one tomorrow. When speaking with him, I find it possible to talk in Uzbek for an hour, although the topics are sometimes quite basic. It’s also very motivating. My teachers from the university are also very, very nice and I cannot stress it enough that they are juda mehribon. Maybe what I need is more conversation practice at a more comfortable level?

Based on my observation I asked if there is an A2 or B1 group in our year I could join. As far as I know, there are some people learning from scratch but that might be too far in the other direction.

About the author

Ioannes Oculus

I am addicted to languages, both modern and ancient. No language is dead as long as we can read and understand it. I want to share my linguistic passion with like minded people. I am also interested in history, astronomy, genealogy, books and probably many others. My goals now are to write a novel in Latin, a textbook for Latin learners, Uzbek-Polish, Polish-Uzbek dictionary, modern Uzbek grammar and textbook for learners. My dream is to have a big house in UK or USA where I could keep all my books and have enough time and money to achieve my goals.

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