Sunday, 14 December 2014

Toki Pona in 48 hours

Last week I spent two days at the Memrise office, learning Toki Pona with other like minded people. You can read the original blog post that Memrise put out here. Plus more about what Toki Pona actually is here.

The original post from memrise was, 'Is it possible to learn a new language in 48 hours?'...I came to the conclusion that it really depends on the individual; how good your memory is, how fast your brain is at absorbing new information and putting it all together to make sense (whatever the technical term may be for that!).

We started off the first day by introducing ourselves, and then all starting the same memrise course at the same time. It was interesting to see how fast some people got through that course! I think it was about an hour for some, and I'm not joking when I say it took me more than twice as long as that to get through it. We then started on the second course which I actually didn't complete. I was feeling a little fried by the end of it, and some of us went out for a walk to get a break. We were obviously on a limited time scale, so we were really cramming, which is not the most efficient way to learn things, for me anyway! I wouldn't normally spend hours at my computer so my head was feeling a little scrambled.

We played some games in the afternoon. At one point we sat in groups and translated English into Toki Pona, sending videos to other groups to see if they could translate it back. It was really funny, and some of the translations when you only have 120 words to play with were quite abstract. It is interesting that we could almost always get the gist of what was being said, if not a complete translation. We also got to skype with Sonja Lang (who created Toki Pona), and it was interesting to hear what she had to say about why she created the language, and her thoughts around it. There were also several copies of the Toki Pona book that we got to use/ look at.

I was feeling completely maxed out by the end of the first day. I also had a pretty long journey home (just under two hours), so I didn't get to spend much time revising what we had learnt.

The second day we were only suppose to speak in Toki Pona, and I was amazed at how many people could, and how fast they actually were. I could barely string a sentence together!

It was a more low key day. We spent it on a mixture of games, chatting, translating, making videos, reading the Toki Pona book and generally just hanging out together. Some people wrote a Toki Pona version of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', which was fun to listen to, but too fast for me.

By the end of the second day I think that most people were quite confident with speaking (and understanding) Toki Pona, but I wasn't one of them. Give me a week of intense study and I think I would have got there! I was much slower at remembering and recalling the words than most, so it confirmed what I already knew - that I'm a slow language learner. I also kept confusing it with Russian! This happened on both the memrise course and when speaking. I'm not sure why as I haven't done this when studying Russian and Dutch. Perhaps because of the intense nature of the course my brain was just reverting back to the foreign language it knew best? Other people were also doing this (someone next to me was mixing it up with Swedish, someone else German), so its obviously a common thing to do. 

However, it was a fun experience (even if I did need most of this weekend, and a lot of sleep to recover!), and I met some lovely people and got to chat about languages and language learning which is always enjoyable. I also got to meet Chris from Actual Fluency which was great :) ...I won't be continuing with Toki Pona though, except for maybe using it to chat online to the people I met. By the end of the second day I was just itching to get back to Russian, and it really just enforced the fact that I need to have some kind of (emotional) connection/pull/reason to learn a language.

Church in Yaroslavl, Russia, taken by Emma Sibley, 2007

Thanks to Memrise though for setting it all up. There were lots of videos and pictures being taken, so keep an eye on their blog if you're curious. :)

Edit: Links to Memrise, Guardian and other bloggers take on the experience here.


  1. I had a great time at Memrise too, it was great to meet you and put a face to the blogger :) Don't worry about needing a bit of extra time to pick up things either, we are all different and some people pick things up super fast (I'm not one of them)

    I like how TP made me think about Russian as well.

  2. Thanks Chris :) Looking forward to reading your take on it.

  3. Ahhh, this is so cool! I remember seeing the memrise blog post when they first planned it and being really disappointed I wouldn't be able to join in (I'm not in the UK at the moment), so it's great to see some information about what happened - and your experiences of it. I'm glad you had such a good time and from what I've seen of your blog, even if you're not the fastest language learner in the world, you're certainly consistent and resilient, which I think are really important traits when it comes to language learning.

    I particularly liked what you wrote about this: "Perhaps because of the intense nature of the course my brain was just reverting back to the foreign language it knew best?" I find this too; it's like your brain goes into 'foreign language mode' and then when it's stuck it just fumbles for a word from the language you know best. So strange!

    Anyway, the best of luck with your other language-learning endeavours! I look forward to reading more about them here :)

    - Charlotte

    1. Thank you for reading, and leaving such a lovely comment Charlotte :) was definitely an interesting experience! Sorry you weren't able to take part, but if you're interested in learning Toki Pona the book is quite simple to understand, and there's always the memrise courses to help! I'm quite intrigued by Dothraki atm, (I love Game of Thrones!), so that may be next on my list! :)