Waazhi Anishinaabemiin

Tips, on how to speak the language

1. Commitment – Want

Know your motivation, if you don’t have a good reason to learn the language, you are less likely to stay motivated over the long-run.

“OK, I want to learn this and I’m therefore going to do as much as I can in this language, with this language and for this language.”


2. Find a partner

Keep each other motivated, to push one another to really go for it. You have someone from whom you can speak to, and that’s the idea behind learning a language.


3. Talk to yourself

When you have no one to speak to, there’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself. Speaking to yourself is a great way to practice if you’re not able to use it all the time. This can keep new words and phrases fresh in your head. It helps build your confidence for the next time you speak with someone.


4. Keep it relevant

Talking to people is one of the best ways to learn a language, because it keeps the learning process relevant to you. You’re learning a language to be able to use it. You’re not going to speak it only to yourself. Being able to put the anishinaabe language into a more useful, general everyday setting, talking to fluent speaking family members, co-workers, visitors or at the store or at a restaurant.


5. Make it Fun – Have fun with it

Using the anishinaabe language in any way is a creative act. You can write and record songs. Think of some fun ways to practice the anishinaabe language, do plays, use puppets, draw comic strips, write poems, or just talk to whomever you can. If you can’t find a way to have fun with the anishinaabe language, chances are you haven’t followed step 4. Anishinaabemowin is fun, that’s why when you see fluent speakers speak, they are always laughing too.


6. Accept that you will be making mistakes – Act like a child

Try to learn the way kids do. The key to learning as quickly as a child may be to simply take on certain childlike attitudes. For instance, lack of self-consciousness, a desire to play in the language and the willingness to make mistakes. We learn by making mistakes. As kids, we are expected to make mistakes, but as adults, mistakes are taboo. Think how an adult is more likely to say, “I can’t” rather than, “I haven’t learned that yet”, or “I can’t swim, I can’t drive, I can’t speak anishinaabemowin”. To be seen as failing or struggling, is a social taboo that doesn’t burden children. When it comes to learning the language, admitting that you don’t know everything and being okay with that is the key to growth and freedom. Let go of your grown-up inhibitions.


7. Leave your comfort zone

Willingness to make mistakes means being ready to put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations, it’s the only way to develop and improve. No matter how much you learn, you won’t ever speak the language without putting yourself out there. Talk to strangers in the language, ask for directions, order food or try telling a joke. The more often you do this, the bigger your comfort zone becomes and the more at ease you can be in new situations.


8. Listen

You must learn to listen before you can speak. The more exposed you are to the language, the more familiar it becomes, and the easier it is to speak it properly. We are able to pronounce anything, it’s just that we’re not used to doing it. In our Anishinaabe language we have the nasal sounds (nh, mb, nj, nd) and the (ew) sound as in mewzha and the guttural sound (g’k/ghk) as in mag’kii, don’t exist in the English language. The best way to go about mastering these sounds is to hear it constantly, to listen to it and to visualize or imagine how they are supposed to be pronounced, because for every sound there is a specific part of the mouth, nose and throat that we use in order to achieve that sound.

Listen for tones in the language, as the fluent speak may lower or raise his/her voice to change the meaning of that word that was spoken.


9. Watch others talk

Learning to speak the anishinaabe language requires different demands on your tongue, lips, nose and throat. Pronunciation is just as much physical as it is mental.

Really look at someone while they are saying words that use that sound and then try to imitate that sound as much as possible. It might be difficult at the beginning, but you will, it’s something that is actually quite easily done, you just need to practice.

Another thing to watch for is the movements made by the speaker. What is the speaker doing while speaking? Is the speaker gesturing with his/her lips or is the speaker pointing or handing you something. The language contains many demonstrative adverbs where an action helps define that word. Also, who is the speaker (niin) talking to, you (kiin) or him/her (wiin), who is around the speaker or who are they talking about, is that person away from the speaker, who is the speaker gesturing to (pointing at). Anishinaabemowin is a visual language, the subject at hand is important, be it a living thing or a non-living thing.


10. Dive in

No matter which learning tool you use, it’s crucial to practice the anishinaabe language every single day and immerse yourself. Absorb as much as possible right from the start and try to use it throughout the day. As time goes on, try to think in it, sound it out to yourself and practice what you learned. Surround yourself, submerge yourself in the language is extremely important.

The best possible outcome of speaking the language is for people to speak back to you. Being able to have a simple conversation is a huge reward in itself. Reaching milestones like that early on will make it easier to stay motivated and keep practicing. Don’t worry about annoying people by speaking the language poorly or if they laugh. If you preface any interaction with, “I’m learning and I’d like to practice…”, most people will be patient, encouraging and happy to oblige. Remember, anishinaabemowin is fun, there is lots of laughter in the language and it’s good medicine and for fluent speakers, they are happy to hear someone speaking the language. A first speaker in the language would rather speak in the language, if given a choice.


11. Reading and writing comes last

Trying to impose anishinaabemowin into English grammar will never work. We can fit English grammar into anishinaabemowin, such as, what are nouns and verbs and so on. Anishinaabemowin is an oral language, it was never written before. Our words have been shortened due to the presence of the English language and its writing system, which has been formulated through their own way of thinking and reasoning. In the process, we have dropped many of our vowels and consonants that were in our words. We still haven’t come to a consensus on how to write our language, is it Fiero or Rhodes or Fiero/Rhodes? To that effect, we argue on which writing system is the best.

We have our own rules to speak the language, first and foremost, “Pane e`zhi kidang”, “How it’s always been said”. This has been passed down from generation to generation. Our way of thinking, our philosophy, plays an important part on how we speak and view the world. You want to be thinking maaba or maanda, instead of animate or inanimate.

If you are committed to speak the language, you don’t want to concern yourself about reading and writing or grammar, because at the end, you want the language to come out spontaneously, correct and to be understood.