Learn Samoan Online (plus, How to Train Google to Translate Samoan)

[If you invest in this Samoan Language coursebook by Galumalemana Afeleti Hunkin, a small percentage of your purchase will also help support One Samoana].

Happy Samoan Language Week!

To celebrate, I’m posting here something I shared in a recent Notebook Samoana newsletter. I love that the number one request I get from our readers is, “Please help me learn our language!” 

We’re working on it :). 

In the meantime, other amazing Samoans have developed some great online tools for keeping the Samoan language alive. Check them out here.

Learn Samoan Online

[Originally posted on 30 April 2016, in Issue #4 of Notebook Samoana]

You already know that most online resources for Samoan language are not great. Like this site that says we have 26 letters in our alphabet.

First of all, our Pi Samoa only has 17 letters (a e i o u f g l m n p s t v h k r, the last 3 are borrowed) and second, when you want to actually speak a new language, who cares about the alphabet?

Think about it. By the time children learn their alphabets, they’re already pretty fluent communicators.

You want to start with useful words and phrases. Practice pronouncing them correctly and learn to recognize when other people are saying them.

It’s how we teach babies to talk, right? Listen and speak. Listen and speak. Listen and speak. Practice, practice, practice.

Those spelling, grammar and other language rules can come later… like when we want to start writing essays or something.

But what happens when we’re not surrounded by fluent Samoan speakers who can spare the time to coach us?

That’s the million dollar question.

Online language learning is big business in our ever-shrinking world because it’s often not possible to get physically immersed in the cultures we want to learn. And who’s got time to take an actual class?

But it’s also a HUGE job to put together a half-decent language course… and then to make it digital and interactive?

Until Duolingo does a Google and picks up the Samoan language, I just want to give props to everyone making a real effort to teach and promote our beautiful language online.

We’ve still a ways to go, but some of these digital resources are not too bad, already. Here are my favourites, so far (that are FREE):

  • Digital Dialects has a Samoan section, with some amusingly realistic audio by Papali’i Taouma and Darryl Laumua. Introduce yourself to basic words and phrases and then play simple matching games to learn them. The games can go on for a while before you – finally! – get to the end, but that’s good for really drilling in new words… plus the interaction beats reading a dictionary, right? From this site, I learned how to spell the word ‘komepiuta’ (computer). Yay!
  • Samoan Language 101A [YouTube clip by Lloyd Togisala] is a decent introduction to pronouncing Samoan words. Our narrator talks about the ‘g/ng’ sound, glottal stops and macrons, then provides some common phrases for practice. He also explains our more casual pronunciations (like using k for t) then gives us a little quiz at the end. The guy’s Samoan accent leans towards American at times, but his pronunciations are still accurate. This clip is a great place to start learning how to sound Samoan.
  • Saolelei.com‘s Samoan language course is not exactly free, and the site is not very user friendly or… pretty. But it still made my list because I really like the audio recordings on there. If you just scroll through the course preview (the navigation buttons are right at the bottom of each page) and use the soundbites to practice the sample phrases – like, “O fea latou matua?” – you should be able to pick up some pretty useful language, even without paying the $99 a year to subscribe. (Mind you, I’m not even sure if that offer is still valid. The site doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while. Hmmm…)

If you know of any other free but decent Samoan language resources online, please tell us in a comment below.

Coaching Google Translate

So you know how Google speaks Samoan now? It does a pretty great job of it, but it’s far from perfect.

Did you know we can help it speak better Samoan?

Just type in something you want to translate, then if you think: aaaaaactually, I would have said that a whole other way… then just click the little pencil icon in the corner of the box to suggest your own translation.

improve translation

If we all keep coaching the Google Translate tool, someday… it might even speak better Samoan than me.

(Gosh, lets hope not. I better keep practicing…)

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Known offline as Lillian (Lils, Lei'a) Arp, Hamo Geek Girl is just learning what it means to be Samoan. When she's not here, she's over at Manaui: Savour Oceania mostly talking about her other favourite topic: Food!

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