10 days milestone [Toki-pona]

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Celebrate a milestone

It’s only been 10 days since I decided to learn Toki-pona. Perfect time for a first summary.

An easy language?

Toki-pona reminds me in many ways of my classical Chinese studies. Both in form and in content. It has a very wide range of meaning in the form of suitcase words, structuring particles, minimalism and synthetism of expression. Toki-pona is an impressionistic and poetic language by design.

It is said here and there that in 30 days a learner is able to read and write the language. This is probably indeed the case. Of course, if the memory is not so much in demand, it still requires a certain intellectual investment. But after 10 days, I am surprisingly able to follow any conversation on a forum, as long as the context is clear. Context is the whole point of communication in Toki Pona.

The next step

I now see two big new steps to take:

  1. Become familiar with the grammar and, especially, the way sentences are formed. Indeed, the language is simplicity-oriented and the somewhat rudimentary but very effective grammar invites to break down ideas and organize them into small simple units. This requires gymnastics of the mind and I have the feeling that this effort can bring unsuspected benefits that go beyond the purely linguistic framework. Wait and see…
  2. Getting to understand something by listening. For now, I must say that I don’t understand a word. In fact, I understand all the words but I haven’t yet acquired the quickness of mind to make sense of them as a whole. During my Chinese studies in Paris, several years went by without me being able to immerse myself in a language bath. All this time, I was unable to follow a real spoken conversation. Until I went to live in Taiwan and everything was unblocked in a few weeks.

I now realize that of all the teaching resources available on Toki-pona, the vast majority are based on the content of Sonja Lang’s original book: grammar and vocabulary. No conversation method has been produced to my knowledge. I think that this has a negative impact on the development of the language. Without it, I think that most of us will not be able to get past the initial learning and turn it into linguistic skills.

The most suitable method for personal learning (not in a classroom context) is, in my opinion, the Pimsleur method. I have tried it on several occasions and its effectiveness is amazing. For those who do not know, it is a method entirely based on oral comprehension and immediate reformulation of the given material.

The big difference

When I start learning a language, I get stressed. The reason for this? Thousands of questions arise in my head and end up burying me and stifling my motivation. In fact, the problem is that we often don’t see the end of what we’re learning: verb conjugation, declension, all kinds of exceptions, tenses, gender, modes… and then there’s the vocabulary and culture(s). A bottomless pit.

Here, you can see from the start the boundaries of what you have to learn. In fact, as Jan Misali says, vocabulary and grammar fit on a double-sided page. Psychologically, this is very comfortable. And this comfort makes all the difference.

Some idiomatic expressions

It is satisfying to improvise, on the fly, a word association and find that this is the expression actually used by the majority. The idea of learning a language without having to learn the vocabulary makes sense. But, naturally, over the years, a rather well established lexicon of word associations has been formed. Although it is by no means set in stone, it is still good to know the words frequently used in the community to avoid being left behind. For the beginner that I am, these are not necessarily easy to catch.

My survival kit

Here are a few, I don’t intend to make an exhaustive list or anything but as I came across them recently, maybe they will be useful to whoever comes across this page.

keeping a conversation alive
ken la maybe
lon a of course
kin la moreover
mi pakala! I’m sorry!
mi pona ala I don’t understand.
sina ken ala ken can you…?
kepeken tenpo mute slowly
Listen,… (Look,…) o kute (o lukin)
awen + Verb still (in the process of) doing something
Some related sentences
ken la sina pona mute ala? Maybe you are not good enough?
lon a, mi kama sina la mi pali ala e ni. Yep, if I were you, I wouldn’t do it.
kili li pona. kin la ni li sijelo pona. Fruits are good and moreover healthy.
sina ken ala ken toki kepeken tenpo mute? Can you speak slowly, please?
o kute, mi pilin ante tan sina. Listen, I don’t agree with you.
tenpo suno la sina pona lukin kin. Your are looking great today!
mi awen kama sona e toki pona. I am still learning Toki-pona.
Common words
ma ko Earth
ma kasi park, garden
tomo tawa (+linja) (+kon) car (train) (plane)
ma tomo city
tomo suno school
tomo telo bathroom
tomo lape bedroom
toki musi joke
sitelen tawa movie
kon mini definition
Tech stuff
ilo sona computer
lipu tuwita twitter
kulupu pi ilo sona internet
musi game
kalama musi music
yutu Youtube
lipu website
ilo toki phone
Some verbs
kama jo to find
alasa to search
pana pona to help
pona x tawa y to give s.th to s.o
pali to do
awen sona to remember
weka e ike to forgive
wile pali lon tenpo pini to regret (things that one didn’t do)
wile weka e pali pini to regret (things one did)
tawa tan to flee

I’m sure you could come up with a quartet of synonyms for these, so feel free to be creative, but keep in mind that in the heat of a discussion, it can be difficult for the other person to pick up on the wacky stuff.

Tools and resources

With 20 years of development, Toki-pona has a huge variety of resources and tools for learning. The commitment of the community to facilitate the learning and the development of the language is remarkable. In fact, there are so many resources that it can be daunting. Here are the ones I’ve used over the past 10 days.

And of course, the communities on Reddit, Discord and Telegram. You may see me there from time to time, don’t hesitate to say hi!

mi tawa,

Jan Pitaki