Embarking on a volunteer journey through Birthright Armenia offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the Armenian culture and gain a better grasp of the Armenian language. For participants with limited knowledge of Armenian, learning while volunteering can be both challenging and rewarding. Here, we bring you a compilation of valuable tips and firsthand experiences from two Birthright Armenia volunteers, Garren and Taylor, who successfully navigated their language-learning journey in Armenia.
1. Embrace Language Classes
"The simplest tip I can offer is to go to class,” Garren advises right off the bat! Birthright Armenia provides free language classes twice a week, enabling volunteers to achieve basic conversational proficiency. These classes offer tailored workbooks and exercises that help build vocabulary and comprehension skills. Garren emphasizes the importance of completing every exercise, copying down vocabulary, and actively participating in class discussions.
2. Embrace Repetition and Consistency
Taylor underscores the importance of repetition and consistency in language learning. Even with basic words and phrases, repeating them countless times aids in mastery. “When you learn a new word, use it as many times as you can in that same day, so it sticks,” Taylor recommends. Consistent practice, whether through conversation, reading, or writing, solidifies knowledge and facilitates progress.
3. Download and use AYOlingo
AYOlingo, a dedicated language learning app developed by Birthright Armenia, serves as an excellent supplementary tool. Garren finds it helpful to use the app during downtime, keeping a notebook nearby to jot down new vocabulary. However, he emphasizes that AYOlingo should be complemented with speaking, reading, and writing practice to reinforce learning effectively.
Garren says there are tons of other free resources online for Eastern Armenian online for English, French, and Russian speakers (but particularly English speakers). Download and find textbooks, poems, songs, movies, podcasts - anything that gives you exposure to the language. “Doing writing exercises all day can be boring, so I’ve taken to finding Armenian music online and printing the lyrics to sing along to. Discotchari has some of the best music, and it is freely available on YouTube,” Garren explains.
4. Advocate for Yourself
Garren emphasizes the importance of making the most of your learning experience. Don't hesitate to have discussions with your teacher to tailor lessons according to your learning style. Birthright Armenia teachers are receptive and flexible, willing to accommodate volunteers' preferences. Advocating for yourself ensures that the learning process aligns with your needs and maximizes your progress.
5. Break Free from the "Bubble"
To truly immerse oneself in the Armenian culture and language, Garren advises volunteers to avoid relying solely on fellow volunteers for communication. Building relationships with locals is key to enhancing language skills and gaining a deeper understanding of the country and its culture. “Talk to strangers in Armenian. That way, if you say something embarrassing, you can just leave and never see them again,” Taylor jokes.
Even when surrounded by friends, make an effort to communicate in Armenian as frequently as possible. Taylor also suggests maintaining a journal in Armenian, providing an opportunity to practice writing and reinforce vocabulary.
6. Embrace Failure and Persevere
Learning a new language involves being vulnerable and accepting constant failure. Garren affirms that despite any mistakes or missteps, it's essential to keep practicing and pushing forward. “It’s uncomfortable, difficult, and time-consuming, but learning a new language is incredibly rewarding,” he says. Overcoming discomfort, difficulty, and the time-consuming nature of language learning ultimately leads to an incredibly rewarding experience of human connection through communication. “Speak as often as possible, even if others don't initially understand you,” Taylor adds.
Learning the Armenian language while volunteering in Armenia is an enriching experience. By combining the resources provided by Birthright Armenia, like attending language classes and utilizing the AYOlingo app, while exploring online resources and building relationships with locals, volunteers like Garren and Taylor demonstrate that acquiring a new language is both achievable and rewarding.
With dedication, an open mind, and a willingness to embrace the journey, volunteers can make significant strides in their language proficiency, deepening their cultural understanding and forging meaningful connections in Armenia and in their communities.