When you’re learning a language, sometimes you are going to encounter difficulties. Ok, maybe not sometimes, but often. Or very often. Don’t even try to fight it, because that’s just the way it is. You have to accept it, work harder than you have, and hope that you will – sooner or later – get this damn thing into your head.

My Marshallese-learning adventure is much like the (not-so-Pacific) ocean. It has its ebbs and flows, whether I like it or not. One day everything comes to me without the slightest effort, the next I struggle with every single word or phrase I see. It’s a continuous cycle of ups and downs. And, in case you haven’t already guessed, I’m having a bit of a “down” moment right now.

Two weeks ago I learnt about “there is/ there are” phrases. Nothing complicated you would think. I thought so, too. But then I saw the words. The words that start with “e” (or “j”), look quite similar, and mean basically the same thing. Well, ok, they don’t really mean the same thing, but you know what I’m trying to tell you here.

The words I’m talking about are the Marshallese equivalent of the English “there are many”, “there are some”, “there are few”, “there is enough”, “there is not enough”, “there are none left”, etc. They are not easy to memorize! It has taken me nearly three weeks to hammer them into my head, and even now I occasionally mix them up. And the worst is, I have no idea why!

I see the difference – because there is a big difference – between “a few”, “few”, “many”, “some”, “enough”, etc. But remembering which Marshallese word means what turned out to be a lot (that would be “eḷap” I think; I’m not sure if I can use this word in this particular sense) harder than I had imagined. Especially, that you actually have – wait for it – two sets of words. Yes, two.

If you want to say “There are no coconuts left” for example – so if you want to use the phrase “there is / are” – you need the words that go at the beginning of the sentence. The choice is plentiful. You have “elukkuun lōñ”, which means “there are many”. You have “ebooḷ”, which also means “there are many”. And you have “elōñ”, which occasionally means – surprise, surprise – “there are many”. I do believe I can use them interchangeably, but I am not 100 per cent sure. Of course, there’s more. There’s “eiiet” [“there are few”], and “edik” [“there’s not very much”], and “ebwe” [“there is / are enough”], and “ejabwe” [“there is / are not enough”], and a few others I’m not even gonna mention here.

So that was the first set. The second one consists of the words we put in the middle of the sentence, for instance to say “I saw a few sharks”. And now the real fun starts, because in a sentence like this you can’t use the words from the first set! At least not always. Complicated, isn’t it? I know. I’m still trying hard to remember that “eiiet” = “there are few” and “jejjo” = “few”. Or that “eḷap” means both “there’s a lot” and “a lot of”.

Now, I have to make a confession here. The reason for not being able to learn these words may be the fact that… I haven’t really learnt them. So why am I nagging then, right? Some time ago I read about Spaced Repetition System and I fell in love with it. It uses flashcards (organised into a box), which you revise at strategically spaced intervals. I’ve been trying this method out for the last month, and I can already see the results. Instead of learning the new words I simply revise them; every single day. And I know that after a (shorter or longer) while they will stuck in my head. Normally it’s a “shorter while”; short even. But in the case of these words…

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I’m having a lot of problems with a few words. How would I say this in Marshallese???

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