Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Book review: Discovering Albanian by Linda Mëniku and Héctor Campos

Mirëmbrëma and welcome to my first ever book review.

So, Discovering Albanian 1. I must say that this is one of the best resources out there for almost complete beginners, and one of the few textbooks that are available for English speakers.
The biggest pro of it is that it comes with a workbook and an audio recording of all dialogues, readings and new words. So if you're a grammar geek that loves the old fashioned way of writing and correcting yourself, then this book is great for you. Plus, there is a Memrise course available for it that consists of all the 1850 words in the books, as I already mentioned in this post.

I started it as almost beginner, with no formal background in the language, except few expressions/words that I heard and knew from the Albanians around me. Now, I'm going over it for the third time (once reading only, once with the dialogues and now with the workbook, although I still haven't finished it as I don't have time). I've supplemented the words with another Memrise course, the 763 most popular Albanian words. I'll be honest with you - that book is good if you know the grammatical structure of a language close to Albanian, which is... pretty much none of the existing ones. What I mean is that you'll most probably go over it a few times, if you start from the scratch like I did.

There are two huge problems I've discovered and encountered with the Albanian books for English speakers. The first one is that there are no structured resources available after A2 level (when you finish the first level books) - they're either grammars, which require you to do extra research, or put too much information in a rather concise paragraph,, or Albanian schoolbooks, which require you to have reading knowledge in order to understand. Or you can discover whatever you want yourself by searching about it in grammars/reading in Albanian/watching TV etc.

The other big problem is that the book are not suitable for complete self-study beginners - not that you can't try it, it's just that the material goes forward rather fast. To gasp all aspects of something you have to practice it, but when practising, you encounter new and new grammar. Probably because these books are made to be taught by a real teacher. For example, I still struggle with the past tenses because they're structured in the book one after the other with not enough exercises to practice and learn the irregular forms of one, before jumping to the next.

Sneak peak at what's on the book as content: all the cases, definite/plural forms of nouns, linking articles, adjectives (both classes), the 6 verb classes, verb tenses: present, present subjunctive, present continuous, future, imperative, past, imperfect, imperfect subjunctive and present perfect, present perfect subjunctive, pluperfect, future perfect, numbers, direct/indirect pronouns, commonly used prepositions, impersonal forms, passive forms, possessives. Probably I'm missing something too, but it does cover a huge part of the basics and the language itself. The problem is that you may have it as theory, but putting it into practice is another topic.

Putting the too much grammar issue, the book gives a clear understanding of at least the most common verbs, nouns and so on, with real life situations that will help you for example to book a room in a hotel, to buy fruits and vegetables from the market, to ask for a different size shoes in the shop... what I really enjoyed is that after each chapter there is a cultural info about Albania, which I found really educating and it prompted me to research topics I liked myself. There is also a concise grammar at the end of the book that I still use as a reference point, as it's written in tables, so the information you're looking for it's easy to find.

There are a few exercises after each grammar point/reading/dialogue (usually there are 2 grammar points in a chapter, and 2 dialogues, plus at least 1 reading later on), which have their answers at the end of the book, so you can try yourself and then correct the answers. The textbook has even more for further practice.

The audio is nice, they speak rather slowly and clearly, so you can hear all the sounds. It becomes "more natural" when the book goes on, but I've learned that trying to imitate the natives' accent always helps. So try to learn the new words and read out loud with the speaker, it helps a lot. I've found that in an isolated environment (i.e. any, except if you're living in either Albania or Kosovo - the Albanians abroad tend to live in a community and know each other, rarely speak very well any other language, let alone more than one, plus I have no idea why, but it makes them have a really low opinion of you if you say you're from the Balkans and you're a girl; I've also seen [or rather, heard on the street] only 2 Albanian girls for almost 3 years and a half, and lots and lots of guys. Maybe it's just me, but that's a topic for another discussion), the "imitation" of their accent is the one that helps you the most to learn to pronounce words correctly, as there is nobody to correct you all the time, or you have really little chance to speak to anyone, unless you're having many Albanian friends. In this way you get used to the sounds, the letters, how the language sounds with the stresses (you start guessing them right after a while).

I'll be honest with you - the last chapter has 3 writing excercises to fill in the gaps, one for nouns/adjectives, one for verbs, one for pronouns, which I still haven't done, as I didn't feel like I had the right knowledge back then. As I mentioned, I still haven't finished my third time with that book, so probably now I'll be able to make them in an ok way. The thing is that everytime you go over that book, you continue to learn new and new things. So you have to be really determined and patient, because the more you know, the easier it becomes.

Now, people study in a different way - I'm the old-fashioned student that loves to read, write and gasp all the grammar aspects, in order to start writing and speaking. I have to know WHY - and I ask questions that sometimes are hard to explain/understand even for natives, I have a talent. If you're the other type that just listens a lot and can say lots of different combinations of the words they know, even if they're not many, then learn in your own way. I've always been awful for learning vocabulary unless I put it in context, so I gave up on the latter way a long, long time ago.

That's it for now, hope it's not that bad.

Faleminderit për vëmendjen, mirupafshim!


  1. Hey! Join the club!!!
    the book is really good, I've finished it too. Agree with you on all the points. Now we are on our own.... Hector Campos promised "Advancing in Albanian" , which is discovering Albanian 2, to be pressed this January, but I cannot find it. I emailed him. Yes, I am crazy for Albanian:))
    The problem I have, I am socially isolated... I live in New York, but... I know no one Albanian.... Online... they seem to me a kind of a very closed community... I am already thinking about having an imaginary Albanian friend:)))
    we will not give up!

    1. Hey, thank you for your comment. I hope they publish another book too, as the resources are rather scarce. I'd recommend you "Colloquial Albanian - A Complete Course for Beginners" by the same authors, if you haven't checked it out already. It covers similar things, so that is more practice, but there are also a few different grammar points that they discuss. Learning Albanian is pretty much mixing and matching, so there is always something new to learn.

      As for the Albanians - try joining some learners' groups online (mainly on Facebook, if you use it), they usually are more "friendly" towards each other, you can meet other learners, and Albanians willing to help you learn too, plus they tend to share resources there. The real-life ones abroad are rather closed community, you're right - but on the other hand, if you know one, you could meet everyone else.

      Hope that helps, and good luck!