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‘What a dolt one is’: language learning and fieldwork in geography

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This paper discusses aspects of the theory and practice of foreign language learning for fieldwork in geography, a rarely discussed set of issues despite the personal investment that language learning requires from the researcher. In some cases of cross-cultural research, it may be particularly desirable to learn a vernacular language for which there are few (or no) study aids. However, there is little guidance about how learning such a language should be approached, or discussion of its significance for the subsequent research. Through a discussion of personal experience in Ethiopia, the paper describes one way of learning a vernacular language, and explores the advantages that this brought to the fieldwork and to the resulting research understandings.

Keywords: Ethiopia; cross-cultural research; fieldwork; language learning

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 2EN, Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2004


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