This is a review of the following by Linda Meniku and Hector Campos published by the University of Wisconsin Press (2011) and available through Amazon.com:
* Discovering Albanian 1 Textbook
* Discovering Albanian 1 Workbook
* Discovering Albanian 1 Audio Supplement
In short: These are the instructional materials that students of the Albanian language (a small but enthusiastic group!) have been waiting for. The authors and the University of Wisconsin Press should be thanked for this professional, well produced material offered at a reasonable price.
The course will prepare the student to deal with realistic, everyday situations (talking about yourself, shopping, ordering in restaurants, making travel arrangements, locating an apartment, etc.) in Albanian-speaking communities in the Balkans and elsewhere. Almost all basic structures of "Standard Albanian" are introduced in the Textbook's 18 lessons, three of which are for review. Each of the 15 non-review lessons consists of several rather long dialogues and a reading passage. Succinct and clear grammatical explanations with examples, charts, and a variety of short comprehension and grammar exercises reinforce and expand on the points introduced in the dialogues and readings. The exercises demand progressively more from the student, beginning with comprehension and leading to active use. A fair amount of information is introduced about Albanian history, geography, and culture in the Albanian-language readings. Most lessons end with an "Informacione Kulturore" section, which provides additional information in English about the topic discussed in the lesson. Comprehensive grammatical charts, answer keys for the exercises, and an Albanian-English vocabulary list are included at the end of the Textbook.
The exercises in the Workbook offer substantially more opportunities to the student to practice and actively generate the material presented in the corresponding Textbook lesson. Crossword puzzles (admittedly not up to New York Times standard!) from Lesson 7 onwards provide additional grammar and vocabulary practice, including correct orthography. They are a welcome break from let's-fill-in-another-blank exercises.
The Audio Supplement consists of two 75-minute CDs. The dialogues and readings are recorded on the first one at a "normal" speed that I think most students will find quite challenging, at least initially. The vocabulary items for each lesson are recorded on the second; I don't think this is so helpful. Clearly, oral/aural practice in the classroom - for those lucky enough to find an Albanian class - will be essential.
According to the introduction, Discovering Albanian 1 was tested at Arizona State University's Critical Language Institute summer program and at the University of Tirana. Based, I assume, on this experience, the authors claim that the material "is intended to be covered in sixty to eighty hours." Frankly, I think that would quite a remarkable course, though one I might not wish to be enrolled in. Discovering Albanian 1 presents more than enough material for a demanding, first-year university course meeting four or five times a week: some 2,500 vocabulary items with few cognates; six classes of verb conjugations with plenty of exceptions; a complex case structure; and exotic features such as "clitic doubling" and linking articles that must agree in gender, case, number, and definiteness with noun to which they are linked. I'll take my hat off to a student who can get all this down in only 60-80 classroom hours.
I hope that the promised "intermediate" Discovering Albanian course, which I understand is under development, spirals back to review and reinforce what was introduced in this demanding introductory program in addition to covering the more exotic features of Albanian (desiderative and exclamative mood, possessive forms, word formation, major differences between Gheg and Tosk, etc.).
The course introduces "Standard Albanian," which is an agreed-upon mixture of the Tosk and Gheg dialects. It is most typically found in written texts, news broadcasts, and similar more "formal" situations. Students of "Standard Albanian" may be forgiven if they sometimes wonder if Albanians actually speak Albanian; the two dialects and their subdialects are alive and well in the spoken language. Gheg and its subdialects present special difficulties, which the authors attempt to flag when the dialect(s) differ significantly from Tosk-based "Standard Albanian." However, those working with Albanian speakers in northern Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the Presevo Valley and southern Sandzak in Serbia may wish to consider two short supplementary texts: A Course in Geg Albanian (Dunwoody Press, 2006) by Chris Hughes; and/or a Gheg Albanian Reader (Dunwoody Press, 2008) by Linda Meniku, one of the authors of Discovering Albanian. Both must be ordered directly from the publisher (dunwoodypress.com), which does not distribute through Amazon.
Upon completion of Discovering Albanian 1, the student should be able to achieve a speaking/reading score of A2/B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference scale (A1-C2); or a S-1+/R-2 on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale (0-5) most widely used in the U.S. This is good progress, but leaves most unedited material out-of-reach. So, pending publication of the next volume in the Discovering Albanian series, I suggest for follow-on study:
* Albanian Newspaper Reader (Dunwoody Press, 1998), by David Cox
* Many of the articles on sq.wikipedia.org should be readable with use of a dictionary
* Many of the 250+ Albanian-language articles on the Global Language Online Support System ([...]) should also be accessible. GLOSS reading and listening lessons are based on authentic materials (articles, TV reports, radio broadcasts, etc.) and consist of four to six activities.
Those interested in a less thorough introduction to the language may want to wait for the publication of the authors' Colloquial Albanian (Routledge) course later in 2012. It will replace Isa Zymberi's Colloquial Albanian (Routledge, 1991), which remains serviceable, particularly for those working in Kosovo.