Monday, August 10, 2009

I went to Quebec City

... and now I'm hooked on French again!

It was amazing to be surrounded once again by a language other than English! My mind loves working constantly to solve the word-puzzles. Also fascinating to me was being able to actually see myself build from the ground up. The more words I acquired during my four-ish days there, the more I had in my artillery for figuring out new words from context. It builds slowly, sloooooowly, slooooooooooooooowly upon itself, but it does go up.

I don't think anyone else on the trip was as fixated on the street signs, restaurant menus, and conversation snippets as I was.

This actually means that I am not going to Mexico or any other Spanish-speaking country this year. Sad, yes. But I will manage just fine with the Spanish I already have.

More to come! I will upload some pictures with French words in them! Until then, à bientôt et au revoir!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Like stepping into a library

Sometimes, when I start really forcing myself to speak Spanish, I start realizing how much of it I really don't know. Obviously, with more confidence, any language learner will enter into increasingly complex conversations and try to use increasingly complex sentence structures. Why have languages developed to be so complex, you might ask? Well, because certain ways of saying things have certain (different) connotations to them that require slight, subtle, or sometimes not-so-slight-or-subtle alterations of expression. Along the course of learning Spanish, for example, I have evolved to be able to say the same thing, but each time, more specific, with more personality.

Basic textbook Spanish
Tengo hambre.
(I am hungry.)

Slightly more advanced texbook Spanish
Tengo mucha hambre. (I am very hungry.)
Tengo muchísima hambre. (I am very, very hungry.)

Colloquial Spanish
Tengo un montón de hambre. (I am really freaking hungry.)

Colloquial Spanish with a twist of humorous exaggeration
¡Ay dios, me muero de hambre! (Oh my god, I'm dying of hunger!)
¡Tengo tanta hambre que me muero! (I have so much hunger that I'm dying!)

I'm sure that there are some weird sayings that are pretty widely known (except by foreigners) that express hunger without even mentioning it. For example, if I were really, really hungry, I don't think it would be out of the question for me to mumble in English (to myself or to others), "Seriously, I could eat a horse." I'll bet there is something along those lines in Spanish.

To tie this all back in, I think there is the same feeling upon realizing how much I don't know in Spanish as there is upon stepping into a library. I realize, all of a sudden, how much information is in a library, and I start wondering, "What's the point? I'm never going to learn all of this, so why bother?" Entering a library can often be a sobering experience, don't you think? So is stepping forward into a different language, into the jumble and our of your comfort zone. It's scary. It's intimidating. It's embarrassing. It really is.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"E" de "elefante"...

Hola, ladies and gents! I'm writing here to report that not only have I been arduously continuing with my Spanish, I have managed to land a job in a bilingual program in which I will be actually teaching in Spanish. Scared? You bet your carne asada I am! At this point, I have worked on my Spanish for so many, many, many hours, that it really is uncountable.

Today, I called up the headquarters (located in Madrid) for a worldwide language school that teaches Spanish in several different Spanish-speaking countries. I had this moment before the phone call picked up in which I deliberated whether I should immediately break into Spanish or request to speak to someone in English (1) out of fear and laziness and (2) to make sure that I wasn't misunderstanding everything.

The call went like this: It started with a woman picking up and saying, ¡Buenos días! and a few other words that translated roughly into "How can I help you?"... which made me wonder how most people would be able to converse with her in Spanish if they were, in fact, calling about taking classes to learn Spanish. ¿Está Antonio? (Is Antonio there?) I asked her. (Aside: I had spoken with Antonio a few weeks prior, in English no less, about his suggestions concerning which countries and schools had the best programs.) No, he was not, she told me.

So, following her lead, I launched awkwardly into Spanish, explaining what I had already discussed with Antonio. She wound up connecting me with Marco to further help me, and I continued the awkwardness there. Now, I need to stop and make a distinction: At this point, I don't have butterflies in my stomach anymore when I speak on the phone in Spanish. Furthermore, I'm pretty good at holding my own. What kills me, though, is not being able to see the person's face. So much awkwardness (and I really keep using that word since it is the most suitable for my purposes) can be eliminated with a smile, a clarifying gesture, a nod of the head, that is not even remotely possible via the phone. On top of that, I feel that I can pretty accurately tell people what I need, but have an exceedingly difficult time understanding what they are telling me. I would be lying if I told you that, over the phone, I understand more than 75 percent of the things being said to me. A lot of it sounds mumbly-jumbly. The rest I fill in using the context. I had to stop him several times to ask questions and ask him to repeat certain things or explain certain words he used.

Finally, I told him that if he could email me a lot of the information, as he offered, it would clear up any of the things I perhaps didn't hear correctly. He agreed. But wouldn't you know it, I had to spell out my email address over the phone. Now, anyone reading this who has ever picked up a telephone in the North American continent knows how much of a pain in the neck this can be in English. I grew up hearing my mother's side of phone calls, and have adopted her exact wording, "D as in David... E... S as in Sam..."

But now all of a sudden, I was faced with doing this in Spanish. Before I even got to the second letter, the guy interrupted me, requesting that I give him words to clarify the letters. Uh, bueno... K de... K de... (Uh okay, K as in... K as in...) and for the life of me, I could not think of one Spanish word that started with the letter K. He suggested something agreeable, and then it was on to D. Crap, I couldn't think of anything for that letter either! We went on like this for all nine letters, the conversation sounding very much like a kindergarten discussion of "Hey kids, which words start with this letter?!" and me feeling like I could have essentially thrown all nine years of Spanish study down the inodoro (toilet) for this disastrous ineptitude of mine to play the alphabet game.

¡Qué fracaso! (What a failure!)

The only letter that jumped out at me immediately was E de elefante (E for elephant). I think I ought to collect a list of words to use in case this ever happens again.

Oh, and I might be going to study for a week in Mexico. That's why I called in the first place. Ja! Eso me hace super emocionada!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Good podcasts and blog

If you go to the above site and type in a keyword from another language, the search engine will pick up podcasts in that language (provided, of course, that the language you choose can be expressed using the roman alphabet). Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to download these because I have a Mac and that makes everything way harder sometimes. Sometimes, but not always.

This site is excellent if you want Spanish podcasts from Washington D.C. It's a good way for me to keep up with politics. Killing two birds with one stone (man, I hate the mental picture that saying drudges up).

ALSO: I like this guy's blog. A lot. Spanish Only. I don't always agree with him 100 percent (and what fun would that be if I did?), but I love his dedication to the sport: Screw Grammar.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Language guilt

Now, if there's anyone who can tell you about guilt, it's a former Catholic. I won't go messing that topic in with the subject of language learning other than to say that I have noticed in myself and in others a very real shame, embarrassment, and apology-inducing guilt that seems to accompany learning a new language. There are, of course, people who don't feel this way at all, but continue about their way, unabashedly speaking out (grammatically correct or otherwise), and not giving a hoot about who hears them make mistakes or not. I envy these people.

For many of us, however (myself included), not being able to express ourselves as we would like in our second languages can become a frustrating ordeal fraught with disclaimers, self-put-downs, and "I'm-sorry"s. How many times, for example, have you heard someone tell you, "I very sorry, my English not so good." Why are we so sorry?

Last weekend, after a very long trip to Maine and back, I could barely manage to keep myself awake, but I had to buy groceries to be prepared for the coming week. I went into Trader Joe's and, in the process of talking to many of my native Spanish-speaking co-workers, I found myself flailing and failing hopelessly to tell them about my trip. I didn't know the words for "canoe," "paddle," "oar," and a few others. Furthermore, words in Spanish were simply not coming quickly enough to my brain. I was caught in a sea of ahhhs, uuuuuuhs and ummms that washed over my speech repeatedly, like water lapping up over someone's face as they struggle to tread water. My friends are always nice, patient, and helpful, but a few of them kind of chuckled at my fight with the language. One even asked me what happened to my Spanish. Que te paso, Kristy? No has estado practicando? ("What happened to you, Kristy? You haven't been practicing?")

But I have. I told him. I've been practicing everyday. Reading, writing, listening, speaking... all of it. I had no good answer for him, except for apologies and self-degrading words about my declining abilities to express myself. One guy even tried to tell me something three times, and I couldn't tell if he was making a statement or asking me a question. I finally had to tell him to give up what he wanted to tell me because my brain wasn't processing Spanish very well.

I felt stupid, verbally clumsy, and, worst of all, personally responsible for my utter failure.

When I stopped to realize all that I can do, all that I can say in Spanish, and all of the friendships and interactions I have been a part of because of knowing all that I know, it seemed stupid to feel stupid. It's not my first language, for goodness sake! All of a sudden, I became acutely aware of this phenomenon. It is so strange to really think that the trials of language learning so often take on a weight of personal responsibility.

To illustrate further, I had one teacher in college who used to remark after we came to class late or didn't do our homework, "Y'all may not think I take it personal... but it's personal." He felt personally hurt when we didn't put in our effort into his class. Perhaps he thought it reflected on his teaching. To me, it seemed very clear that it wasn't his problem, but belonged to the people who didn't make a point to be on-time or ready for class.

And perhaps we shouldn't be taking it personally either when we don't conjugate a word correctly; when our native accents tarnish our attempts at pronunciation, when we can't think of anything else to say except, "good, thanks"; when we fail to remember the word for a ordinary, everyday object; or, heck, when we never knew that word in the first place. Could I maybe have studied more, practiced more, sought out more interaction? Sure, I'll bet I could have. But... life is too short to feel bad about things like that. It really is.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I feel bad calling myself a Polyglot...

... before it is even true. Especially when I see this dude's page: Omniglot blog.

Humbling. Very humbling.

I feel more like a poly-not.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sabes, me muero de ganas de volver a Madrid...

That reads: "You know, I'm dying to go back to Madrid..."

I am.

I just wrote an email to a friend, which certainly is language practice, although I would be lying horrifically if I told you that I didn't spend too long on it. I spend as much energy crafting a letter in Spanish as it would have taken me to fix up a cover letter for a school district that I'm applying for. I guess we all pick what's important to us, don't we?

At any rate, I also would like to report that I became absolutely fixated with belting out this Juanes song at the top of my lungs all the way to and from work today. I just discovered it on my iPod, and I'm not sure how it got there, although I have my guesses. It taught me two new words. Hoorah!

And, if you've ever even had like, two classes of Spanish in your lifetime, you will enjoy this video: Qué Hora Es?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Podcasts en español

I am right now listening to some podcasts on this lovely website (I am listening to el Bloguipodio) and am pretty happy to report that I really can understand nearly everything, save a few words. In fact, I am typing and listening at the same time, and still getting a lot of it. Multi-tasking! That must be a good sign.

I decided to follow the advice of one of the blogs that I have been reading, which is to get more input in Spanish. Of course, I am not getting any better if I am talking to myself in the car. I can only improve the fluidity with which I speak the words, phrases, grammatical structures that I already know, but I can't add anything to that, to my skills, without input from native speakers. And, hey, if I'm not getting enough of that in real life, then I need to find it elsewhere. This seems like a fun way to get my news and keep me up-to-date with things that are happening in the world, while at the same time, becoming exposed to some really rich and topic-specific vocabulary.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

¡He vuelto! I'm back!

It's been a rough semester with student teaching. I think about things I could post practically every day, but haven't for a while. I guess I'm a little discouraged with my Spanish. I've been finding it very hard to articulate myself these days. Not sure why... but I've been reading a lot, so that's good.

I would like to dive in head-first to improving. I'll either have to kick it up a notch, start dating a Spanish speaker, or live in another country for awhile. Any of those would help.

Lately, I've been plugging away at "The Little Prince" in Spanish, el Principito. It's a pretty quick read, actually, I just don't happen to read that fast. But the problem is more that I only give myself time to read a page or two here and there. I'm not using a dictionary, though, so it really is going rather fast. Aside from some tricky few words, I can understand nearly everything easily, or at least guess at word meanings through context.

Poco a poco, se va lejos.
Little by little, one goes far.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Spanish poems that are muy awesome...

de Las palabras que se lleva el viento por Juan Carlos Martín Ramos:


Verso y reverso,
Verse and reverse
haz y envés,
front and back,*
la otra cara de la luna
the other side of the moon
no la ves.
you don't see.

Hay palabras que se dicen
There are words that they say
al derecho y al revés,
backwards and forwards,
cuando pases esta página
when you turn this page
puede ser que ya no estén.
they may no longer be there.

*This talks specifically about the front and back side of a leaf. Funny that there are such specific words in some languages for things that require many unspecific words in another.


Érase una vez un cuento
There was once a story
que nadie puede contar,
that no one could tell,
que acaba por el principio
that ended at the beginning
y empieza por el final.
and began at the end.

Érase una vez un cuento
There was once a story
que se cuenta sin contar,
that one told without telling,
cuando empieza ha terminado
when it began it had ended
cuando acaba va a empezar.
when it ended it was beginning.

I took some artistic license with the translation here, so please disregard the fact that the English is in the past tense and its Spanish source in the present.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Can you read fingerspelling?

Do you know the ASL (American Sign Language) alphabet? Try to read the words as they are spelled out with images. It's hard!

Test your skillz.

As it turns out, I have to undo years of forming the letter "d" incorrectly. Oops.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Multilingual Trader Joe's World

I decided to start up a running tally to see how diverse the population really is that passes me in a constant stream as they buy tortilla chips, free range eggs, and wasabi mayonnaise, among other delightful items. Here is what I discovered about our Trader Joe's customers:

NES = Native English Speakers
NNES = Non-native English Speakers

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
39 NES and 14 NNES
25.9 % of the 53 people were non-native speakers of English

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
50 NES and 20 NNES
28.6 % of the 70 people were non-native speakers of English

Thursday, April 23, 2009
117 NES and 40 NNES
25.5% of the 157 people were non-native speakers of English

So, we're looking at a little over 25 percent (or 1 out of 4) of the customers that pass through the Trader Joe's where I work are people for whom English is a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth, etc.) language. How cool is that?!

I'm going to keep up my little experiment because it certainly makes the time pass nicely at the register (slash) gives me something to do. It also encourages me to engage all of the customers in conversation... since, without that, I can only make guesses about who will have an accent and who will not. This would not work, considering how often I am surprised.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reaaaaaally missin' España

I was reminded of it tonight: There is nothing quite like successfully making a friend in another language. There really isn't. Makes me nostalgic for Madrid and her bars, beers, patient friends, and complete strangers, that made language acquisition possible for me years ago. Occasionally, when I step back from myself and hear myself blabbering on like an idiot, barely aware of the words before they leave my mouth, I am taken aback by how far I've come, remembering the sense of elation, accomplishment, awe, that first overcame me the moment I realized I was speaking without stopping. It was the first moment that I really felt like I could talk to people and it might perhaps be worth their time to listen. It reminds me how my students must feel upon crossing that barrier... and the frustration they must feel before reaching it.

It takes awhile... and it's hard. But it's worth it.

It's soooo worth it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ricky Ricardo's Spanglish Little Red Riding Hood

I Love Lucy: Ricky telling Little Ricky a bedtime story

I guess I'm not the only one telling stories in Spanglish. Mine's not as awesome and seamless as his, though.

El Chico que Gritó Lobo y Otros Cuentos

Gracias a dios for all those Spanish-speakers who work at Trader Joe's with me. They keep me on my toes... linguistically speaking, that is. My tall friend from Peru has this funny way of taking one joke and beating it into the ground until the absurdity of it makes me laugh even more and the funniness somehow renews itself. He's developed this habit of saying, pues, hombre... outloud whenever he's within twenty feet of me. It translates basically into, "well, dude... " and is, according to him, the cornerstone of Spain Spanish. He's pretty much relentlessly made fun of me for my Spain-Spanish accent ever since I returned from Madrid two summers ago. I'm sure I've lost most of that accent by now, yet still, he insists on beginning every other sentence with, pues, hombre... Or, hell, using it as a sentence all unto itself. Pues, hombre. But only around me.

He is fluent in English, and I find that when he talks to me in Spanish (which is 75 percent of the time), I largely respond in... well, English. He spurts out these long tirades of Spanish and I'll reply with, "well, wouldn't it just be better to move it on top of that box?" or "yeah, but what makes you think I'd do that?" or "come on, leave me alone, it's been a long day." It's soooo much easier. But my more-than occasional struggle with conversation really puts it back into perspective. Am I really that low of a speaker? How much DO I know? What exactly do I have to show for nine years of studying this language if I can't even pick the right words half the time?

Halfway through my shift, I mentioned something about The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and my friend from Colombia claimed to have never heard of the story. I waited until I had the complete focus to try telling him in Spanish. I could have summed it up in half the time in English, but I wanted to see if I could step up to the challenge. It went más o menos así ("more or less this way") Spanglish and all:

Okay, here's the story...
Había un chico y algún día
--porque tenía ganas de hacerlo, no sé--
gritó, "LOBO! LOBO!"

Y un hombre vino corriendo, "Qué lobo?! Dónde?!"
Y el chico era como, "Jaja! Es una broma! No hay lobo! Jaja!"
'Cause there wasn't really a wolf there, you know?
He was just pretending.
El chico decidió otra vez causar problemas o algo
y gríto, "LOBO! LOBO!"...
aunque otra vez no había lobo.
Y otra vez el hombre vino corriendo and was like,
"En serio?! Dónde está?!"
Y el chico se rió de él porque todavía era broma,
"Jaja, me creiste? Idiota!"
Okay, so you see where this is going?
So, la tercera vez...
Oh, and I forgot to tell you!
The boy was a... a... ovejas...
Cómo se llama alguien que cuida ovejas?...
Yeah, a shepherd or something...
Entonces, la tercera vez...
porque la primera vez y la segunda vez
no había lobo y el chico gritó que sí...
la tercera vez, sí, había lobo,
y cuando gritó, "LOBO! LOBO!"
Yeah, you got it. The guy didn't believe him.
Nadie lo creyó.
So the moral of the story...
How do you say moral? Oh yeah, that.
... es que... if you are always lying,
no one will believe you when you really need help.

Okay, so it was half in English. It's hard. My friend said I did a very good job telling my story... but he sort of has to say stuff like that 'cause I'm a girl and might cry otherwise.

Here's a real Spanish version of the story. Much more descriptive than mine, I must say, but probably with a less charismatic storyteller.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Testing my Spanish proficiency...

People ask me all the time if I'm fluent in Spanish. For all that I talk about it, they must assume that I am, even though most of them have never heard me speak. I usually tell them that I'm getting close. But how close am I really? Not surprisingly, I became distracted while re-vamping my resume.

What do I write on my resume?!
Highly proficient in spoken and written Spanish
Comfortably proficient in spoken and written Spanish
Intermediate spoken and written Spanish skills

Well, I just took this online Spanish Proficiency Test, for what it's worth, and they tell me I'm at the Intermediate Level. I scored 140 points out of a possible 150. That's 4 wrong out of 50, or 93%. I would want to be at a higher-sounding level, but, dang, those comprehension questions were really hard!

I'm taking these tests next.

I think I'll just write Intermediate. I think I'm farther from fluent than I think. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Podcasts rock my MONDE

I've been listening to these free, downloadable podcasts to teach me French on my way to and from work. They are amazing and the woman who records them is great. She has a really thick British accent although her first language is **definitely French. I have to say, it has been making my commute so much more educational and enjoyable.

The only downside is that I got so good at repeating her when she says, J'habite en Angleterre (I live in England)--and it sounds so pretty--that it will probably slip out instead of the more difficult, more factual J'habite aux Etats Unis (I live in the United States), which I still haven't wrapped my tongue around quite yet.

**I'm only 97.3 percent sure of this. As long as she really is a French woman with a British accent, and not a British person who speaks French really convincingly, I'll be okay with it. I'm already bound to sound like a goofy foreigner in the first place, so last thing I need is to learn to speak French with a British accent that's not even mine.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Every play! You like it!

One great thing about being in a multilingual environment everyday at work, is that I get the chance to hear English used in much more creative ways. The most satisfying thing, sometimes, is to realize how far my international students have come and that they are, in fact, successful communicators, despite their grammatical setbacks and limited vocabulary. Today for example, one of the fourth graders in my student teaching classroom (an irresistibly cute boy from Iran) popped his head quickly into the room after dismissal to announce to the assistant teacher and I the following message in broken English: That Ms. M wanted us to know not to close the door because she didn't have the room key with her, and we would be locked out.

We didn't need to ask him to repeat himself. His speech was clear, concise, confident, and successfully delivered the intended message. Within five seconds of poking his little head around the door and blurting out the long sentence, he vanished again in the flurry of students rushing down the hall to their buses. The assistant teacher turned to me smiling and said, "I can't believe it. He's speaking in full sentences now! At the beginning of the school year, he didn't know even one word of English, and he was crying all the time."

Is this the same bubbly boy I see everyday that I am in the classroom, talking to his classmates, singing and muttering and counting to himself, flashing me these mischievous looks with his huge brown eyes, and cracking jokes? My god, the sense of humor on this little guy! Can he really be the same kid she was talking about?

Just today, Ms. M announced to the group of students she was working with, "Okay, guys, let's get to work!" To which, aforementioned student burst out with an enthusiastic, "No guys, let's go to PLAY! Every play! You like it!"

What else could I do but laugh? Is his grammar off? Certainly. Is his accent foreign? Definitely. Is his message lost? Absolutely not. His humor carries through, clear as day. He is an effective communicator. I fail to remember that sometimes in my never-ending quest to be a "perfect" language learner. But what does that even mean? Do we remember people for their ability to correctly conjugate verbs and pronounce Rs? Or do we remember their smiles and laughs and dancing eyes, the stories they tell, and the way that they've charmed and befriended us and reeled us in?

Come on, Kristy... as if I even need to answer that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Went back...

Tonight I stopped by a weekly conversational Spanish class that I used to go to a few years ago. The instructor told me that I used to speak well back then, but she remembered me being very nervous to open my mouth and try. I do remember that, too, actually, but I guess I never considered that other people could tell. Every time I felt that I might have to answer someone in Spanish, my heart would start pounding in my chest, and I would clam up and get really shy. Basically, my body would enter "fight or flight" mode. That was three years ago. I almost forgot how anxious I used to get!

It's funny how nonchalant I am about it now. I don't even get too bent out of shape when I can't understand someone. I'm not as embarrassed... but, then again, I understand most of what I hear anyway.

I wonder if I will experience a similar reaction to learning a new language. Will I become newly afraid and timid once I get to the cusp of a conversational level? Or will I have already gotten past the jitters once, so I won't have to again?

I remember quite painfully and vividly how awful it felt to realize that I was a basic and boring conversationalist. I wanted to say so much, and I couldn't! It is one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced. Conversely, finally reaching a level of meaningful expression that fosters meaningful relationships with wonderful people... well, that makes it all worth it. The moments in which I have been shockingly aware of my own mouth effortlessly spilling out foreign words in the right order, and of my own brain making instant connections to concepts without first converting to English... those have been some of the best of my life.

But it takes a lot of work and some special circumstances. Will I ever feel that way again? I hope so. It's addicting. Like piercings and tattoos, they say.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Made friends with a gas station attendant from Colombia

... who says that I barely have an accent when I speak Spanish. I hear this a lot. I fear that continued feedback of this kind might give me a big head, but it certainly is good encouragement to continue. I still practice Spanish daily (it's easy when "studying" doesn't require dictionaries and/or learning software), but the French acquisition remains only a distant wish. Very sad. Very true.

I did watch a movie in French. I found that I could actually pick quite a lot of words out with my ears while my eyes read the English subtitles. Sweet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Haven't forgotten about the blog...

Nope. Not even close. But I have been putting off posting (and also studying French as often, unfortunately) in the pursuit of other, more pressing things at the moment. Please check in during the next few days... I will be updating you reaaaaal soon.

Please also note: On the sidebar, I am keeping track of the hours I spend studying each language (roughly). My dad told me recently that 1,000 hours of practice in anything leads to proficiency. He's testing the theory with piano. I'm testing it with language. Of course, I've been studying Spanish now for nearly ten years, so I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm beyond estimating how much practice that is. As far as French goes, I would say that I have spent no more than 50 hours studying. In both cases, I am resetting the counters to ZERO and seeing where I go from there. I am counting listening to music as practice, so I'm sure to rack up the Spanish hours simply on my ride to work.

I am still debating whether to log "jogging" time on my language counter. My brain usually likes to use the steady, rhythmic pounding of my feet against the cement to drone out life and then repeat phrases and sayings and scenarios in my head. Most of the time while I'm running, I'm whispering to myself in Spanish. I know, it makes me sound like a looney. This week, after practicing, it was French. Repeating language repeatedly, unintentionally in my head... would that be considered practicing it? Hard to say.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Elle est mignonne.

During this week's French lessons, I found it slightly unnerving that the word for "tiny" that the guy used for the baby sister was mignonne. It sounded exactly the way you pronounce filet mignon. You know, the expensive non-vegetarian stuff people order at restaurants sometimes.

...which made it seem like the guy in the lesson was calling the baby a hunk of meat.

...which was unsettling at best.

And my biggest complaint is that I wish I could practice more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Encore, je le fais...

Again, I am doing it. Or, I suppose I could also say, Je le recommence, but I'm pretty much just guessing that. I have no one to tell me, "No, Kristy, your writing is all sorts of wrong."

I just noticed how funny it is that the word "I" in English is capitalized, but nothing else is. What is it about "I" that makes it superior to "you," "he," "she," "we," or "them"? It's just strange, that's what. And speaking of the word "strange" I like being able to see how closely French and English are connected. The word for "foreigner" is étranger or étrangère... which only needs an S transplant, et voilà! it's a word not foreign to our eyes at all!

It's hilarious to me that words like encore and voilà already existed in my "English" vocabulary and I didn't even ever stop to think about how they weren't really English... yet I always knew what they meant.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Qué fracaso...

This week's French studying was a total bust. I didn't study it at all.

I had a rough week of it. Between being really worried about a friend for a few days and being terrified to write my first definitive lesson plans for student teaching (bursting spontaneously into tears several times at the thought of it, in fact), I didn't let myself do anything even slightly related to the study of language.*

And this is how it comes to be that many people live in this country for several years and never learn English. If they have no real need to learn, if they are in a protective, bubble community of other speakers of their first language (L1), then they can afford to "let life get in the way" as I have, and simply drop the notion of language learning altogether. Life does get in the way. Sometimes we have to fight to make time for things that matter to us.

*Okay, that's a bit of a lie... I read three chapters of Las telarañas de Carlota (Charlotte's Web). Fifth grade reading level, that's right. And I still don't know a lot of the words, but I'm not bothering to look them up this time... just guessing, so I'm sure I'll miss something crucial.

Hasta la próxima, chicos.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Typing with pinyin characters... testing, 1, 2...

Let's see if this works. I found a site online that claims that I can write the accent marks for the tones with a Mac. I had to enable the "U.S. Extended" keyboard.
  • Alt+a for the first tone - ā
  • Alt+e for the second tone - á
  • Alt+v for the third tone - ǎ
  • Alt+` for the forth tone - à
  • To type ü, type Alt+u then u
Zǎo shàng hǎo. Good morning.
Hěn gāoxing rènshi nǐ. Nice to meet you.

Crap... I had to type it first in Word and then cut and paste it in. That's certainly not the fastest way to write. Let's see if the actual Chinese characters that I copied from the phrase page will copy into blogger... 很高兴认识你。

And here is how (supposedly) I would write in Chinese characters if I were to ever need to do that... not that I even know how to write or recognize one word at this point.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Antes de que me duerma...

Before I fall asleep...

The Spanish Language Meetup Group that I am a part of here is genial (awesome). Monthly, on a Tuesday night, a bunch of hispanohablantes (Spanish speakers) and hispanohablante-wannabees (i.e. gringos) gather together to help the less skilled of us piece together the intricacies of this beautiful language or, at the very least, attempt not to brutally massacre it. For me, anyway, it is interesting to realize the difference in fluidity that occurs within the span of a couple of hours. Upon arrival, the switch-over is anything but seamless. All of a sudden, I'm trying to say things like, "Nice to meet you, but wait, let me hang up my jacket first... " in Spanish, but the words don't come to me in these crucial beginning moments and I stand there saying things like, "Bueno, uh... encantada de conocerte, pero... necesito [gesture towards general coat area]... uh... mi... coat... uh... chaqueta... "

Like charades.

Then, not even a full hour later, I turn to my friend Danilo and tell him in rapid-fire Spanish, "Dude, it's incredible how much easier it is to speak now than it was when I first got here... " To which he replies, "Oh yeah! No kidding!" or something roughly equivalent.

This really fascinates me. I've tried to record a sample audio clip of myself in a monologue before meetup groups and then right after, to compare the speed of the speech that leaves my mouth. The problem with this approach, however, is that I have nothing to talk about when I have no speaking partner, and so I find myself pausing much more for thought and words than I normally do in a fluid conversation. What I really need to do someday, is to do this with a friend's help. Maybe best-case scenario would also include me not practicing any Spanish for an entire week prior. I could then start recording from the beginning of my conversation with this person, record some more in the middle of our conversation, and then, of course, finish off with a sample of the end of it as well. Ideally, I would be speaking with this person for a solid hour or more, so that I would really get into the flow of things.

It would be hard not to alter the data, though, as I would want to try to talk more quickly at the end to prove how much I had improved. It's a well-known fact that anything you observe is altered slightly by the fact that you observe it. That is, the act of observation itself changes what is under the microscope, so to speak.

This experiment could be done just as easily with a study of results obtained before and after an alcoholic beverage. This is the adult language learner's best friend, as it turns out. Excellent word-extraction tool.

I continue to study French. My friend at work today was teaching me some useful sayings and words, and will hopefully continue this tomorrow. This is in addition to the most unexpectedly hilarious of my co-workers always giving me mini Portuguese lessons, my Chinese-speaking co-worker welcoming me with an enthusiastic Zao shang hao! every morning, and a dozen or so Spanish-speakers that I work with who all have their own ways of greeting me with an assault of palabras upon seeing me. I am a lucky woman.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Est-ce que *la voiture... uh, uuuuh, le poisson...

Reviewing all the Rosetta Stone lessons from long past, so that I can finally move forward. I'll tell you, my favorite part about this is that it drills things, words, sounds so firmly into my head that they stick. The only problem is that I get very used to certain words following each other. For example, when it starts asking me, Est-ce que *la voiture est rouge? I get that pounded so definitively into my head, that every time I go to say something that starts Est-ce que... I start to immediately follow with *la voiture, which means "the car," even if I am looking at a picture of a fish and I am clearly reading, comprehending, and staring straight at Est-ce que le poisson est bleue? It's as if my mouth betrays my eyes, and I'm all of a sudden asking if the car is blue instead of the fish. Curious. I wonder if the speech patterns started by Rosetta Stone will continue to affect my spoken French once I have anything slightly resembling that skill.

*EDIT: It was just pointed out to me that I had written le voiture instead of la voiture in this entry. I've fixed it. Problem solved, merci. (Although I still can't claim to have enough of a feel for the language that le voiture sounds wrong to me yet.) We live, we learn, we make mistakes.

As it turns out, my Spanish this week seems to be spiraling down el inodoro ("the toilet"). On the plus side, I now know of a new YouTube show to help me with some listening practice: Aquí no hay quien viva. I'd be lying if I told you I knew exactly what that means. Literal translation leaves us with: "Here there is not one who lives." But from some online forums I discovered, it seems to roughly translate to "Nobody can stand living here," which is a heck of a lot funnier, so that's where my vote goes.

Additionally, their accents are very Spainish. Like, Spain-Spanish. It's marvelous.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And just one more thing...

This is absolutely terrifying. I should have never looked at it. How many pages of vowel combos is that?! Three? Shudder. Sometimes it's better to be blissfully unaware of what lies ahead.


I can already see that the BBC 12-week language "course" that is free online, will not really give me the tools I need to succeed. Sure, I am developing a good ear for French dialog, and I am learning a few basic words, but I am exceedingly frustrated that I cannot simply click on one single word in the dialog to hear it sound out repeatedly. Sometimes, I just want to hear one word, verify one vowel sound, concentrate on one sound-spelling relationship without the barrage of all of the other words around it. But I can't. I must patiently wait for the rest of the sentences to finish, and then click the button to repeat the whole thing. It's terribly ineffective.

I need a native French speaker to act as my walking dictionary/official word pronouncer. Unfortunately, those are a lot fewer and farther between than Spanish speakers around these parts.

Not that I'm complaining about the abundance of hispanohablantes in this state. You should know by now that that's what I thrive on. It's my air.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Un quiz fatal

I quite like the word fatal because it happens to exist in both French and Spanish (pronounced "fah-tahl" in the latter). It's perhaps funnier to me because the same word in English, of course, means "deadly" or "resulting in death." This, I think, causes me to use the word quite frequently in Spanish anyway because it produces in me this immense satisfaction that I am expressing something dramatically and in a rather colloquial manner that they don't teach you in school. ¿Cómo te fue la noche? How was your night? ¡Me la pasé fatal! It was awful!

What a fabulous word.

So I call attention now to the terrible quiz mentioned in the title of the entry. I was trying to take an end-of-unit quiz for the French stuff that I am studying on my own as part of the BBC 12 week online lessons (free). But they, for some reason, were asking me to answer using words they had never taught me. And even more interesting is the fact that, where doubt or confusion existed, I turned to Spanish. The quiz attempted to prompt the following answer (in French) from me, "Thank the man [for giving you directions]." To which I immediately replied in my head with, "Gracias, señor... oh crap, that's Spanish... uh, uh... Merci!... Merci, señor... I mean, oh god... monseiur. Merci, monseiur."

This was quickly followed by the word fatal popping into my head as I quietly shook my head in defeat, and went meandering off to find out if fatal or its rough equivalent existed in French. Excitingly enough, it does, although I have no idea how the French say it, and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't pronounce anything past the first A. That's just how they roll.

Apparently, the second language does start replacing the first one as the go-to language for learning the third. This is going to be fun to see how messed up my brain gets and how it sorts itself out.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

La Place de la Fontaine

You know, I think the intro phrases and words that they give you to learn French purposely have lots of Rs. The crafty people who cook up these lessons want to make you have to grapple with them at an early stage. As for me, well... right now I've got the sound alright... I'm just trying to make the right level of sound. So far, it seems to me that I either overdo it and sound like I'm trying to cough something up, or the R is a no show, and leaves just a trace of where it ought to have been.

Also interesting to note, was my momentary difficulty with the word "fountain" (la fontaine). I kept wanting to say "fon-tain" (like, rhyming with "pain" or "rain"), but it actually sounds like "ten" in English. "Font-ten." It's pretty amazing how the mind works and how the spelling of a word (if it breaks conventions already set in the mind from an aquired first or second language) will disable it from correctly processing what it is hearing. When I was thinking "tain," I could tell that the sound I was hearing was different from what I expected it to be, but it wasn't until I closed my eyes and listened to it, that I could say, "oh, that sounds like 'ten'!"

This immediately reminded me of the Stroop Tests that list off a bunch of color words, some of which have the same color as the word and some of which have a different color. Like, it might say "blue," but the word "blue" is actually red in color. So automatic is our ability to read words, that it becomes hard to name the actual color of the word, if the word itself names a different color.


See what I mean? You have to think a bit first when you have to name the actual color. When you read the words, it's nearly effortless. Give it a try for real with the Interactive Stroop Effect Experiment. It's a website for kids, but it is a perfect example of how powerful our mental connections to literacy can be once we've fostered them. This, of course, would be a much different test if taken by young children who are still struggling to read and sound out simple sight words. They wouldn't have all the written words interfering with their ability to name the color. Wouldn't phase them at all. Could this have something to do with why young children can catch on to new languages so fast? Nothing about their own language has been so solidified that it interferes with their ability to process subtle differences in the second language. Experts are still out to lunch on this one and don't know the answers to the millions of questions about second language acquisition, by the way, but that certainly doesn't stop them or anyone else from having very strong opinions.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ça va, merci.

It's going well, thanks.

The French, I mean. It's not like I can say that I'm bad at it, since I just started, and I pretty much have to be bad at it. Can't be good at a language you've never studied, right? I think that comforts me the most right now... that it's not humanly possible to be awful at something you just barely began. Talk to me after several months of plugging away at this daily. If all I can say at that point is How are you, Mr. Fish. Do you drink milk? No, the car is not blue, it's white. Thank you sir, goodnight. then it will be safe to say that I haven't progressed too terribly much, and we can start to contemplate the idea that I should stick to things I know. Like art. And being a procrastinator. I'm good at both of those things.

The French R is going to keep me up at night. I can already tell.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ooh la la: So, French it is, I guess...

I have this vague and nagging feeling upon entering these uncharted waters, that I have no freaking idea what I'm getting myself into. After all, haven't I been practicing Spanish for eons now and still feeling like I have a super long way to go? Really. I have. And now it starts all over again. The strange sounds I have to try to create that don't exist in my first (or second) language, new letter-to-sound relationships (i.e. knowing that more or less French orthography does not correspond to what any of the words sound like), trying to pick out individual words in a confusing flurry of melted-together speech as it flows out in one continuous blend of noise... that sound all the same to me, frankly.

Le sigh.

So I watched some YouTube videos that this guy named Remy puts together every so often (link is in the side bar). I like this guy because he has an extremely soothing voice and sort of makes me feel like the task of learning French is totally no big deal. Nothing to be alarmed or worried or hurried about. He talks about simply acquiring little building blocks that you keep adding to as you make a foundation and just practice and practice, build and build. Sounds so lovely, doesn't it? Don't get your hopes up too much if you decide check his lessons out. You'll see that the video runs for a super long time, and you might think that the guy is going to teach a whole lot in that ten minutes, but he usually only gets around to a couple of things that he covers really thoroughly. He just spends a lot of time explaining and informing, which I think is important if you are missing out on being in an actual class where you can ask questions. And, hey, this is totally free, so I ain't complainin'.

In one random posting about things to say to your lover in French, he taught how to say I can't live without you. Which actually was pretty fun to say. All I need now is a French lover. Which should be about as easy to find in this city as a parking spot in Harvard Square. During rush hour. On a Friday evening. For a tractor trailer.

Je ne peux pas vivre sans toi. Sounds so nice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


No, not the English word comment referring to a remark... it's the French word for What? I didn't hear what you said. It, like many French words, looks a whole lot more complicated than it actually sounds. It, in fact, shows off its romance language ties to Spanish, since it is pronounced surprisingly close to ¿Cómo? in Spanish, which means the same thing.

It also expresses how I feel in diving back into French again. It's not even so much of a diving in, as a testing of the water with a toe. Awhile back, and a couple of times at that, I waded about knee-high into Rosetta Stone, splashed around for a bit and then came right back out. I'm not going to lie; the thought of trying to articulate those guttural "r"s in the back of my throat makes me shirk away in fear. What if I just simply cannot do them justice?

What if an obnoxiously Americanized manner of curling my tongue prevails? ... or if I keep rolling them like a Spanish speaker? ... or if I try to make the sound and it comes out too strong? ... or... or what if, after all is said and done, no "r" exists? What if I try and it doesn't come out? Perhaps, it will make no sound at all. Just a little escaping air, a little shaky breath of uncertainty...

Maybe I'll just be really bad at it.

And maybe I won't.

And should I keep myself from trying to learn an entire language for fear of mispronouncing a letter in its alphabet? It seems that I already have.

By the way, what do French pirates say? Aaaarrrrrrrrrrr...

I don't know. Juh-nuh say pah.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Un tío brasilero

So I went to this Spanish language meetup group that happens once a month and, wouldn't you know it, I had the oddest experience ever. As I wrote to my friend in an excited email afterwards, Hablaba dos horas con un tío brasilero que me hablaba solamente en portugues mientras le hablaba solamente en español, y nos entendimos!!! (I talked for two hours with a Brazilian dude that spoke to me only in Portuguese while I spoke to him only in Spanish, and we understood each other!!!)

The only lie there, is that I only spoke to the tío brasilero for, like, one hora and not two... but sometimes I wind up messing up the simplest parts of a sentence (like the truth, facts, my name, etc.) while I concentrate really hard on not screwing up the rest of it.

But the real good news here is that I, by some miracle, understood some Portuguese. It sounded like what might happen if someone learned Spanish by reading lips only... and then proceeded, without ever hearing it spoken, to try and put their own sound system to it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'M DONE: The first book I've ever read cover-to-cover in Spanish...

... and I still don't know what it's about. Well, I do, but I'm still trying to tie it all together. All morning, I've been looking up literature reviews so that I can see other people's viewpoints on how all of these stories contribute to a greater lesson somehow.

On a less searching, and more superficial level, I really really enjoyed a couple of things about this chapter (and it's really hard not to like this first one):
  • Ahohándose en el mare mágnum de fórmulas abstractas que durante dos siglos constituyeron la justificación moral del poderío de la familia, la Mamá Grande emitió un sonoro eructo, y expiró. (Drowning in the great sea of abstract formulas, that during two centuries constituted the moral justification of the family's power, the Grand Matriarch emitted a loud burp, and died.) Classic. Pure poetry.
  • Then, the fact that el blablablá histórico is an acceptable Spanish way of writing "historical mumbo-jumbo" is pretty awesome. Or, at least, it's acceptable according to Señor Gabriel García Márquez, the writer. Blah blah blah.
This is some interesting new vocabulary from this last chapter making a slow entrance into my lexicon (very, very slow, some of it):

racimo=bunch, cluster
alborotado=agitated, excited, rowdy
padecer=to suffer from
yacer=to lie, be lying (physically, not verbally)
espumoso=(beer) frothy, (wine) sparkling
rugir=to roar; rugido=roar
rechoncho,-a=chubby, tubby, dumpy

And a fun one from a past chapter:
acribillar=to riddle (with bullets, questions)

And from my friend Tanja this morning:

And, what the heck, a couple from online sources, too:
garciamarquiano,-a=is an actual adjective describing anything pertaining to the author, Gabriel García Márquez

At any rate, I think I'm going to have to start trying my hand at Mandarin, since the woman at work insistantly greets me with Zao shang hao every morning, and smacks me on the arm if I don't answer back. It makes me nervous.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For real now. I'm finishing this crazy book.

Thirteen pages. It sounds so harmless, but it's not. I've put away all the clothes in my room, even got rid of some piles of junk, and there's just not any other way to procrastinate it further. So here I go.

Ten pages left.

Eight pages left.


Díos, this book is too heavy (content-wise, not physical weight). I must read the rest another night. Crap, and I thought I'd finish, too. Casi. Almost.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Little vozitas in my head.

I notice this happening a lot, and I always wonder what the brain is doing, how the brain benefits from all of this. "This" being, as I got my dinner out of the fridge tonight, I became acutely aware of a little voice inside my head, creating Spanish phrases while I scarcely paid attention. Today it was:

... a mi, a mi, a mi, a mi me encantaría decirte una cosa.
... I, I, I, I would love to tell you something.

At least it made sense. Sometimes it makes syntactic sense (word order, right parts of speech, etc.) and not actual semantic sense.

The frequency with which this happens correlates to how much Spanish I've been using/hearing. The more I practice, the more vocal my brain becomes when I'm silent.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finally finishing? And then what?

I can't explain to you how very much I have put off finishing a book in Spanish lent to me by my friend in Madrid. I could drone on and on about all of the things I've had to do that get in the way, but what it really comes down to is this: I'm scared. I'm scared of the work it takes to understand what I'm reading. I'm intimidated by the fact that--although I've studied Spanish formally for 5 years and informally for 4 more, and I've spent a grand total of four and a half months of my life linguistically immersed in Spanish speaking countries--there is still an enormously great deal that I don't know. It's scary, a little depressing, slightly daunting, and maybe embarrassing even.

I watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries last night (Diarios de motocicleta), and although I lamented the fact that there was not a way to (1) turn off the subtitles or (2) change them from English to Spanish (yes, sometimes Spanish movies have Spanish subtitles for the hearing-impaired), it was probably all for the best since I never can understand movies in Spanish anyways. Telenovelas (Spanish soap operas), yes. News broadcasts, yes. Bad game shows and talk shows, mostly yes. But never movies. I can only hear what I know I should be hearing. I may give an example of this later, but anyway, this is a tangent on the frustration I feel in the reading of this book, and akin to needing training wheels to ride a bicycle, but only on really bumpy driveways. My eyes serve as a fail-safe for my ears. Does this make any sense?

And back to the book: It is called Los funerales de la Mamá Grande and is escrito por Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose house I saw this summer in Cartagena, Colombia. I will now explain how 9 years of studying Spanish can make for such a lousy understanding of quality literature. Sentences like this. Words unfamiliar to me are in bold:

En el profundo corredor central, con garfios en las paredes donde en otro tiempo se colgaron cerdos desollados y se desangraban venados en los soñolientos domingos de agosto, los peones dormían amontonados sobre sacos de sal y útiles de labranza, esperando la orden de ensillar las bestias para divulgar la mala noticia en el ámbito de la hacienda desmedida.

Rather than try to wow you with my extraordinary reading skills, I will honestly tell you what this paragraph looks like to me upon a first once-over, without looking up any of the words. The words in parentheses are my best educated guesses:

In the deep/long central corridor, with plural noun in the walls where in another time they hung adjective pigs and verb (bled?) plural noun in the adjective Sundays of August, the plural noun (peonies?) slept verb (amassed?) on sacks of salt and tools of noun, waiting the order to verb (something about sitting?) the plural noun in order to verb (divulge?) the bad news in the noun of location of the adjective ranch.

So, you can see how this might hinder a good understanding of the general story.

Really, this is what it says once I spend ten minutes looking up the unknown words (yes, ten minutes, one paragraph.):

In the deep/long central corridor, with hooks in the walls where in another time they hung skinned pigs and bled deer in the drowsy Sundays of August, the farm workers slept piled up together on sacks of salt and farming tools, waiting the order to saddle-up the beasts/animals in order to divulge the bad news in the sphere/scope/range of the excessive/disproportionate ranch.

Now you understand where I'm coming from and why it has taken nearly two years to finish this book. It's scary, ¿a que sí? Wouldn't you agree?

¡Aquí empezamos!

Here we start. I have decided to blog my adventures through the bumpy waters of multilingualism. So far, I am only bilingual. I am hoping to expand upon that number. From here, the only way to go is up. ¡Vamos ya!