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.