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.