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My Languages
Image credit: Created by emperorp using Wordle

When I first realized a few weeks ago that I was internalizing the end of year wind down, I decided to give some thought to things that I have consistently enjoyed over the years, even if I have stopped and restarted them a number of times as Life intervened. It’s a short list:

reading
blogging (I used to journal)
walking
yoga
creating (drawing, painting, sewing, crafting, cooking, baking and scrapbooking)
traveling
learning languages

The activity that leaped out at me was language learning. I had taken a break from actively studying a language after Ethan was born. Just prior to that I had put about six months of study into learning Spanish and had enjoyed it very much.

When I first chose to learn Spanish four years ago it had been tough deciding between it and Italian. Practicalities won out-there are so many more resources here for learning Spanish. While I had no experience with any of the Spanish speaking cultures to draw me to the language, I do love the language learning process, communicating with someone in their own language and making a connection. There are more possibilities for this with Spanish given where I live.

Since this summer I have been reading a lot of Italian themed novels and travel memoirs. Naturally, my desire to learn Italian emerged again. When I first looked at my language learning materials again a couple of weeks ago I had been planning to start Italian. But then I looked through my Spanish binder with all the materials and the learning system I had put together. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the quick review of the language learning process I had set up for studying it. Even more surprising, I discovered a growing fondness for the sound of the language and a strong urge to approach Latin American cultures in a manner I have enjoyed for French, Japanese, Italian, Greek and Irish culture. I am going to read novels set in these cultures. I am going to read about places where the language is spoken and I am going to read about travelers’ experiences in these places.

Using Amazon and the Seattle Public Library, I have researched and ordered a few travel memoirs to get me started. I love this growing feeling of excitement as I renew my studies in Spanish. Now that I’ve picked it back up, I find it an excellent salve for the restlessness I have been feeling. I look forward to documenting and sharing my continuing adventures in language learning.

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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How to Learn Any Language
Due to President’s Day, there was no Spanish conversation class this week. Two weeks in a row that I have not attended. A little frustrating but couldn’t be helped. I have been motoring along with my learning. This week I thought I’d outline how I’ve been approaching learning Spanish. Last year when I was planning what language to study I came across an excellent book called, ‘How to Learn Any Language’ by Barry Faber, who speaks 25 languages.

He basically contends that a lot of language learning is ineffective, classes are not very helpful because they are inefficient and a waste of money. He has four simple concepts for learning a language “quickly, easily, inexpensively, enjoyably and on your own.”

These four concepts are:

The Multi-Track Attack: Learning your target language with a lot of tools to attack on several fronts at once. These tools are:
a basic grammar text,
a dictionary,
a phrase book (such as those for tourists),
a magazine or paper or simple book written in the target language,
language tapes,
blank tapes (to record yourself speaking, though I’m not really interested in this), and
flash cards, including homemade ones (for new vocabulary).

Barron's Spanish Grammar Barron's 501 Spanish Verbs

I love Barron’s Spanish Grammar and Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs. These are excellent for clearly explaining aspects of grammar and usage of verbs. I particularly like that the verb book lists 55 essential verbs for beginners to learn. There is also an excellent (and clear) explanation of verb tenses (past, present, future, etc).

          Dover Easy Spanish Phrase Book          The New World English Spanish Dictionary

I also bought the Dover Easy Spanish Phrase Book and The New World English Spanish Dictionary (the latter published by Signet). I read through the Phrase Book and used the Dictionary a few times when I took a Spanish class last year but these are not so necessary now given that the internet is an amazing resource for the language learner. I have found a great dictionary/translation site that I use to look up words or translate sentences. It even has a feature that allows you to create flashcards from the vocabulary that you look up in the dictionary. You can find the site here. I’ve also found lists of essential Spanish phrases to learn perfectly. Omniglot.com has a great list here.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been reading Think Spanish, which I subscribed to and have also been listening to (and translating and studying the lyrics of) the music of Shakira.

     Pimsleur Spanish

I have also been listening to the Pimsleur Latin American Spanish Course, which is considered one of the best language courses out there and comes in many languages. I love it. It’s an expensive course but progresses up several levels so there’s lots of mileage in the course. The local library has Pimsleur so I have been borrowing it from the library and listening to it on my iPod.

Harnessing Hidden Moments: Turn free time into personal “mini-lessons” (for example when waiting in line, waiting for an elevator, or on hold on the phone). These are good times to use your flashcards to reinforce new vocabulary. I haven’t been using flashcards much but I do love using my iPod to listen to my Pimsleur language course when I have these hidden moments.

The Magic Memory System: Using mnemonics to effectively learn vocabulary. Again I don’t actively use the mnemonics system though I am familiar with it from both my years as a psychology student and previous language learning. I do have a strong visual memory already and sometimes use mnemonics. I’ll see if this becomes a bigger part in my language learning with Spanish.

Starting at the Top: Basically this means plunging into language learning, just like children do, by joining conversation groups, reading publications, watching movies and listening to music in the language you are learning. This is one of my favorite ways to learn language and plays to my strengths. I am a social person and enjoy learning languages as a way to engage with new people from different cultures. I love learning from context and I’m willing to struggle with the incomprehension that initially comes from throwing myself in at the deep end. I also love observing how my understanding of the language improves over time. I really enjoy the feeling of listening to a group speaking in the language I’m learning and starting to notice that I understand more and more of what is being said.

I really connect to Faber’s system for learning and plan to implement it when reviewing my French and Japanese, which I’d like to do in the near future (but not this year because my focus is establishing a good foundation in Spanish). I have also started to use this system for Ashley and Caitlin so they can enjoy learning some Spanish too. Ashley started Spanish class one morning a week at her school. To supplement her class, and to include Caitlin, I have borrowed some materials from the library that we’ve all been working through together.

DVDs

Muzzy Yo Soy Muzzy

The BBC’s Muzzy Spanish Language Course for Children

We have watched the Muzzy Spanish course in the past and also the Japanese course. It contains 6 episodes set in Gondoland, where a king and queen live with their daughter Princess Sylvia. The gardener Juan is in love with Sylvia and she with him. However, there is a mean scientist (?) called Corvax, who works for the King and lives in the palace, who loves the Princess too. He attempts to keep Juan and Sylvia apart. Juan is sent to jail where he meets Muzzy, a monster from out of space who was arrested for eating parking meters. Juan and Muzzy become friends and work together to help Juan with Sylvia. The course also has a vocabulary builder DVD, which just presents vocabulary with the characters from the episodes. (Note that the Japanese version only has the vocabulary builder, which was still good but disappointing not to have the episodes in Japanese. Fortunately the girls were only 2 and 3 when we watched these, so they loved the vocabulary presentation.) There is a Level 2 that we will move onto soon. I have to admit, I’m enjoying this DVD course too.

CDs

Teach Me...Spanish

Teach Me…Spanish

Lots of familiar children’s songs, with simple Spanish spoken by a child in between. We’ve used this series in the past for Japanese songs and the girls still know several of the songs in Japanese. We’ll see how they take to the Spanish versions.

Books
We’ve borrowed a few bilingual books from the library that have the text in both Spanish and English.

Perro Grande

Perro Grande…Perro Pequeño : un cuento de las buenas noches (Big dog, Little dog : A Bedtime Story) by P.D. Eastman; translated into Spanish by Pilar de Cuenca and Inés Alvarez.
Lola

Lola by Loufane; translated into Spanish by Gladys Rosa-Mendoza

Buenas Noches, Luna

Buenas Noches, Luna (Goodnight Moon) by Margaret Wise Brown; pictures by Clement Hurd; translated into Spanish by Teresa Mlewar

Buenas Noches, Luna 123
Buenas Noches, Luna 123 : un libro para contar Goodnight Moon 123 : A Counting Book,based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown; pictures by Clement Hurd.

I’ve been enjoying involving Ashley and Caitlin in my language learning. They know I speak a few languages and that I love learning and speaking languages other than just English. They loved when we worked on Japanese together, had fun learning some French before, and during, our trip to Paris and are keen to learn Spanish just like me. We also love that for the three of us, all the Spanish we knew before I started more formal studies of Spanish, came from watching and reading Dora, the Explorer. I must check of there are episodes of Dora in just Spanish. I’m confident there must be because, when we were back in Ireland a couple of years ago, we saw an episode where Dora had been translated into Irish! If it’s available in Irish it has to be out there in Spanish.

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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la bruja

Image Source: Vivian Estalella at artlunamiami.com

I was unable to attend my Spanish conversation class last night. James had a meeting that came up in work and, although he tried very hard to reschedule it so I wouldn’t miss my class, it wasn’t to be. Even knowing on Sunday that I may not make it to class, I did my homework. I reveiewed my weeked, translated it into Spanish, studied the verb tenses I needed to use and the new vocabulary and made a note of some questions I have for my teacher for the next class.

I’ve also been slowly studying Spanish adjectives. Most recently it’s the demonstrative adjectives, which are used to point out someone or something. In English these are:
this (here)
these (here)
that (there)
those (there)
that (farther away or out of sight)
those (farther away or out of sight)

I was having some difficulty remembering when to use este (this) and ese (that). Then I discovered a lovely tip in my trusty little grammar bible Spanish Grammar by Barron’s.

Tip:
To distinguish between este libro (this book) and ese libro (that book), remember that the t in este libro (this book near me) falls off on its way to ese libro (that book near you).

As a result I have a lovely little image in my head of the t falling off of este (here) as it makes its way to ese (there). Now when I listen to my Spanish CDs I find it a lot easier to produce the correct demonstrative adjective when prompted. Ah, little steps of progress!

Oh, and I had my first dream in Spanish on Sunday night. Well I had a dream where I used a Spanish word, but it counts! I had been reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya about the coming-of-age of a young mexican boy in the 1940s and his relationship to a curandera (healer). Some people think she is a witch, which in Spanish is la bruja. There are three evil witches in the story too. This must have all been percolating in my brain because I dreamt that I had to cut down a tree that was transforming into a bruja. I cut most of the roots except for one large one when the bruja started to move and pursue me, stretching this one root the whole time as she did so. All the while, I was repeating to myself, “La bruja is coming.” I was semi-conscious as I dreamt and kept trying to end the dream, without success. At some point as I dreamt I realized that this is my first “Spanish” dream. I’m using the language in my sleeping brain. The dream eventually changed where I was in France, about the engage in some sightseeing of Paris with a group of people I didn’t feel attached to. Then the lovely Colin Firth appeared and invited me (in French) to take a drive with himself and some friends to the town of Rouen in Normandy. I delightedly accepted and as we started our road trip I woke up.

Two dreams in different languages in one night. I take it as a sign that the linguistic centers of my brain are getting organized to accommodate the newest language neighbor moving. My brain is welcoming Spanish.

 

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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Spanish Questions Spanish Questions Spanish Questions Spanish Questions

Image Source: kara.allthingsd.com

We had a very full weekend followed by a very full Monday. I didn’t have an opportunity to prepare the full blown translation of my weekend activities so I made two decisions: firstly, to still go to class even though I was tired and didn’t have my complete translation in text as a crutch (remember the first step is always courage in trying to speak a new language :)), and two, to use this opportunity to practice some of those essential expressions I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I figured this was a good time to become more proficient at asking: “How do you say…in Spanish?”, “How do you spell it?” and “Can you write it down please?” (Practically the same in Spanish.) I fumbled and I stumbled but I made myself understood.

We had a few new people again in class and did the usual get-to-know-you exercise where we take turns going around the table to ask questions of the new person. It meant that last night we went around the table three times, so three turns each to ask a question. It’s a challenge to come up with new questions when lots of people take their turn before you. I have been relying on a few stock questions (I particularly like to ask if the person speaks any other languages). By the end of this exercise I felt the need to brush up on the various question forms (what, where, when, how , who and beyond). So this week I’m focusing on questions. I found a couple of nice links for beginners.

Enchanted Learning (a site for children that I’ve used before for craft and activity ideas) has a list of questions here.

I also found a nice explanation around formulating questions here.

We also continued working on our numbers by going around the circle, this time counting to 102 by 3s and then backwards from 300 by 5s. I really enjoy these fun mental exercises for recalling numbers quickly. I love that there is a lot of laughter in my beginner’s conversation class. It certainly helps take some of the sting out of the initial beginner struggles 🙂

 

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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Spanish Adverbs

Image source: rocketlanguages.com

Well, I managed to learn my numbers for my Spanish conversation class last night. We went around our circle counting to 200 by 5s and then backwards from 200 by 2s. It was a lot of fun and more to come next week as we make our way to 2000. Then we did another round of the table reviewing our weekend for each other. I had prepared my notes last night, reviewed the verb tenses I was using, studied the new vocabulary involved and then completely hid the paper from my view while in class. I did manage to communicate coherently (remember perfectly is not a goal!). I still felt that if questioned at length I would struggle to elaborate further. But time, and growth of my vocabulary and ability to conjugate verbs, will take care of this.

As I was preparing for my class I discovered that a lot of what I wanted to relate about my weekend involved adverbs (words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs). So, this became a timely opportunity to hit the adverb aspect of grammar. I found a nice little adverb table (here) that I have already started to work on. Interestingly, while we were chatting in class, I noticed some of my classmates using English adverbs dotted in their Spanish conversation. It reminded me how important the adverbs are to improving flow of conversation and fluency. Here are some adverbs that came up for me this week:

casi almost
de vez en cuando occasionally
menos de less than
más de more than
así so
entonces then
anoche last night

The challenge now is to see if I can retain these and slip them into future conversations at will!

 

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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Aquí hablamos español
As I mentioned last week, there was no Spanish conversation class last night because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I am pleased to relate that I did not allow this to be an excuse to slack off, which it can certainly be tempting to do. I’ve been actively learning my numbers from 1 to 2000 for next Monday’s class. Also, over the weekend, I  finally made time to arrange a binder into categories that will assist my learning. I’ve wanted to break down Spanish into sections that in the past I have found useful to focus on with French and Japanese. My binder currently has sections covering the following categories:

Expressions
In any language, it’s always a good idea to start with some basic essential expressions and just learn them off by heart. I used the following link as a guide:
Useful Spanish Phrases (this site has a phrase list in many languages)

Numbers/Time/Dates
These are best to learn just right off the bat. Otherwise flow of converstation halts as you struggle to remember the words for numbers, days, months, seasons, and time.

Verbs
Lots of people struggle with the verbs when learning a language. Fortunately I love them. It helps to a have a systematic approach to learning them. Find a list of essential verbs to learn in the target language and start from there. Learn to conjugate the present tense, past tense and future tense to start with, because even if you end up sound very simplistic in conversation you get your gist across, which is the whole point of language anyway, to communicate.

Vocabulary
Every time you learn a new word add it to your list. Organize the list into useful categories to make finding the word easier. Then you can move on to various techniques for learning the vocabulary, such as flashcards. This time round I’ve created an excel document to facilitate editing. So far it’s working well. I’ll see how it goes as my vocabulary list grows.

Question Forms
This is another essential category for conversation in any language. Just knowing how to pose a question will help increase your confidence and comprehension in the listener, even if your tenses are off, or your vocabulary is a bit muddled. So long as you and your listener know what kind of question is being presented (who, what, when, how, etc) a lot can be done with patience, guesswork and tons of facial and hand gestures!

Pronouns
Now we get more technical with the grammar of the language and learn how to say you, me, he, she, us, we and them, along with mine, yours, their, etc. There are many categories of pronouns (personal, prepositional, demonstrative, possessive, relative, interrogative, indefinite and negative). I find the personal and possessive to be a good start and then build from there.

Adjectives
These help us to describe nouns or pronouns in some way. Again we usually start simple with colors and size and then move to more complex like superlatives (e.g. good, better, best).

Adverbs
These words modify (alter) verbs, adjectives or another adverb. In English it usually means adding ‘ly’ to an adjective (e.g. slow becomes slowly). There are a bunch of categories under this category, which build up with study, time and need.

Prepositions
The importance of this category, and conjunctions, stands out in my mind from my time in Japan. I’m not sure if I just picked them up quickly in French over my years of study at school and didn’t realize just how important they were until I was a beginner in Japanese living in the culture. Prepositions connect words together and indicate the relationship between words. In English there are about 150 prepositions, of, to and in being three of the top ten most used words in English. Find the prepositions in the language you are learning and start to incorporate them as soon as possible. It will help greatly with the flow of speech and ideas.

Conjunctions
A conjunction is a word that connects words, phrases, clauses (parts of sentences), or sentences. When I was learning Japanese, I found myself constantly searching for words such as yet, while, unless, however, since, meanwhile, therefore. It hindered my ability to speak a great deal until I realized that the category of grammar I needed to work on was the conjunctions. Again, get a list of them in the target language you are learning and start adding them to your conversation. Using prepositions and conjunctions will be a sign to me that my language production is become more fluent.

Culture
Ah, often the whole reason we are drawn to a language to start with. At least this used to be the case for me. I decided to learn Spanish for more practical reasons this time. I know very little about the Spanish speaking world, whether it be Spain or Latin America.

My culture section started when I did some research last year and discovered a publication called, Think Spanish (Piensa en español). It is a magazine with about a dozen articles per issue, all in Spanish regarding some aspect of Spanish speaking culture. There is a column at the side of each page that lists vocabulary with translation from the article. The vocabulary is highlighted in bold in the text so that you know you can glance at the side column for translation if needed. The magazine comes with a CD with native speakers reading the articles. I read the reviews of this magazine on Amazon before subscribing and they were mixed. I decided to try it out and I love it. It know that it helps that I speak French. I can guess a lot from word similarity and then check vocabulary in the column as needed. I use the CDs periodically, to familiarize myself with the sound of the language, because my brain often wants to impose French pronunciation on what I’m reading.

As well as this magazine I have the words to some Shakira songs, with translations. I bought her album from iTunes and listen to them on my iPod or in the car. Working through the lyrics and translations is helping we to recognize individual words as they whiz out of a native speaker/singer’s mouth. I will add to this category as I continue studying the language. I’m thinking the poetry of Pablo Neruda will be next.

Image source: vivirlatino.com

Note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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Irish Flag French Flag

Japanese Flag Mexican Flag

I went to my second Spanish conversation class last night. A few of the same faces as last week but a whole bunch of new ones too.

The format for the first half of the class involved asking any questions we might have about the instructor (Ritha from Ecquador). I really like her. She conducts the conversation class predominantly in Spanish and has a very open, jovial manner about her. My question to her was why she has been teaching these practically free conversation classes for the last 5 years? (She teaches for two hours, one beginner, and one intermediate, conversation class.) Her response was that she really wants to encourage people in the US to learn her language.

The second half of the class involved each person sharing something they did over the weekend. On Sunday night I sat down to review our weekend. I made some notes in English and then set out to translate into Spanish. I realized pretty fast that in the 8 week course I attended last year (it finished in December) we didn’t study the past tense! I had to figure out which past tense I needed. It was the Pretérito tense, which is used to express actions that were completed at some time in the past. So I spent Sunday night learning a new verb tense. Not a bad night’s work!

Using it on Monday night was a different story. I’m still feeling tongue tied and relying on my written notes quite a bit. I’m going to try to do that less next time. Apparently each week we do some review of weekend activities so there looks like a lot of opportunities ahead to practice Pretérito tense.

As next week is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there will be no class. For the week following we have been set the task of knowing our numbers from 1-2000. We will go around our circle counting by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s and whatever other multiples Ritha throws at us to keep us on out toes. It brings back memories of me leading a similar game when I taught English in Junior High School in Japan. I would have all the students stand up to play the game and if a student made a mistake they sat down until one student was left standing. The kids loved this game and got better and better at it over time leading to variations where they had to count backwards or forwards whenever I suddenly indicated. We also played the game for Days of the Week and Months of the Year. Lots of fun. We’ll see if I find it as enjoyable when I’m the beginner on the other end of the game!

During my drive home after class I was thinking about Japan some more. I thought about the dream I had last week that was entirely in Japanese. I remember at some point during the dream being conscious I was dreaming in Japanese again. It has been such a long time since that happened. I also remembered the very first time I dreamt in French while I au paired in France at age 17. I don’t remember the contents of either of the dreams I mention, just that each dream left me with a sense of amazement at my sleeping brain’s ability.

My waking brain is bit befuddled at the moment. During the same drive home I recalled how:
When I was first learning French my brain would call up the Irish language instead of whatever French word or phrase I was trying to produce.
When I was learning Japanese, my brain regurgitated French.
During my Spanish conversation class, again I tend to retrieve French when searching for the Spanish.

As I sat in the car trying to practice some Japanese in my head, guess what my little grey cells threw at me: Spanish. Well, at least I know the language center of my brain is active again. Now if I can only get it to behave and produce the language I want it to produce in the moment I want it then I’ll know I’ve moved beyond the babbling beginner mode of language learning 🙂

Btw, teanga is the Irish word for ‘language’. I do like alliteration in the titles of my posts!!!

Note: I used the image of the Mexican flag to denote the Spanish language because it just didn’t feel right to use the Spanish flag. I’m learning Latin American Spanish and it’s hard to come up with an image to reperesent that-so many flags! I decided on the Mexican flag because Mexico is the closest Latin American Spanish speaking country to where I live. Simple as that.

Also note: For related posts and more about my interest in languages you can check out my language page here.

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