Friday, March 8, 2013

An unexpected hiccup, Una cosa sorprendente

An Unexpected Hiccup: We're Buying a House!

You may think that my language idea was a firework that fizzled to nothing after one month. Not so! I continue to study, although slowly, and with plans that "next month" I will find time to study more.

We are buying a house, and February was a whirl wind of activity, drama, and loads of paperwork. Unfortunately, our decision to buy a house now, rather than a few years from now as planned, required us to cancel our trip to Panama this summer. I shed a few tears over the matter, then fortified my determination to learn Spanish with or without immersion language schools in tropical jungles, and here we are.

Packing boxes, visiting nurseries and plotting where fruit trees and a sandbox can be put in the back yard, and looking up second hand furniture has occupied much of my spare time recently. But I have managed to practice a very tiny bit of Spanish too. Mostly in the form of watching "Peep and the Big Wide World" episodes en español with my kids.

And just in case you haven't heard of "Peep and the Big Wide World," you ought to check them out. Fabulous cartoon with an educational science-based theme and three fabulous birds. Ask my kids, and they'll tell you "Quack is SO funny."

Y ahora, por supuesto, voy a tratar de escribir eso "post" en español:

Una Cosa Sorprendente: Compramos una Casa!

Quizas pensas que mi idea por aprender los idiomas no trabajar. Pero no! Estudio, pero estudio lentamente. Espero que la próximo meses hago mucho tiempo por estudiar.

Tenemos noticias. Compramos una casa! La primera casa por nuestro familia! Entonces, febrero fue MUY ocupada. Hay muchas cosas de hacer por comprar una casa: buscar muchas casas con un "realtor," perder el sueño pensar de casas, y papeles papeles papeles. Hay papeles por todos, tres o cuatros papeles por cada cosa!

Tristemente, porque compramos una casa, no podemos ir a Panama este verano. Yo estaba tan triste. Pero, todavia puedo aprender español. Si podemos!

No escrito en ese "blog" en febrero, pero practiqué un poco español con mirar "Peep and the Big Wide World" en español con mis niños.
Si nunca ves "Peep and the Big Wide World," tu debes mirar ese programa! Puede mirar episodes en el "website." Mis niños y yo le gustamos mucho. El pájaro que se llama "Quack" es muy divertido.

Y entonces, I will paste my spanish part into google translate and have a good laugh at how I didn't quite say what I thought I said when writing en español.
Buenas noches.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Which Languages? Qué idomas?


This idea of 5 languages in 5 years began with one of my new year's resolutions for 2013: To learn Spanish. I had been studying Arabic a year earlier, hopeful that we would get a job somewhere in the Middle East. The job ended up being in the Southwestern US, which made Spanish an obvious language choice.

But that little dip into Arabic had been exciting, and after making a resolution to become fluent in Spanish this year, I thought "And next year, Arabic!" From there it was a short jump to "wouldn't it be neat if in 5 years we could learn 5 languages, and be fluent in the 6 languages of the United Nations?"
Russian, and

Or perhaps we could learn the five most spoken languages besides our own:
Mandarin Chinese,
Arabic, and

Or what if we learned five languages from the five largest languages families? I like this idea best of all.

From Indo-European (includes English, Hindi, and most european languages) we pick Spanish. There are a host of beautiful languages in this group, but Spanish is certainly the most useful for where we live. I hear someone speaking it almost every time I go shopping.
From Sino-Tibetan we would pick Chinese. The fact that this language uses intonation to distinguish syllables rather than nuance of meaning is so intruiging. The fact that it is spoken by nearly a billion people is also a big factor in it's favor.
From the Altaic family of languages (Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Mongolian) we'd pick Turkish, because we have good friends in Turkey who are like adopted family members. It would be so neat to be able to speak to them in Turkish.
From the Afroasiatic family of languages we'd pick Arabic. I have an on-going interest in Islam and I think understanding a language in this family (Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) are included here) could provide some interesting religious insight.
From the Nigo Congo family of languages I'd pick Zulu, or perhaps Xhosa- because those click consonants are the neatest thing.
And (why stop at 5?) if possible it would be great to add in the Austronesian family as well, perhaps Malay or Tagalog.

Full of the excitement of a new dream, I wondered if we could obtain sponsors for such an adventure?

"Hey darling, since you teach school and have the summer's off, in theory we could travel to a new country each summer and learn the language. What if I wrote books about it and the publisher paid our travel expenses?"

He gave me a "sure honey" smile and I spent a week researching the possibility.

Can you picture the feeling of an expectant mother, who comes up with the perfect completely unique name for her baby, and then discovers that the name she invented is the number one name on the list of birth registers? She feels let down, and wonders if she should use that name for her baby. Did she like the name for it's uniqueness or for the sake of the name itself? How is it that everyone seems to be unique together?

Yep. My looking around online was kind of like that.

Scores of "watch me learn-13-languages-in-2-years," "be-fluent-in-a-new-language-every-3-months," "live-out-of-my-suitcase-in-20-countries" adventure like blogs are peppering the internet. I found several travel blogs that have supported their ventures by sponsors, and plenty of ideas for how an adventure could be funded, or rather how I could spend hours trying to get funding, and likely end up with nothing. External funding given with the strings of "you much promote our products x amount" doesn't appeal to me at all.

So here we have major obstacle number one:

There is no possible way to pay for my crazy 'learn 5 languages in 5 years" dream, at least not with the "travel-to-another-country" immersion aspect of it that I would hope to experience.

Which wouldn't deter me if it weren't for major obstacle number two:

My other half (my husband) thinks this is an awful idea. "Sounds like a lot of work" and "I have other things I want to do with my summer" and "It would be stressful, painful, and probably fruitless" were some of his reactions once he realized that this wasn't a hypothetical "what if" conversation that would be forgotten the following day.

And at this moment I can see the difference between at dream and a nifty idea.

A dream persists, despite logistical impracticalities and impossible obstacles. It keeps calling, and urges us to search for a way forward. A one in a million chance is still a chance.

Happily, my sweetheart is fully supportive of operation "learn Spanish in 2013." I entertain the hope that after our three weeks in Panama he'll say "You know, Arabic next year would be awesome. I think I'll email some Universities and see if they will pay for our airfare and arrange a host family if I agree to teach summer classes for free."

What's the chance that would happen?

I'd guess one in a million.

And ahora, probo decir un poco de este en español. (Perdón por favor por los equivocas):


Este idea de cinco idiomas en cinco años comienzo con un resolución (Como me encanta las cognados!) por el ano nuevo: aprender español. Estudié el árabe el año pasado, cuando espero que vivimos en el Medio Oriente. La trabajo por mi esposo era en Nevada, entonces español es un idioma bueno por aprender.

Pero, cuando estudié el árabe, me gusta mucho. Después de hago una resolución de aprender español este año, penso "Porque no aprendo árabe el próximo año? Y porque no aprendemos cinco idiomas en cincos años, y quizás podemos hablar los seis idioma del Naciones Unidos:
y chino?

O quizás podemos aprender las idiomas mas grande que no son inglés:
y portugués?

O quizás aprendemos cinco idiomas que vienen de las familias de idioma mas grande? Me gusta este idea mucho.

De "indo-europo" yo quiero español.
De "sino-tibetano" yo quiero chino.
De la familia de idioma llama "altaico" yo quiero turco.
De "afroasiático" yo quiero árabe.
De "Nigo Congo" yo quiero zulú o xhosa-- porque esos sonidos "clic" "clic" son muy bueno.
Y por qué terminar a cinco idiomas? Después esos quizas Malay o Tagalog tambien.

Estoy emocionado por este sueño, y penso "quizás un otro persona me dar dinero?" (Eso es un penso tonto, yo sé.)

Me digo a mi esposo: "Quiero, porque tu enseñas escuela y no debas trabajar en el verano, quizás podemos ir a nuevo país cada verano y aprender el idioma? Tal vez escribo libros de eso, y la gente que hacer los libros nos pagar?"

El dice "lo que quieras" y voy a traer información de esto posibilidad.

Tal vez puedes imaginar un madre con un nombre perfecto y único por su hijo, y entonces ella descubre esté nombre es más popular.

Si, cuando busco en el internet es como esto. Mi sueño de aprender idiomas no es único.

Hay muchas "blogs" creen de las personas que voy a país differente. Unos de esos personas ganar dinero por eso.

Entonces, aqui es la dificultad number uno:

No puedo pagar por mi "aprendemos cinco idiomas en cincos años" sueno, al menos, no puedo pagar por ir a un otro país cada año.

Eso no esta una problema grande si no hay una otro problema.

Mi esposo penso que mi sueño es terrible. El dice: "Eso idea es mucho trabajo" y "Tengo otro cosas que hacer en el verano" y "Tratamos a aprender otro idioma en una año? Es horrible, terrible, impossible!"

Y ahora, me veo la diferencia entre un sueño y un idea. Un sueño es mas fuerte. Un sueño existe en mi corazon aunque todo el mundo dice "no puedes hacer." Un posibilidad de uno en un millón es pequeño pero es verdad un posibilidad.

Gracias, mi esposo deseo aprender español este año. Espero que después aprendemos español él quiero aprender árabe. Tal vez él puede decir: "El verano proximo vamos a la medio oriente."

El oportunidad de eso? Probablemente un en un millón.

**I did look up just a few words (como las palabras por diferente idomas) in a dictionary when writing this post**

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Begin! Empieza!


Here's the plan: each post will be in English and Spanish. My self-imposed rule is that I don't use a dictionary while writing in my second language, so at the first it's going to be pretty rough!

You can use google translate to see how close my Spanish half of the post comes to communicating the English portion. As the year goes on, there should be some dramatic improvement.

Here are our current Spanish-learning resources:
We have the first series of Learn Spanish Like Crazy (similar to Pimsleur but goes at a quicker pace), some flashcards and workbooks, and a dictionary and verb book. In about five months we will be heading to Panama for three weeks of Spanish immersion school.
Knowing that we're making this trip is great motivation for us to study! I hope that when we leave we will be comfortably conversant, and that when we return we will feel that we are nearly fluent.

Alright, now let's see how I do trying to say this same bit en Espanol (without the appropriate accents, sorry):


Aqui es. cada escrito va ser en ingles y espanol. La regla para mi es que no usar un dictionario, porque en la comienza es muy dificil por mi escribir en espanol.

Si quieres, tu puedes usar "Google Translate" por ver si puedo communicar en espanol como en ingles. En algunos meses, va escribir espanol mejor que ahora.

Aqui es nuestro libros y cassetes por apprender espanol:
 Hay unos libros, y cartes, y discos para apprender espanol. En cinco meses vamos ir a panama.
Necesito mucho trabajo en espanol antes de salir! Espero que hablar mejor cuando partir, y cuando nosotros regresar espero que estamos muy comfortabla hablar en espanol.

Oy vey. Eso no es bien escrito!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A longing for language

The story of my love for languages begins with my father.
Me, my father, and brother biking in Germany

When I was four years old he told my mother that he didn't think he could ever be truly happy if he didn't get a PhD in Egyptology.

She thought he was being ridiculous. "You couldn't be happy?? What about your successful career as a doctor? What about your family? Don't we make you happy?"

A year later we moved to Germany where my dad soaked in the academic waters of ancient history and language. We were there for three months, in which time, I am told, I learned to speak a few sentences of German.

His study time was cut short when the doctor covering his practice back home left town. Fearing for our financial security, he quit the program and we returned to the U.S.

The school I attended started foreign language classes in sixth grade. When I reached that grade my dad was studying French, so I started learning French too. When I was in eighth grade my dad's French phase had passed and he wanted me to pick up German. Still, it would be a shame to give up my French. He suggested I continue with both languages.

French was taught during 4th period, when the German students had their lunch. German was taught 5th period, when the French students had lunch. When we asked the principle at our small college-prep school if I could study both languages he scratched his head and said “But when will she eat? Lunch is an important period too.”

“There is a five minute break in between class periods.” suggested my dad.

“I'm sure Mme. Bohn would let me eat my lunch in class.” I offered.

It was soon settled, and for the next four years I took both language classes. Each time I entered German class I was lost, out of place. I could hardly respond to questions because every word I reached for was French. After a few minutes there was a distinct shift. I loved the feeling of this moment, of transforming from one language to another. In that “click” into German mode, the French vanished, replaced by a different sentence structure in my mind and a different feeling in my mouth. I had arrived.
Feeding birds at the botanical garden in Berlin, Germany.
When I was 14 years old I spent one month in France as a foreign exchange student. When I was 15 years old I spent one month in Germany as an exchange student. After each trip our family did some traveling together, often looking at places we might live the following year.
My family in Switzerland
I loved these trips, and just before leaving both exchanges I had the exciting feeling that I was just starting to get it, I was almost thinking in another language, I was almost understanding, almost able to carry on a conversation.

Throughout my middle and high school years my dad maintained a dream that next year his linguistic passion would be realized. The multiple plans he made to relocate fell through, and when I was in college he had moved on to Chinese.
After I was married, my parents lived in China for two years. The Chinese thought my dad spoke very well. They could understand him and he could talk about a variety of subjects. He felt frustrated that he couldn't understand the native speakers better, and he hated the food. My dad hasn't “kept up” with his Chinese since then.

When I was born my dad already spoke fluent German, and in the next twenty years he studied French, Latin, Greek, Ancient Egyptian, Coptic, Arabic, Classical Ethiopic, Hebrew, Akkadian, and Chinese. Both my mom and my dad shake their heads about his passion for languages. He enjoyed it, felt compelled to seek knowledge in this area, and attained a working fluency in each language he studied. He spent hours, days, weeks, years of his life pouring over books and memorizing words, but for what?

He kept a journal in ancient Egyptian, which he can no longer read. Half the languages he studied were dead, no longer spoken. He sometimes says now that much of his language study was a waste of time.

I remember the moment I realized that I had this same passionate pathology, a drive to learn so strong that I would gladly reorganize my entire life around it. The moment came after I had graduated from college, years after I had studied or spoken any language besides English.

My three children were asleep upstairs and my husband  asked if I wanted to watch a few new movie trailers with him. I sat down and as the trailer of a foreign film started, I heard French spoken for the first time in five years.The scene played, and I understood. The sounds, soft, held more in the throat, were beautiful to me. In comprehending their meaning, some dormant part of my mind awakened with transformative longing.

My whole being yearned to be bilingual, better yet, trilingual or fluent in five, six, seven languages. With my sweetheart's blessing, I began submitting job applications for him in foreign countries. When I told my mom about my schemes she laughed.

“You definitely get this from your dad. It must be some sort of genetic curse.”

I smiled. “Maybe it's a gift.”

“I don't get it. Why exactly do you want to learn another language so badly?” she asked, “You already speak French and German.”

In answering that “why” I first corrected the misconception that I spoke French or German merely because I had the ability to understand both languages with the help of a dictionary, if they were spoken slowly. I wanted to attain complete, native fluency, the ability to speak and understand and write a different language just as well as I would if I had been born in that tongue instead of English.

“But Why?” my mom asked, “Why do you want to become bilingual?”

I think it is part of my soul's search for truth, for understanding and transcendence.

“I don't get it” she said.

I tried to explain, with examples that stirred my longing.

There is a collective consciousness, a heritage of experience inherent in our words, grammar, and expressions. Emerson said that language is fossil poetry, that each word at the moment of it's creation was “a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer.” He was right.

Our selves, cultures and this world are shaped by our languages, in ways we frequently take for granted.  For an example, take the English word debate, which originates from the Old French debatre, meaning to fight. What if the word had come instead from a root word meaning to dance? What if instead of opponents, there were partners? What if the art itself, the discovery of truth, had higher significance that personal conquest? It would have taken a different culture entirely to create a word for debate based on dance, one that viewed the process as a joint endeavor searching for truth rather than a contest. But doesn't the word itself perpetuate the combative nature of a debate?

We place ourselves in time with the future being in front of us while the past is behind. But what if it were the reverse? What if in our language the past were in front of us, because we have seen it. The future is unknown, shouldn't it also then be unseen, behind us? If our language were this way then going forward would be remembering past lessons, and progressing to tomorrow would be visualized by stepping backwards, always viewing our history and fully aware of our inability to predict the next step.

Why should up be good, and down bad? If it were reversed, would subterranean homes be more common? Would the height associated salary phenomenon be reversed, with a person earning, on average, more money for each inch shorter they were? Would heaven be underground?

I want to better understand how language effects my mind, my self.

I want to see the collective heritage and living memory of another language and view the world through its lens. Will it be the same? Will the truth be clarified if I can see through different tongues?

I want to give my children the opportunity for greater compassion, to realize all cultures and languages are filled with people who belong to their human family, and that our common humanity means more than our differences.

And so I study, and dream. I dream of our family traveling, being immersed in different countries and cultures. I dream of learning five languages in five years.
My first triathlon
I hope you'll join me on my journey. Thanks for reading.