Category Archives: The Languages We Don’t Speak So Well

Japanese, Spanish, etc.

Docile Whale

Here’s one of those little things that amuses me far more than it should: my wife gave me this notebook to use at work. She said, “It’s friendly. The children will like it.” And it is and they do.

But I like it because of its friendly and charming little poem. Across the top it says: “I’m feeling much better. I live as I please. I like the natural flow of time. How are you?”

Well, I’m just great, thanks for asking! You docile whale you.

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Filed under Learning From the Master, The Language We Speak, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well, True Thoughts on True Life

Test Day

Well, the test is done with for another year or four.  I think I did ok, but I don’t know if I actually passed or not and won’t find out until February.  The first section of the test kicked my ass, so it remains to be seen if the second and third portions, where I think I did ok, were good enough to pull my overall score up to a passing percentage.

Hung out with lots of people I don’t get to see too often after the test and drank a few beers too many and got home too late, but it was worth it.

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Had  a nice group study session after a piece of work today that went very nicely.  The job was fun and paid well, and after, to be able to sit with friends who are taking the same test, was incredibly helpful.  After having done so, I feel much more ready to deal with this thing and much more confident.

Thanks guys.

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I hadn’t really intended to take a break from blogging, it just sort of happened.  Rather than trying to play catch-up for the past weeks worth of (non) posts, I’m just going to roll my notes over into this weeks worth of posts.  I hope.

Things are going ok, but the number of times I have sat down to write this week and actually produced something can be counted on one finger.  I had to give up on Nanowrimo at the 25,000 word mark in order to put more concentration on studying for the test next week.  The good news is that I think I might actually pass, the bad news is that I have had no energy for anything else.

Anyway, while I’m still studying, I’m in the final review stage – no new information, just reviewing previously learned info – and this is taking some of the pressure off.  Also, the desire to write is still there, but deciding to give up on the 50,000 words in one month has freed me up to think about some other things that need writing.

This novel is going to be started over, losing some elements and gathering others from various other projects.  I plan to start working on it, 500 words at a time, as soon as the test is over.

That is all.

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Filed under Stories I Tell Myself At Night, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well

Impractical Linguistics

It’s no secret that I love languages.  It’s also no secret that I think learning languages is a royal pain in the fundament.

My students know that I study Japanese and Spanish, although I freely admit that I usually only study the later when I am thoroughly sick of the former and can not stand the site of another kanji or double-particle.  They also know that I am an advocate of the preservation and renewal of small or dying languages.  In higher level classes we often talk about preservation methods and the reasons for and against the active, mandatory learning of these languages.

Recently, however, the discussions have grown an off-shoot:  Which impractical languages would you like to learn?

And, of course, by “impractical” I’m not trying to slight any language, but the reality is, that in this day and age, it is simply impractical to study some languages.  I study Japanese because I live here, and Spanish because it is one of the more common languages in the world and spoken in many of the places to which I would like to travel.

But, given a choice; given the freedom just to learn with no need of any practical reason, I would study Cherokee, Hawaiian, and Yiddish.

These three languages fascinate me while being completely irrelevant to my life (even if just for the time being), not to mention that my reasons for wanting to learn are somewhat frivolous if not downright silly.

I would love to take the time to give Cherokee some serious study.  I have roots in the language in that I have Cherokee ancestors, and I think it has immense historic value, especially for Americans.   But the reason I want to study it?  Just so I could seem cool by muttering cryptic sounding phrases to myself and then refusing to explain them in English.  Frivolous, right?

My only reason for wanting to study Hawaiian is that I maintain a fantasy of sitting on one of the more secluded, less touristy beaches in Hawaii, plunking away at a ukelele and singing Hawaiina love songs.  (Oy.  Like you haven’t got something equally idiotic bouncing away inside your happy, little skull?)

And Yiddish.  Why would I like to study Yiddish?  Is it because I’m Jewish?  No.  Because I live in New York or Eastern Europe?  No.  Because I’m studying the history of the middle East?  No.  I just think it has some of the best kitsch* value in American culture today.  We constantly use words like chutzpah and schlep; I would like to have some solid grammatical footing under me the next time I call some one a  schmuck.  That’s it.  That’s all.

Student’s have given me a good list as well – Navajo, Okinawan, Thai, Tagalog, Swahili, Etruscian, etc. etc.  All for their own reasons, all as awkward as my own.

Care to add any to the list?


Filed under The Language We Speak, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well

Brain Fried

This morning I woke up early, again, and got straight to work again.  Did the dishes, picked up the debris stewn around the living room, cleaned and repaired M’s bicycle, washed and vacuumed the inside of both our cars, paid some bills, and went grocery shopping. 

But you know what made me tired?  You know what absolutely did my head in and made me feel like I just wanted to crawl in bed and sleep for the next one hundred years?  The frickin’ kanji cards.

M, being so very kind, said she would help me go through my Japanese text and flashcards.  The text was no problem.  I made a few mistakes but nothing tragic.  The cards, on the other hand, damn near killed me.  We went through them until I could do the entire stack without missing one and, at the end, I felt like I had just been through an olympic event.  I wanted a medal.  A big one.  Just for having made it through.

I made flashcards last month of all the vocab I need for my test in December.  Most of the cards are words that I already know and can use in conversation, just that I can’t read very well.  So, I divided the cards into six groups and I am going through one group a week for the next six weeks.  Then, I’ll re-divide the cards into two groups and alternate between them until the test.  Using this method means I should learn them all well enough to read them, but M has decided that I need to know how to write them to and has added a segment to the process.

She shows me the reverse of the card, with the phonetic reading and the meaning and I have to write the word.  Undoubtedly, this means that I will learn the words and kanji much better, but it is incredibly tiring, and, frankly, just pisses me off.

However, I am incredibly fortunate to have a wife who counts this as quality time and looks forward to helping me get better at the language.

But, still, grrr.

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Filed under Left From Seattle, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well


Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language through a foreign language? I ask because that was my afternoon.

On Tuesdays, between afternoon and evening classes, I usually go to the pool and get my swim on. Today, however, and unbeknownst to me, the pool was closed. So I went back to work and sat around doing, well, nothing productive.

Fortunately, for me anyway, one of the other teachers arrived a bit early for her classes and we were able to sit and chat for a bit. I should mention that this other teacher does not teach English; she teaches Mandarin Chinese.

We had been talking for about an hour, and, as we do not know each other very well, we had been talking about all the useless and inconsequential things one talks to new co-workers about: Weather, travel, restaurants, shopping, etc. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I asked her to tell me a little about Shanghai, where she is from.

She gave me the basics and recommended a few places to go, should I ever make it to China for a bit of sightseeing. I mentioned that I wanted to go to Shanghai in 2010 for the Expo, and she said that that would be a good time to go.

Now, as you may know, one thing I am incredibly curious about is language. Bearing this in mind, it should not come as a surprise that I asked her about the various Chinese languages. She gave me a brief explanation of the three major languages – Mandarin (basic, textbook Chinese, spoken primarily in the North, in Beijing), Cantonese (the other major language, spoken mainly in Hong Kong and the South) and the Shanghai dialect, which, although based on Mandarin is distinct enough to classify it as another language. Then she told me I had been saying her name incorrectly.

Thus began my first Chinese lesson. We covered a few of the basics, hello, goodbye, etc. The difficulty for me was that she was speaking to me in Japanese (our common language) and writing in the Western alphabet (what you are reading this post in). Now, of course, the beauty of the alphabet is that it can represent an incredible number of sounds in a variety of combinations of letters. However, I primarily use them to represent sounds in English and Japanese, with the occasional Spanish or French or Italian or German thrown in. (Not that I speak all those European languages, just that we use their sounds in English on occasion.)

Yet, to learn Chinese, I have to adjust myself to a brand new combination of letters to represent sounds that I have never spoken before.

And I have to do it all in Japanese.

But it is fun, and I am looking forward to the next lesson.

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