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…lost in translation…

March 1, 2011

According to an article in the Guardian, bilingual people have a better chance of staving off Alzheimer`s disease.  I found that news to be pretty encouraging, and I can see why language acquisition would help prevent the disease.  Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language?  I learned French growing up and got to the elevated state where I knew a ton of grammar but none that I could use to actually string a sentence together.  Latin was the second language I attempted and the full range of information that I retained from four years of classes were the endings of some verb conjugation – bam, bas, bat, bamos, bamos, bunt (or something to that effect).  After these rather feeble attempts at second language acquisition I moved to South America and tried my hand at Spanish.  I was clearly able to apply all my French and Latin verb declensions and conjugations, but the speaking part still stumped me.  In fact, I convinced myself and those around me that I was just going to wake up one day and hablar.  I can tell you unlike Buzz Light-year, we don`t have a switch to suddenly speak a second language.  Too bad!  So when I moved to Brazil, I was wanted to learn Portuguese.  I found it so similar to Spanish that I spoke “Portunhol”, a combination of Portuguese and Spanish, for the first little while.  It was not pretty, but I was able to get my point across, most times.   After living in places that required me to speak some degree of French, Spanish or Portuguese, I wound up in Cyprus.  That`s when the whole language deal got interesting.  One thing I found out after studying French, Latin, Spanish and Portuguese was that the root of all these languages was essentially the same, or at the very least, quite similar.  I even began to believe that I could understand Italian!  Okay, so maybe I was a little delusional, but I did have fun speaking Portuguese to Italians.  (By the way, have you ever seen Danes and Swedes speak Danish and Swedish respectively and understand each other?)  Okay, so back to Cyprus.  I decided I might as well give Greek a go so I started out by asking how to say the basics:   bread, water, good morning.  When I heard how different they were I totally gave up.  My friend who spoke Japanese was able to do really well with Greek, but I was a wipe-out.  Now I will fast forward to the present.  I teach Portuguese to a Korean woman.  We use English as our go-between language, because I cannot make hide nor tail out of Korean.  If I cannot see it written, I cannot recall the word.  When I am learning a language, I can see it and that`s the way I can manage to speak it.  So Greek and Korean are totally foreign and impossible for me.  In fact, in Cyprus it was hard to tell what was written in Greek and what was Russian just to complicate matters a little more.  My guess is that learning a language that has the same root as one you already studies may help, but the real deal is learning a language with a different alphabet.  My hat goes off to anyone who can pull that one off!


…new semester, new girl…

January 27, 2011

I ate lunch the other day with Chi’s teacher and she asked me the following question:

“What did you do to Chi over the break?”


“Well she is a totally different kid.  You could tell it the minute she walked in the door.  Kids normally do mature over breaks, but she… whoa…”

I told the teacher that Chi spent 3 weeks hanging out with her grandparents and that their love and concern for her made the difference.  They had all kinds of really cool activities planned for the kids and did EVERYTHING to make their time special.  I really believe that this made the difference, although I think that their constant praise of her also helped.

“…she’s such a good reader…”

“…we’ve noticed a real change in her…”

“…she is really good with her brother…”


On that same note, it seems that Chi herself has noticed that she has changed.  (Without my prompting by the way.)  She told me the other day that she did her homework all by herself the other day and got all the answers correct.

She also posed the following question to me the other night:

Do you think I’m smarter this semester?

“I want Teacher Ma to go to the Great Wolf Lodge with us.”

January 26, 2011

This is what my son told me when we got back from our annual visit to the Great Wolf Lodge. I mentioned to his teacher that he had told me he wanted to take her with us.

Today she said she asked Lu about whether he wanted to take her with him. Apparently his response to her question about joining him was:

“So you want to see the toys at Grandma’s house?”

Apparently the toys at Grandma’s house are at least as exciting as the Great Wolf Lodge!

The world according to my 8 year-old…

January 21, 2011

“I finally have made Lu a real man.”

This is what Chi told me as we were walking to the pool yesterday.

Under any other circumstances I would have been totally  freaked out, but since it came from my daughter I was just confused.

I said: “What?”

“Okay, I didn’t exactly make him a real MAN, I made him a real BOY.”

I was still dumbstruck by the whole conversation, so I replied (not so calmly) “What are you talking about? Why would you say that? What could that possibly mean?” She started to stutter and so on and I realized that once again I had gone a little too far so I backtracked. I started the whole conversation again by saying:

“What exactly do you mean when you say you made Lu a boy?”

“Well, I got him to play soccer today.”


“Yeah, he used to only play with my toys…” “

“Umm hmm… what’s wrong with that?”

“Well, they are girls’ toys.”

“Okay, so since he plays with girls’ toys, he is not a REAL boy?”

“Well, yeah sort of…”

So then I started to try and salvage some of the conversation and make it more of a “teaching moment”. I told Chi that Lu plays with her toys because he wants to play with her. He loves her and will do almost anything to be with her. That includes emasculating himself in her eyes apparently.

I find it profoundly sad that gender lines and roles are so omnipresent and in-grained. It means I hear that our girl should not play soccer. Ever. Period. And it also means that our sweet little boy is somehow missing something because he spent the past two weeks playing Polly with his sister (and idol, I might add.) However, as much as I find the definitions of gender limiting and démodé, I revel in the fact that my daughter is fierce and that my boy is lovely – that will put them in good stead.

Overheard in the car…

January 19, 2011

“Mommy, what do you think I should be when I grow up”, asks Chi.

“Whatever you want to be…”

“Well, do you think I could be President?”

“Sure if that’s what you want to be.”

“What do you have to do to be President?”

“Well, you have to study hard and work hard.”

“… and then we’ll get married and have kids,” interjects Lu.

“But you can’t marry me.”

“Why not?”

“Well brothers and sisters don’t marry.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you’re already in the same family.  You have to find another person to marry so that the family can grow,” explains Daddy.

“But you are mommy’s brother,” insists Lu.

“Um, no we are not.”

Hmmm… it is so hard to explain concepts and abstract ideas to a curious four-year old.   How to explain traffic tickets?

I’m doomed…

January 18, 2011

Today was my first day back at school after a month’s break.  I was looking forward to going back to see all my friends and to get back into my routine again, but I just could not sleep last night.  At 2:00am I was still watching a less than B-rated movie starring John Travolta as a money-laundering, murdering mobster.  When my son woke me 3 hours later I was in a deep sleep.  Needless to say I was not as fresh as I could have been on the first day.  What is it with being so anxious after 17 years on the job?  And the more daunting question is this:  “If I am like this now as a relatively young person, what am I going to be like when I am genuinely old?”

I may become the kind of old person who only sleeps with the help of medication OR one that merely rests rather than sleeps.  Either way, I know I have problems kicking bad habits. 

Case in point:  I am not the best time manager and for various reasons, I need to manage it better.  So to prove to myself that I can manage my time well when given the opportunity, I spent my last week of vacation organizing as much of my house as I possibly could.  I thought I could carry that momentum into this week, but I could just not get that much done today.  (“Baby steps,” I tell myself, “…baby steps.”) 

My next example has to do with the healthy lifestyle I adopted in the last five days of holidays.  I stopped the holiday snacking and started drinking close to 3 liters of water a day while banishing the dust bunnies from our home.  I was feeling great, my skin was looking better than it has in a long time, and I was thinking I could work out the logistics of the bathroom/water ratio outside the comfort of home.  But as you may know, change is learned behavior.  I drank NO water at school today and quenched my thirst with coffee.  Argh!  Of course coffee on its own rots your stomach, so it must be accompanied by cookies.  After this ridiculous slip, I felt like I weighed about 10 tons by the end of the day.  Old habits die hard…

How is it then that my almost 91 year-old grandmother is learning to use a computer and send E-mail?

English and a marathon

November 8, 2010

What do these two things have in common?  Well, they are part of a bet I made with my hubby the other day.  We were talking about how busy I am and the fact that I do not have time to exercise.  My lack of exercise means I am always tired and never feel really healthy or rested for.  According to my hubby I am on that vicious cycle where you are too tired to exercise and therefore can never reap the benefits of exercise.  For him adrenaline is almost as essential as food, water and shelter.  If he does not get at least 4 days of playing tennis for at least 3 hours each week, he is a grumpy wreck.  I am such a couch potato compared to him.  I would be happy enough to be able to drag myself out of bed at 5:50 am to take the dog for a walk.  In the ideal world I would be playing tennis with my husband and kids on the weekend and getting up at 5:30 every morning to run.  Yeah – that’s not gonna happen.  So in a related conversation we talk about ways in which we can set goals for ourselves.  I always talk about professional goals and he sticks to one theme – exercise.  What is the next mountain I can climb?  What is the time cut-off for swimming in the Para Olympics?  When can I do the Camino Santiado de Compostela?  You get the idea I’m sure!  So given all these factors, we decided that we needed to up the ante on the goals/challenges.  I suggested that he learn English (finally) and he countered with a marathon for me.  Hmmm… that means that for every hour that I train for a marathon, he would study English.  I was pretty leery about this at first as you can imagine thinking that I had gotten the short end of the stick until he said:  “Wait, what do you want more English or our house built?”  Duh – no brainer.  So after all that we called off the bet almost as soon as we had made it!