The Importance of Childhood Language Immersion

http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/08/24/3694686/hisd-arabic-immersion-program/

After having read this article, I am deeply disturbed by the lack of respect for immigrants from the Middle East and their language and religion. Resolving tensions with the Middle East does not mean rejecting anything to do with it. By helping children learn other languages, we encourage them to learn about other cultures, and appreciate the world for the multiple cultures that exist in it. Being monolingual forever means pushing away the wealth of knowledge that others have to offer.

To all of the Arabic speaking families in Houston: my prayers are with you that this program will be preserved, so that children will be able to bring themselves closer to you, your children, and your culture. You’re not alone. Language is what binds cultures and civilizations together. We prosper because we understand each other. By learning other people’s languages, we can be even more prosperous.

To the protesters: Closing yourself to the world is exactly what ruins this country. This program is a step in the right direction. “Immigrants must assimilate”? It is not our duty to do anything other than abide by the laws of this country and get along with other people. We are not required to give up our heritage, religion, and definitely not our language.

Don’t listen to these people who want to hold our country and our world back! Protect language immersion of all kinds in schools!

Supporting “The World Speaks!”

Recently, I announced that I am publishing my language guides on Amazon, with 25% of the proceeds going to the Akshayapatra Foundation, which sponsors school lunches for underprivileged students in India. This prevents children from dropping out of school early in order to make money for their families, and makes sure that they don’t go hungry.

I’ve decide that I’m going to put the guides back up for download for free. But, as I continue to publish material, I ask that you please purchase the guides from Amazon, not only to donate to Akshayapatra, but also to fund this project. The money helps support the site, as well makes sure that you all have access to more language-related content. I write these guides completely on my own, and I do my own research to bring the content to you. Also, I’m going to be university student soon, and that will take up more of my time. Please be patient with the production of new guides; I’m doing the best I can.

I hope you enjoy using this site to further your own language learning goals, and please buy the guides, either physical or Kindle copies, to support The World Speaks! and the Akshayapatra Foundation!

Playing Final Fantasy X… in Italian! – Part 2

This is the second (and final) installment in the Final Fantasy X Italian series, as I’ve finished the game. Playing through the game is fun as well always, but it’s also very interesting to see how translators choose to get the meaning across of a work of fiction. In my opinion, fiction can be much harder to work with, especially if it’s of the fantasy genre. Fantasy invents entire worlds, languages, and hosts of new words to describe the universe. I qualify this with works such as The Lord of the Rings, which is the prime example of this situation, considering it has several whole languages translators have to deal with, as well as several cultures, which were concocted in English. The translators for The Lord of the Rings must have had their work cut out for them.

Anyway, the topic at hand is Final Fantasy X, a game from Square Enix, released in 2001, and re-released in HD on the PS3 in 2013. For the past week or so, I’ve been studying the game in Italian. The dub is in English, but subtitles and other game text are all in Italian. This makes for great study material, as you can accumulate vocabulary and immerse yourself in the language. You can read about my analysis of the first half of the game here, if you haven’t already. Now, let’s get started with Part 2!

The mode of address for authority figures and normal people is made very distinct.

I should have noted this in the first part of the game, but it is much more present in the second half, as the story much more heavily involves authorities and the government in the world of the game. In Italian, as in all Romance languages, there is a tu-vous distinction, or a distinction between a non-polite and polite form of address in the second person. Perhaps due to the pseudo-medieval context of the game, translators chose to include the third mode of address, reserved for authorities, particularly rulers and religious authorities, which is somewhat outdated in Italian in the real world. The central religious organization of the world of the game, the Church of Yevon, is run by four main figures, known as maesters. Lower on the social ladder are the summoners, who serve to protect the people under the Church’s control. Both of them are often addressed using the second person plural pronoun, voi. Though it is effectively the plural version of the pronoun tu, the non-polite second person pronoun, the use of voi toward a single person is a gesture of great respect, the second person version of the royal “we” in English. In the English version, this is not made apparent through the pronoun you, but rather addressing the figure in question as, “My lord/lady”, “Milord/milady”, “Lord/Lady summoner,” or “Your Grace”. This imparts the same effect as using voi, which is very interesting as a stylistic choice. Another nuance that has, perhaps unintentionally, been added to the game in translation, is the shift between tu (non-polite), lei (polite), and voi (royal “you”). For certain characters in different scenes, this can express intimacy or contempt. This is especially powerful for one of the characters who has unwaveringly followed the Church’s teachings, and once she is branded a traitor for doing her duty, she is shaken, and one of the antagonists who attempts to use her is one of the Church’s maesters. She noticeably shifts from addressing him with voi to using tu, which, under normal circumstances, would not only be rude, but is much more immediately indicative of her character development, from being polite and respectful to all superiors without question, to making decisions for herself. Since the game was originally in Japanese, this might also be more apparent about her in Japanese in a similar way, considering the much more complex system of formality, respect, and connotative pronouns than those in Western languages.

A very crucial detail to the story is completely left out until a point where it basically doesn’t matter!

This is less an analytical point, than it is, in my opinion, a mistake on the translators’ part. This detail (unavoidable spoilers here) concerns the objective of the summoners’ pilgrimages, which is to train to receive what is known as the Final Summoning. This is a supernatural power that allows the summoner to defeat the destructive force known as Sin. However, there is a catch: the act of doing so takes the summoner’s life in the process of the summoning. This calls into question as to whether this is even ethical or worth the effort, considering Sin reappears two years after it is defeated. Now, he translation in Italian does not articulate this at all. It simply states that the summoners will defeat Sin, and will die doing so. (“Sconfiggerà Sin.. ma anche lei morirà!“; that is the line from the game, almost verbatim.) For those of you who don’t know Italian, this line does not explain that the Final Summoning itself kills the summoner. In fact, it might actually imply that the summoner dies as a casualty of the battle against Sin!

This is repeated in the same manner over and over again, until a point much later in the game, where a person explains that the summoner will perform the Final Summoning, die, and Sin will be defeated temporarily. At this point in game, you’re about to fight the person responsible for granting the Final Summoning to the summoners, which completely eliminates it from the equation and as a plot device.

I suppose, if you’re an Italian speaker with some knowledge of English and you can understand most of what is said to you, this does not present a problem. However, what I feel is more likely, is that Italian speakers are depending more on the subtitles for information, rather than what is being spoken aloud. Not to mention that the Italian text that shows the fact explained above is somewhat “blink and you miss it”. This, I consider an egregious error.

The concept of an “unsent” has more than word used to translate it.

More explanation here: an “unsent” is a person who has not received a sending, a supernatural funeral of sorts, which was explained in Part 1. This ceremony is required to make sure that the souls are laid to rest in peace. If they do not receive this ceremony, they either become fiends due to their resentment of the living, or they become an “unsent”, which is effectively their body and mind (some simplification here) bound to the physical world by the sheer force of their will to stay alive and accomplish something they were not able to in life.

Now, the fact that this word has more than one translation is not an altogether bad thing, I think. Actually, it could be a good thing, since the word is a bit ambiguous or multi-faceted, whichever you think it is. Since an “unsent” is neither dead nor alive, and is still, in appearance, like any other person, it’s not exactly appropriate to translate it as spettro or fantasma (“specter” and “ghost” respectively). The words used to translate “unsent” are still debatable, however. Occasionally, in sentences where I might expect the translated word to be used, the word morto is used instead, which is just a dead person. Granted, this may not have been the intention, since the meaning of “dead person” is easily substituted for the same meaning in the sentences in question, in which case there’s no problem. The most consistently used word is non-trapassato, which is literally “non-passed-away” or “non-dead”. It’s just a negated form of trapassato, and in context, it implies a person who has been “sent”. Since the original Japanese used for the term is 死人/死者 (shibito/shibisha), which means “dead person/departed”, it’s probably the closest translation possible.

Despite my little qualms here and there with translation, it’s largely my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the game in a new way, and I still highly recommend this game in general. For language learners, changing the language of a game or a system is an invaluable tool to getting immersion practice, so I highly suggest that you do so at some point.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-post-series on Final Fantasy X. I’m considering doing this again for other games (in a different language, I suppose), among which I’m considering Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Please share this post on Facebook and Tumblr!

I Just Graduated from High School… What Do I Do Now?

Since I recently graduated high school, and a friend of mine requested that I write this, I thought I’d write about keeping up your language skills after you leave high school. I’ve heard of a lot of adults who, after high school or college just completely stopped speaking whatever language they took. “It was too hard,” or “I wasn’t that good at it, anyway”. Those are things you hear the most. But that shouldn’t be the end.

If you just look, there are places to practice your language all around you. Talk to people who you know speak Spanish in Spanish. If you can, go on vacation to Quebec to practice your French. Whatever it is, you can find a way. There are sites like italki and WeSpeke, which help people exchange languages with others, to practice or simply as a form of cultural exchange. I used italki to practice my Italian, Catalan, and Portuguese. I didn’t even take classes on these languages in high school, so I had to be vigilant about keeping my skills up.

But since not everybody is as language-inclined (read: obsessed) as I am, there are a couple of ways that I recommend to keep up your language skills:

1. Watch movies or TV shows in a language made for native speakers. Or you can watch videos from the YouTube channels of those who speak the language. Just type in “X language YouTubers”, and there’ll be some article about it. Some YouTubers are more about learning the language, but there are also some that are more about entertainment, or even a little bit of both. Example: (Quite hilarious, I think!)

(YouTube Channel: 데이브: The World of Dave)

2. Read a book in your target language! I realize this can seem kind of daunting, but if you were more grammatically inclined when you studied your target language in high school, reading a book in the language can be really entertaining. You don’t have to read Don Quijote for Spanish (from what I’ve heard it’s rather boring when you’re trying to read the whole thing), but you can read Harry Potter in Spanish, if you liked that series. Note: If you’re doing this to learn more Spanish in general or improve your understanding of the culture, refer to my post on media.

3. Talk to yourself. I’m not joking. You may think it sounds crazy, but forcing yourself to think, talk, and conduct yourself using your target language will make it much harder to forget. After having gone through an entire year of speaking only Spanish in the morning every other day, I can vouch for this. Do whatever it takes: label all the things in your house with the words in the target language. Obviously, this changes if you live with other people. But you should try anyway.

4. As I mentioned before, there are many language exchange websites out there, where you can find people to speak with at leisure, all for free! The one site I recommend is italki, which I’ll link here. The site is incredibly useful, as you can specify different parameters for what kind of people you want to meet, and if you want actual lessons, you can find teachers for relatively cheap, as there are teachers without formal education in teaching who still teach very well, and there are professionals who are dedicated to the craft. Granted, you’ll have to put in a little money, but it’s well worth it if you want to maintain your skills.

I hope this post helps a lot of people, whether they graduated recently or will do so soon. Just because you had a hard time with it in high school doesn’t mean you have to give up. Just put your mind to it, and you can find all kinds of ways to practice speaking a foreign language.

“Is Watching Foreign Language Movies a Waste of Time?” from Fluent in 3 Months – Response

I recently read through a post about foreign language films from Fluent in 3 Months (run by the legendary Benny Lewis; you can read it here). In this post, I’m going to address points made in the post, as well as discuss the worth of media in general as a foreign language tool. With that, here we go!

Movies/Media have to be studied actively. Passive watching is unproductive.

I’ve paraphrased it, but this is a very big point, and is true of most media in general, when you’re using it to learn another language. Even though I’ve watched Bollywood films for a good part of my life, why isn’t my Hindi-Urdu really good? That’s because I’m not paying attention to what the actors are actually saying. By focusing on subtitles, you’re tuning out anything you can possibly learn.

It’s a good idea to have the remote with you while you watch. You should find yourself pausing and rewinding a lot, to closely examine what they’re saying. If you’re watching something on YouTube, you can slow down the video so the speech is slower and easier to understand. Writing down the words will help immensely for remembering what you hear.

However, even though the post breaks down the method into, “Focus”, “Segmentation”, “Repetition”, “Engagement”, and “Subtitles”, I think one more thing should be added: “Searching”. In almost every movie, song, TV show, or whatever it is, there will be words or phrases that are repeated over and over again. Look for these! It will make your life so much easier when you can pick out what you have learned and what you haven’t.

I find the tip about trying to respond in the role of a character by pausing before the character answers really interesting. I’d never really considered it before, and it’s a great way of practicing synthesis, putting sentences together by yourself, rather than using set phrases.

Warning: the media method isn’t for everyone.

I’m sure that Benny Lewis is aware of this, but using media such as television and music is inadvisable for people who are starting out. This is especially true of music; languages such as Hindi-Urdu and Mandarin use vocabulary that is exclusively poetic, literary, or figurative. This isn’t helpful for a person who doesn’t already know a lot of basic vocabulary and grammar. You can read my views regarding this phenomenon in Bollywood cinema here.

Even for television, which is more likely to use mundane or everyday words, cannot be of use to a person who’s not familiar with the language at least at an intermediate level. For example, I wouldn’t recommend watching a Spanish telenovela when you don’t know all the tenses and moods in the language. For a language like Spanish, more complicated structures involving the subjunctive are commonplace in everyday speaking, and are essential to certain nuances that people wish to convey.

Currently, I’m studying the Italian text of a video game, Final Fantasy X (you can read Part 1 of the analysis here), and I have to pause through a 2-minute cutscene several times from time to time because there are words that I don’t understand. It also helps that I did the blog post, actually. But the point is that it doesn’t matter what media form it is, you you have to be able to understand 40% of the text/speech from the start (most of which is grammar and basic vocabulary), and the other 60% (more advanced/specific vocabulary) will come in time. I might be over/understating the the ratio, but it just goes to show that prior knowledge is necessary.

Pick a movie/form of media that you like.

I also have some reservations about using films that you know. Depending on the film, your target language’s dub either uses cultural contexts and expressions that are completely foreign to itself, even if they’re totally normal for you. This is a problem because it will present situations that the language isn’t built for. Unless the societies of two languages have a lot in common in other ways, it is unlikely that the dub of a film that was originally in another language can fully render all the intricacies of the original language. I’m not saying don’t watch the French dub of Disney movies to practice your French; just don’t depend on it as your sole source of foreign language media. Watch a film that was made in France/Canada for French speakers. As the original post points out, these authentic films will give you a glimpse into real cultural situations that the language was made for.

This is where we have conflicts over the question of fictional works. By which I mean, films/books such as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a prime example of an unhelpful text for learning a foreign language, at least at lower levels. The Lord of the Rings is highly literary in its style, and consists of fictional cultures and languages that may or may not have anything in common with real world ones. The point of this warning is for you to have some variety in what you learn from; venture from your comfort zone (media you’re familiar with and understand on a basic level anyway) into the depths of authentic, original foreign language material made for the people who speak that language. It’s not to say that reading The Lord of the Rings in Russian would be entirely unhelpful; it would be, but it would give you only insight into how a Russian native might perceive the Tolkien’s fictional universe, which is not unhelpful in and of itself.

My experience with Final Fantasy X in Italian is another example of this predicament. The universe of the game is not Italian, and so it doesn’t give me any insight into Italian culture, not much anyway. On the other hand, it does let me see how Italian translators choose to render fantasy, which is still a useful thing to know. I get my dose of Italian culture through what I read on occasion (Italo Calvino in Italian is pretty helpful), so I’d like to think I’m not deficient. You should have a healthy balance of both in order to understand a language.

I realize that might have been a lot to process, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll answer them as best and as quickly as I can!

Food for Thought (About Italian!)

When I went to Italy two years ago, I got to experience how to cook real Italian food with Giglio Cooking in Florence. I was looking at some of our photos, and today, I decided that I’ll cover Italian food culture today! There are several things I’m going to go over in this post, including words for certain foods, Italian food-related etiquette, and about Italian food in general. As much as this blog is about language, it’s also about culture!

The size of a meal

While this obviously varies in different parts of the country, a good rule of thumb in Italy is that meals, ascending in size, are ordered so: breakfast, dinner, lunch. You might find it odd that dinner isn’t the largest meal, but this is completely normal in Italy! Lunchtime is often the biggest meal of the day partly because much of the family or coworkers have lunch together to relax. It is considered poor taste to discuss work at the lunch table if you can avoid it. Having a heavy meal also makes one sleepy, and it is not uncommon for cities to slow down a little after lunch, since many people go home to take a nap. This tiramisù looks delicious, doesn’t it? Too bad there’s already a bite taken out of it!

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Family meals VS Formal meals

Some people think that Italian meals are regularly extravagant, multi-course affairs. However, most Italian people are just like everybody else, and don’t have time to put together such a meal! A family meal can be very large as mentioned before, and often consists of fresh, homemade dishes. You probably have the image of an elderly Italian woman working away in the kitchen making dinner for her family, perhaps with help from her daughters. Italian family meals are informal affairs and focus on enjoying food with one’s family. As you can tell from the photo below, making fresh pasta, like pansotti, is a tiring process. (In case you’re wondering, the person making the pasta in the photo is me!) Fun fact: pansotti means “pot-bellied”, which is a fitting name for this stuffed pasta.

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Now, in contrast, formal Italian meals are very complex, and do consist of multiple courses, served in a specific order. Italian cuisine prides itself on serving only the freshest food to please diners. As a result, Italian restaurants in Italy avoid making too much food in advance, as it will get cold and won’t taste as good. A typical formal meal in Italy consists of the following courses in order: aperitivi, antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti con contorni, dolci, and digestivi. The first course, aperitivi, consists of alcoholic drinks meant to stimulate the appetite, particularly wines such as Prosecco, Cinzano, and Vermouth, and they accompany the antipastiAntipasti literally means “before the meal”, and consists of small appetizers, which may be cold foods like prosciutto and other cured meats, as well as cheeses, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and olives. The primi piatti (“first dishes”) are typically pasta, gnocchi, soups, or risotto. You might not know that strictly speaking, gnocchi aren’t considered pasta, as they are not prepared in the same way as pasta and are more like potato dumplings than anything. Secondi piatti (“second dishes”) are the largest portions of the meal, consisting of meat and fish. Dolci (“sweets”) follow those dishes, and are usually fruits, certain pastries, as well as other sweet dishes, such as the world-famous tiramisù. The word comes from the phrase tirami su, which means “pick me up”. Considering that it has rum and coffee in it, it’s bound to do so! To end the meal, diners often have coffee with digestivi (“digestives”), which are digestive liqueurs, also referred to as ammazzacaffè (“coffee-killers”).

Dining etiquette

Now, regardless of whether it is a family or formal gathering, there are few basic rules of dining etiquette in Italy. First, never start eating before the host has declared the meal to have started. In restaurants, putting your utensils on your plate signals that you are done eating, so put them to the side if you’re not done. It is highly improper to try and mop up all the sauce on your plate with bread; do it delicately!

Perhaps most surprising about Italian etiquette is that wishing someone Buon appetito! (Bon appetit in French and English) is impolite! It comes from a medieval Italian threat, in which the host would say this to his guests to effectively say “Eat well now, because if you don’t behave, you will not be invited again.” It is also seen as poor manners to fidget, touch oneself (very bad!), or put one’s hands or elbows on the table, for anything but eating.

Ingredients in Italian cuisine and dietary restrictions

If you’ve ever been to an Italian restaurant, you may be fond of the red and marinara sauces, the ones that are more famous. Well, here’s some trivia for you: the tomato is not a native ingredient to Italian cuisine, and was brought by the Spanish from the New World! It is now a popular ingredient in Southern Italy, due to being relatively cheap and easy to grow. The North uses more vegetables native to Italy, making much more frequent use of cattle and dairy products. Southern Italian cuisine has many influences from Arab traders and Spanish rule, using rice, spices, and most importantly, the tomato. Also, due its greater dependency on the coasts for economic reasons, Southern Italy makes heavy use of fish.

Now if you’re like me, a vegetarian and a non-drinker, you may feel that your lifestyle is practically anathema to the Italian way of eating. Like most cuisines of the world, the Italian diet is largely meat, particularly fish. Just as in many other countries, fish is not considered meat, because it’s a separate dish entirely. To add onto that, Italians will almost never go a meal without a glass of fine wine. Thankfully, the latter is a reasonably forgivable (to them anyway) thing. Alcohol in Italy is a traditionally moderate practice, and public drunken-ness (AKA going to a bar and getting wasted) is highly frowned upon. If you’re getting a little tipsy at an Italian dinner, it would be well-mannered to either drink less or simply not drink at all for the rest of the meal.

As for vegetarianism, this is a little harder. According to Life in Italy‘s post, “Vegetarians in Italy” (linked here), vegetarianism is gaining more traction in Italy, and in many big cities, if you ask, restaurants are happy to oblige. That being said, you have to be careful, as there are certain dishes that are secretly meat-based, such as soups (it’s not a bad idea to ask if there’s fish broth) and a few antipasti. Fortunately, many dishes in Italian cuisine are vegetarian, including a wide variety of vegetable contorni and hearty pasta dishes with delicious sauces.

For other dietary restrictions, such as halal, halal meat is gaining more visibility in Italy, due to a recent influx of Muslim immigrants. Vegans will have the hardest time in Italy, as milk, cream, and cheese are popular ingredients that would be difficult to omit from dishes, even if you asked. But it never hurts to try and ask for accommodations.
I hope you found this post interesting, and please share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

“It’s Raining Husbands” and Other Idioms Translated into Different Languages

“It’s Raining Husbands” and Other Idioms Translated into Different Languages.

This is an interesting article from Lingholic. Just to add to the fun, I’m going to talk about a few idioms and proverbs from different languages that I know!

ಮಂಗನಿಗೆ ಮನಿಕ್ಕ್ಯ ಕೊಟ್ಟ ಹಂಗೆ. – Maṅganige manikkya koṭṭa haṅge. – As if giving a monkey a pearl.

This Kannada proverb is used when somebody does something for or gives something to somebody else, and that person has no need for it. This is usually in the context of that person not being able to use it or appreciate it.

l’espantacriatures – an intimidating person

This is an idiom from Catalan, and literally means “child-scarer”. The word criatura means child, and espantar means to scare. It’s pretty obvious that a person who scares children is intimidating!

 

Em casa de ferreiro, espeto de pau. – In the house of the blacksmith, a wood skewer.

This is an interesting proverb in Portuguese. It’s talking about a situation in which something or someone doesn’t belong. And that thing or person shouldn’t be there, or do whatever they’re doing. A wood skewer doesn’t belong in a blacksmith’s house, because it would burn and be of no use. It’s kind of like getting in someone’s way.

l’attaccabottoni – A person who corners and presses others with long and sad stories. 

This is an interesting Italian word, because it is one of several very specific words in Italian that we might find very useful in English. I wasn’t aware that this was a type of person until I learned the word. It literally means “attacks the buttons”. Ordinarily you’d think this is like the phrase “pushing someone’s buttons” in English, but it has a completely different meaning in Italian!

(नमक मिर्च/मसाला) लगाना – (Namak mirch/masala) lagaana – to put salt and pepper/spice

This Hindi idiom is pretty useful if you have a lot of friends who gossip. A lot of Indians and Indian Americans use this phrase in English, too! By putting salt and pepper (or masala, which means spice), you’re hiding other flavors or you’re changing the taste a lot. As you might be able to tell, this means to change the story or make it more dramatic or scandalous to make it more interesting when you tell other people.

This was a little short this time, but I hope you found it interesting! Follow Lingholic for more cool stuff on languages. Their tips are really good!