Archive | June, 2013

Successful people giving advice, making me feel good

27 Jun

I came across two different individuals, both of whom have advice to people younger than them.

First, Chris Guillebeau advises people on how to jury rig a graduate school education in one year. He describes it as “approximately the same amount of knowledge (if not more) you’d receive in a general social science or humanities program,” which might be more or less accurate. I think that a real graduate program would involve considerably more analysis, and if Chris hasn’t gone to graduate school himself, he certainly doesn’t seem qualified to judge it. However, I do like the things that he lists, and many of them describe me and my habits already. Here are some of what he lists and how I compare:

  • Subscribe to the Economist and read every issue religiously. – I used to read the NYT and the Economist quite seriously. I’ve mostly left mainstream media behind now, so I give myself a partial for this one.
  • Memorize the names of every country, world capital, and current president or prime minister in the world. – I’ve got world geography down, but the heads of state are something that I haven’t yet attempted.
  • Buy a Round-the-World plane ticket or use Frequent Flyer Miles to travel to several major world regions, including somewhere in Africa and somewhere in Asia. – I’ve been to Asia and Europe already, and I’m on the cusp of visiting South America. I haven’t travelled as extensively as I would like to but I think that I am well underway.
  • Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. – I’m got a strong grasp of Buddhism, a fairly strong understanding of Christianity, but I am very ignorant of Islam.
  • Subscribe to a language-learning podcast and listen to each 20-minute episode five times a week for the entire year. – I’m through the roof on this one. I’m working on my third foreign language.
  • Read at least 30 non-fiction books and 20 classic novels. – Over the past two years I think that I’ve gotten this finished already, but at the rate I’m going I’ll continue for a long time.
  • Set your home page to Over the next year, every time you open your browser, you’ll see a different, random Wikipedia page. Read it. – I scoured Wikipedia during my college years, so I consider that to be already finished.

Next, I found that Derek Sivers tends to think like me in at least one aspect: culture. For a very quick idea, check out his TED Talk on Japanese and American roads, blocks, and buildings for a wonderful illustration of cultural differences. From what little I know of him, he seems like enjoy learning about other cultural views, which is something that I am fascinated by. After listening to a long conversation/interview with him in which he mentioned differing values and viewpoints between different cultures, I decided that he had gone through some similar experiences to me. He recommends that people pick everything up and immerse themselves in a new environment. Well, I’m doing that pretty strongly so far.

Ticket becomes tique

24 Jun
2013-06-02 16.56.01

A ticket is required

Sometimes I really wonder how many Spanish words were imported from English. There are plenty of words with common roots, (like biology-biología) but every now and then I encounter a word in Spanish that I think is almost certainly a bastardization of its english equivalent. Spaniards almost never pronounce the ‘t’ at the end of a word (such as chalet), so the English ticket become Spanish tique.

Abbreviations across English, Chinese, and Spanish

20 Jun

Abbreviations are relatively common in English, used for a variety of titles (Mr, Mrs) and for short versions of proper nouns (MN, USA, EU). The pattern for abbreviations in English tends to be pretty simple: either two letters that give the main sounds make a little word (such as doctor becoming Dr.), or the first letter of each of the important words combine to make a little phrase. So “bring your own beer” becomes BYOB. Simple.

In Chinese abbreviations are most common in the names of institutions, but they are a bit more chaotic. I am unaware of any pattern in Chinese abbreviations, and I think that generally the two most important characters are chosen. Examples include the such as Central University for Nationalities (中央学), which is normally shorted to 民大, and The People’s Republic of China (华人民共和国) is usually shortened to 中国. (Naming China is actually so complicated that there is a well-fleshed out wikipedia article devoted to it) Chinese abbreviations are difficult enough for outsiders to understand that I´ve never been able to just guess at their meaning, I’ve had to learn each one or have each one explained to me individually.


A little girl who was in a class of mine was named Dulce Maria, and her notebooks has Dulce Mª written on it.

In Spanish… I have no idea. Some things seem to mirror the English pattern of using the first letter of important words. For example La Union Europea becomes UE, and producto interno bruto becomes PIB. But I was surprised by abbreviations in some seemingly random words. Maria, which is a common name in Spain, is often shortened to Numero becomes , while segundo and tercer become  and 3erHermanos is sometimes shortened to hnos, while calle is shortened to C/. But in general I haven´t encountered many abbreviations in Spain. I am sure that any readers with a Spanish focus can provide more examples in the comments. Any more examples?


Palindromic Musician!

16 Jun

Palindromic Musician!

Can you think of any others?

Japan’s Soft Power is visible in Murcia

16 Jun
2013-02-19 11.35.57

DBZ’s Goku at a primary school in semi-rural Spain.

I never expected to see Dragon Ball Z so far from major cultural centers, but I have been shocked by its reach. People often talk about the power and the draw of American culture (mostly they mean Hollywood, American music, and American fashion), but it is nice to be reminded that there are other superpowers of soft power, too. Japan’s anime and manga industries are an excellent example of this. It is quite ironic that I am surprised by this, considering how much a preach about the wonders of the internet and it’s ability to spread information, but it serves as a good reminder  these things can be found in unexpected places.

Data analysis and graphs illustrate a popular linguistic contention

15 Jun

I think that this is a great example of using open data and relatively a simple statistical analysis to get solid data that can be used to illustrate a point. It also reminds me that I need to learn statistics and programming.

On “Geek” Versus “Nerd”, via MicroSiervos.

How to Learn a Language with Movies

14 Jun

I love watching movies. Lots of people do. But I have a special secret: when I watch movies, I’m not just relaxing. I’m also strengthening or reviewing Chinese, Spanish, or Portuguese. Seriously! This is a very easy way to relax, while passively working on your language skills, and it also help you learn lots about that culture. Now, keep in mind that using only passive learning strategies will not make you fluent in another language. However, if you’ve studied or worked all day long and you are exhausted, having a target-language movie is a nice way to relax while still improving your brain’s language skills.

So if you are learning Spanish, find some Almodovar films. If you are learning Chinese, get up some Zhang Yimo movies. If you are learning Portuguese rent or buy Tropa de Elite or City of God. The DVDs of any one of these films will normally have audio in both English and your target language, as well as subtitles in many different languages. But I’ve only written a few movies here, so what movies other should you look for? Well, it isn’t too difficult to find good quality movies. For example, IMDB has a list of the best Brazilian films. If you are studying Arabic, they’ve got that too. When I began studying Spanish I looked up a list of films that had been nominated or which had won the Goya Award, and added them to my “to-watch list.”  For Chinese movies, I’ve always used DouBan to keep track of what is popular and the Chinese Movie Database to find what is coming out. Searching google with best *country name* films will usually give you lots of results.

Now that you know how to find the names of the movies that will work for you, how can you find the movies themselves? Well, for those of us who have plenty of extra money, Amazon is a good source of DVDs of foreign films. A lot of people would rather not spend so much cash, though, so I’ll share a few strategies that I sometimes use. First, use a library. University libraries and public libraries often have DVDs of foreign films, so go ahead and borrow it for a few days and be happy that you didn’t spend a penny. In fact, you can even get DVDs of movies from other countries, and just change the language setting to watch it in a different language. I watched Thor
in Spanish last summer and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in Brazilian Portuguese a few days ago. If you really want to watch a hollywood blockbuster, then watch it in your target language! A video rental store is another option. (pro tip: if you need to find the name of a film or a TV show in a different language, so to the Wikipedia page for that film or TV show, then view that page in the other language to see the title)

However, nowadays I do nearly all of my language learning through the internet, and this is where we find our last option: video sharing sites, like YouTube. Most American films can’t be found easily on YouTube, but I’ve seen many Chinese movies there. I suspect it is because the copyright police working for YouTube focus on English-language and American-made films, so finding The Warring State (战国) or If You Are the One (非诚勿扰) on Youtube is easy. For countries that have their own video sharing sites, like Youku and Tudou in China, those can also be good resources to find movies in that language. Series Yonkis is a great site for finding Spanish TV shows as well as american TV shows dubbed in Spanish, and I enjoyed watching quite a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother there.

Of course, some evil and nefarious elements of society would propose using a torrenting program to quickly and easily download high-quality films directly to your computer. I won’t tell you about that! But if you happen to have some of these video files already available on your hard drive, there is an excellent option watching it with subtitles to it: Fleex. I only heard about Fleex a few days ago, but it has already proven it’s worth. Simply put, Fleex will automatically find subtitles for your video file, whether it is a movie or a TV show. Further, it can easily switch between English and target-language subtitles. This means that if I am a beginner and I want to watch and American movie with the normal audio but with Portuguese subtitles, I can do that. If I am more advanced, I can take my target-language language movie and watch it with target-language subtitles. It is targeted towards people who are learning English, but it can be easily used by English-speakers learning other languages.

These are just a few of the strategies that exist to use film and movies to practice a foreign language. Remember that this is a passive form of learning, and passive forms should not be your main strategy, but it can be used as a supplementary strategy when you aren’t motivated to do something energy-intensive. So next time you come home from your job or you finish your classes and you want to just sit down on the couch and zone out in front of the TV, try to have a target-language movie or some target-language subtitles easily available so that you can zone out in front of a target-language movie.