Monthly Archives: July 2008

En Voz Alta…

So I was in a class the other day, yes Spanish class of course!, and I jumped in to make my comment and oh my gosh!  Who was that talking with my mouth?  They did NOT say what I had so neatly and precisely accented in my head!  It is like this other creature residing in my skin takes over my tongue and lips and puts my teeth in another configuration and then steps back and watches me with evil glee as I try unsuccessfully to negociate a simple message. 

What is that?  It can be so perfect in my head and then the second I open my mouth it’s a disaster!  It’s maddening and as much as I try to have control over this phenomenon, I don’t seem to be able to call up an Oscar winning performance on command.

So what do I do?  Well, I listen to a lot of Spanish news through Internet radio, through TV, I go through the videos in our Online Video Program and I listen and repeat the audio files designed for this purpose, again and again.  This exercisese is not about understanding or absorbing….this exercise is about getting my tongue familiar with new movements.  I put on music and I sing the lyrics.  Luis and I read together….he reads first and I read the same thing after him.  Just like one runs each day to train for a race coming up, I listen and repeat what I’ve heard in Spanish until I get as close to the rhythm and cadence and accent as I can. We train and exercise our muscles for strength and flexibility.  There is no break through science here.  And maybe I find myself repeating after someone who is speaking in a way that I would not prefer to sound like in Spanish when I am simply expressing myself, but to be able to mimic flexibly what I hear, only helps me choose how I want to sound.

As I am pondering this recurrent issue (remember what they say about exercise, 36 hours without it and our muscules begin to atrophy to their previous state) we recieved this message from Everett from our Rojas Spanish Community .

A mí me gusta la literatura, especialmente la poesía. Como ya he continuar aprendiendo español, espero que yo conoceré a algunos de los grandes poetas de América Latina un poco mejor, como Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Nicolás Guillén, Luís Palés Matos-, etc, etc.

En este momento me siento muy la suerte de tener un maravilloso amigo, Marvin. Él está ayudándome a aprender español por los poemas de Pablo Neruda. Marvin es originalmente de Guatemala. Hemos comenzado un nuevo método de estudio esta semana: todos los días, mientras que tenemos que estar trabajando en la YMCA, nos sentamos con unos poemas de Neruda. Nuestro pequeño master class se lleva a cabo completamente en español, ¡no importa cómo estoy frustrado! Primero él lee un poema en voz alta, luego lo leo en voz alta. Entonces él me pregunta si hay alguna palabra que no entiendo. Después él lee el mismo poema otra vez. Entonces él me pregunta lo que creo que está pasando en el poema. O más bien, ¿por qué Neruda escribió este poema? Entonces le pregunto lo que él piensa acerca del poema. De esta manera leemos dos o tres poemas todos los días en el lugar de trabajo. Aprendo español mientras que él…que él…pues, bueno, a él le encanta Neruda, por lo que él puede obtener algo fuera de la discusión también. Creo que vale la pena leer la poesía una y otra vez, sobre todo en voz alta.

Everett reads in “voz alta” again and again and he works with his friend to help him fine tune the accent.  Yes!  This is the way… we have to get it OUT of our head and on to the track.  We have to get it running through our mouths…without this exercise we can not expect to be able to sound they way we want.  So turn on the tunes, get out the poetry book, grab your Spanish speaking friend, fire up the Internet….do what is most comfortable and convenient for you to get access to those sound bites that you can hear and say, hear and say, again and again until no one would know you from the person you are mimicking.  It’s the only way guys.  Hasta el próximo,  -Joan

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“It’s so hard!”

This is a now famous quote, coined by one of our students and repeated often as an inside joke between Luis and I whenever we are up against something in the business that is challenging us.  Luis and I do not have children together, but when we lament with this phrase, we look at one another with pride as though we were repeating something one of our children said.  If our student said this once, she said it 10 times a class from her first class through her most recent, and she has gone from 0 to advanced intermediate with us. 

It is always hard for her because she is always pushing herself and so it falls upon us to work doubly hard to reassure her that she is doing well, making tremendous progress and always moving forward.  As they say, when one is climbing  a mountain it is far more likely we will be focused on the effort it is taking, then the ever more beautiful view that is available to us with each step we take.

I found myself saying “It’s so hard!” once again today and decided to procrastinate my task and write this Blog instead.  I’ve said before that we developed our video program from a combined point of view; from the point of view of Luis, the teacher, and from my point of view, the student.  What we have put together more elaborately and in a more challenging way, contains all the elements that I would cobble together on my own to move my Spanish forward aggressively.  It worked for me and so of course we believe it can work for others as well…

…however!  The aspect of producing these video resources that had not been a part of my initial cobbled together program was the part where I have to transcribe word for word, accurately, what was being said on the tape!  You can’t believe how hard this is!  It’s so hard!

I understood what was being said when we tapped and I understand what is being said when I listen to the videos now but to understand word for word and to be able to reproduce what is being said word for word!  Yikes!  It’s so hard.

I comfort myself by knowing that with each video I transcribe, I have made my way a few more steps up the mountain and it is true that my ability to make out Spanish spoken in varied accents, with noise around me, maybe spoken not so perfectly or misspoken even is with every video improving dramatically. 

So here’s a learning tip for the really serious!  When you are working with the videos, hide the transcript and try to transcribe the conversation word for word yourself.  Then check the transcript and see how close you were!  It’ll kill ya in a really good way!

Okay, I gotta get back at it.  The only thing that is holding up this next cool video on Lima from going up is my transcription!   Hasta pronto,  Joan

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What goes around comes around…!

Good morning everyone.  As is sit here at my desk adjacent to my husband’s desk I notice he is writing too.  In his new BLOG!  Oh no!  I was pretty comfortable on my side pontificating about my experiences learning Spanish, trying to assimilate into the Hispanic culture etc., but now that there is going to be some pontificating from the other side, I don’t know how comfortable I am with this idea to be perfectly honest!

I am trying to remember back to the seeds of his Blog idea and it seems to me it really took flight when Luis and René (our video editor, see “about us” on our web), began to talk rather regularly about what it is like for them living here in the States.  René is from Venezuela and is married to a Colombian and of course you know Luis’ and my story. 

Man, those two would get going about what time people go to bed here, how quiet it is, what folks eat here, what the ‘rules’ of conversation are, what the ‘rules’ are around extended family and their interference or not and on and on.  The subjects for scrutiny seemed (seem) endless.  One that they got rather stuck on though is what it is like being married to someone from another country…where not even the language is a common denominator.   

So Luis got this great idea and of course René jumped on it and said “Conozco tantas personas…..”, that would love to talk about what it is like for them to be in a multicultural marriage, any number of countries with a Latino.  René even thought that marriages between people of differing Latin American countries have their particular “salsa”, due to the history and heritage differences, not to mention the most recent tension or alliance one country might have with another.

So here we go!  This is the premise.  If we can become educated about the cultural differences between ourselves and another, we have a better chance at understanding what is going on when suddenly we find ourselves reacting or dumbfounded or confused or lost in translation.  We aren’t to be chastised for recognizing differences, there are differences!  It is not NOT PC to acknowledge that there are patterns of behavior and thought and community wide held values and traditions etc.  For heavens sake, that is what diversity is made of.  So this is about bringing forward these differences, turning them over a bit, educating ourselves about them and through this process find the bridge to the other.  And I love the image of a bridge because I am a romantic.  I don’t like endless McDonald’s and Starbucks in every country I visit.  I don’t like this capitalist invasion that is more evident with each passing day.  I think that that threatens to water down, neutralize, bland the cultural characteristics that mark the rich variances found across our globe.  A bridge symbolizes to me, that we have a safe way to pass from one culture to another and back.  That we can visit and becomes friends and partake when and if we want.  But the distinctions between the countries remains in tact and defined and clear.  I love having neighbors in my little part of Saint Paul.  Their distinct lives enrich mine but I don’t want them moving in with me!

This is the deal.  These posts will be written in Spanish, so get out your dictionary.  We are launching today and we are inviting all couples who are in multicultural marriages/relationships, one being a Latino, or two Latinos from different countries to participate.  Respond to Luis posts, suggest your own topic and we can bat that one around for a while.  The rest of you! ….  Tune in for a fascinating look at the world of successful and not so successful integration.   (now I write faster than Luis so he is still word smithing his first entry, but you can go on-line now and catch his intro to the blog  by clicking here.    Hasta pronto,  Joan

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….Trouble in Paradise, Part 2

I said that I would continue my post about the issues that Luis and I find ourselves in, often.  And so here I go.  I am not a exhibitionist nor do I have ‘relative’ boundaries, quite the contrary actually.  I prefer Capri’s to shorts and I am of German heritage.  (ooo, interesting, I have written that and erased it a couple of times.  I have my view of what being German means, but now that I have native German readers, I am shy about making any sweeping generalities….and we tend to do that about our heritage here in the States)  Anyway, my point here is that it is not my custom to say a lot about anything and I have struggled for some time with even the idea of writing posts on this subject.

But I have decided to do it because I think if we are to have any hope of harmony in this world, we need to be willing to talk with one another about that with which we don’t understand or agree.  In this case, what is happening in a marriage.  It is my tendency to extrapolate from seemingly minor dynamics the seed of something grand, so we’ll see how this ‘big bite’ works.  I have found that leaps of abstraction can  work well in the context of motivational speeches, the jury is still out on how functional they are when trying to wade through the minutia of who said what, and what was really meant by it.  Ooo,  already deep and mucky, I hope you all are still with me here.

To the dynamic between Luis and I.  We have what every married or ‘co-habbing’ couple have  together first of all.  In the largest sense it is the challenge to fine tune our individual rhythm of living with that of the other.  The coordination of our sleep/wake cycles, general level of energy, expressing and coordinating our personal interests and passions, our idea of work/leisure, where and how and when money is spent, our sense of personal order in our environment, the role extended family play in our lives together, you get the idea…..the rythm is made up of everything that each of us hold as values or habits or comforts that make us who we are.  These complete packages have to find their way to coexist.  In fact even the concept of ‘coexisting’ becomes a topic for discussion or worse the undefined or unconscious place from where each of us come to do battle with the other.  You know what I mean, too often we are not even aware of why we are fighting or what we are fighting for.  We learn about our own values and non-negociables over time and around discussions in the context of trying to blend our life with another.  We have all seen friendships come and go for this reason, our relationships with employers end, our association with clubs or groups terminate and for some of us, marriages dissolve.

Thankfully Luis and I talked about what our ideas of coexisting were in the beginning. So we had a place more or less defined from where we would find our common ground with one another, most importantly during the tumultuous times.  Every couple need their ‘green zone’.  A place they can go to together that is safe. 

In the case of Luis and I, we both believed in and wanted to be contaminated by the other.  We dared ourselves to expand with the influence of the other.  The idea of blending cultures with a successful outcome had the lure of adventure and challenge and daring that appealed to each of us.  As we began to compare our histories we could see that this attraction to the unknown was not an uncommon way we approached our lives prior to meeting one another.

Now there is culture and there is culture.  One could argue that family cultures within the same nationality or race can be different enough to be fertile ground for all kinds of misunderstandings etc.  And they would be right.  So the level of culture coordination that has to be done between two people of different nationalities or races, well, where does one start to even identify or define it?  Luis and I match up pretty well, relatively speaking and factoring in the equivalences between our lives within our own cultures.  We both grew up middle class, our father’s were self-employed, church life was important, education was valued, our families lived on close budgets, etc.

How these elements played themselves out in our lives however were more defined by the values, traditions, histories, current political/social events of our respective countries and how they were expressed in our respective language.

Words in one language do not always equal words in another.  We might use the word our dictionary says is the definition or the synonym of the word we want to use, but our respective culture can reek havoc on what is communicated by using that word.  Luis was fond of saying for instance, “I am so happy with her.”  , when he talked about me with his family.  I had a lot of trouble with this statement because it felt like an valuation of me.  “I am happy with my car.”  “I am happy with my job.” etc.  It took me a long time to realize that what he meant to say, he needed a verb to communicate.  “I am so happy being with her.”

In this small seemingly insignificant example lies a universe filled with land mines.  We had to learn quickly and we have to remind ourselves regularly that we need to take the time it takes to sort out and through what the other intends to say through the words they choose.  Most times we will discover that there is a subtlety in the language that could easily bring down the unsuspecting passer-by.  Sometimes we will discover that our life experiences were so different that we just can’t imagine what the other is talking about.  But what we always do when these things come to threaten us is go back to our original pact with one another, we retreat to our “green zone”.   From there we begin to find comfort in the strange and expanded new selves we are growing to be.  With each pang of individual growth we fortify our relationship. When we recognize that this has occurred we get all gooey about how what we are doing between one another can maybe be done between waring factions within nations and maybe can even be extrapolated and applied to nations and their neighbors. 

Altruism, romanticism, naivety aside we want the thrill of First Love to live on in our relationship and we have recognized that whether it is ‘us’ we want to preserve, or our passion for the others culture or language, we need to be alert to the first signs of disillusionment and misunderstanding.  Then we need to retreat to the sweet luring inspirational roots of our First Love.  With this foundation in place, and as our guiding template, we take the next step into the unknown together.  There might be trouble in paradise every now and then, but I would have no other paradise!   Que les encuentren en paradiso también.   –  Joan

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Uh-oh, There is Trouble in Paradise!

You all knew it was going to happen sooner or later and I suspect that is why some of you tune in.  You are looking for that little crack in the shiny exterior and I can’t blame you.  Curiosity is a mighty master.  How can two people so different be as happy as they say they are?  Yup, it eats at you until finally curiosity will have it no other way and you blurt out, “So, how did you guys meet?” 

Seems an inocent enough question at first utter but think about it.  When are you truly interested in how someone met?  Isn’t it most often when something around the relationship seems, well, unlikely?   Like there being a big age difference or a noteworthy discrepancy on the Lichert Scale regarding attractiveness or if the relationship is bi-cultural/racial?  And I suspect our interrogators have a hard time deciding upon which of these obvious elements relevant to us, they will finally make their inquiry.  I am clearly older than Luis, he is far more exotic and interesting looking than I and it’s very clear we do not hail from the same cultures!

A mere glance in our direction can provoke questions such as;  “Can such a relationship work?  For how long?  On what level?  What would one need to sacrifice?”  But folks tend to conceal these burning curiosities cleverly and cagily, they ask rather, “So, (like a two letter qualifier can disguise the wolf that follows) how did the two of you meet?”

Good questions!  Important questions!  And ones we hope to explore further with other multicultural couples through Luis’ blog that will begin in the next few weeks……but regarding us…..I have to admit, there is trouble in paradise.

We are arguing a lot lately.  Like 2 out of 3 conversations are likely to end up in some kind of resignation or resistance from one to the other.  It’s getting irritating to both of us.  And perhaps because of our style of approaching our lives and our background as psychologists, we aren’t SO lost in the dynamic that we can’t talk about it.  Me:  “You are driving me crazy, what the …… is going on with you anyway?”  (lovely gentle application of the active listening concept, huh?)  He:  “You always, you never, you won’t, you have to, you must……etc.”  (finish it how you will and you would be right, the range of items that follows each declarative covers the gamut)

Well after these musical preludes which tend to happen at high volume, we usually start to laugh because we recognize that we sound like the typical stereotype we all have of the tortured married couple.

Oh man, this post is getting too long…..I will finish this tomorrow!  I can hear Luis voice in the backgruond……”You always make your blog entries so long!”  Have a great 4th everyone here in the States!  This is Luis’ first as a US citizen and given the state of our relationship these days, I imagine we will be seeing plenty of fireworks!   Hasta mañana,   Joan

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No ‘rocks’, no ‘twist’, no ‘olive’, I prefer my Spanish straight up please.

Big news in Colombia yesterday but you can bet the spin will go on.  Wow!  After 6 years Ingrid Betancourt was rescued along with 3 American ccontractors and 11 other Colombian police who had all been the obligatory guests of the FARC for various lengths of time.  I am horrified because there are about 750 accidental guests that remain – those that didn’t have el valor de ser cajeable.  

One thing that came home once again and bien fuerte con esta noticia es que if you find yourself kidnapped, do what you can to keep close company with the person that has the most value to your kidnappers – this can maximize your chance of being rescued.

Yes, the spin will go on.  Who’s idea was this, why was the path of infiltration and deceit chosen over negotiation or military action, why were these particular people freed, where do the Americans and the American government fit into the equation, where was Chavéz and how does this serve or throw a blow to his designs for SA, what about the  future of the FARC, or the resolve of the FARC after such a humiliating event, and what of the other 750 hostages, are they as good as dead now?  Ego is a powerful master.

I pose these questions as a peek inside of my head, so that you can see a few of the things that interest me and hold me captive and draw me to read as much about this as I can in SPANISH.  I want my Spanish news in Spanish thank you!  I am already getting the US take on this news in the Spanish world in English, I only wish I knew French as well, so I wasn´t missing anything. 

Each faction has its agenda and its heart and these are unlocked by an understanding of the culture and it´s history through its language.  Though I don´t pretend to get it all now, nor will I probably ever having not grown up in the language and the culture… I never-the-less don´t want my Spanish news given to me by an interpreter .  Words alone don´t serve me, don´t satiate me,  don´t tell me what I really want to know.  I want the thoughts, the ideas, the hopes, the dreams, the values, the concept of good and evil and justice and revenge and forgiveness and past and future and the recounting of experiences straight up and often these are just not translatable.  I want that level of understanding.   And wanting that level of understanding, inspires me to work at my Spanish and learn every day a bit more.

The simple point here is to study around issues that inspire you.  This will keep you genuinely engaged and moving forward, often without you even knowing how far you´ve come. 

Come join us in our Rojas Spanish Communityand let us know what inspires you to stay connected and learning more about the Latino culture and the Spanish Language.  You know what they say, “the whole equals more than the sum of its parts”.  What each of us offers results in a rich tapestry that none of us could ever construct on our own!  Saludos,  Joan

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