Category Archives: language

The naming powers of housing builders

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I am collecting interesting names of subdivisions, apartment complexes and gated communities in my area of Texas. It seems that land development and construction around here has gotten so busy that builders are running out of names for their creations. After a series of Mira Lagos, Sleepy Hollow and Blueberry Hills, what’s next in terms of names for blueberry-less, lake-less, and hollow-less neighborhoods? Some of them have a hidden meaning that I wonder if it has been really considered by those who picked them or who chose to live there. Here is a shortlist: Continue reading

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La Bella Lingua: the memoir vs. the manual

What’s the best way for you to learn another language? Live in a country where it is spoken? Get a well-explained grammar book? Some people learn better by doing, others by getting a detailed map of the knowledge they are about to acquire. Then there’s also a third way.

When I first glanced at Dianne Hales’s La Bella Lingua, in which she tells the story of how she fell in love with Italian and her adventures in the process of learning it, I saw another flower in the Garden of Italian Delight. There are so many other books that tell the personal stories of American women who fell in love with Italy and went there to actually make their declaration of love, starting with the esteemed Under the Tuscan Sun (about buying a house in Italy) to the current Eat, Pray, Love (about, among  other things, falling in love with Italian food). Italy is a country and a story that’s worth telling again and again -besides, that repetition fuels tourism, too.

However, this book is also part of a larger non-fiction trend – the self-help books that don’t instruct you how to do things, but rather tell you the stories of people who have learned to do them. Away from description and classification (the manual)  to personal narrative (the memoir). Written by non-professionals in areas of high emotional demand, like child rearing or diet, these books can’t make a claim for the scientific authority of their lay authors. But neither do they need to, since their goal is inspiration by example coming from successful ordinary trailblazers and the suggestion that anybody can do the same. An invitation to form a community of fellows.  Continue reading

Learning a new language is no baby talk

The best time to learn a new language is around teenagerhood and beyond. Yes, learning at a younger age is always an advantage and young children absorb a new language faster if they happen to be immersed in the respective culture. But they also forget it easier if they are removed from it. Their language abilities disappear just as their childhood memories fade and a curtain is drawn between the cultures of childhood and adulthood, through language. Continue reading

El idioma castellano es machista?

spring.jpgThis witty list of terms in Spanish in their feminine and masculine forms and their related meanings has provided my students with lots of fun – and insights about language. The fun works if you know Spanish, though…

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El idioma castellano es machista? Continue reading

Learning Spanish in 1917

spanishtextbook4Yesterday, I got a surprise amazon.com package in the mail. It wasn’t a mistaken order sent by amazon.com, it was a recycled box in which a dear friend was sending me some old books from a local antiquarian she thought I would find “fun.” They were three fiction books published in the early XX century in the US, by Spanish authors nobody is interested in today. And a fourth one, First Spanish Course from 1917, essentially a Spanish textbook for US college students. Wow! We’ve gone a long way in teaching languages since then. Continue reading