Category Archives: learning

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

A Museum of Odds and the concept of museums

There is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not odditorium some 20 minutes from where I live – an establishment that displays a collection of bizarre items, ranging from a two-headed calf to real human shrunken heads to the replica of a tree in which a hurricane threw a sleeping baby that remained unharmed and still sleeping, some 50 years ago. Robert Ripley was a cartoonist and an adventurer, as well as self-proclaimed “amateur anthropologist” who presented such items in his radio show and newspaper career and later founded a chain of museums of odds where they were to be displayed.

Surprisingly, this visit gave me an amazing portion of food for thought. To be sure, these are artifacts that you most likely know about – just like in a regular museum. They are not necessarily all authentic items, but isn’t this also valid for usual museums, too? The concept of a museum is a physical space where you go to commune with history, to be intellectually reminded of certain events or phenomena, to be emotionally stimulated by your physical contact with the material expression of a certain idea and understand it at another level.  Continue reading

The importance – and difficulty – of feeling foreign

How many people would say that feeling different from all others, being out of their element is so beneficial that they would actively pursue it?

Many people would say that being foreign, feeling foreign while living in a different culture is a challenge. But actually it’s an advantage; the advantage of being turned upside down. It’s first of all a tool for self-discovery and self-development. No wonder study abroad programs are the most rapidly growing college programs these days. True, the first excuse for those is learning the local language, but more than that, the greatest benefit is learning about, considering the value of and negotiating how to deal with a different way of thinking. And first of all, it’s acquiring the ability to think about yourself from the sidelines. Continue reading

Survey courses in literature vs. Bob Dylan

Stanley Fish’s column in the New York Times is probably the most prominent place where the world meets academia. After all, the world hardly reads The Chronicle of Higher Education and it’s sad these issues are otherwise largely ignored, beyond the annual college admission campaign. Getting into college seems to be extremely important, but the question of what college should actually be, now that is a conversation that that rarely happens. And it should.

Fish’s latest post is related to this existential topic, What Should College Teach? The answer to this lies in the inherent value we assign to higher education in general. It depends whether society expects it to produce independent minds  (liberal arts education) or provide practical skills (professional training).  With the trend going in the direction of practical skills and the growing popularity of majors such as accounting, it’s heartening to see that literature and foreign languages  are part of the obligatory mind-cultivation process that college is. Continue reading

Blogs for Spanish teachers

blogs

If you are a language teacher, you are most probably a passionate ambassador of the culture you represent to your students, in the classroom and outside. But even though Spanish is so ubiquitous in the USA and resources are abundant, Spanish and bilingual teachers often say they don’t have the time to stay connected with the language and culture they love. Just the research about news, keeping up with current events and cultural information can be time consuming.

If you are someone interested in Spanish, Latin American and US Latino culture, here are three other blogs I write that will help you stay in touch and learn more. And they save you time researching about literature, cinema and art of the Spanish-speaking world. Posts are monthly and discuss films, art and newly published and classic stories, poems and also children’s books by Spanish-speaking authors. Continue reading

Dolls, uninterrupted

In July, I had the chance to visit an interesting store in New Orleans, Oh Susannah Doll Shop – all things doll, but, alas, with little time to peruse thoroughly and decide which of the precious items I was most in love with so that I would purchase it. The collection was outrageously varied, ranging from tiny plastic babies in a carriage to large, upsettingly realistic representations of girls as dolls in poses totally incompatible with what normally is perceived as “dollness”: dolls that express emotions (of fear or boredom), in awkward positions, in highly personalized clothing. These dolls can’t be really dolls in the traditional sense, because they are not blank, they are not the tabula rasa a girl wants to project onto it her own self-representation. They are an individual artist’s rendition of a girl idea, a sculpture to be admired rather than a toy to be handled and integrated into someone’s life. And that brings the question of what a doll really is and what dolls do. Are they age-limited, in terms of representation and user? Are Grandma Claus real dolls, if they do not reflect any girl’s identity, the way a Barbie may do? What about a boy-doll? Dolls are also a fertile terrain for feminist inquiry. What do men mean when they call a woman “doll”? 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

A first step into Chronotopia

Ironically, this blog is to be inaugurated with notes about a real website I am building. With the support and collaboration of Leo I started a project to document Orthodox churches in North Texas. Why Orthodox churches? The idea came from a challenge to find a beautiful church to attend on Christmas. Not being Catholic, I decided to still attend the most interesting Catholic church I knew for Christmas mass, and that happened to be the this church that looks a lot like a nice whipped cream cake. Why not an Orthodox church, I was asked? Continue reading