Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


The crepes of wrath

Filed under : International,Life in general
On April 8, 2007
At 4:45 pm
Comments : 15

Recently, after doing some J-Ball catch-up reading, Jan sent me an e-mail that said, “why the hell are you still learning French???????” I had to cut and paste that exactly because I wanted to make sure I got in all her question marks without having to count them. Those who didn’t have a squirming baby on their laps might remember that I said I would explain why that was, but thanks, Jan, for the handy intro.

Let me digress for a moment and say that this is a problem all bloggers must face: half their readers don’t know them except in pixel form and the other half know the living, breathing, 3D form and all of that form’s personal history. Or some other variation on that. I like to think that only 10% of my readers know me and the others think I’m a five-year-old in striped pants. Either way, I have to answer two, two, two questions in one.

1. Why would an adult take on another language when everyone knows it’s far easier to just die and be reincarnated as a non-English speaker?

2. Why would a person who previously had a reason to learn another language and had that reason snatched away want to now go ahead and learn it anyway, especially if it might remind them of that experience?

I’ll leave you smart people to figure out who is asking which question. But because I love all of you (except Crazy Digg Guy, you not so much) I’ll answer both questions. First off, let me explain the difficulty of this endeavor. See, I’m already weakly bilingual which is what convinced me that learning another language is about as simple as learning to grow another arm. I mean, I was spoken to in Hebrew as an infant, learned it in school for 14 years, took classes completely in the language, and I still can only have slow-ass, basic conversations. Reading is easier, true, which is good because this way I know what I’m buying at the local Israeli-stocked grocery stores (Milki pudding – thumbs up!). But it’d be nice to have interaction in Israel beyond “Does this bus go to Zion Square?” I think my brain is just wired for English. I try to listen to the news in Easy Hebrew occasionally to help myself but without immersion I think it’s just a lost cause.

So the answer to #1 is, time for a new second language! I mean, it’s hard, it’s really hard. I think going to Squeeze the Life Out of You University (where I took Hebrew Lit III for my language requirement) spoiled me on learning forever and it’s a hard habit to re-obtain. But I’m up to it! Every time I get a flashcard right on my software I think, “yeah! I can do this!” It’s the kind of feeling you don’t really get shilling CD’s and tabulating sales figures. And the fact that it’s for no particular purpose liberates me completely to Just Do It. I mean, who cares if I fail? There’s no pay-off except feelgoodness. (You’re probably thinking I could use a good English class too, I know).

Right, #2. Hm. The fact is, letting go has set me free and now that I’m over all that, I realize I invested in weeks of pricey French lessons, learned in other ways, and really, why see it as a loss? I’ve decided it was actually an investment and there’s no reason to waste it. It’s kind of like that expression, “when life hands you lemons, make la limonade.” It just adds to the sense of accomplishment, triumph of the human spirit, and all that blah blah. And truly, it doesn’t particularly remind me of anything except that I like a challenge and, as a plaque in our kitchen when I grew up said, “kef lilmod,” or, “it’s fun to learn,” (my mother was an educator, what can I say). I used to roll my eyes at it, even though it had a cute picture of a cartoon monkey holding a book. But I guess I’m the monkey now.

Adding to all this is the fact that I’m now learning for free (well, I spent $12 on flashcards but Borders is exorbitant, we all know that). It’s another of my challenges to find every free method of language education on the Interweb. Here are my myriad teachers:

1. French Pod Class with Sebastien. I picked this one out of the many on offer at iTunes because his slogan is “Pardon my French, I’m learning with Sebastien.” How could you go wrong with that? The podcasts include quirky music and have accompanying texts. My one complaint is that he’s too soft-spoken for the NY subway system. But otherwise, he seems willing to do anything for his listeners aside from donating a kidney.

2. Before You Know It software. You get a decent number of flashcard lists in the free version, it intuitively figures out when you get something and when you don’t, and the narrator enunciates like he needs deaf people to hear it. Plus he just seems so cheerful. When he says “la bière,” you kind of imagine he’s about to have some.

3. The news in français facile at Radio France Internationale. I took a page from my Easy Hebrew learning and I have to say, they have a great set-up (the French seem to really want people to learn this language). They provide you with a transcript and the option to stream or download the newscast. You can also do a quiz, albeit with ridiculously easy questions (“this event [TGV breaking the speed record] took place in a. France, b. Germany, c. Great Britain”).

4. Learn French at Tons of resources: listening comprehension, vocabulary, audio files, verb conjugations, mot-du-jour, sticky topics, etc. And the sound files are done by an American woman so you can almost imagine yourself pronouncing things correctly. Not this word, though.

5. The gTranslate plugin for Firefox. You can just highlight a word or phrase and right-click to translate it (it uses Google’s translation). Handy for my Le Monde RSS feed where I attempt to translate any interesting article I come across. I know way more about the French elections than the American ones and I kind of like it that way. I won’t tell you who I’m supporting but ensemble tout devient possible!

So the only loser in this is Mamadou, my Senegalese former French teacher. But on the plus side, now I can afford Ermin the cleaning lady so that I can have a sparkling apartment in which to scatter my $12 flash cards.

Pictures above (click to enlarge) by moi. Title comes from this early Simpsons episode.


iPod song of the week – NIN

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week
At 4:30 pm
Comments : 6

And now back to our regular iPod song of the week schedule.

Hey, let’s all get ready for the new Nine Inch Nails CD! It’s been leaked all over the Internets and so far I’m really digging it. But getting pysched up for the new CD always makes me start re-listening to the old stuff by said artist. I think this was one of the singles from the last album but I’m not sure. Who cares, it’s genius.

The song could really be titled “How the fuck could I be so stupid and how did I let this happen to myself?” Or maybe, “It’s not you, it’s me, because I’m an idiot.” But I guess “Only” was catchier. I don’t think anyone’s manner of singing ever went with lyrics the way Trent Reznor’s blasè, bored yet bitterly sarcastic tone works with this song’s. And of course once we get to the chorus you get the full-on angry blast o’Trent. I’ve included the lyrics (I transcribed them nearly from memory!) but you can’t get what they really mean unless you actually hear him voice them. Plus there’s the fun of hearing him echo a line from “Down In It” in the second verse.

If you are someone who knows me in the unpixelated form and wonder if it’s purely a coinkidink that this post is twinned with the one above, why, I have no idea what you mean. *cough*

Nine Inch Nails – Only

Streaming audio available on the iPod Song of the Week page.