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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: World Languages, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Introducing Latin Is Fun, Books I and II, Second Edition

Why has enrollment in middle-and-secondary school Latin increased over the last two decades? Why has the number of students taking the National Latin Exam and the Latin AP Exams increased as well? Maybe students have realized that learning Latin helps them improve their vocabulary, reading and writing skills, comparative-analysis skills, and SAT scores; or maybe the popularity of the Harry Potter novels and movies—chock-full of Latin and classical references—has sparked interest in the language, especially among young fans.

If you are considering learning Latin, or you’re a Latin teacher looking for a straightforward and affordable text, check out Amsco’s new second editions of Latin Is Fun, Book I and Latin Is Fun, Book II. This series aims to provide students with a basal text that will help them learn basic communicative skills. Latin Is Fun presents a natural, personalized, and enjoyable program of language acquisition by teaching vocabulary through lively drawings and allowing students to discover grammatical rules deductively. Latin Is Fun also features short, fun narratives that illustrate new vocabulary and structures. The lessons are rounded out with illustrated conversations, personalized dialogue activities, and varied practice.

You can check out virtual samples of both books online by visiting www.amscopub.com, clicking “Virtual Sampling,” and scrolling to Latin Is Fun, Book I or II

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2. A Christmas Carol: Caribbean Style

Most everybody knows what Christmas caroling is, but who goes caroling anymore? Have people become too busy, lazy, or intimidated to sing in public? Are they afraid of offending neighbors or interrupting their privacy? Even I, the poster child for all things secular, enjoy the Christmas season and miss those traditions.

In the Spanish-speaking world, however, caroling is still alive and kicking. In Puerto Rico, for example, caroling is known as parranda, asalto, or trulla. It goes like this: a group of friends gathers together to surprise another friend. They arrive at the destination and then very quietly assemble by the front door. At a signal, all start playing their instruments and singing traditional songs. The parrandas usually begin after 10 P.M. in order to wake the sleeping friend. (Of course, the parranderos are given plenty of "hints" beforehand by the homeowner that he or she is ready to receive a parranda.)

The party goes on for an hour or two, then everyone, including the homeowners, takes the party to someone else. The group grows as they offer their parranda at several houses during that night. At the last house, probably around 3 or 4 A.M., the homeowner offers the traditional chicken soup (asopao de pollo) or mondongo (beef tripe soup). The party is over at dawn.

I hope you will appreciate the difference between a mild-mannered 10-member choir singing "Silent Night" and 10 people blasting away with brass, wind, and percussion instruments, backed up by 20 singers. It’s a different ball game, all right.

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3. Do You Know What You Are Getting Into? A Realistic Look at the Language-Learning Process

Many people say they want to learn a new language, but they don´t want to go through the trouble of actually studying it. They want to speak a new language in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, there are too many language-learning products in the market. They promise that you will become fluent in fewer than 30 days. I have bad news for you. That is never the case. You will need to put in real time if you want to achieve a decent proficiency level.

I have been thinking that maybe learning a new language is like running a marathon. You do not wake up one day and sign up to run the New York City Marathon. No, running a marathon demands being in a good physical shape, living a healthy lifestyle, and having a passion for running. If you don´t do what´s necessary, you will be unsuccessful.

I´ll use Spanish as an example.
You need to have a plan. If you dive into learning Spanish without specific goals and realistic timeframes, you will most likely fail. I would say that you would expect to communicate in basic, understandable Spanish after six months, but don´t expect fluency. You will need more time and dedication to get to that level. It is a gradual process. You just do not wake up one day and say, “I´m fluent.” I think you can achieve fluency after two years.

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4. What Is "La Raza"?

In the United States, October 12 is known as Columbus Day and focuses on the history and cultural heritage of Italians and Italian-Americans in the U.S. But throughout the Spanish-speaking world, October 12 or Día del Descubrimiento (Discovery Day) focuses on the history and cultural heritage of Spain and celebrates the dawn of la raza, a sometimes controversial term, mostly because it translates—sometimes poorly—as “the race.”

The term “la raza” takes different meanings among the various Spanish-speaking peoples. In Spain, it often refers to something or someone of a European Christian heritage. In Spanish America, it sometimes emphasizes Spanish or European heritage and/or family, as in the term “Día de la Raza,” a popular alternative name for Día del Descubrimiento.
In the United States, “la raza” is sometimes used to denote people of Chicano or mestizo descent, as well as other Latin-American mestizos who share Amerindian heritage. In this context, the term is rarely inclusive of entirely European or African descended Hispanic peoples.

However, in a broader sense— and this is the meaning familiar to me—“la raza” describes the racial fusion of European, Amerindian, and African peoples. In that context, “la raza” translates as “the people,” rather than “the race.”

5. Hot off the press!

Hey, boys and girls, great news, brought to you by the Foreign Languages Department! Spanish Is Fun—Book 1, Fourth Edition has come out, in two colors. This exciting book will help you attain basic communicative skills and get you ready for that vacation on the Costa del Sol that you’ve been planning for so long.

Even if you’re staying on this side of the Atlantic and just wish to communicate with your Spanish-speaking Facebook or Twitter friends in their native language, or need to fulfill that pesky foreign-language academic requirement, Spanish Is Fun, Book 1 is the answer. By the way, the Holidays are around the corner: Spanish Is Fun, Book 1 is the perfect stocking stuffer.

New Features in the Fourth Edition
• Two-color text and illustrations
• New layout and design make lessons easier to navigate.
• Updated vocabulary and language reflects changes in usage in the 21st century.
• Added emphasis on conversational skills with several oral exercises in each lesson
• Updated Capsula cultural sections

Spanish Is Fun— Book 1, Fourth Edition has retained the time-tested features that have made it so popular:
• A consistent program sequence and clearly focused content topic in each lesson.
• A deductive learning approach guides students into making their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions.
• Lively drawings that introduce the vocabulary without the need for English.
• Entertaining narratives or playlets that feature new structural elements and vocabulary.

OK, so the cover is cool. Don’t judge this book just by its cover. Check it out; you’ll see it’s a really good investment, especially in these hard economic times. School decision-makers may request an examination copy of Spanish Is Fun, Book 1 by contacting their local Amsco sales representative.

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6. Languages: Gateways to Global Communities

Dear Foreign Language Instructors, School Administrators, and Foreign Language Students,

We hope the school year is off to a good start and that things are going well for all of you. As in previous years, Amsco is attending the ACTFL Annual Convention and World Languages Expo taking place November 19-21 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA.

As usual, this major event attracts thousands of language educators and promises to deliver maximum educational value and expand your knowledge about language instruction, latest research, and best practices.

We hope you enjoy the 2010 Conference and we look forward to meeting you at our booth at the Language Expo. Our booth number is 2725.

Every year we are happy to see your excitement about our new products. The following is a list of our latest books with a short description of their new features:

French Is Fun, Fourth Edition

New Features in the Fourth Edition

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In recent years, student enrollment in Italian courses seems to have gradually increased. Why study Italian?, you may ask yourself. Well, there are several reasons, depending on your interests.

  • Italy is one of the top five economies in the world. An estimated 7,500 American companies do business with Italy and many have offices there.
  • Knowing Italian is greatly beneficial in career fields like culinary arts, interior design, fashion, graphic design, furniture design, machine tool manufacturing, robotics, electromechanical machinery, shipbuilding, space engineering, construction machinery, and transportation equipment.
  • Italy's cultural influence spans from antiquity through the present.
  • Italian literature boasts some of the world's most famous writers and thinkers, from Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Machiavelli, to Verga, Pirandello, Ungaretti, and Gadda, to name a few. Knowing Italian allows you to understand, appreciate, and analyze this treasury of human expression.<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
To help you through your learning experience, Amsco is introducing a new three-book review series entitled Italiano essenziale: Fundamentals of Italian, which will come out mid-October.

Italiano essenziale offers a comprehensive review and thorough understanding of the elements of the Italian language. Each level constitutes a complete core course.

Here are some of the salient features of Italiano essenziale 1-3:

  • Books' organization allows teachers to follow any sequence suitable to the needs of students and the objectives of the course.
  • Chapters are organized around related grammatical topics.
  • Concise and clear explanations of grammar are followed by examples.
  • Exercises are set in functional realistic contexts to provide meaningful practice.
  • Many of the exercises are personalized to stimulate original student response and meaningful assimilation of concepts.
  • Open-ended exercises provide students with the opportunity to express their personal opinions in Italian, within the scope of the concept under study.
  • Italian-English Vocabulary is included.
  • Appendixes contain model verb tables and rules of Italian punctuation, syllabication, and pronunciation.
So check them out, and “in bocca al lupo” (good luck).

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8. Multiculturalism Is Good (For Music)

Almost everyone is aware of the Spanish and Caribbean influence in contemporary American music, but many are still unaware of Brazil’s contributions. Brazil’s rich musical tradition derives from the profound interaction of cultures that started when Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered the country in 1550.

The Portuguese contributed the tonal system, various other medieval European modes, and the Moorish scales. In addition, they brought string, brass, and wind instruments. Their fondness for lyrical melancholic ballads and complex syncopated rhythms meshed well with the music culture of the Africans brought to Brazil. The Amerindian influence is comparatively less, but is still present, mainly through the use of various percussion instruments. Later on, immigrants from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East continued to add to this musical mosaic.

Brazilian popular music arrived to the United States a long time ago, long before the “British Invasion.” The older generations will certainly remember Carmen Miranda, the singer/actress famous for her elaborate headdresses. But it was really tenor-sax player Stan Getz who helped mainstream Brazilian music with his two records Jazz Samba, whose track —Desafinado— won the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance of 1963 and Getz/Gilberto, which won Grammys for Best Album and Best Single (it beat The Beatles’ A Hard Day's Night).

To me, Brazilian music has a very seductive quality that is yet hard to explain. I remember listening to it for hours as a young kid, long before I could understand the language. Is it the combination of language and melodies, moodiness and rhythm? Listen to this song and maybe you’ll understand what I mean.

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9. Talk Time

Many foreign language students do well with grammar and vocabulary, but then they fail to apply those same concepts to genuine communication; for instance, they may not know what to say if you happen to see them in the hallway, and ask them ¿Cómo estás hoy? (How are you today?)<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

So, in addition to grammar and vocabulary instruction, make students participate in talk time every day in your class. Encourage them to use the studied words and grammar to talk about themselves, their daily activities, problems, and plans. Make this an informal daily routine.

To do so, create a list of questions with topics that will engage your students. Think of their needs, experiences, maturity, and limits. Topics that may interest students in an intermediate-level class:

  • What bothers you?

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What is a tradition or ritual that your family has? (Serious or silly)
  • What city would you like to visit one day?
  • What’s new at school?
  • Which is your hardest class? Why?
  • Why is everyone so tired today?
  • Who is your favorite relative?
  • What’s your favorite TV show?
  • What will you be doing in 20 years?

  • Your chat time can start with a greeting and a question on a board that will be your main topic. However, you need to be flexible too. For instance, you had a topic in mind but your class seems to be worried about an upcoming math exam, so let students talk about that, or come up with questions related to their problem or concern.

    Also, a good way to make them talk about their experiences is by answering the main question of the day yourself first. In that way, they may be more eager to share with you. For example, if the question is about siblings, tell them some funny story about your sister or brother.

    Now, how do you grade your students on their talk time? Create a reward system. Give them points for every time they speak. Make it clear that class participation will be part of their grades.<

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    10. Hot Off the Press! French Is Fun!

    Hey, boys and girls, great news, brought to you by the Foreign Languages Department! French Is Fun—Book 1, Fourth Edition has come out. This exciting book will help you attain basic communicative skills and get you ready for that vacation on the French Riviera that you’ve always dreamt of.

    Of course, if your dreams are more modest (like surprising your French Facebook or Twitter friends with some French expressions) or utilitarian (you just need to review and reinforce what you know, so that you may fulfill that pesky foreign-language academic requirement), French Is Fun, Book 1 is there for you.

    New Features in the Fourth Edition:

    • Layout and design make lessons easier to navigate.
    • Updated vocabulary and language reflects changes in usage in the 21st century.
    • Added emphasis on conversational skills with several oral exercises in each lesson
    • Updated Pages Culturelles (culture section) with new maps and information.
    • An Internet activity in each lesson, La Chasse au trésor (Treasure Hunt), that gets students involved in a lively and interesting research.
    • A comprehensive glossary of grammatical terms

    French Is Fun— Book 1, Fourth Edition has retained the time-tested features that have made it so popular:

    • A consistent program sequence and clearly focused content topic in each lesson.
    • A deductive learning approach guides students into making their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions.
    • Lively drawings that introduce the vocabulary without the need for English.
    • Entertaining narratives or playlets that feature new structural elements and vocabulary.

    Don’t judge this book just by its pretty cool cover. Check it out; you’ll see it’s a really good investment, especially in these hard economic times. School decision-makers may request an examination copy of French Is Fun, Book 1 by contacting their local Amsco sales representative.

    3 Comments on Hot Off the Press! French Is Fun!, last added: 5/2/2010
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    11. Keeping Up With the Languages

    Students are awaiting with anticipation the end of the school year. Very soon, it will be time to relax, go to the beach, and hang out with friends. There’s nothing wrong with these activities, especially if you worked hard during the year; but let’s not forget to keep your foreign-languages skills sharp. “Use it or lose it,” as the saying goes . . .

    Reading is a great way to keep your foreign-language skills sharp and avoid the dreaded “summer slide.”  You won’t consider reading as a chore, if you find something interesting; and there are plenty of interesting titles out there.

    If you want to work on your Spanish, I recommend Platero y yo , by Nobel-Prize-winning Spaniard Juan Ramón Jiménez. The story of a man and his pet donkey, Platero y yo is mistakenly thought of as children’s literature, but in reality it’s a very adult book that deals with deep existential questions.

    If Italian is your preferred language, I recommend Il fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Matthew Pascal) by Nobel-Prize-winner Luigi Pirandello. Il fu Mattia Pascal is a comedic novel about a man who realizes that his life is dreary and lacking purpose. While traveling, he’s mistakenly declared dead by his wife and he then decides to move on and assume a new identity elsewhere. But events beyond his control drive him to fake his death and then try to return to his original life, with further complicatio

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    12. Lost Without Translation

    For the past few summers, the literary world appears to have been seized by a storm: literature translated from different languages. This summer’s huge hit was a Swedish thriller called The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third in author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and the result was readers coming in by the droves seeking more books of a similar nature. The New York Times even commented on this new phenomenon, for famous Scandinavian bestsellers are only just now being translated into English because of the Millennium trilogy’s success.

    For every success, though, there are thousands more of books in every language that lay untranslated. Three Percent, a website founded three summers ago, was named thusly because only about 3% of all books published in the United States are translated ones – and only 0.7% are poetry and literary fiction.

    Also in 2007, Yale first launched The Margellos World Republic of Letters series, which translates previously overlooked works from cultures worldwide into English. There are many excellent books in this series, such as poetry from Italy and Syria, novels from Croatia and China – the list goes on.Sonnevi

    Since the current fascination for translated literature leans towards the Scandinavian, readers should know that Swedish authors have more than just crime and mystery novels to offer. Göran Sonnevi’s book of poems, Mozart’s Third Brain, is a collection of his thoughts and surroundings, which are masterfully woven together in a way that makes them come to life with loose, fracture and radiating intensity. 

    Sonnevi was winner of the 2006 Nordic Council’s Literature prize, and Mozart’s Third Brain, his thirteenth work of poetry, is beautifully rendered in English by award-winning translator Rika Lesser. From politics and current events to mathematics, philosophy, love, ethics and nature, there is little Sonnevi does not address in his long-form poem. Grossman

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    13. A Beautiful Barcelona Blogcation

    Those of you who teach Spanish-language classes will find this post of great interest. Colorful travelogues such as this can increase student interest in the language they are studying because they help bring the culture to life. The following essay is from a guest blogger―artist and photographer Lauren Curtis, who is a cousin of Amsco science editor (and frequent blog contributor) Carol D. Hagarty. Enjoy your blogcation!

    ¡Hola! Although I returned from beautiful Barcelona, Spain several weeks ago, I’ve been busy working on the two hundred 35-mm and digital photographs I shot during my trip. Now, I finally have some ready to share with you, so figured I’d make a mini on-line blog exhibit with some of my favorite images… so off we go to Barcelona!

    When I visited this gorgeous city, during late May, the weather was perfect and actually warmer than usual for the time of year (in the high 80s). There was a cool breeze off the blue-green Mediterranean Sea, which was walking distance from the center of the city. I took photos of the tons of huge fishing boats along the docks as well as the modern boardwalk where people hang out and watch the water and socialize. I was so impressed by how clean Barcelona is and how it’s filled with modern sculpture and ornate architecture including the famous Art Nouveau structures by artists such as Gaudi. One of my favorite buildings of his is the Casa Battlo, which is like walking under the sea, in the body of a great ocean creature…there are NO angles in his buildings…all organic curves…like something out of a fantasy film!
    14. Unraveling the Meanings of Spanish Expressions

     Using your Spanish-English dictionary to find the meanings of different words doesn´t seem like a difficult task. However, how many times have you read or heard Spanish frases hechas (set phrases), tried to look them up in your dictionary, and wound up empty-handed?

    There is a simple way to uncover the meanings of Spanish idioms, but you need a monolingual (Spanish-only) dictionary. Here are the steps you should follow:

    Step 1: Look up the most important NOUN in your phrase. For instance, in the phrase echarle más leña al fuego, which means to make a situation worse, or literally, to add wood or fuel to the fire, the primary noun is leña. So, that is where you should begin your search to find the meaning of the expression.

    Step 2: Look up the VERB. For example, in the set phrase tener hambre (to be hungry), the verb you will look up is tener. If there is no verb, you look up the ADJECTIVE or PRONOUN, in that order.

    Most of the time, checking the definition of the noun or the verb included in the expression is enough. Therefore, you will not need to go down the whole scale.

    As you might have noticed, it is essential that you know the difference among nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns to follow these steps. So, this technique is usually useful for intermediate-level Spanish students. If you have already reached an intermediate level of Spanish, I strongly suggest that you get a monolingual dictionary. It usually offers multiple and more complete definitions. It provides lots of examples, and it teaches you the words in context, as opposed to the standard bilingual dictionary, which is useful for some purposes but generally does not have room to provide as much information as a monolingual dictionary.

    If you really want to continue improving your Spanish skills, you don´t have to get rid of your bilingual dictionary, but think about getting a Spanish-only dictionary, too.

    2 Comments on Unraveling the Meanings of Spanish Expressions, last added: 8/23/2010
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    15. Books at Bedtime: letting imaginations fly!

    orsnblastsoff.jpgMy boys and I have just come across renowned illustrator Raúl Cólon’s first fully authored picture book, Orson Blasts Off! (published in 2004), which is a real flight of the imagination. It’s about a boy who can see no end to boredom when his computer breaks down… until his jack-in-the-box called Weasel points to what is going on outside: it’s snowing, even though it’s July. Then Orson embarks on his adventures with great gusto: the North Pole, a desert island and even the stars.

    The story is told through the dialogue between Orson and Weasel – indeed, it would make a good interactive read-aloud, as it’s really a script: but the wonderful illustrations add in the background as well as the wit and irony, so young readers/listeners will have to engage their imaginations too. It definitely provokes lots of comments and conversation – it’s not one to choose for a quick bedtime story, until it’s well established in the family repertoire!

    My children love books which blur the edges between the “real” world and imaginary adventures: two which they have wanted read to them over and over again are Jo’s Storm by Caroline Pitcher, illustrated by Jackie Morris and Cloud Nine by Norman Silver, illustrated by Jan Ormerod, which are both out of print now and need to be sought out second hand… I can see that Orson Blasts Off! will be joining them on their bit of the bookshelf.

    These books all star boys; there must be picture books out there which take girls off on amazing flights of the imagination too: any suggestions, anyone?

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    16. A World Without Math?

    I read this fascinating article last year about the Piraha, an Amazonian tribe whose unique language has received a lot of attention in recent years. The Piraha language has only three pronouns, has no abstract words for color, allows male speakers only one consonant (while female speakers are allowed seven), has almost no past tense, and, most disturbingly to the international linguistic community, has no subordinate clauses.

    But what is most interesting to me, as a math educator, is that the language contains no numerals.

    Piraha is not the only language to contain no fixed numbers. Warlpiri, and a number of related Pama-Nyungan languages also lack number systems. Many of these languages have words for "few," "some," and "many," Piraha included, but this grammar makes no distinction between singular and plural in the case of nouns and pronouns.

    I wonder what we can learn from such a language about the mathematical mind? As a teacher, I often maintained to my students that "Numbers are not math!" but rather, that math is about applying axiomatic rules to closed systems. It was my view that mathematical understanding is hardwired into the human mind, like our sense of time and space, and that math education was simply a formalization of that inherent mental organization.

    Was I right? Does the existence of language without number or quantity support my position or does it blow it right out of the water? For now, I'm not sure--I could imagine that the former is the case, but for now, any comparisons I make between a speaker of Piraha and myself are purely speculative.

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    17. What's Wrong With Foreign Languages?

    No, this is not going to be a tirade against languages other than English. Being a native Spanish speaker myself, I’m not against any foreign language (with the exception of Klingon and Esperanto). I actually enjoy learning them.

    It’s only that in the last couple of years “foreign languages” have morphed into “world languages,” not unlike “used cars” have become “certified pre-owned vehicles.” Most schools, universities, and publishing companies don’t have foreign language departments anymore, but world languages departments. Apparently, the word “foreign” has become politically incorrect too. (Not to say that I give any credence to political correctness.)

    A long time ago, I spent a summer studying Italian literature at the Università degli Studi d’Urbino. English, German, and Spanish language courses—among others—were part of the Facoltà di lingue straniere (Department of Foreign Languages), mainly because it was no secret that Italian was the predominant language in the country. I don’t recall any foreigners or immigrants being emotionally damaged by that. In fact, one of the most popular places to learn Italian was the Università per Stranieri di Perugia (University for Foreigners in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Perugia). Somehow, people seemed to be cool with that.

    This moral imperative of “not offending” that we currently experience seems to reflect a sense of pessimism regarding people’s emotional resilience. Let’s face it: with famine, wars, and natural disasters, if your worst grievance at the end of the day is having been offended, then your life is hardly a Greek tragedy. Just toughen up a little.

    Eventually, we too will have a World Languages Department. No big deal. It’s encouraging though, that the Università per Stranieri di Perugia hasn’t changed its name, nor are there plans to do so.

    3 Comments on What's Wrong With Foreign Languages?, last added: 7/2/2008
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    18. Can One Love China Too Much?

    I read Simon Winchester’s new book, The Man Who Loved China, because I had read another good book by him, The Professor and the Madman (on the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary). I had also seen Mr. Winchester speak at The New York Public Library about his book on the eruption of a volcano in Indonesia: Krakatoa. Thus, I was confident that I would not be bored, even by a book about a Cambridge don.

    Who Loved China? His name was Joseph Needham. He was a British biochemist at Cambridge University. Although he was married, he had a number of open affairs with other women. His love for one of these women, Gwei-djen, a fellow scientist at Cambridge, led to his love of Chinese culture. Because of her, he studied the Chinese language and history. He was surprised to learn about all the scientific discoveries in China hundreds and thousands of years before the West discovered them. He decided to research and write about these accomplishments for Western readers.

    Needham’s Main Accomplishment. Joseph Needham (below) will always be known for his seven-volume work of scholarship, Science and Civilization in China. Using a team of Chinese and British researchers, he typed (using two fingers) thousands of pages of manuscript on such topics as Chinese mathematics, astronomy, roads, walls, bridges, boats, religious beliefs, and the arts. The book includes a chart of 250 Chinese inventions and discoveries with dates first mentioned, all before comparable dates in the West. Examples include the abacus, astronomical clock drive, air conditioning fan, algorithm for extraction of square and cube roots, antimalaria drugs, asbestos woven into cloth, and axial rudder (and this just covers the A's). Needham died before all the volumes had been published, but his colleagues continued working so that this publishing feat was completed.

    Is Winchester’s Book Compelling? There are suspenseful sections of the book, especially about Needham traveling around China during World War II. His main source of transportation—a truck—kept breaking down, resulting in periods of rest while the driver tried to fix the vehicle. Needham used these stops to interview scientists and craftsmen and investigate ancient Chinese structures, such as the Great Wall. He is amazed by the ingenuity of the Chinese people he met.

    Needham and his companions were not always safe in China because of Japanese bombing raids and nearby Japanese troop incursions. Although Needham was an official British representative to the Nationalist Chinese government and to Chinese scientists during the war, he not so secretly favored the Chinese Communists under Mao in their civil war against the Nationalists. When the Communists later came to power in 1949, Needham was overjoyed.

    Lessons to Be Learned. The book helps readers understand better why the Chinese even today look down at people of other cultures. They distain any criticism of their society by foreigners, believing themselves to be superior and wondering why these foreigners think they have the right to tell them how to run their country. I am talking about President George W. Bush telling Chinese leaders to allow freedom of religion in China. I am talking about Westerners calling for freedom or autonomy for Tibet. And I am talking about Amnesty International calling for the freedom of political dissidents jailed or under house arrest in China.

    As for the question “Can One Love China Too Much?” I would say that Needham overdid it. He was blindly in love and was thus blind to Communist China’s faults. Most of the talented scientists and others he had encountered in China in the 1940s and 1950s had disappeared by the time he visited China again in the 1960s. They were probably victims of the Cultural Revolution of that decade.

    In 1952, Needham was part of an international group of “experts” investigating alleged U.S. atrocities in the Korean War, including biological warfare. Needham and other members of this group agreed with the Chinese and North Korean claims of American misdeeds. Simon Winchester concludes, however, that the Chinese planted evidence of bacterial bombs and that the United States never dropped such weapons on North Korea. He claims that Needham was duped by the Communists.

    Connection to the Olympics. The subject of China’s early accomplishments in science is topical, in a way. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics showed a staging of some of these accomplishments: the printing press, gunpowder, and the compass. Perhaps you saw it?

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    19. Antiquity Corner: Perspectives on Immigration

    The 2008 presidential election draws closer. The candidates’ spin doctors and speech writers struggle to develop acceptable position statements on a variety of issues. Among them is immigration, both legal and illegal. There are few Americans who lack an opinion. Some wish to exclude all immigrants, especially those from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Among the fears cited is the excessive demand on public services and finances. Others believe immigrants to be a source of increased crime and violence. Some voters take a different view, believing that immigration is necessary to maintain birth rates and tax bases. Still others decry the difficulties of absorbing people of different races, languages, and cultures. With so many voters holding so many differing opinions, political candidates face the difficulty of taking positions that may satisfy some people, while alienating others.

    The immigration debate is also heard in Europe, especially in countries that are members of then European Union. The EU, currently consisting of twenty seven nations, was founded to facilitate the movement across national borders of goods, services, and people. In practice, this has led to social strains and even nationalistic opposition to immigration, an opposition that sometimes expresses itself in violent acts.

    Immigration, however, and the cultural stress and conflict associated with it, is not a 21st-century phenomenon. Many societies in countless eras have experienced it. It was a major factor in the breakdown of imperial Rome.

    From the 3rd to the 5th centuries, large groups of German tribes moved into the rich farmlands of the western portion of the Roman Empire. From long contact with the empire, they had developed an admiration for Roman civilization. There had been trade, intermarriage, and warfare. Many Germans served in the Roman legions and auxiliary cohorts, some rising to positions of command. Some Germans had become Christians. Others admired the lifestyle of the wealthier Romans.

    During the winter of A.D. 406, the Rhine River froze. Thousands of Germans poured into the empire. In 410, and again in 455, the city of Rome was attacked and looted. In 476 A.D., a German general named Odovacar forced the last Roman emperor of the West to give up his throne. Odovacar made himself king of Italy. For most of Europe, the Classical Age was over. In the Hellenistic cities of Asia Minor and the Middle East, however, the Eastern Roman Empire continued. This Byzantine Empire, as it came to be called, with its capital at Constantinople, lasted for several centuries. As a result, very different cultures developed. The Latin culture of Western Europe was gradually changed by the infusion of German language, laws, and customs. In Eastern Europe and the lands under Byzantine rule, Greek language and culture prevailed.

    Historians debate the question of whether Germanic invaders and immigrants brought benefits or disruption to Western Europe. Certainly there was change. Germanic tribes transformed the former imperial provinces into a collection of kingdoms. During the early part of the Middle Ages, the Germanic kings struggled with one another for more power and land. Local wars broke out, causing loss of life and disruption to farming and trade. Bandits lurked in areas where law and order had broken down. However, depopulation by war and disease, declining birth rates, unbearable taxation, devaluation of currency, and disrepair of roads and bridges had all been longstanding byproducts of the lengthy period of Roman imperial decline. In many instances, the farmlands into which German immigrants moved had been under populated and underutilized. For many Romans, German rule meant a greater degree of stability and security and a fairer application of law, as German kings lent themselves to the blending of Roman laws with German tribal customs. One aspect of the inevitable cultural integration was that people began to speak dialects, or different forms, of Latin and German. These dialects developed into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian (the Romance languages).

    One of the strongest German tribes in Western Europe was the Franks. They occupied much of what is now France. A powerful Frankish kingdom was created in the 5th century by a king named Clovis. He gained the support of the pope by converting the Franks to Roman Catholicism. Elsewhere in Europe, the Visigoths established a kingdom in Spain and Anglo-Saxons changed the Roman province of Britannia into a collection of German kingdoms eventually called England. In the process, Celts, Romans, and Germans blended their languages and beliefs.

    A recent exhibit at the Palazzo Grassi, in Venice, Italy, was entitled “Rome and the Barbarians: The Birth of a New World.” The curators contended that the barbarian migrations and invasions were beneficial and an essential part of the richness of Western civilization that produced a new entity—modern Europe. According to Monique Veaute, Director of the Palazzo Grassi, the Roman Empire is a perfect example of a sensible use of immigration, since the barbarian tribes desired integration, which they achieved successfully by first adopting the Roman language and customs, by incorporating Roman gods into their pantheons, and ultimately by becoming Christian.

    Whether or not you agree with Dr. Veaute, her views provide an interesting lens through which to examine the questions associated with contemporary immigration.

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    20. The Forgotten Romance Language

    When hearing the term Romance Languages, most people think of Spanish, Italian, and French. When asked for another example, some may remember Portuguese. Most forget about Romanian. I know little about it, myself, so I put together some information about the lesser-known member of this influential language family.

    The Romans conquered the Dacians, the early inhabitants of what is now Romania, in 106 BC and immediately started the process of romanization. This marks the birth of the Proto-Romanian language. In 271 A.D., the Goths and other groups forced the Romans out of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Dacia.

    Romanian was probably among the first languages to break from Latin. Because of its relative geographical isolation, it received little influence from the other Romance languages. Between the 7th and 10th centuries, when the area came under the influence of the

    Byzantine Empire, Romanian became influenced by the Slavic languages and, to some degree, by Greek.

    Compared with the other Romance languages, Romanian is closest to Italian; the two showing limited degrees of asymmetrical mutual understanding. (Romanians seem to understand Italian more easily than the other way around.) Even though Romanian has obvious grammatical and vocabulary similarities with Spanish, French, and Portuguese, it is not mutually understandable with them to a practical extent. Romanian speakers will usually need some formal study of basic grammar and vocabulary before being able to understand even simple sentences in those languages (and vice-versa).

    But enough theory. If you're curious about how Romanian sounds, check out this song by singer

    Sofia Rotaru.

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    21. Good Old Mafalda!

    These past two weeks I had the opportunity to visit home and my parents in Argentina. While perusing the family library, I came across one of my favorite childhood and adulthood comic books, Malfalda.

    For those unfamiliar with this comic strip, Mafalda was written and drawn by the Argentinean cartoonist Juan Salvador Lavado, more popularly known as Quino. The strip features the 6-year-old Argentinean girl Mafalda who is deeply concerned about humanity and world peace, and plans to be an interpreter at the U.N. She rebels against the world for its social injustices. She is a strong patriot, wise and progressive. She also loves the Beatles, hates soup, and has a turtle named Bureaucracy.

    The comic strip ran from 1964 to 1973 and was very popular in Latin America, Europe and Asia. It was so popular that it led to two animated cartoon series and a movie.

    Currently translated into over 15 languages, Mafalda travels around the world and can be read in English, Finnish, Galician, Greek, Portuguese, Dutch, Taiwanese, Catalan, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, German and French. If anyone wants to give it a try in English, I think Mafalda and Friends 1 and 2 are available online. Also online, I found the Web site http://www.eslprintables.com/ where Mafalda comic strips are used to teach ESL (English as a Second Language.)
    Although written and drawn mainly in the 60’s, Mafalda’s topics, stories, and sociopolitical satire are still relevant in today’s world.  To give you a sample, I've included a comic strip (above) and a video (below) of the animated cartoon series. Hope you like it!

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    22. Konmen lé-z'affè?

    During my various trips to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Louisiana, where my in-laws live, I get to listen to an interesting French dialect: Louisiana Creole. The word creole derives from the Spanish term criollo (native-born). The language consists of elements of French, Native American, Spanish, and West African languages. Speakers of Louisiana Creole are mainly concentrated in the southern and southwestern side of the state. Most modern Creoles, (both white and black) have familial ties to Louisiana. Since the mid-19th century, other ethnic groups have contributed to this culture including, but not limited to, the Irish, Italian, and German.

    <?xml:namespace prefix = o />

    Louisiana Creole is sometimes confused with Cajun French, the dialect spoken by the descendants of immigrants from the French colony of Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia). In reality, they are quite different, mainly because Louisiana Creole was heavily influenced by Spanish and various Native-American and African dialects.

    Here’s some basic vocabulary to show you how French and Louisiana Creole differ:

    Subject Pronouns








    you (informal)



    you (formal)




    li, ça



    li, ça



    nous, nous-zòt (Nous autres)


    you (plural)

    vous, zòt, vous-zòt (vous autres)


    they (masculine)


    they (feminine)



    Included are the French numbers for comparison.











    trò / trwoi































    How are things?

    Konmen lé-z'affè

    Comment vont les affaires?

    How are you doing?

    Konmen to yê?

    Comment allez-vous?

    Comment vas-tu?

    Comment ça va?

    I'm good, thanks.

    C'est bon, mèsi.

    Ça va bien, merci.

    See you later.

    Wa toi pli tar.

    Vois-toi plus tard.

    (À plus tard.)

    I love you.

    Mo laime toi.

    Je t'aime.

    Take care.



    (Prends soin de toi.)

    Good Morning.



    Good Evening.



    Good Night.


    Bonne nuit.

    If you wish to learn more about Louisiana Creole visit http://www.nsula.edu/creole; and if you want to start learning it right away, visit http://learnlouisianacreole.wordpress.com.

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    23. Can't We All Just Get Along...

    <?xml:namespace prefix = o />Learning a foreign language has obvious practical reasons, like increasing native-language ability, improving chances of entering college or graduate school, and improving employment potential. But to me—and this is what really interests me about the process—foreign-language learning promotes better understanding of oneself and one’s culture. Think of it as a study in cultural contrasts.

    Take, for example, how different languages show various levels of formality during oral communication. Contemporary English, at least in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />United States, shows little evidence of formality. “Sir” or “Ma’am” is still used and there are certain phrases like “May I help you?” that still imply formality. One can show deference in the way one says someone’s name; for instance, by choosing either “Mr. Jones,” “Norman,” “Norm,” or “Jones.” But in general, one would address a relative, a friend, and an employer, with the same parts of speech.

    On the other hand, all Romance languages, many Germanic languages, and some Slavic languages have formal and informal “you” pronouns. For instance, Spanish has the informal along with the formal usted, while German has du and Sie, respectively. These pronouns are used according to the social position and age (among other factors) of the subject being addressed and require different verb conjugations and possessive forms. To use them under the wrong circumstances would be inappropriate and could even suggest disrespect.

    But in some Asian languages—like Japanese—different words actually have different levels of formality associated with them, and you’re supposed to use them depending on whom you’re talking to and whether that person is higher or lower in social status or hierarchy. The grammar is basically the same, but there are a number of words (particularly the specific forms of the verb) that are only used according to the person being addressed.

    There are roughly six levels of formality in Japanese:

    Blunt: Usually used only by men in very informal situations. It’s used a lot in movies, particularly coming from tough-guy characters.

    Plain: anybody can use plain language, but it’s only appropriate for relaxed situations with people you know well. This level is particularly common with young people.

    Casual: closer to polite than plain Japanese, but with some changes to make it flow a little more smoothly when you’re talking.

    Polite: This is the level taught in most Japanese classes. It’s not too stiff and can be used in most situations where a lot of formality isn’t called for.

    Humble: used when you’re referring to yourself while talking to someone of superior status, or whom you’re “at the service of,” such as a business client.

    Honorific: used when talking to the same type of social superior, but when you’re talking about them.

    Exactly when to use each of these types of speech depends on enough things to make you go mental: your social standing relative to the people you’re talking to, your age relative to them, your position in an organization relative to them, your grade in school relative to them, if they’re a client of your company, whether you’re related, (and in what way), and more. This explains why there are several ways of saying “I,” and “you.”


    Watakushi (male or female; extremely formal)

    Watashi (male or female; relatively polite)

    Boku (used only by men; generally younger men)

    Ore (men only; not so polite, has a bit of a tough image)

    Atashi (used only by women; slightly less formal than watashi)


    Anata (polite, but used only with people your familiar with)

    Anta (a short version of anata; not polite at all)

    Omae (informal, can be used between close friends)

    Temee (blunt, and potentially insulting, if used in the wrong situation)

    Kisama (very blunt, and potentially even more insulting, if used in the wrong situation)

    Japanese culture, as reflected by the language, seems very rigid. Every human interaction — verbal communication included — is always shaped by one’s status or position in the social hierarchy. I wonder if we could ever get used to such a concept in our culture.

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