Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Connecting meditation and language learning

I come to you almost two weeks after finishing my first meditation retreat.  This was for a technique called Vipassana, which is one of the most ancient forms of meditation from India.  Until about a year ago I had never heard of it, and until about two weeks ago I knew nothing about it.  I had tried several meditation techniques, never getting real direction and only getting frustrated in the process.  Maybe you relate.  Like everyone who starts, I was trying to stop my mind, but how can you do that really? And especially when you have a mind that will never seem to stop running? They say “mente a mil” in Spanish, literally the idea of your mind being at “speed one thousand.”

I am no expert and am pretty young in the meditation world honestly, but I now understand the point and have experienced some real results of my own.  Meditation can be practiced in many forms: in cleaning, drawing, focusing on breath, counting breath, scanning the body for sensations, the list goes on.  You are simply learning to observe your mind rather than stopping it, and each technique has a different approach on how to do it.  By observing, you become aware, and awareness is the first step to any kind of change.

Now I want to talk about language learning, and of course since this is a language blog!  A wise woman once taught me about this thing that happens when acquiring language.  First you become aware of a mistake you are making either on your own or with a teacher´s help. Then you get repeated correction from a teacher (and realize just how much you are making that mistake.) Thirdly, you start to correct yourself, and finally, the error is no longer an error and has been converted, corrected, transformed…however you want to call it.  There is something in linguistics called “fossilization” which is an error that has happened so much or was never learned correctly to begin with that it has “hardened” so to speak, leaving an imprint as a fossil does.  It´s a mistake that a student has made so many times that it has become part of their natural speech, for example.  In the world of meditation, you could call it taking root.

As I worked to find my bliss at the Vipassana retreat, I realized it wasn´t bliss at all really.  It was hard work sitting up for hours at a time and trying to focus.  I had some moments of bliss but there is nothing like the bliss of seeing some change in your life.   I “scanned my body” (and for anyone who has done it, you know what I mean) and throughout the week thoughts came to me, things I hadn´t thought about in years and others that came around and around again.  Some of these thought patterns we all have seem impossible to change, just like a fossilized mistake!

So I´m back to the real world, the hectic world that it is.  Those ten days in silence enjoying nature, finding inner peace, and searching for the right meditation position were blissful now that I compare it to the city noise.  Maybe it is  just that I´m back to the typical routine, and it feels intense because I had never calmed my mind like that before?  Why do we meditate really?  To find peace, tranquility…equanimity… equanimity… equanimity.  We do it to change our minds and to evolve, because you can evolve past the broken record that goes on and on in your head.  Awareness is the key to any kind of freedom, even freedom from language mistakes.  You too can correct and evolve past fossilized mistakes.  It just takes some work.

I had many days to sit and meditate and admittedly think about other things too.  One thing I thought about was this blog post in fact and the connection to fossilized mistakes and roots in our mind.  These things can change… it just takes some work.

meditation one

Happy Birthday Lengua Lens!

Language Lens started as a blog and later developed into something more: Lengua Lens.  One year ago today Lengua Lens was officially launched!  Thanks for your follows, interest and support this past year!

Happy Bday

Wondering about the World

People travel to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” -St Augustine

Hike

Fourteen songs to practice present perfect

soymeg:

The present perfect isn`t an easy verb tense to learn and for Spanish speaking students, it doesn`t translate exactly, so all the more reason why it`s challenging. What a great idea to practice the verb tense with songs. Which song is your favorite?

Originally posted on Bilinguish:

U2 in 1980. Shown from left to right: Clayton,...

U2 in 1980. Shown from left to right: Clayton, Mullen, Bono, The Edge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have climbed the highest mountain, I have run through the fields, but I still haven’t found…fourteen perfect songs to practice present perfect.  Well, here are a variety of songs in present perfect, in every genre from pop to classic rock to rhythm and blues to ska.  Vote on one to watch with the class, or watch them all. Don’t forget to tell us which was your favorite in the poll below.

1. U2 “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”
This 1987 song by the Irish rock band U2 is popular in English classes learning the present perfect tense. How many of these things have you done?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY75dw64sqI

Read the lyrics to I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For here.
Present perfect activity for English students complete with printable…

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Citizens of the World: Attention Parents

After living abroad, maybe someone has called you a “Citizen of the World,” as you now belong to more than one place.  After leaving you tend to feel like you could go anywhere and the world doesn`t seem so big anymore.  This has been my experience, and I think many others would agree.

 The term “Citizen of the World” has come up yet again but this time for a much younger population: babies!  In a recent TED Talk with Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences at the University of Washington, she explains how babies are the real “Citizens of the World,” linguistically-speaking.

 New tools in modern neuroscience have shown the true magic that happens with babies in their brains during development.  Children are naturally good at learning language (and better than adults), but why exactly?  It is because of the critical period for learning, when their brains are more able and prepared to receive information, especially pertaining to language.  Until the age of 7, children are “language geniuses really” and after 7, “they fall off the map,” Patricia tells us.  If a child is to obtain the native accent of a language for example, they must be exposed (a lot) to the language before the age of 7.  So one critical period for language development is before the age of 7!

 There is another critical period between 6 to 8 months when babies are acquiring and mastering the specific sounds of the languages they hear around them, regardless of what language it is.  In other words, during the short 2 month period, this is the time when babies are acquiring sounds which later become their language (or languages).  If you expose a child to a native speaker of any language, during thistime, it will only make it easier for them to acquire that specific language, or another one similar, later.

 This is what makes language learning different for children versus adults, because adults have already become “culture bound listeners” to their native language, knowing only those sounds. Adults are bound by memory and other representations that are formed early in development, where babies are able to acquire any sound which makes them true “Citizens of the World” for a time.  What the babies are doing during this critical period is taking statistics of the distribution of specific sounds they hear during speech and then by understanding the distribution of sounds, they become “language bound listeners” to the sounds and language they hear most often.   Eventually they adopt the language they are given–of their parents–which comes with all the sounds of that language, and it changes their brains.
 
 To test this, Patricia showed a study where American babies who had not yet been exposed to a second language, were exposed to Mandarin Chinese for the first time during the critical period of 6 to 8 months.  It was as if relatives came to stay with them for 12 sessions of time.  At 10 to 12 months, the babies were tested again and showed to be just as good with the sounds as other Taiwanese babies who had been listening to those sounds from birth!  This shows you how critical the critical period actually is.  The same test was done by using only video and then only audio, but there were no results, showing that it takes an actual human voice, in person, to do the trick. Babies are social learners it seems.
 
 By watching the actual video, perhaps some of the linguistic implications would be more clear, but this is a detailed explanation as to specifically why babies can acquire language so easily.  The older they get, there are other factors, but parents – consider this for your children!  If you are interested in giving your child the ability to speak more than one language at some point in their lives, these short few months could make a lot of the difference.
 
baby 1
 
Here is a summary of her TED talk, which I highly recommend watching!

This is how you grow

growth

Yesterday’s word, Tomorrow’s voice

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.” -T.S. Eliot

past and future

Why “Soccer” and not “Football”? Blame it on the Brits!

So it`s the World Cup and what a joy to be in a place like Argentina during this time.  Just like any other event, be it a concert or local football game, the people are as passionate as you can imagine.  When Argentina plays, the streets are empty and you hear shouting and screaming from all the buildings around.   Restaurants and homes are decorated in flags of light blue and white.  Many offices are equipped with extra monitors and TVs to watch the games while working.  Store are closed in order to not miss a moment, and no one–except two foreigners (myself included)–came to a class that was scheduled before game 2 on a Saturday.  Whether you like football or not, it`s hard to not get sucked into the excitement somehow!

Cerrado

I`m American and grew up watching “the other football.”   You know – the one that does not have to do with feet at all?  Come on America!  Why do we have to be different than the rest of the world?  I have been annoyed by this, just like many of you, but there is a reason for it and it`s not American arrogance.  In fact, it`s the Brit`s fault!

football vs. soccer

 

The word “soccer” is a diminutive of association, as in As-soc-iation Football.   In the early 1800`s, a group of British universities took the medieval game “football”  and started playing their own versions of it, all with different rules.  In order to standardize things across the country, however, these games were categorized under different organizations and given different names.  One version of the game played with only hands became “Rugby Football.”  Another version was called  “Association Football.”   Rugby Football later became “Rugger” for short, and Association Football later became “Assoccer,” quickly changing to “Soccer” alone.

Eventually Rugby and Soccer both spread across to the United States  in the early 1900`s.  What was known as “Gridiron” in Britian was called Football in America and  “Association Football” kept the name “Soccer.”   The Brits also kept using the term  “Soccer” for a large part of the 20th century; in fact between 1960 and 1980, “Soccer” and “Football” were “almost interchangeable” terms in Britain.  The first documented case of the sport being called by the term “Football” was in 1881, 18 years after it was first called “Soccer” (or officially “Association Football.”)

Soccer is not as popular in the United States, although things are changing.  Of non-Brazilian fans visiting this year`s World Cup for example, the greatest number of fans come from the US!  Personal economics makes a difference of course, but that is more than neighboring Argentina fans.  Vamos USA!

So… it will be hard to overcome the many stereotypes against Americans and “Soccer” but remember this, it isn`t our fault!  I was surprised too!

 

 

Sources for this post:

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-americans-call-it-soccer-2014-6#ixzz35ZcK2qcp

http://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2783,00.html

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/the-origin-of-the-word-soccer/

Time is money, or is it? How different cultures view and live time

“Time is money” said the American, but “no it`s gold,” says the Spaniard.  Expressions differ from culture to culture but a greater difference is that in how time is viewed and “practiced” from culture to culture .  Since coming to Argentina, I must say I am quite adapted to how time works but there are always exceptions (meaning anything having to do with the dreaded word: tràmite.)  I met an American traveling around the world in Buenos Aires, his first stop.  He was surprised that I arrived 15 minutes late to meet him.  Although I am much more loose with time than I used to be, I was still worried he would be bothered that I was late, but on the contrary.  To him, me arriving 15 minutes late was “on time” compared to the average of 45 minutes late he had calculated with the Argentines he had met.  “Forty-five minutes, is that all?” you think.  Any North American or Northern European living in this “time chaos” have many stories of their own!Image

Argentina is a place where the lack of systems and infrastructure sometimes (always when related to a tràmite) make things take longer than you want, by American standards that is.  It`s not just that it takes longer, sometimes you wonder if it will happen at all. There have been so many times when I have planned several “appointments” to see friends, but then all plans were thrown out the window when the first appointment started two hours late.  Or going to a store and the salesman is not in a hurry to check you out, as working quicker is no guarantee for more profit nor is that the priority.  Or what about those weekend nights when you return as the sun is rising?  A club or bar does not get busy until 2 am and family parties go all night with even the young kids pulling all-nighters.  And going to a restaurant or cafe is a real blessing as you can sit there for hours without complaint.  This would be unheard of in the US without leaving a nice tip.  This is Argentina. You love and hate how time works.  It depends on where you come from and/or how tied you are to it.

Linear cultures are those who plan ahead, schedule, organize, are results oriented and do one thing at a time generally. These are profit-oriented societies where time is precious and viewed as even scarce. Time moves fast and if you want to benefit, you have to move fast with it.  Americans, Swiss and Germans are in this category.  According to the article “How Different Cultures Understand Time” from the Business Insider, Americans are people of action, and they cannot bear to be idle.  They view the past as gone and the present moment as an opportunity.  Argentina is considered a Multi-active culture–lively, people who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to any time schedule but instead on the potential thrill or importance of each appointment. These cultures are emotional and people/relationship oriented.  They make decisions based on feelings where linear cultures stick to the facts.  Other cultures in the multi-active category include Italians and Arabs.  The third category are Reactive cultures,  those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, always listening (instead of talking like the multi-active) and carefully reacting to others` proposals.  In this group, face to face contact is important, statements are promises, and the people are very harmony oriented.  The Chinese, Japanese and Finns belong to this group.

There is also a “cyclical view” of time practiced in Eastern cultures where time is viewed neither as linear nor event/relationship oriented.  With cyclical time, the sun rises and sets each day; the seasons follow one another year after year, and people grow old and die, but their children ensure that the process continues. Time is not scarce when time is cyclical and there always seems to be an unlimited supply of it.  Asians do not see time as racing away as it would with a linear lens, but instead they view time as coming around again in a circle, where the same opportunities, risks and dangers will re- present themselves later, when you are wiser. Westerners instead are accustomed to making quick decisions and if a lot of time has passed without making a decision or producing something, it is often viewed as “wasted” time.

Although linear and cyclical cultures are very different, they both still see the past as something we have put behind us and the future as something that lies before us. In Madagascar, however, the opposite is true.  The Malagasy people view the future from the back of their heads, or passing from behind.  Instead it is the past that stretches out in front of them, because they can see it.  They can look at the past, enjoy it, learn from it, and even “play” with it, such as by consulting their ancestors or even digging up their bones!

If you are planning to live or work abroad, you can never really be prepared for how time is viewed differently until you live it and learn to love it (although complaining is still allowed once in a while!)  Just a few differences between English and Spanish that I have encountered when talking about time are the following:

  • English calls it “wasting time,” where the equivalent in Spanish is “to lose time.”  In Argentina for example, if you do not produce something or make the most of your time, at least there is a hope that you enjoyed yourself and/or relaxed a bit; this is the only thing that would have been “lost” for example.
  • To make time in English is to reserve time to do something else, surely something productive.  Time is structured and organized so you “set aside” two hours a week to study English for example (hint hint for those students out there!)  Making time in Spanish (haciendo tiempo), however, is related to “killing time”–like waiting for your flight at the airport.
  • El tiempo (the time) also means “the weather,” where these things would never be confused in English.  Time is time and weather is weather, period!
  • And “ahora” means “now” right?  Not always!  It could mean “later” and remember that there is always time to do it “tomorrow… mañana, mañana.”

The list goes on as do your personal stories.  Feel free to share them on a comment. I`d love to hear more about your personal experiences related to time and culture!

The main sources for this post include the following articles:

 

The Real Voyage of Discovery

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust

voyage of discovery

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