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.
*This is a fascinating article from the article of the same title by Alan Yu, from the health section of NPR.
Lera Boroditsky once did a simple experiment: She asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. A room of distinguished professors in the U.S. pointed in almost every possible direction, whereas 5-year-old Australian aboriginal girls always got it right.
She says the difference lies in language. Boroditsky, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, says the Australian aboriginal language doesn’t use words like left or right. It uses compass points, so they say things like “that girl to the east of you is my sister.”
If you want to learn another language and become fluent, you may have to change the way you behave in small but sometimes significant ways, specifically how you sort things into categories and what you notice.
Researchers are starting to study how those changes happen, says Aneta Pavlenko, a professor of applied linguistics at Temple University. She studies bilingualism and is the author of an upcoming book on this work.
If people speaking different languages need to group or observe things differently, then bilinguals ought to switch focus depending on the language they use. That’s exactly the case, according to Pavlenko.
For example, she says English distinguishes between cups and glasses, but in Russian, the difference between chashka (cup) and stakan (glass) is based on shape, not material.
Based on her research, she started teaching future language teachers how to help their English-speaking students group things in Russian. If English-speaking students of Russian had to sort cups and glasses into different piles, then re-sort into chashka and stakan, they should sort them differently. She says language teachers could do activities like this with their students instead of just memorizing words.
“They feel generally that this acknowledges something that they’ve long expected, long wanted to do but didn’t know how,” Pavlenko says. “They felt that it moved them forward, away from teaching pronunciation and doing the ‘repeat after me’ activities.”
Pavlenko points to research showing that if you’re hungry, you’ll pay more attention to food-related stimuli, and she says speaking another language fluently works the same way.
One’s native language could also affect memory, says Pavlenko. She points to novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who was fully trilingual in English, French and Russian. She says Nabokov wrote three memoirs: He published one in English, and when another publishing house asked for one in Russian, he accepted, thinking he would simply translate his first memoir.
“When Nabokov started translating it into Russian, he recalled a lot of things that he did not remember when he was writing it in English, and so in essence it became a somewhat different book,” Pavlenko says. “It came out in Russian and he felt that in order to represent his childhood properly to his American readership, he had to produce a new version. So the version of Nabokov’s autobiography we know now is actually a third attempt, where he had to recall more things in Russian and then re-translate them from Russian back into English.”
Boroditsky also studied the differences in what research subjects remembered when using English, which doesn’t always note the intent of an action, and Spanish, which does. This can lead to differences in how people remember what they saw, potentially important in eyewitness testimony, she says.
John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, acknowledges such differences but says they don’t really matter. The experiments “show that there are these tiny differentials that you can find that seem to correlate with what language you speak,” McWhorter says. “Nothing has ever demonstrated that your language makes you process life in a different way. It just doesn’t work.”
He calls this “the language hoax,” which happens to be the title of his upcoming book.
As an example, he refers to modern speakers of a Mayan language, who also use directions that roughly correspond to compass points, rather than left or right. Researchers asked people, most of whom only knew this language, to do tasks like memorizing how a ball moved through a maze, which would have been easier had they thought about it in terms of left and right, rather than compass points. The participants were just as good at these tasks and sometimes better,leading the experimenters to conclude they were not constrained by their language.
Boroditsky disagrees. She says the counterexamples simply prove language isn’t the only factor affecting what we notice. Like studying to be a pilot or doctor, she says, learning to speak a different language fluently can also change us, and this means we can learn those changes, like learning any other skill.
“It’s like a very extensive training program,” Boroditsky says. “There’s nothing exotic about the effects that language has on cognition. It’s just the same that any learning has on cognition.
“Liebster” is German for many things, and among them “a welcome visitor,” (according to Word Reference) which makes sense for the award that Raelke nominated Language Lens for recently. Thank you by the way! The Liebster award is given to up and coming bloggers (I like that description) who have less than 200 followers.
The rules for the award are as follows:
So, my 11 Random Facts…
And my answers to the question Raelke asked…
11 questions for the nominated blogs…
11 blogs that I nominate
1. Excuse my Spanglish: Karo writes all her posts in both English and Spanish, which I find both interesting and admirable! I appreciate her efforts as it´s not an easy translation task,and it´s really great for those of us learning. http://excusemyspanglish.wordpress.com/
2. Private Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires: Sofie speaks about language, culture and activities in Buenos Aires in her blog. I find the language posts incredibly helpful as she speaks to the use of the language and how to speak more naturally, rather than relying on translating or what one learned in another country. http://sofiabohmer.wordpress.com/
3. Something for Sunday: Jacqui writes about life as an expat in Seoul, Korea. Not only does she write about culture and life abroad but she focuses on food, even giving recipes to things she tries and learns to master. She is an excellent writer, sure to please even if cooking and/or food isn´t your thing. http://somethingforsunday.wordpress.com/
4. Diary of a Language Coach: Amy and I have a few things in common, a love of Spanish and teaching. As a teacher and life-long learner, she blogs about tips and tools for learning/teaching Spanish and what she learns while teaching. Very helpful blog! http://languagecoach-diary.blogspot.com.
5. Language Evolution: How and why language varies and changes. I find this topic fascinating. Although the blog can be quite technical for the everyday reader, it´s a great source for learning about this linguistic phenomena. http://langevo.blogspot.com
6. En la punta de la lengua: Luis writes extremely interesting posts all relating to culture and linguistics, primarily in Mexico. The blog is predominantly in Spanish but also has English posts. Very thought provoking and professionally written. http://munduslingua.blogspot.com
7. Multilingual Mom: This multilingual mom is a franco-american mother of two girls, married to her Mexican Don Juan and is now living in Singapore (did you follow all of that?). She writes about multilingual aspects of bringing up children. http://multilingualmama.com/about/
8. Conversations with Japan: A unique way to write about Japanese culture, in the form of conversations with 2 people: Japan and me, as the name indicates. This blog is entertaining, educational, and very creative. http://conversationswithjapan.wordpress.com/
9. Like a Sponge. Marianne writes about her experiences living in Holland and speaking Dutch. I love the name of the blog as it is oh-so-true when living abroad and acquiring a new language. http://www.likeasponge.nl
10. Fuck Yeah my Language: This blog includes some interesting topics, again relating to linguistics, but I also include it on the list as it´s unique to others mentioned because of its format. Using tumblr, it includes a lot of videos, audio tracks and images in its posts, rather than solely words. http://fuckyeahmylanguage.tumblr.com/
11. UR Moving Where? Written by another expat in Argentina, this blog offers insights and tips for living abroad. What is unique about it is that it is written from the perspective of a family and not a single person, which is a whole other animal. http://urmovingwhere.com/
Questions for my nominated blogs:
1. If you had the money and time to go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?
2. Not considering professional benefits, what do you think is the value of studying another language?
3. Are you an introvert or extrovert?
4. What is your Zodiac sign?
5. What is your favorite English word and why?
6. Mac or PC and why?
7. Why do you write?
8. What do you think the world needs more of?
9. What is one of your personal goals for 2013?
10. What´s one of your favorite movies and why?
11. What is something you have always wanted to do?