The internet has a lot going for it. You can find lots of things to help you in your studies. Video, audio, text, and many other resources can help you learn Spanish. You can find information for when you’re going to travel to another country to practice your language skills. But a word of warning is in order. Don’t believe everything you read on the net. Or at least double-check with some other sources.
Here’s some visit Barcelona site that I’d like to use as an example, because it is spreading misinformation about what city is the capital of Spain, which would probably be quite offensive or amusing to madrileños.
Barcelona is presently the capital of Spain, and is the 2nd-biggest city in the country.
Humorously, on their Madrid page, they also say (truthfully):
More than 3 million people live in Madrid, the capital of Spain.
But the same site has some of its facts right– they speak a lot of Catalán in Barcelona, and there are also a lot of municipal parks there– something even I have mentioned before.
So a word to the wise- Leverage the internet to help you learn, but be skeptical about everything you see.
When I saw this Spanish immersion school website yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the two months I spent in Costa Rica about ten years ago. The grainy pictures on there could have been pulled straight from my memory archives. That flashback– combined with a promise I made to post more about different Spanish-speaking places where you can study Spanish and have fun at the same time– prompted me to start writing. This immersion school site, called Learn Spanish and Surf (go ahead– check out the surfing part of your studies), is typical of the laid-back fun-loving Costa Rican lifestyle, which can be summed up with the Tico’s trademark greeting Pura Vida. The best I can translate that, is if someone asks how you are– Hey what’s up?– you answer “Life is awesome!”
Some of my best memories are the food. I’d eat a plateful of french fries slathered in mayonnaise, ketchup and melted cheese. I still remember the tangy taste of a 4 x 4– a hamburger piled high with slightly fermented, shredded cabbage. The gallo pinto is a typical (at least that’s what they tell tourists) breakfast dish that consists of fried rice peppered with whole black beans, topped with a sunny-side-up fried egg.
Walking into Grecia, Alajuela, you’ll see a huge red cathedral that towers over the town square. It’s quite an impressive and imposing structure, that would be even more imposing if you didn’t know it is made of sheets of steel. That’s right, no metre-thick stone walls. The outer skin of this thing is made of steel sheets imported from– if memory serves me– England in the 18th century.
If you go out of Grecia and head north, you’ll soon enter into real, live jungle, with monkeys swinging in the trees and lots of eyes belonging to unidentified animals staring at you from under the huge tropical leaves. On one outing we rented a wooden boat outfitted with a motor and went where there are no roads. We went downstream on a wide, deep, slow-moving muddy river. For lunch I had iguana meat, which, like any meat you aren’t familiar with, predictably tasted like chicken.
The memories blur. Gardens of bushes carved into the shape of animals. A dairy farm on top of a mountain so high that there was still neblina at mediodía. Walking in a park at dusk, among sentinel-like trees whose trunks are painted white. The lights, tastes, colors and even the smell of concentrated vehicle exhaust that won’t dissipate because the cars’ catalytic converters haven’t worked since 1988. The beat-up green Willys Jeep from about 1940 that I drove a couple of times. I had a great time, learned how to think pura vida, and went from second-year Spanish to communicative fluency. My only regret is I don’t have 3GB of digital photos to prove it all.
A few days ago I had the privilege and honor of interviewing Stuart Jay Raj. This man is incredible, so instead of rambling on, let’s dive right in.
I’m T and Stuart is SJR.
T: First of all how many languages do you speak?
SJR: That’s a tough question. What is a ‘different language’, and what is the qualification for ‘speak’. I’ll send you a profile that has the languages listed and my ranking for speaking, listening, reading and writing. There are a total of about 25 on the list. [On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the best,] with speaking 3 or above, I speak about 11 languages. With reading 3 or above, I have about 16 to 17.
T: Wow. What language(s) do you consider your native languages?
SJR: English is my native language, but then soon after that, they started stacking up.
T: How old were you when you started learning your first 2nd language?
SJR: Well my father’s side all spoke Hindi, though back then in Australia, they felt that English should be used more.
T: That often happens when one language is a minority language. The same thing happens here in the US with Spanish-speaking folks who have immigrated. The second generation only has receptive bilingualism and Spanish is often lost by the 3rd generation.
T: Go on.
SJR: On my maternal Grandfather’s side, I guess Italian was the next language at about the age of 3, with Chinese and Japanese coming in soon after. I can remember when I was about 4 with the mumps, my Grandfather used to read an ‘Italian through pictures’ book to me. I can still remember all the pictures now.
T: So– English, Hindi, Italian, and then Chinese and Japanese– You started hearing/learning these from family members mainly?
SJR: Right. Years later, I actually went to stay with Indian relatives in the US for a while and saw that they really retained the language and culture. That’s when I really motivated myself to get into Hindi– more Shudh Hindi, and also Sanskrit. But my Hindi in the early days was just stuff you use around the house– long conversations were done in English. And then with the Japanese and Chinese, my Grandfather used to teach me how to write the characters, Hiragana, Katana and Kanji. One of the best books he used to use with me to teach Japanese and Chinese characters was written in Italian. We also had these flash cards that must have come from the 50′s. He used to teach me what EVERY part of the character meant– it’s function etc. Not just the radicals.
T: So your father was a language buff too?
SJR: No – Dad only used language… didn’t love it.
T: But he was still a factor in getting you acquainted with several langauges?
SJR: It was my Mum’s Dad that had a psychotic passion for language that eventually rubbed off on me. It wasn’t just languages- but I guess it’s the language thing that’s ‘in your face’ when you meet people. My Grandfather at the same time taught me to touch type (at the age of 4), to use Morse code, to design schematic diagrams and build radios, to programme computers, and to memorise numbers and words.
T: So it wasn’t only human language you were exposed to.
SJR: Right. Basically he was into getting more mileage out of the brain than your average joe blow.
T: When you talk about memorizing numbers, what was that? Just any numbers– or memorizing pi for example?
SJR: I remember when the Commodore 64 came out around 1982– he and I lived with it around the clock. Initially programming in BASIC, then Assembly Language. I can still remember many of the poke addresses and memory Hex values. One of the first things he taught me that I can remember is the Major method, that he learn back around 1940. – 0 s,z – 1 t,d -2 n-3 m – 4 r – 5 l – 6 ch, j sh zh – 7 k g – 8 f v – 9 p b, and in his wisdom, that system is a foundation for most languages.
T: That’s the same number scheme that Harry Lorraine taught.
The Major Method
The Major Method is a mnemonic memorization system where the 10 digits are mapped to
consonant sounds, so that you can use words and phrases to remember long, complicated numbers, among many other uses.
E. g. To memorize the sequence 02321290, just remember the phrase “snowy mountain pass”.
SJR: Right. If you look at Hiragana and Katakana, the 5 x 5 Indic sound system… even shorthand, it’s divided up like that. We’d create martices of literally thousands of words that we could then make crazy memory stories out of.
T: Do you think memory techniques are an important part of langauge learning?
SJR: I think that the principle behind the memory techniques helped me. He used to always tell me “don’t let words limit your thoughts”, which is the fundamental principle of many techniques. You have to think LOUD (not aloud).
T: Some cognitive linguists have said our native language actually limits how we think. So I really agree with what you say. Can you explain the LOUD concept in a bit more detail?
SJR: Sure, it’s like a ‘loud shirt’. Think in colours, emotions, experiences– anything that SCREAMS OUT on the inside.
T: I see.
SJR: I think that’s where he was able to nip it in the bud with me. Even things like doing the rubik’s cube was creating a ‘meaning’ (for example, getting all the 6 colours blocked) through tactile vocabulary. That’s another thing he taught me when i was about 5.
T: Sounds like you were really blessed with good guidance when you were young.
SJR: I was the only one of my siblings and cousins that actually enjoyed sitting through his stories (over and over …and over again) … they eventually rubbed off.
T: What single memory technique would you most recommend to someone who is embarking on learning their first foreign langauge?
SJR: Ahhh… there are a few things. I would say the first thing would be to get your mind separating the mechanical act of using language from the way your brain feels meanings… then you have more versatility.
T: Sounds profound, can you dive deeper?
SJR: One of the first exercises I get people to do [when learning a foreign language] is Language 1 –> Language 1 simultaneous interpreting. That is, turn on CNN or something and then just start speaking in real time. Not waiting, just interpret what the presenter is saying in your own words– interpret the meanings. That’s a fundamental skill in de-coupling yourself from your mother tongue.
T: In other words– hearing meaning, not words.
SJR: Exactly. Then, as far as the memory skills are concerned, start making associations… weird, bizzare, sounds, colours, similar meanings, similar sounds etc. And then create stacking stories. For example, for the days of the week in Indonesian, you have:
Minggu – You’re mingling in church on Sunday. Senin – And then on Monday after church you go back to ‘sinnin’. Selasa – Then like an Italian waving his hands in the air, you exclaim ‘Selasa’ (at last) Monday is over! Rabu – Then you call the ‘rabi’ to come and cleanse your sins. Kamis – The rabi ‘comes’ (Kamis). Jumat – The rabi performs a weird ritual by ‘jumping on the mat’ (Jumat) to cleanse the sins from Monday. Sabtu – And then it’s the Sabbath… ready to go and mingle again the next day on Sunday (Minggu).
T: It takes some effort create the story, but that same effort helps it stick in your mind.
SJR: That was one that I made up on the fly many years ago when I was trying to get someone to remember the days in Indonesian. That’s the reason for the initial exercise with CNN interpreting… you need to get your creative juices flowing and stop thinking in ‘words’ and start thinking in ‘meanings’. I just did this exercise in Thai with the Thai senate last week. It was a real breakthrough for them, as Thais are trained from birth to memorise everything by rote. They found a new liberty with their language.
T: Were you giving them language training?
SJR: I am working with a number of departments on language, communication and a few other things. That day, many of the key people who are involved in International communications were present.
T: Most of my readers are learning Spanish or already speak it. I read on your website that you speak it as well.
SJR: That’s right. There are some cool things you can do with Spanish and other inflected languages.
T: Así que cambiemos a español tantito?
SJR: Sure… but i’ll respond in English 55555 Oops… in Thai, 5 is pronounced ‘ha’, so when Thais laugh online, they say 555555.
T: That’s like when I learned to laugh online in Spanish– jaja or jejeje.
SJR: But feel free to speak to me in Spanish. My Spanish came about later on when I was just in University.
T: How long has it been since you started with Spanish?
SJR: I started when i was about 18. Later, I ended up living with my Chilean girlfriend for 4 years… in which time my Italian morphed into Spanish. All my Spanish speaking friends would play games with me to get my conjugations up to speed. You have to make it fun… so we would conjugate the verb ‘cagar’ in as many forms possible. 5555
SJR: yo cago, tu cagas… te cagé! But it STUCK. One thing that my Grandfather also passed on was the ability to hear (and extract) what is really ‘said’ and not the ideal that people will tell you is said. Many people think you have to learn the ‘ideal’ of the language and get offended when people learn slang. I say ‘bring it on’. When I first learn a language, I’ll find out how people say ‘wiggle your index finger’, or the sound of your hands rubbing together, or the ‘sound effect’ words people use when they’re describing a dramatic incident like a car crash. All these things bring you into the ‘heart’ of the language– What’s the sound of an egg hitting a brick wall– But I won’t ask directly though, I try and elicit it naturally.
T: So you wouldn’t last too long in a classroom setting where you learn how to say ‘pencil’, ‘car’, ‘doctor’
SJR: I would only use that as one small part of my language learning regime… the ‘dry’ part, but you have to get wet.
T: That’s important, natural elicitation, because if you ask directly, they often tell you something different than what they would naturally use.
SJR: Right. For example, in Thai, we work on a base six clock… not base 12. For many foreigners, this is very hard to conceive. For a Thai, to say 4 in the morning and 10 in the morning is the same thing.
T: In other words, it’s the same word.
SJR: So to demonstrate to one of my students that Thais really do think like this, i called over to the bar tender and said ‘what time did you start work today?’ The bar tender answered– seeing the farang (gringo) sitting with me– ’10 o’clock’. I responded in Thai “you started at 4 o’clock didn’t you”, and without batting an eyelid he responded ‘yeah’. He thought that my question was intended to find out what time he started work, but the real intention was to examine a language feature and psychological feature of the people. Right now it’s 11 AM, and Thais would interchange that for 5 o’clock.
T: Language definitely controls how you think.
SJR: They literally hear them as the same numbers.
T: I’ve kept you longer than I intended to… but I also wanted to ask you about your company Kogneit. Tell me about it, and tell me about what you do.
SJR: I started my company around 5 years ago. The name is a linguistic play on words [kogneit - cognate] two or more words that come from the same root. I was a Dale Carnegie trainer for years and did corporate consultancy and training under their banner with many companies in the region. Later on, I came out and realised that I could address companies on many other languages when you bring the language and culture into the business mix. So now, governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations like the UN, hire me to implement their international policies at a local level in a palatable fashion. I can package any concerns from the people on the ground in a way (hopefully with a solution too) to communicate with the executives without making it risky for the people to voice their opinions.
T: So you get to travel some then.
SJR: Yes, I travel a lot. I just returned home from running a negotiations workshop with the Thai Pepsico team, then I’ll be in Beijing with the UN in a couple of weeks. My Grandfather used to tell me that if I do what I love doing, people will pay me to do it. So I just enjoy my life and business follows.
T: Good advice.
SJR: I’m a true believer in the power of networking and surrounding oneself with positive people. Aside from my hardskills, it’s my networks that add the most value to what I do. From business to government, from social networks to the entertainment industry, I think that if I meet ANYONE, I’ll probably know someone else that can help them. But it’s the language that allows me to access these people at the levels that I do. And not just the language. A lot of people learn a language, but then bum everything up because they still commit cultural faux pas.
SJR: The first thing I advise people to do when they think they know a language well enough is to shut up. You don’t learn a language to tell people what YOU think, you learn it to understand what THEY think. And hopefully what THEY think will change or enhance what I think.
T: That reminds me of the saying: Keep your mouth shut and appear to be a fool — open it and remove all doubt.
SJR: Those are wise words. For me, many a time has the doubt been confirmed!
T: Well thanks so much for the interview.
SJR: Thanks David. It’s been fun … first time doing anything like this via instant messenger.
T: Any last words for a Spanish learner who doesn’t have any foreign languages under their belt?
SJR: Yeah – my Grandfather used to tell me that the ultimate goal for learning any language is to have the native speakers NOT compliment you on your language ability. That is, they just assume you’ve spoken it most of your life, if not all. So ACCENT ACCENT ACCENT.
T: yep, that’s ultimate goal.
SJR: You can download some great software ‘SPEECH ANALYZER’ that allows you to graph where your vowels are etc. So, analyse your own accent, and then learn how to control it and change it. If I meet another native English speaker, and I were to compliment them on their English, they’d probably punch me in the face. You want people to feel like that toward you (not that you want them to punch you in the face!) 5555
T: I’m literally laughing out loud. Thanks so much for your time
SJR: That’s a good note to finish on. Have a great evening. Cuídate.
When you’re traveling out of the country– in some Spanish-speaking country no doubt– you probably use a credit card. I know I do. Nobody these days carries large wads of cash, and somehow traveller’s cheques are not quite as convenient as plastic, especially for things like making phone reservations.
But if you do use your credit card, use it sparingly. Most credit card companies add a surcharge of about 2% for the privilege of making a purchase in a foreign country. If you add this to Visa and Mastercard’s 1% “currency conversion” charge, you’re out $3 for every $100 you spend. Although this might not sound like a big deal, it can add up, and it’ll come as a surprise if you aren’t expecting it.
If you do a lot of foreign travelling, you probably want to find a bank or credit card issuer that doesn’t charge extra for out-of-country purchases, leaving you only with the 1% currency conversion fee.
Just thought I’d let you know so you won’t be surprised like I was.
“Monster plant grows 5ft in a weekend and bursts through greenhouse roof”
It’s true that when the Maguey or Century Plant goes to seed, the stem does grow quickly, but who gave them permission to call it a “monster plant”? I think kudzu is more of a monster plant.
“A rare Mexican plant which flowers only once in its lifetime has bloomed in Britain.”
This photo:Wikipedia (Since I couldn’t find any of my own shots of flowering magueys at the moment.)
Anyone who has visited Mexico or the Southwestern US, knows this plant is by no means rare. It might only bloom once, but with so many of them around, the flowers are a common sight.
“It has grown steadily to dominate the south-eastern corner of the display, its crown of rather untidy but impressive succulent leaves spewing out across the gravel like some monstrous creation from the Little Shop of Horrors.”
I’ll cut them some slack because they obviously haven’t seen one of these plants before. But “Little Shop of Horrors”? What’s that? It just looks like a big Aloe Vera plant.
“Agave americana, which became known as the Century Plant in the mistaken belief that it blossomed only once in 100 years” …//… “The rush of sap which fuels the speedy growth of the plant is used to produce tequila.”
Yes, technically this plant is an Agave, but it’s *not* the variety used to produce Tequila. Tequila and Mescal are both produced from different versions of the Agave plant and this version, the Maguey, is not one of them. It is however used to produce Pulque, which you should try next time you’re in central Mexico.
But maybe the one most important thing you should know about this plant is– It’s not a cactus.