My Language Learning Journey

About a month ago I started college. One of the courses that I am taking is English Comp I. One of our assignments was to write a literary narrative about a learning experience. I wrote about my experiences learning other languages. I just got back my essay, for which I did well, and I would like to share my work. Well, here it is!

Cooperation between parties begins with understanding. Understanding is not possible without effective communication. This premise has long fueled my desire to learn other languages. I first became aware of other languages around the age of seven, when my dad mentioned that it is necessary to speak Spanish in South America. A few months later, my great-grandmother mentioned that people speak French in France. My great uncle has lived in Germany for many years. When he came to visit around this time, I found out that he speaks more German at home than English. While I found all this interesting, the main thing that ignited my interest in other languages was a fifth grade discussion of ethnicity that occurred when I was ten.

The subject of ethnicity had never come up at home, so my sense of self was only “American”. Thus, I was fascinated by the discovery that we had all originated from different areas all over the world. This was the spark that started the blaze of what will no doubt be a lifelong interest in other countries and languages.

For years, I was unable to pursue this interest, as my mom preferred that I focus on English. In twelfth grade, I studied German. I continued studying German and Spanish after high school through courses I bought from Borders. I learned a little, but did not feel like I had that strong a command of either language.

However, thongs began to change when I got high speed internet in 2008, and I started downloading podcasts from I-Tunes. After listening to Spanish learning podcasts for a time, I glanced at the Spanish instruction versions, and realized that I understood them. It was a great feeling to know that something that had been unintelligible was now understandable. Eventually, my Spanish learning fell by the wayside due to my being enticed by other languages.

One such language was French, which, at first, was lower on my priority list. This changed when I was browsing the I-Tunes store and grew curious about the podcasts Mission Paris and Coffee Break French. I was interested in the former because I had listened to Mission Berlin to learn German, and in the latter because I had listened to Coffee Break Spanish to learn Spanish. After I downloaded and listened to a few episodes of each, I not only continued to listen to these podcasts, but also started listening to other French learning podcasts. Over time, as in the case with Spanish, I was able to read instructions in French.

I even bought French-learning books from Barnes & Noble. Pretty soon, I was reading short stories in French, which expanded to include blog posts and articles. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to go to a website in French, to be able to read what was said, and to tell other people about what I had read. I actually liked a few posts so much that I sought out the authors on Twitter to request permission to translate their posts into English and to then post them on my blog, which they granted. (You can find them here.) In the translation process, I discovered that I needed an unabridged dictionary, because my beginner’s dictionary didn’t include a lot of the words and expressions used in the posts. I also found it inconvenient to keep changing tabs on my smart phone to look things up online. I realized that translation is hard work, but, ince finished, I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment. In fact, my brain released adrenaline into my bloodstream and the parts of my brain associated with happiness lit up. This feeling of euphoria was enhanced when I remembered the days in which anything in French was completely incomprehensible. However, while I can do all that, and can listen to some podcasts, I am not yet fluent enough to watch television without subtitles. 

Now let me talk about my methodology. For years I worked as an electrician, and during most of that time I worked for many hours. However, the jobsites on which we worked required anywhere from a half hour to over an hour of commute time, during which I listened to language learning podcasts. Later on, my old church started a major building project, and I was assigned to help pick up the food donations in the evening. Since we had to drive about an hour one way to get the donations, I utilized I utilized that time to listen to my podcasts. I decided to split up my language study, so that I would learn one language on the way to the jobsite, another on the way back, a third on the way to get the donations, and the fourth on the return. This method was a modified form of some advice given on a Spanish learning podcast; namely, that amyone attempting to learn two languages at the same time should study each language in a separate location.

Not far from our donor was a Barnes & Noble, where I often browsed, and sometimes shopped. On one occasion I bought Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner, which I’ve found to be helpful. While I don’t follow everything he says, he has influenced my language learning strategy. For example, as a result of what I read in his book, I now, whenever I develop an interest in another language, look up pronunciation resources first. Wyner suggests learning pronunciation first in order to attune one’s ear to the distinct sounds of the language, thus facilitating learning, and to help ensure the learner will be understood when speaking. Another practice I picked up from Wyner is to find frequency lists of the 1000 most common words in the language, and focus on learning those words. His reasoning is that these words constitute around 75% of the words used on a regular basis. Furthermore, Wyner recommends resources for a number of languages both in his book and on his site. When I am interested in a language, I go to his site to see what he has recommended.

During and since the time I read Wyner’s book, my interest in and desire to learn other languages has increased.

A few months ago I started learning Arabic. It is widely spoken and is the language of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. I followed a number of Wyner’s tips for this. I started by watching Wyner’s pronunciation videos on YouTube, which even showed where one’s tongue needs to be placed to make the sounds. I did not follow his advice in getting a frequency dictionary, but I have obtained his recommended course, Mastering Arabic, which I highly recommend. In addition I made use of Memrise to help me review the words. For the time being, I have put Arabic study on hold. I do intend to continue it, as it is on my list of possible majors for my bachelor’s degree.

This essay would be incomplete without mentioning the reboot of my German learning. Main main resources were Deutsche Welle’s interactive course “Deutsch Interaktiv” and “Harry, Gefangen in der Zeit”, which is about a man trapped in a time warp, like in the movie “Groundhog Day”. German in particular interests me due to my familial connection to Germany and Switzerland, and my desire to studying in Germany. Other factors that make study in Germany attractive are relatively low tuition costs, and my enjoyment of the works of a number of German authors. Unfortunately, I am not as fluent in German as in French. However, I am able to follow along in a monolingual telenovela that Deutsche Welle, a German media outlet, made for German learners.

In the beginning of this essay I mentioned that I had seen myself as only “American”  was shocked to discover that we originate in different parts of the world and my interest in other languages was a result. This has not impacted my notion of what being American means. What it has done is to contribute to my notion of global citizenship. I have learned that most people perceive the world differently from Americans, and hope to understand those perspectives better. I have come to see that concern for others should not be limited by national borders. By learning other languages, I have more access to issues that concern people in the lands in which these languages are spoken. With this knowledge, I can make better decisions. In addition, I can reach out in solidarity on social media with native speakers. 

Why do I do this? Apart from the reasons given for specific languages, there are a number of reasons that I learn languages in general. As I mentioned in the beginning, I want to increase the number of people with whom I can effectively communicate and whom I can understand. Promotion of friendly relations among nations is essential in today’s world, and learning another’s language is an affirmation that is needed to accomplish that task. In addition, I have long wanted to live and work in another country, and I realize that I will be more employable if I speak the local language. I know that much of the world is already bilingual, so mastering a second language is not necessarily impressive. So I seek to learn multiple languages, a less common skill, which will make me more desirable as an employee. My plan is to follow the advice on a dialog from a German learning course: to learn languages and to find a field in which to specialize, as that seems to be a way to increase employability. But, in closing, the three main reasons for my language learning are as follows: it’s fun; it opens up more resources to listen to and to read; and it allows the possibility for relationships with more people, since relationships requore a common language. There is an old saying that we should make love, not war. A common language with understanding is the first step in that journey.


Political  (In)Correctness: Beyond the Hype

Every so often controversies over “political correctness” flare up. When this happens, have you ever wondered, “What’s wrong with people!?” I certainly have. Well, upon reflection, I have concluded that this is largely hype, and that communication would be better if we were to drop the terms “political correctness” and “political incorrectness”. In presenting this case, this post will go back in time to the origin of the term “politically correct”, return to the present to give a survey of current viewpoints, and give my personal experiences and reflections. In a later post, I will suggest an alternative paradigm.

The term “politically correct” originated as an in-house critique among leftists, as a shorthand for saying that compassion is more important than the party line. These people used “politically correct” to mean self-righteousness and dogmatism. However, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s the Right started using the term as a critique of the Left. For conservatives most notably, “political correctness”  to refer to attempts to ban hurt feelings and offense; in this case, it is associated with the Orwellian thought police and censorship of dissent. For these folks, “political incorrectness” means “saying unpopular ideas, questioning dogma, challenging orthodoxy; being radical and breaking taboos”. 

On the other hand, others came to see “political correctness” as supporting language, measures, and policies intended to avoid offense or disadvantages to marginalized members of society. They associate political correctness with compassion and sensitivity towards out-groups, minorities, and other marginalized people. Conversely, for them, “political incorrectness” means jerkishness, bigotry, maintenance of systems of power and privilege, cruelty towards the disadvantaged, discrediting concern for the underdog, bullying, trolling, harassment, etc. (More info here.)

I think these ideas are mistaken, and I will now explain how I came to understand why people hold these ideas so strongly. I grew up in an authoritarian, Right-Wing, Fundamentalist bubble, which denounced political correctness, presenting it as censorship. In addition many people watched Fox News and listened to Right-Wing talk radio. It didn’t take long listening to those guys to realize were doing the very things that they accused PC liberals of doing. Therefore, I started using the term “political correctness” to describe conservatives’ getting offended by things like criticizing USA and Christianity. I also had a rough time with a lot of what happened at church, which I have since come to realize was abusive. I thought many harsh things against these abusive practices that were done and ideas that circulated, and because I knew that people would be offended if I said them out loud, I labeled my thoughts criticizing the church as “politically incorrect”. This is why I think that it overgeneralizes to demonize people for opposing PC.

However, I have noticed that for abuse/trauma survivors, certain terms and concepts can evoke visceral reactions, even when the survivors realize intellectually that there is no connection. This certainly is the case with me! This brings me to a recent conversation that I had on a blog on which I frequently comment. I told my interlocutor that I understood her point intellectually, but that certain things she had said had hit a sore spot with me. She replied by apologizing that I found some things she had said triggering.

I have been reflecting on this conversation ever since; in fact, this post is largely inspired by these reflections. I came to recognize that when something hits one of my sore spots, I often feel an urge to label things “politically correct” and to rail against “political correctness”. This happens, for example, when I feel erased. With the labeling of my reactions as being “triggered”, I began to consider that maybe “political incorrectness” is triggering to some people, since some people who proclaim themselves to be “politically incorrect” are, in fact, abusive bullies. 

In the above-mentioned conversation, I used neither “politically correct” nor “politically incorrect”; instead, I explained my thoughts and feelings, something I think helped both of us come to a better understanding of things. As a result of these experiences and reflections, I have concluded that the terms “politically correct” and “politically incorrect” are buzzwords that hinder communication and should be replaced with terms that encourage thinking, active listening, and understanding. 

In a forthcoming post I will present an alternative approach.

The Genocide Begins

Istanbul, 24 April 1915:

The door fly open and soldiers enter the home, arresting Dikran Chökürian, one of many Armenian writers.

Eastern Turkey, a few months later:

The Najarian family huddles together at the sound of hooves signaling the approach of Turkish death squads. Marta holds her daughter Mari close as a soldier grabs her and holds her down while she screams, “Hayır!”* repeatedly. The soldier ignores her, insulting her. He then shoots her. 

The villagers are deported, and marched through the desert. Mari collapses from fatigue and dehydration. A soldier shoots her.

A Turkish family shelters a survivor.

*Hayır is Turkish for “No”. 

This Friday Fictioneers story is dedicated to the 1.5 Armenians killed in the Armenian Genocide during WWI. Hitler later asked, “After all, who today speaks of the annihilation of Armenia?” The answer is many do. #NeverForget. To this day the Turkish government denies the genocide. The event started with the deportation of around 250 Armenian intellectuals on April 24, 1915, of which writer Dikran Chökürian was but one. 

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields has arranged for this Friday Fictioneers, and Liz Young provided the photo. 

Murphy’s Law in Action

Fahrünnisa, being short on time slipped on a pair of low-heeled dress shoes instead of the oxfords, and stomped a spider that showed up. “That’s bad karma”, Max said.

“Get in the car”, she replied, pushing the unlock button. She started the car and floored the accelerator. Once at the conference, a man snatched her purse and ran off. The thief gave the purse to a vendor. When the vendor refused to hand it over, Fahrünnisa stepped on the tomatoes. She and Max then fell over when they were injected with syringes. “Don’t oppose Erdoğan”, a voice said.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Magaly Guerrero.

Feminism Reflects Christ Better Than Does Fundamentalism

I grew up Fundamentalist, and in my circle, feminists were bashed as man-haring rebels against God’s Divine Order. However, over the past couple of years, I have read feminist blogs and interacted with feminists on said blogs and on Twitter. As a result of all this, I have concluded that the teachings of Jesus are better reflected in feminism than they are in Fundamentalism. Let me explain how.

Let’s start with a popular definition of feminism: the radical idea that women are people too. We find this idea reflected in the Bible, back to Genesis: “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”(Gen. 1:27), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, their is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female — for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal. 3:28)

This belief in women’s being human motivates feminists to insist on autonomy, boumdaries, and consent in human interactions, and that corercion should be avoided. This consent must be informed, and is considered invalid if obtained by deception. Well, this is integrity par excellence, and integrity is a value everywhere in Scripture. Also, it is written, “Love your neighbor as yourself”(Lev. 19:18). This respecting other people’s boundaries and acknowledging their autonomy is a integral part of showing concern for others, allowing us to have what Martin Buber describes as an I-thou relationship(approaching them as people) rather than an I-it one(approaching them as objects). Also, Erich Fromm mentions that a healthy self-love and others-love are interrelated. Setting our own boundaries is an expression of that healthy self-love. 

By contrast, autonomy, boundaries, and consent are sorely lacking in Fundamentalist circles. Despite the scriptural injunction, “But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness — or distorting the Word of God”(2 Cor. 4:2a), Fundamentalists are infamous for their lack of honesty and alternative facts, calling it all “The Truth[TM]”. They apply Philippians 2:4-11 to the populace, but the leaders act more in line with the boast attributed to Lucifer in Is. 14:13-14

They love Eph. 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”, using it to justify misogyny. However, some ancient Greek manuscripts do not include the word translated “submit”, in which the verse reads, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” This means the verse is a continuation of v. 21, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”(emphasis mine). Also, in Greek, the word for “submit” has a meaning of its being voluntary, which requires consent. Fundamentalists tends to not get consent, and prefer coercion. They sometimes reference Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her”; however, this often is used as a means of promoting paternalism.

Christian feminists are not opposed to submission per se, but only opposed to it when it is one way, and/or the burden is placed solely on women. As we saw from the quote in Eph. 5:21, this is a biblical criticism. This is in agreement with what Jesus Himself says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and are called ‘benefactors’. Not so with you; instead, the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”(Luke 22:25-26). But demanding that their followers submit to them and that wives submit to their husbands, these leaders are “lording it over” them. Also, treating people in a paternalistic way, justifying control because it’s for “their own good”, is NOT an example of being a servant; it is still “lording it over” them. 

Another way in which feminism reflects the character of Christ can be seen by comparing the depictions of Babylon and the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. First, it is written about Babylon, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed in the earth”(Rev. 18:24). Next, onto what it says about the New Jerusalem, “The kings of the earth will bring their grandeur to it”(Rev. 21:24b). Throughout Revelation “the kings of the earth” refers to humanity in rebellion against God, and the passage indicates their redemption, rather than their destruction.

Fundamentalism damages even its own. There are countless spiritual abuse survivor blogs out there, with this list being just a few, and many people raised Fundamentalist go through religious trauma. There is widespread silence on abuse in Fundamentalism, and encouragement of women to stay in abusive marriages. 

Feminism is opposed to abuse. This is reflective of the heart of Christ because the Bible depicts God as hearing the cry of the oppressed. Feminists teach that your pain matters, and that oppressing others is wrong. This is why they support autonomy, boundaries, and consent, since abusers tend to ignore these things. Feminism concerns itself with ending the oppression of women. However, I, though a cisman(a biological male identifying as male), have benefited from these ideas. The church I grew up in did not teach boundaries and consent; so upon reading feminists online, I realized I could set boundaries for myself! Pick-up artists tend to be extremely unpopular in feminist circles, due to their being notorious for not respecting women’s boundaries or accepting “No”. However, in her book Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser, Clarisse Thorn mentions a PUA who actually benefited from feminist ideals and used them for himself. Also, feminists insist that the boundaries of even jerks and abusers need to be respected, and that one can only do what is needed to protect oneself and others. This is a good example of Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. 

So, while Fundamentalists decry feminists, and accuse the latter of destroying God’s order of things, and even of being an Illuminati plot to destroy the family, when you look at the Bible it seems that the spirit of the law is better reflected in feminism than in Fundamentalism.

Unlikely Meal

Rania pulled into Steve’s driveway and the two of them went into the apartment, Steve carrying pizza and Rania carrying food from her native Syria. Opening the pizza box once they were seated at the table, Steve said, “No pepperoni, no pork!”

“Jazak’Allah*”, Rania replied.

Before they started eating, Rania said, “Bismi’Allah**” and Steve said grace.

Steve turned on the news and saw a report on a suicide bombing in Egypt, and heared inflammatory comments from the US government.

“Turn that off”, Rania said, “an American and Syrian sharing a meal; that’s what’s important!”

With that, they kissed. 

*Jazak’Allah means “May God reward you”, a Muslim way of expressing gratitude.

**Bismi’Allah means “In the Name of Allah”, commonly said before eating.

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Dale Rogerson


CRASH! A window shattered. Then…THUD! Something slammed on the car, causing the woman inside to spill her coffee. A guy jumped down, saying, “Sorry, Miss. My name is Adam,” and tossed her a business card.

“Jane”, she replied firmly.

Adam then hopped on a bike and left. Soon two men in suits showed up, flashed badges, saying, “Federal agents, have you seen this man?”, showing her Adam’s photo.

BOOM! A building blew up and Adam went by on a motorcycle, tossing smoke bombs. Then the police arrived, grabbed the men in suits, and said, “You are under arrest…”

This is a post for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, photo by Jellico’s Stationhouse