Posted by & filed under Como aprender idiomas con música y los medios, How to learn languages with songs and the media, Multilingual identity.

Version en español. With over 20 official Spanish speaking countries, few people know of another Spanish language: Ladino. The language is also known as judeo-español, Djudeo-Espanyol, Djudeo-Kasteyano, Judezmo, Djudezmo, Spaniolit, and גודיאו-איספאנייול‎‎. No, it’s not Latino. It’s not Latin. It’s Ladino, the language of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal at the time of the Inquisition. The Ottoman Empire invited Sephardic (Spanish) Jews to its lands. Those Jewish communities kept their old Spanish language and to this day there are still people in Turkey, the Balkans and Israel who speak the language. Unfortunately, most Ladino speakers are elderly and haven’t maintained the language with their children. Thus, this form of Spanish, with its Turkish, Greek and other linguistic influences, is on the road to linguistic extinction. Why preserve the language? It can save a life. You may wonder why someone living in Bulgaria or Bosnia would bother to maintain a language from a country from which his or her ancestors were expelled. The same question could be asked of my parents who forced me to learn Russian despite their having left the former Soviet Union as traitors to Communist paradise. You could also ask Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s… Read more »

Posted by & filed under Como aprender idiomas con música y los medios, How to learn languages with songs and the media, Multilingual identity.

For the English version of this article, please click here. Con más de 20 países de habla hispana, pocos conocen el otro idioma español: el ladino. No, no es “latino” ni “latín”. Es el ladino (judeo-español, djudeo-espanyol, djudeo-kasteyano, judezmo, djudezmo o spaniolit), la lengua hablada por los descendientes de los judíos españoles y portugueses (los sefardíes) expulsados por la Inquisición en el siglo XV. El imperio otomano invitó a los sefardíes a sus dominios de los Balcanes, el Medio Oriente y la actual Turquía. Esas comunidades conservaron el ladino, que aún se habla en Turquía, los Balcanes e Israel, pero desgraciadamente la mayoría de los ladinoparlantes son personas de edad. Este idioma, con sus influencias griegas, turcas y de otras lenguas, está por morir. ¿Para qué conservar el idioma? Le puede salvar su vida. ¿Por qué es importante para alguien de Bulgaria o Bosnia conservar un idioma que hunde sus raíces en el país del que fueron expulsados sus antepasados? Se podría hacer la misma pregunta a mis padres, que me obligaron a aprender ruso aunque nos fuimos de la Unión Soviética como traidores al paraíso comunista. Y lo mismo se podría preguntar a los exiliados cubanos en los EE…. Read more »

Posted by & filed under How to learn languages with songs and the media, Multilingual identity.

The odd irony of giving three presentations about language learning in a city that saw 450 people killed last year in ethnic violence was not lost on me. Via the US Embassy, I was in Osh, Kyrgyzstan informing language students and teachers about how to learn and teach various languages using songs, TV, radio, movies and other activities. I spoke in Russian and English to 13-15 year olds and adult language teachers and professors. When I looked out into my audience, I saw ethnic Uzbek, Kyrgyz and white faces (either ethnic Russian or German Russians called Russlanddeutsche). For more information about the origins and history of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek, please visit the Wikipedia pages for the Kyrgyz and Uzbek people. The BBC recently did a report on ethnic tension in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and showed a mixed Uzbek-Kyrgyz couple talking about the problems their children face in finding a spouse. They don’t know if they should marry and Uzbek or a Kyrgyz. Interestingly, they did the interview in Russian, which may be the language they use to communicate with each other. I see language learning as a way for people to bring down the barriers between peoples and communicate. It’s… Read more »

Posted by & filed under Multilingual identity, Multilingual women.

Talking about learning English using music and media at the American Corner, Kant, Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz flag on wall. In the past year, I’ve been paying more attention to reaching out to girls and women who want to learn foreign languages. While speaking to Benny Lewis at the beginning of the year, we talked about why there are more men publicizing their language knowledge online than women. You can see Benny Lewis’ blog post on the gender differences in polyglot activity online and my post on the subject. Jennifer Wagner of IE Languages and I also had an email exchange on the topic which she discusses in her blog post, Female Polyglots and Language Learners – Where Are You? . What I am thinking about how is how being multilingual can impact a woman’s life, especially if she’s in a country where the status of women is low and women are kidnapped to become brides. As I am originally from the former Soviet Union, the problems faced by women in this part of the world concern me deeply. Although Russia does not have a culture of bride kidnapping, many women are trafficked from Russia and other Russian language countries to be… Read more »

Posted by & filed under How to learn languages with songs and the media, Multilingual women.

I rarely talk about the practical life-saving applications of speaking another language. But the topics of female sex trafficking and bride kidnapping make me wonder about how speaking another language, particularly English, could liberate women who would otherwise be shackled to brothels or unwanted marriages. Sex trafficking in Eastern Europe When I saw the movie, The Whistleblower, a true story about the UN’s complicity in sex trafficking of young women from the former USSR to work in the brothels serving NATO troops, the UN Police Force (IPTF) and other international clients, I was not only sickened by the story, but I wondered if speaking English could have helped the abducted girls escape from their captors. In the movie, Rachel Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac a police officer from Nebraska, United States working in the international police force in Sarajevo, Bosnia, after the Bosnian War. To her horror, she discovers that her colleagues at the police force are collaborating with local brothel owners, diplomats, and international agencies, such as the UN, to illegally bring in girls from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to work in bars that serve as brothels. The trafficked girls thought they were going to work in… Read more »

Posted by & filed under Benefits of multilingualism, Multilingual identity.

When I lived in Argentina, a Spaniard told me about a friend of his whose parents were from Spain but grew up in Portugal. When the Spanish man visited Spain from Portugal, he couldn’t always follow conversations with contemporary Spanish slang or that referenced Spanish pop culture or current Spanish events because he wasn’t in the flow of Spanish life while in Portugal. Jokingly, his friends in Spain called him “Spaceman” because he seemed to be from outer space! I feel like Spaceman sometimes when traveling in Russian speaking countries because I don’t always pick up the cultural references, jokes, slang, bad words or details about daily life. When I was working in Ukraine, the electricity turned off in my apartment. I called the landlord (who was also my driver) to ask what to do to restore power. I didn’t know the Russian words for circuit breaker, electric outlet and other household words to describe the situation. Here I was, looking silly wearing my colleagues’ headlamp on my forehead, guessing what the words meant that the landlord was telling me and walking around the apartment in the dark looking for the circuit breaker! Neither here, nor there The late Facundo… Read more »

Posted by & filed under How to learn languages with songs and the media, Multilingual identity.

Usually, I don’t want to attract attention to my not being a local by asking for special treatment when I am in a Russian speaking country. Because as soon as I tell people I am from abroad, I then get a bunch of questions about how I know Russian, how I left the former USSR, etc. It’s fine to answer the litany of questions every once in a while, but not all the time. It gets annoying really fast. Some people argue with me and tell me it’s a great conversation starter. But when you’ve traveled as much as I have and have gone through the same “ice breaker” conversation so many times, you really don’t want to reveal your life story all the time and draw attention to yourself. Also, being pointed out as a foreigner makes one more prone to being robbed. So it’s best to be as incognito as possible. Luckily in the former USSR, I normally don’t get bombarded with questions about where I am from. I appreciate the respect, distance, disinterest or whatever that keeps people in the former USSR from asking me all the time where I am from and how it is that… Read more »

Posted by & filed under Benefits of multilingualism, Multilingual identity.

The limbo land of being a heritage language speaker is one I’ve been inhabiting most of my life. It’s only recently that I’ve known the term “heritage speaker”, referring to those of us who have learned our native language at home but with little to no formal schooling in the language. We may speak without a foreign accent but we make grammatical mistakes and lack certain vocabulary. Some of us speak the language with ease but with an accent. When we go to the country where our families are from, people look at us funny when we speak. We may look native and sound like a local until we make some simple grammatical mistakes or stall for elementary words that we don’t know or can’t remember. It’s like being in limbo. Recently, I was in Kyrgyzstan, a Russian-speaking country in Central Asia. I look Russian and I speak the language fluently but my linguistic errors are apparent. As I left Russia when I was three years old, I’ve never studied in the former Soviet Union. My parents taught me to read and write in Russian before I attended kindergarten in the US. I took some language classes but I didn’t… Read more »

Posted by & filed under Benefits of multilingualism, Experiences.

Although I knew that the Russian Empire and Soviet regime spread the Russian language to the countries that were once part of the Russian empire and Soviet Union, I only recently truly felt the impact of Russian being a colonial or imperial language.   Russian as a home language of struggling immigrants Born in the former USSR, I came to the US as a child and grew up speaking Russian at home in California. Russian was NOT in any way a fashionable language to speak in the United States during the Cold War. Nonetheless, my parents forced me to learn to read and write in Russian before I went to kindergarten in the US. I loathed speaking in Russian and telling other kids in school that I was Russian because they’d make fun of me and call me “Commie”. I didn’t grow up in a Russian speaking neighborhood or culturally isolated enclave like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. I was in suburban California and had few Russian neighbors. The Russian language did not represent for me the language of wealth and power — traits of a colonial ruler. Quite the opposite. Soviet émigrés were often struggling to make ends meet, with… Read more »