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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Buy your sugar in blocks!
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 »
Language and Music. Language is Music. Music helps you learn language. It’s so simple. Yet sometimes it feels like I am talking to the wall when I tell people how lyrical songs can help people learn language. I was just in Kyrgyzstan a couple weeks ago doing presentations about my book, Language is Music, for the US State Department (Foreign Ministry) and I got many dumbfounded looks from language teachers when I told them how to use songs to teach language. Really? I can use songs to teach grammar? Yes. Now there is an incredible story about how songs are helping Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords regain her speech. She is making incredible progress using melodic intonation therapy to regain speech after a bullet passed through the left side of her brain, causing her to lose expressive speech. video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player Yes, music can help you learn language. Music activates more parts of the brain than language does, on both the right and left sides of the brain. As the Nightline Special says, “When the music fades away, the words stay”. After listening to songs, Representative Giffords remembers the words from songs that she previously could not say. The music… Read more »
I am not the only one singing the praises of Brazilian music as a way to learn Portuguese! On September 29, 2011, I attended an event of the San Francisco Brazilian Portuguese MeetUp and asked some members about how they learn and improve their Portuguese language with Portuguese songs from Brazil. Get your groove on, turn on some Brazilian rhythms and learn the language!
When I first began learning Portuguese, it seemed odd to many people because few American schools, if any, offer Portuguese language classes. Brazil’s economy is growing an incredible rate. Foreign investment is flowing in, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Brazil and foreigners want to get a piece of the action in Brazil. So they are learning the language. Here are some perspectives from people at the San Francisco Brazilian Portuguese MeetUp about learning Portuguese.
I am constantly working on improving my Portuguese by finding Brazilian cultural events to attend to practice the language, dance, sing and enjoy the company of Brazilians and Brazil lovers. A typical excuse I hear for those who aren’t learning a language is that they don’t have the time or money to go to another country to learn a language. WRONG! I learned to speak fluent Spanish and Italian without living abroad. I was already fluent in Spanish when I went to Argentina. I made a short video of the Yemanja Festival for the Afro-Brazilian Ocean Goddess held in Santa Cruz, CA every year in September. You can dance and sing to Brazilian music and speak in Portuguese without going to Brazil.