"Attributes of Music" by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1770

Singing Before Speaking

Singing Before Speaking

Learning as many languages as possible is a pretty common theme for me, as you may have noticed. But how does one go about exploring new languages without enrolling in a class or subscribing to an online tutorial?

My favorite method of sampling new languages is through music. At my latest count, I have songs in 14 different languages on my iPod: Japanese, Chinese, Irish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Romanian, German, Hindi, Hawaiian, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish. I can sing along with at least one song in each language. Can I translate these songs? Most of the time, no. But because accents largely disappears when singing, it becomes easier to imitate correct pronunciation in a song than in a normally spoken sentence. Singing along to foreign songs gives me a very real sense of what it would be like to speak that language fluently.

Listening to music in a foreign language has the same effect as listening to a native speaker talk, because you can hear fluent sentence structure and vocal patterns. Plus, you know that annoying experience where you get a song stuck in your head, and a certain section of it plays over and over for the next few days? That mental repetition is incredibly helpful for learning lyrics, which is a small step towards actually learning the language.

What has been shocking to me is realizing how different a language can sound from how I would imagine it based on a written sample. A perfect example of this is Runrig’s song “An Toll Dubh,” which is sung in Irish. I listened to it essentially on repeat for a couple of days, marveling at the indistinct, rolling rhythm of the lyrics. Try listening to it now.

Then I decided to look up the lyrics and read along with the song–and I realized that Irish is the single most incomprehensible language I have ever seen. It took me several times of listening to the song to even begin to see which stanza the song was on, much less pronounce the lyrics myself! Comparing the sung pronunciation to the written lyrics makes me want to learn Irish, just so that I can understand this fascinatingly different pronunciation.

An Toll Dubh Lyrics

What about you? Do you see music as a helpful tool for learning a foreign language? What are your favorite non-English speaking musicians?

Venetian Canal, 2015

The Evolution of Travel Photography

The Evolution of Travel Photography

Everyone who travels abroad today documents their experiences with cameras. Whether you carry a professional DSLR camera, a tripod, and four extra lenses or rely on a conveniently pocket-sized iPhone, photographs are a universal component of modern travel.

What’s interesting is the way that the subject matter evolves as you become a more experienced traveler. Initially, we focus on pictures of ourselves, visually saying, “Look at me! I’m here!”

Me in Puerto Rico, 2003
Me in Puerto Rico, 2003

As we become more sophisticated travelers, the focus become less egocentric and instead focuses on just the things that we see.  We use our photographs to say, “Look at the cool stuff I saw!”

Costa Rica, 2011
Costa Rica, 2011

Finally, mature photographers focus more on the people that truly reflect the experience of being in a foreign country, striving to capture the foreign experience and convey it to others rather than to simply brag about the trip.

Venetian Locals, 2015
Venetian Locals, 2015
Photo credit to Trey Ratcliff

So Why South Korea?

So Why South Korea?

For a long time, I have struggled to choose where I want to study abroad. Not because couldn’t find a place that sounded interesting to me, but because I couldn’t narrow down the places did. To give you an idea… the colorful countries on the map are the ones I’d like to visit someday:

World Map

You can see my problem.  That’s kind of a large list to narrow down.

Of course, the fact that I wanted to travel with a study abroad program helped; even OU’s extensive education abroad program doesn’t visit every country. But approaching this question from the “where” side of things wasn’t going to get me very far. I started looking at the programs themselves. Even then, I compiled an extremely long list of potential trips.

Then I learned about the Critical Language Scholarship, a fully-funded program sponsored by the US government that sends students to a country for eight weeks  to study a language that is of critical importance to the US.  It sounded absolutely amazing.

I researched the countries that CLS sends students to and was drawn to the idea of South Korea. In particular, I was taken with the similarities between Korea’s separation into North and South and Germany’s former separation into East and West. As I did more research, I became more and more sure that CLS would be the perfect program for me: it offered total cultural immersion, intensive language study, and was the longest summer program I had found. And South Korea has a fascinatingly rich history and a culture far removed from America and Western Europe.

Before I came to OU, I had never heard of CLS, and I didn’t know of any study abroad programs offered in South Korea. But after researching both the program and my chosen country, I am so excited at the possibility that I might be awarded the chance to embark on such a unique and intensive study abroad program this summer.

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“Breaking the Language Barrier” TED Talk

Breaking the Language Barrier TED Talk

During my freshman year in high school, my mom showed me a New York Times article called “Adventures of a Teenage Polyglot,” which profiled Tim Doner, who was roughly the same age as me but who already spoke more than a dozen languages. I read it and marveled at the idea that learning so many languages was possible for someone my age. Although his efforts were far more impressive than mine, reading the article made me excited to keep studying German. But I soon forgot all about it.

Three years later, I randomly remembered that article. After a few minutes of googling, I found a TED Talk that Doner had given in 2014. It was absolutely fascinating, and I showed it to my all of family and my friends.

Doner emphasizes that languages are a key way of connecting to another culture, something I also feel extremely passionate about. Even after having considerable media attention focused on his rare abilities, he continually downplays how impressive his skills are–more than 20 languages so far, no big deal, right?–and strives to promote language learning though interactions with native speakers.  His inspiring message is one that everyone should hear, especially those who are themselves learning a foreign language.

 

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15 Delusions Article from Matador Network

15 Delusions Article from Matador Network

It might sound like a cliche, but traveling abroad truly is a life-changing experience. Experiencing other cultures opens our eyes to entirely new cultures, and gives us a fresh perspective on how we go about our own daily lives.  Often, when we come back from an extended period of time abroad, we resolve to live differently in some way or another. Some people decide to not be as materialistic; others want to pick up a new language, skill, or hobby inspired by their time in another country.

Great IdeasBut as we all know from New Year’s resolutions, sometimes we are really good at deluding ourselves.  Sometimes that can seem depressing, but if you shift your viewpoint a bit, these delusions can become hilarious stories.  And that’s what Sarah Katin does in her article “15 Delusions I’ve Had About Returning Home After Being Abroad.”

This article is fairly straightforward, and best read out loud, preferably with an earnest tone and straight face.  Doing this with friends who have also traveled becomes a hilarious exercise in self-awareness as we realize we are all guilty of the same earnest but doomed resolutions.

Read the full article here:

15 Delusions I’ve Had About Returning Home After Being Abroad

Photo credit to Mike Nelson

Why Yes, I am an iPad

Why Yes, I am an iPad

“Nici, do you understand?”  The boy squirmed restlessly at his desk, snapping pencils in half with his scissors and obviously not taking in a word his teacher said. She shot me a slightly desperate look as she rebooted the slow, temperamental iPad translation software. I smiled and walked into the second-grade classroom. “Hallo, Nici. Was bearbeitest du?”

Nici arrived in Colorado from Germany in February 2014 speaking no English, and for the next year I translated for him and his younger brother.  It was fast-paced and incredibly demanding; I had to constantly improvise and talk around words that my three years of high school German never covered, including “rhombus,” “caravan,” and Dr. Seuss’s “walloping whizz-zinger.”

When I enthusiastically volunteered to be Nici’s translator, I didn’t realize I’d be a best friend, teacher’s aid, and counselor as well. I certainly didn’t expect to have a little girl on the playground tug at my hand and whisper, “I had an accident.”

Today, the frustrated, lonely boy is gone, replaced with an excited, engaged student. His English is fluent and confident. On one of my last days working as his translator, a new classmate pointed at me and asked Nici, “Is she your sister?” Nici grinned and joked, “No, she’s my iPad.”

Photo credit to waitbutwhy.com

Third World Article from Wait But Why

Third World Article from Wait But Why
Photo credit to waitbutwhy.com
Photo credit to waitbutwhy.com

Wait But Why is a blog about… everything.  The topics are random, the tone is  irreverent, and the author, Tim Urban, uses his own stick figures and graphs to illustrate his topics. His posts are so long, in-depth, and seriously researched that they are better described as essays than as traditional blog posts, and that, combined with the humorous topics, makes them absolutely hilarious.

Tim Urban knows what he’s talking about–he has traveled extensively and blogged about his experiences in other countries–but more important than that is the manner in which he presents each topic.  His drawings are laughably bad, and he makes liberal use of irony and hyperbole.

One of my favorite of these WBW essays, titled “Traveling To The Third World Is Great And Also It Sucks,” examines the impact traveling to a Third World country has on an average First World citizen.  He describes it as a combination of the enriching, jealousy-inducing experiences that people take pictures of and brag about to their friends, and the miserable aspects that many travelers won’t mention.  The combination of these elements creates a remarkably insightful examination of traveling abroad. His humorous article paints a realistic picture of what I imagine it would actually be like to spend time in a Third World country.

As an example, the fourth thing “a First Worlder can expect from a trip to a Third World country” is summed up as: “The culture is usually completely foreign to you and eye-opening and fascinating to learn about… [But] on the misery front… You might inadvertently horribly violate some cultural taboo.”  Overall, it’s a hilarious take on the impact travel to a Third World country can have on a First World citizen.

You can read the full article here:

Wait But Why: Traveling To The Third World Is Great And Also It Sucks

Language Clubs at OU

Language Clubs at OU

 

German FlagOne of my long-term goals is to become a polyglot, and joining international groups that emphasize language practice is definitely helping me achieve this goal.  Every week the German Club has a Stammtisch in a local coffeeshop, where we meet to chat informally in German about normal topics without the pressure of an organized classroom setting.  Since anyone who knows or is learning German can join the club, the members range from beginning students to native speakers from Germany and Austria.

I chose to join the German Club because of my long-standing belief that the best way to truly learn a language is to actively speak it in everyday scenarios.  Doing so forces the brain to become comfortable with the new language in a way that sitting at a desk reciting vocabulary lists never can.  Having frequent conversations with native or fluent speakers is the best way to learn the language, even though it is more intimidating to speak to someone who knows the language better than I do.  I have attended as many of these Stammtisch meetings as possible and enjoy the new experience of being both the student and the teacher that knows more German than many of the other members.  I look forward to continuing Stammtisch next semester, as well as participating in the the annual Grillfest in the spring.

South Korean Flag

I have also reached out to the two Korean clubs on campus, the Korean Student Association and the Korean Conversation Club, and look forward to getting more involved with both of them next semester.

I am always interested in learning more about the culture of whichever country I choose to travel to.  I know that several study abroad programs at OU run meetings before the students leave the US; many give helpful tips on cultural differences and basic do’s-and-dont’s of the country. Attending these sorts of information sessions is both helpful and exciting, since they build anticipation for the trip.  For the same reason, I look forward to meeting students who are interested in visiting the same countries as I am—which shouldn’t be too difficult, since I would love to go practically anywhere!