The difference between radio and teaching ESL

I work in radio all week and then I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) on Saturdays. Usually when I wake up on Saturday, I'm so tired, I'd rather sleep in than wake up early and then drive several miles to teach a four-hour class. But every time I enter the school, I start to relax and especially after I teach, I'm in a great mood, though I'm pretty wiped out.

I think I end up feeling like my Saturday was fulfilling because the students are really nice and friendly and I've rarely had any problems with them. The teachers I work with are also nice and professional, and the Big Boss of the program and the supervisors and other folks who work in the office are all friendly. It's definitely the most positive, professional situation I've taught in. Plus, I consistently get good evaluations, which makes me feel quite successful and effective in the program. It's just a good situation all around.

It greatly contrasts with the radio world because not only are my students and coworkers easy to get along with, but I'm actually helping people and building a bridge between this country and theirs. Meanwhile, radio is full of selfish people who are insecure because the industry is collapsing, and many local shows are being replaced with syndicated ones which usually feature people who didn't come up in radio but came from other entertainment venues or professions.

But even if radio wasn't disappearing, the folks would still be egotistical because they really think they're important. Some talent who've been on the air for years act like they're survivors. Sure, they've survived a tough industry, but it's not like they've been to war and back. And some of them don't do much work, just rely on producers to do the work for them. So they basically show up, turn on the microphone, then go home while pulling in big salaries.

I often want to say to media folks to get over themselves, but then I'd be considered out of line, and who knows what would happen. So I just file it away in my mind, and sometimes report to a few ESL teachers what I've seen during the week, and watch them shake their heads because they can't believe media people can be so ludicrous.


The LA sun affected my blogging

I was going to do some posts from LA--I went there this past weekend and just got back. But the good weather there affected my ability to think enough to do any posts. I even brought my laptop and had access to other computers, but the sun was so strong, I just couldn't be serious enough to sit down and form decent sentences. I also really needed a vacation because I hadn't gone anywhere in well over a year, so my mind was pretty much turned off until I had to do work today.

Some folks out there who read this blog don't have to deal with winter, so you're probably wondering how sun can have such a debilitating effect on my brain. But we've had the worst winter here in Chicago: extreme snow, cold, wind, freeze, and no sun. Sure, the sun is out there, but we don't see it or feel it. So even though LA is "cool" (mid-60's fahrenheit) it's WAY better than Chicago at this time of year. So now I'm back in my usual grim reality, which only makes me want to write more.


Dialects With Armies and Navies

While I was taking an introductory linguistics course in the early 1990s, I was fascinated by a theory presented in our textbook (and probably put forth elsewhere) that stated that eventually the various major dialects of English would develop into their own distinct languages as the gaps between each dialect widen. For instance, at some point in the future, the world would have an "American" language, a "British" language, a "Canadian" language, an "Australian" language, and so on.

Presumably the inspiration for this theory is what has happened to other languages in the past. Today's Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, etc.) were once dialects of Latin that gradually developed into independent languages due to varying historical, linguistic, and cultural influences. Similarly, what was once 'Gaelic' is now Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, and Manx Gaelic, considered to be three separate languages. However, it remains to be seen whether the same will hold true for English since our world is far smaller, globalized, and media-infused. These days most dialects in the English-speaking world are developing in less isolation. In the virtual global marketplace, media broadcasts in a number of dialects compete for the attention of viewers and listeners. It could perhaps be argued that, instead of diverging into entirely separate languages, these dialects will become increasingly similar as they borrow from each other.

This begs the question, "when do dialects become full-fledged languages of their own?" Linguist Max Weinreich once states that "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy." To some degree, there is an element of politics involved. The language known prior to 1990 as Serbo-Croat is no longer classified as such, as the languages of Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian are now recognized as separate languages. Of course, this does not imply that the features of these three dialects have changed radically in the past 20 years, but rather that the political and social changes in the former Yugoslavia have affected language and dialect classifications. Yet, in many ways, these three languages are mutually understandable, and a monolingual Serbo-Croat speaker in 1988 could perhaps consider him/herself trilingual today!

Similarly, while Flemish is spoken in Belgium, and Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, many linguists claim that the two "languages" are actually dialects of the same language. Afrikaans, for that matter, was once an offshoot of 17th-century Dutch in South Africa but is now considered an independent language even though quite a few elements of Afrikaans, Dutch, and Flemish are mutually understandable. Malay and Indonesian are very similar, despite divergent spelling systems due to different colonial influences, yet are labelled as separate languages. I even had a linguistics professor who used to refer to Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish as a single "Scandinavian" language because of the high degree of common features and mutual intelligibility, yet the three languages are usually regarded as separate.

In contrast, a number of English dialects may not be mutually comprehensible. How easy would it be for a native English speaker from rural Appalachia, USA to be readily understood by a native English speaker from Yorkshire, UK? Within Canada, native English speakers from Ontario sometimes have trouble understanding native English speakers from Newfoundland. Yet these dialects, despite any trouble in comprehension, are all considered English. By the same token, French-speaking Canadians and speakers of European varieties of French occasionally have comprehension difficulties, and similar issues may arise between speakers of various dialects of Spanish in Europe and Latin America, yet relatively few linguists are calling for a reclassification of these dialects as separate languages.

Indeed, it seems that the fine line between dialect and language, although real, is often very subjective. Are Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of "Chinese" or separate languages?

If you're interested in listening to a variety of individuals from around the world (categorized by nationality, age, and gender) speaking a wide range of dialects and accents of English, I advise you to check out the International Dialects of English Archive at web.ku.edu/idea/index.htm. It's very interesting!

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


"Drunk" Japanese Finance Minister with Japanese Subtitles

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This video of the "drunk" (I put it in quotes because he didn't say he was) Finance Minister is all over the place, but this version has Japanese subtitles. So in case you don't understand drunk Japanese, you can follow what he's saying by reading the subtitles. Now I understand what the heck he was saying, because I don't understand Drunk Japanese either, especially when the vocabulary is more complicated.


The Hague is Den Haag to me

I grew up hearing about The Hague, and to me, it was always "The Hague" because I speak English and that's obviously its English name.

But when I was traveling in Asia, I met a Dutch guy who kept talking about "Den Haag", and I had no idea what he was talking about until someone gave me the English name: The Hague.

A lot of people probably know the Dutch name, but I didn't, plus I had spent a while in Japan, so the priority was to learn Japanese, not Dutch.

But what's weird is that ever since I met that Dutch guy, now whenever I hear "The Hague" in a news report or whatever, it sounds unnatural because I've gotten used to its "native" name. And what makes it more odd is that I've only spent one day in the Netherlands, and have never studied Dutch. So why does "Den Haag" stick in my mind, even though I only talked to that Dutch guy once?


Want to write, but afraid

I'm sure there are a handful of people out there who've been reading this blog for a while, and there were times in the past when I wanted to really whine about writing fiction, how hard and lonely it was, how I want to be published, etc. I posted such complaints here, but I really didn't let my true feelings show because I would've sounded really pitiful.

Well now that I've gotten some exposure as to why certain books sell and how they get media attention, thus sales and readers, I figured there really is no point in trying to write fiction anymore because I'll never get published.

But amazingly, I still want to! So what do I do? Write with the realization that it might never find an audience? Or just ignore the desire and move on?

It really hit me today, especially because I haven't written any fiction in a while: I really want to write it! And I have a good story (I've finished two novels, neither of which are marketable). So should I try? I don't know!

I've wanted to write something all day, and I didn't do anything, because I'm afraid that it will be more effort that will be "wasted"--ie, it won't become concrete, just more of the same dream. But I've really ignored that creative part of myself, so I should just do it.

Okay, rant over--I will most likely do it tomorrow, because I have to go to bed soon to wake up in the middle of the night for more radio enjoyment.


Constructed International Auxiliary Languages

In my last post I wrote about lingua francas, languages used to facilitate communication between groups that speak different languages. An interesting development to this end is the rise of constructed languages that are expressly created (as opposed to natural languages that are born “naturally”) to bridge communication gaps.

Examples of these languages include the auxiliary languages Interlingua and the better-known Esperanto. Both languages are highly regular and lack the complex gender, case, and verbal inflection systems that can stymie language learners. Interlingua and Esperanto are based heavily on Latin languages and Greek and are thus relatively easy for speakers of most western European languages to learn. The goal is to improve understanding and potentially foster peace through the use of a neutral second language (not designed to replace anyone’s first language) without political bias. Interestingly, the very Indo-European basis for Interlingua and Esperanto has been criticized for being a bias in itself, as it makes both languages very Euro-centric in structure and in psychology, which may put non-western speakers at a disadvantage. Even more interestingly, a number of these critics have seemingly adopted English, both a European language and a language with national and political connotations, as an international second language.

While a number of attempts at constructed languages have been made since ancient times, the first in modern times to gain any international attention was Volap√ľk in the late 19th century, quickly eclipsed by Esperanto, with Interlingua being created in the mid-20th century. Esperanto, which was promoted rather widely, was hindered by the outbreak of two world wars, as well as the increasing use of English, already spoken as a first language by a large segment of the industrialized world’s population, in the role Esperanto was designed to fill. Although not as successful as it had been hoped, there are still perhaps one million Esperantists around the globe, including between 200 and 2000 children of enthusiastic Esperantists who have been taught Esperanto as a native language.

In addition to serving as linguistic bridges, constructed languages may assist in the second-language learning process in general. A number of studies and projects, including Springboard2languages in the UK, have suggested that children who learn Esperanto as their first “second language” find it easier to learn natural second languages later on. Esperanto is thought to be particularly suitable as a “taste of a foreign language” due to its regularity and logical “building-block” approach to creating words through roots and affixes, so the acquisition of Esperanto seems to require less time and difficulty.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


I love Japanese

I take Japanese once a week, and sometimes I'm so tired from work and my brain has been stretched to the point where trying to stuff Japanese in there might end up tearing it open.

But then when I look at the Japanese text, the kanji looks friendly instead of its usual scary self, and I love learning new vocabulary, even though I tend to forget it if I don't see it again for a while.

I guess that studying Japanese can be a very enjoyable diversion even though it's a brain-bender because it's stimulating and uses a part of my brain that I don't tend to use elsewhere. Not that the process is easy, but it's just really enjoyable.


New language site wants feedback

Jason, a language fan, contacted me to ask me about my language pursuits, and he told me about a language site that he's developed (still in the beta stage, I think) called Sanbit which has lots of stuff going on: essays, vocabulary, games, audio, etc. He wants people to try it out, and he's open to feedback and ideas that will help him make the site better.

He's really into language--he's learning Cantonese and Mandarin at the same time (!) and when he said he was Chinese-American, I assumed he had some exposure to the language already, but he said his parents don't speak any Chinese. So he's had to start from scratch, just like the rest of us struggling Americans.

So if you want to help shape an interesting site, check it out. I've posted the introductory video below as well.


Congee disappointment

I was very happy to see mixed congee return to the Japanese store near where I work, even though I wasn't happy about the increased price. But I bought one anyway, and was going to do a glowing post about how great it was to once again consume congee whenever I wanted, but when I opened the can, it looked really watery.

I've had homemade congee, so I know that it's often like that, but the one in the can which I've bought many times was more glutinous, which is why I liked it. When it's not, I feel like I'm eating a drink that has bits of stuff in it. That's no fun.

So I'm wondering if the company that makes it has changed their recipe, or if I got an off can. Now I'm not so sure I want to shell out more money only to experience more congee disappointment :(


I'm going to a TV station!

It doesn't seem like a big deal and maybe I'm too excited about it, but I'm going to get a tour of a local TV news station by one of the anchors there. We've never met in person, just corresponded via email for work stuff, and I suggested we say "hello" in person and he offered a tour, so I said "YES"!

I've only had one other tour of a TV station, and that was the local PBS affiliate, but that was only because I was volunteering there. This is different because I'll get to get an insider's perspective and probably see areas that the public doesn't get to see.

I think I'm excited because I've been in a handful of radio stations, and at this point it's no big deal. I work in a radio station every day and even work with someone who's quite well-known locally. But TV? That's not my world and I don't know anyone who works in it, so it's cool to me!

I am really looking forward to it! Maybe I can take pictures and post them here!