Languages

I really don’t know if I’m getting any better at all at this, but I’m putting a pretty decent amount of money aside this way.

So far, I’m up to Duolingo levels: 15 in Spanish, 13 in Italian, and 11 in German. And in 16 more points, I’ll be at level 12 in German (so tomorrow night, probably).

In Rosetta Stone Vietnamese, I’m just a little more than halfway done with the whole course. Halfway is the end of Unit 2 of Level 2 and I’m about halfway done with Unit 3 of Level 2. It took me six months to make it this far, but I haven’t hit the wall yet, which surprises the heck out of me.

In Rosetta Stone Mandarin, I’m at the Milestone for Level 1 Unit 3. I’m trying to keep Mandarin quite a ways behind my progress in Vietnamese because I’m afraid of getting the two languages confused. I’m pretty sure that I won’t, because I’ve been working on my Mandarin for nearly 10 years now, but the languages have some commonalities. Both languages have “measure words,” for example, which go before countable nouns. Like in Mandarin, “a dog” is “yī zhǐ gǒu.” The “zhǐ” is the measure word. In Vietnamese, “a dog” is “một con chó” and the “con” is the measure word. As a result, the structure of the courses are pretty similar.

Finishing both Rosetta Stone courses should bring me somewhere in the Bs of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). I’ve heard that a three-level Rosetta Stone course takes you to the end of B1 and that it takes you to the end of B2. One thing said that it only takes you to the beginning of B1, but whichever way you slice it, I should have made or at least be ready to make the leap from Basic to Independent User stage.

I bought El Leon, la Bruja y el Ropero (the Spanish-language translation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) as an ebook from Amazon.com, and while on a road trip yesterday, I made it through 22% of the book.  Since that’s a 200-page book (give or take), that 22% was 44 pages, so I paid myself 44 cents. I also found a translation error. The room that contains the wardrobe is empty except for the wardrobe and a dead bluebottle on the windowsill. The translator made bluebottle into “botella azul,” which is a blue bottle. A bluebottle is a kind of fly.

And I spoke Mandarin to a patient today. I only gave her the amount of her change in Mandarin, and it took her a few moments to assimilate the fact that the pharmacy technician had just spoken Mandarin to her, but I did it. And someday, I might actually be comfortable with this. I’ve already made that leap in Spanish at work. Now, will I ever get my courage up enough to speak Vietnamese to my Vietnamese patients?

I’ve tried a new-to-me site called Language Zen, and it has me pulling my hair out. Almost literally. You can only study for 15 minutes then you have to stop for three hours unless you want to pay money, and every time I go to the site, I have hundreds and hundreds of words to work on (right now, I have “less (sic) than 580”) and I get the same damn questions every time. I fully accept that las noticias apenas duran unos segundos. I really do. Stop asking me. Part of why I have so many words and keep getting the same questions may be because I don’t spend much time there. But I don’t find it particularly rewarding. I’ve been doing the questions in another tab while writing this, and I now have “less than 575 words” to practice. I need to give myself a whole lot more than 30 cents (which is my current top payment, for a Rosetta Stone core lesson) to make me come back to that site more often than I have to.

So far, I’ve saved up more than $180 from this project and been paid a whole $0.64 in interest. I’m not going to make my fortune at this this way, but just maybe the profit motive will be enough to keep me going until I can turn this into a skill that I can get paid a decent amount for and I’ll make my fortune that way.

Sorry about the delay in posting. I’ve been opening that post on Stone Mountain and staring at it on a fairly regular basis, but I’m still not quite sure what to say. I think I’ll probably end up winging it.

In other news, my mouth finally doesn’t hurt (I had a little discomfort on the other side the other night and was all, “Oh, no. Not again!” but I have felt fine since then). I’m still waiting to see what, if anything, my insurance will pay for.

It looks like the Witte Museum is finally done. Alex and I went there today and I took lots of pictures. Expect an updated post on that soon-ish.

And I’ve passed the $100 mark on paying myself to study my foreign languages. I’ve actually passed the $125 mark and am heading for $130. It’s not enough to consider myself rich, yet, but I’ll get there. Eventually. Maybe.

Well, back to staring at that post some more . . . .

I was about a hundred words into my next My Travel Memories post (on Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta) when I, well, let’s start at the beginning.

In July of 2016, I had pain in one of my molars (#19, for those who care about such things). I had just gotten dental insurance for the first time since 2009 but I didn’t have a relationship with a dentist yet. After this, I got a dentist. She x-rayed the tooth and didn’t see any kind of infection or anything like that, so she decided that it was probably referred pain from tension in the masseter.  She recommended that I take 800 mg of ibuprofen and see if that helped. It did.

Fast forward to his past Saturday (February 18). I was eating apples and almonds for lunch when the pain came back. This time, though, the ibuprofen didn’t help. Sunday night the pain interfered with my sleep.

So I called my dentist to see if she could fit me in for a quick exam. There still wasn’t any sign of an infection, so she concluded that I probably have a cracked tooth and gave me a prescription for painkillers and the phone number of an endodontist so that he can pull off the crown on that tooth and examine the tooth for cracks. She also gave me a prescription for antibiotics, because sometimes a crack can have bacteria in it and the bacteria can cause pain. I discussed it with one of my pharmacists because I didn’t want to take it if I didn’t need to.

The next appointment they had was a full week later. So I got more painkillers and, when on Wednesday night the pain spread up to my ear and was just excruciating. I decided that perhaps the time had come to fill that antibiotic prescription. I took my first antibiotic on Wednesday night and by Thursday morning I was feeling 500% better.

Then I noticed a small swollen area on my gum on that side. So apparently there were bacteria in there, but not enough to show up as an abscess on the x-ray.

I’m feeling much better now, so hopefully I can go back and finish that blog post.  I haven’t decided if I am going to leave those first hundred or so words, or if I’ll rewrite it. Let’s see what it looks like when I tackle it tomorrow.

As an aside, in my paying myself to study foreign languages project, I hit the $100 mark this week. I’m going to add that money to the next CD that I purchase, so that I can continue keeping track of my income from this project. If I were to put it on the stock market it wouldn’t increase at an easy-to-track pace.

No, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. But I’ve been really exhausted after work and have been using the energy that I do have on my language-learning project (maybe I’ll start a topic for that . . .), so I haven’t had the time or energy to spend on reading magazines. Except for Vanity Fair, because I am one of that magazine’s tens of thousands of new subscribers. I’m considering subscribing to Teen Vogue, as well, for their political reporting. There’s apparently also a project going where people are subscribing Republican politicians to Teen Vogue as well (a subscription is only $5 per year).

As for the language-learning project, as of yesterday I have hit the $90 mark, and as of today I’ve finished Level 1 of Rosetta Stone Vietnamese. As far as Spanish goes, I’m apparently somewhere in the midst of heading towards CEFR* Level B1. B1 is a high intermediate/low advanced level, so I can live with that, I think (for now, at least). The only thing stopping me from being at a higher level is vocabulary, so I’m considering adding vocabulary flash cards to my regimen. One of the things that bugs me about Duolingo is that the gold circles (indicating that you’ve completed that exercise) stop being gold after a while (as a prompt to make you practice more). I wish Duolingo would let me specify that I use Spanish nearly daily in my job, so that the circles take longer to stop being gold. Having to do the same lessons over and over because Duolingo assumes that I don’t use the language enough to keep the vocabulary fresh can be kind of frustrating.

I’ve also discovered a new tool, Language Zen, which I’m trying out. So far they only have Spanish for English speakers (and their second plan is for English for Spanish speakers), but if the site takes off, they’ll be adding more languages later. It’s a little translation-heavy (they give you sentences in English and you have to write the Spanish for them), which doesn’t do so much to prepare you to speak the language, but it’s hopefully going to broaden my vocabulary.  There’s an odd “less than (number) words need practice” thing in the corner that I haven’t quite been able to figure out yet. I had 60 words at one time, then worked my way down to ten, and now I’m at 255. I can’t wait to figure out what that means. As I worked on this post, I was working on that site and I’m down to 245. Still don’t know 245 words until what, exactly.

There’s also been a change in plans for our bigger 2017 trip. Alex has a friend in California that he wants to meet in person, so we’re going to be going to Southern California for the week. I have been there four times before (and Alex went once as a baby), but, again, the now-ex (who still doesn’t have a pseudonym) has most of our photos from those trips. So I’ll be taking new pictures of those places to replace the ones that I no longer have. I also hope to make it to a few new places (the Queen Mary and Catalina Island, specifically).

*Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

I’ve continued hitting the languages pretty hard. I’m listening to foreign language books and/or podcasts in the car on my way to and from work, I am doing at least two Duolingo Spanish lessons per day, and I also am doing Rosetta Stone for both Vietnamese and Mandarin. My employer requires us to do five hours per month to keep our access to Rosetta Stone and as we get farther into it, that has become more of a challenge. I’m on-target for January and may even exceed my five hours. Let’s see how I do in February, though, when the material is becoming tougher and I have three fewer days to get it than I will have had in January.

I really like Rosetta Stone, by the way (and you don’t know how tempted I am to link to their page at Amazon). The biggest challenge for me, the way they teach foreign languages in school, is to stop thinking in English and translating into my target language, because that’s how they teach a foreign language. Rosetta Stone doesn’t ever get you using your first language as a crutch by taking it entirely out of the equation. I have had to look up a couple of things where I couldn’t quite grasp what they were getting at. One of these was the difference between “chúng tôi” and “chúng ta,” which both clearly mean “we,” but I just couldn’t quite tease out the difference.*

In addition, I bought a copy of Pride and Prejudice in Vietnamese and am rereading the original paired with the translation. I’m still trying to avoid the whole translation trap, so I am doing it chapter by chapter. The night of January 24, I reread Chapter 8 in the original and then followed it up by the first two pages in the translation. My Vietnamese is not so good yet that I understand very much of it at all, but that’s okay. It’ll come with practice. Right now I’m just looking at the words for things that look familiar. There are so many diacritical marks on the vowels in Vietnamese, and I’m hoping that the book will also make those come a little more naturally.

I started paying myself to do this, and it looks like I’m on-target to have $70 saved up by the end of January. Once I have $100, I’m going to start investing the money that I’ve saved up. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a CD or putting it on the stock market. We’ll see what I decide once I get there.

Alex and I did go to the march. He told his dad that we were going, so I felt pretty much committed when he did that. We got there a little late, but managed to join up with the march and Alex and I walk pretty quickly, so it didn’t take long to reach near the center of the 1,500 people who were marching in San Antonio. I hope to keep up with the things that the Women’s March organizers are suggesting we do to keep up the momentum, including mailing my representatives about issues that are important to me. I’m not sure if I’ll use the official Women’s March postcards or just pick up a few touristy ones at my local store and use them.

And, finally, my planned trip to Canada is now less than six months away. That means that I can finally put in for the time off at work and can shell out the however-many dollars it’s going to take to pay for this trip. This is my least-favorite part of travel. The interface for putting in for time off is awkward, and then there’s the whole “paying for it” part, even though I’ve already got the money saved up.

*”Chúng tôi” is the exclusive “we” and “chúng ta” is inclusive. So, if I am speaking to you and including you in the “we,” I would use “chúng ta.” If I am speaking to you of something that affects me and someone who isn’t you, then “chúng tôi” is appropriate.

It’s not really a resolution as such (particularly since I started both projects before the new year began), but I have decided to spruce up (and expand on) my foreign language skills. To this end, I’m dinking around at Duolingo more and I’ve dug my old copy of Rosetta Stone Mandarin out and installed it on this computer. It took a few tries to get it to work on this computer, largely because I kept trying to install an update (note for Rosetta Stone users using Rosetta Stone on Windows 8. Don’t bother with the update. Just kick it down the road some and keep going).

My employer also gives me free access to Rosetta Stone, so since we have a lot of foreign customers, I decided to learn one of their languages and have settled on Vietnamese. Rosetta Stone is good for the initial introduction, but I’m nearing the end of Level 1 and suspect that I will hit the wall soon. So when that happens, I’m going to switch to Duolingo’s Vietnamese lessons and then repeat and redo the earlier Rosetta Stone lessons. Just as long as I do at least five hours per month I’ll be good. Eventually I’ll be able to tackle further lessons in Rosetta Stone. I hope to have all three levels done by the end of 2017.

I’ve also started doing the lessons at Codecademy. I just finished the first course, on HTML and CSS. I’m starting the JavaScript course now and will need to practice at some point. I started designing my first webpage in 1997 or so, so that course was easy. JavaScript is all new to me, so I’m going to need somewhere to practice. I wonder if WordPress will let me stick random JavaScript into the blog. . . .

I’m paying myself to do all these things, as well. With the language thing, I’m hoping that I’ll save up enough money to invest and with the Codecademy stuff I’m saving up to pay for the pro version which, they tell me, will give me opportunities to practice. If I never save up $20 for the first month, well, I’m clearly not dedicated enough to this idea to make it worth the expense.

I guess that “post-mortem” is probably as good a term as “look back” or “wrapup”or any other term that comes across more neutral, particularly after that election.

So, here goes.

  1. We all know how that election went. The less said about that the better. However, I did offer to do something to help the Bexar County Democratic Party. What will I do? No clue. Let’s see what I come up with. Perhaps I’ll have something definitive to say at the end of December or January.
  2.  I did catch up on my steps with one day to spare. I ended up averaging a little over 8700 steps.
  3. I did not win NaNoWriMo. 2016 may have been one of my worst years yet, with just a little over 10,000 words. But there’s always 2017. And I don’t mean just November. I attempt the same goal in February, April, June, and September, as well. If I make it, I at least will know that I can do it.
  4. I’m sticking to my schedule of working on my language skills. I’m doing a couple of Duolingo Spanish lessons every day and also a few Rosetta Stone lessons. My employer is one of the companies that gives access to Rosetta Stone to its employees and so, based on my experience with customers with limited English, I’ve chosen Vietnamese. I’m almost done with Unit One. If I keep to my schedule, I estimate that I’ll spend about six months learning Vietnamese. I also try to do an Italian and a German Duolingo lesson every day and I’m trying to get back into Rosetta Stone Mandarin. I’m paying myself more for Rosetta Stone because Rosetta Stone lessons take a lot longer than Duolingo ones. So far I’ve saved up over $14 and will have accrued at least a penny in interest by the end of the month.

New Old Libya, by Robert Draper, photographs by George Steinmetz

As we go farther and farther back, the “ripped from the headlines” nature of some of these articles is blunted a bit. Can’t wait until we take a “look forward” at what will happen to Cuba under Castro and things of that nature. Today we look back at the developments in Libya after the 2011 death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Prior to Libya’s independence in 1950, Libya had previously been run by the United Nations, then prior to that, by Italy, and then prior to *that* by the Ottoman Empire and then prior to that by Rome. In fact, emperor Septimius Severus had been born in Libya, in a city known as Leptus Magna. When Gaddafi took power in 2011, he disdained all of this history, particularly the parts where the country had been ruled by Rome and Italy.

In this article, we see a picture of Libya in very late 2012 as a country that is moving both toward its future while trying to recapture the past that Gaddafi tried to suppress. We see the unrest that still existed in late 2012, but we also see people going on with their lives, hopeful that they will have a future.

And, of course, as we know now, the first war in 2011 that led to the fall and death of Gaddafi, was followed by a second war that continues, well, at least until I’m writing this in 2016. Now Libya his hemorrhaging people, with thousands of people fleeing every year.

I’m hoping to start studying Vietnamese in 2017, because it’s one of the languages that I have to use the translation service for most in my job. It looks like I may also need to learn Arabic because immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations are on the rise here, as well. My side of town is where groups like Catholic Charities like to resettle the refugees because services are easy to access in this area.

The Bite that Heals, by Jennifer S. Holland, photographs by Mattias Klum

In The Bite that Heals, Holland takes us to speak with scientists who are making medication from venom. We start in Mexico, where a man named Michael was healed of his ankylosing spondylitis apparently by a scorpion sting. At the time this article went to press, about a dozen medications had been developed from venom, including the blood pressure medication captopril. The web page of Zoltan Takacs, one of the scientists that Holland speaks with, has a list of (at this time) around 15 medications that are currently being sold that are derived from venom. This list has an additional five that are in clinical trials.

I think I may have to start paying myself to do Duolingo.  It’s kind of disheartening to see the things I’ve completed become uncompleted again, particularly in Spanish. I speak Spanish practically every day at work (today I had to give a woman the cash prices for her medications) so it’s not like I’m losing my abilities in Spanish. I am a bit rusty in my other languages, though, so I need to get back to that.

Additionally, if the bottom drops out of the economy, I’m going to need all of the skills I can get. And working in a foreign language, translating or whatever, is something that I could hang my shingle up and do on my own (unlike working as a paralegal or a pharmacy technician, which require supervision of a lawyer or pharmacist (respectively)) if it came down to it.

And between the progress I’ve made getting undone and the fact that there are so many points between levels up where I am (Level 12 in Italian, Level 12 in Spanish, Level 10 in German, Level 8 in English for Chinese Speakers) I’m thinking maybe $0.10 per Duolingo lesson? It’ll add up over time and persistence, but won’t break me to save up as we go.

If that’s the amount I go with, I’ve saved up $0.20 so far today working on German. Now on to a little English for Chinese Speakers and $0.30.

All of this remembering our 1981 Canada trip has me thinking about taking a similar trip in the future.  We could, in theory, at least, fly into Toronto, then take the train to Montreal and Quebec City.  We could rent a car and explore some of the areas to the east of Quebec City or, if I don’t want to rent a car (I suspect I’ll have had enough of that after our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone/Dinosaur National Monument trip to last me a while), we might be able to take a side trip to either Halifax or Ottawa (but not both).

As I recall, we spent most of our time in Montreal in the Old City area.  We stayed at a hotel in the suburbs and took the Metro into the city.  It saved us a bundle, but wasted quite a bit of time.  I think Montreal was where we went in search of beignets, but since this was in the days before everyone had access to the Internet, we never did find any.

I also bought a French-language Wonder Woman comic book compilation while I was in Montreal.  I planned to learn French someday and figured that the comic book would give me some incentive.  Since then, I have made two attempts at learning French and was interrupted by tragedy both times (I think it was cancer the first time and my divorce the second).  So I gave up.  I will still learn it someday, but not until I’ve become close to proficient in all of the other languages, and I do mean all of them — Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Lithuanian, Igbo, Korean, Vietnamese . . . .

While looking for pictures of the frescoes and wood in Notre Dame referenced in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, I found some surprisingly lovely pictures of Notre Dame that showed it full of color and gorgeous carved wood.  Score one for Brown, I guess.  This surprised the heck out of me.  Then I noticed the caption — Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. So if you want to visit the version of Notre Dame that exists in Brown’s imagination, you’ll have to go to Montreal to do so.

Since we didn’t do anything in Toronto, I guess that next we’re on to our 1982 trip to Florida.  If I recall correctly, it was more days of hanging around the house (I seem to recall doing a lot of reading and we saw Poltergeist).  We also went to EPCOT during that trip, so that’s probably what I will focus on next.

I wish I could find pictures of our 1981 and 1982 trips.  I also wish I could remember where, if anywhere, we went in 1983 through 1986.