Learning a Foreign Language Can Help You Live Longer

May 6, 2010

In his book, “Healthy Aging,” Dr. Andrew Weil recommends learning a foreign language as a way to prevent Alzheimers.

From the ABC News story, “Learning a Foreign Language Can Help You Live Longer”:

“Weil believes that by learning a foreign language we can reduce the risks of getting some of the most common age-related symptoms and diseases such as memory loss and Alzheimer’s.”

Foreign languages are not only fun, but also a way to prevent memory loss.


More free teaching resources

May 3, 2010

The Center of Language Education and Research (CLEAR) at Michigan State University has various free teaching resources, games, and multimedia interactive programs.

Thanks for the freebies!


Free Materials for Language Teachers, Mis Cositas

May 3, 2010

Lori Langer de Ramirez has many free materials for language teachers in various languages (English, ESL, French, Spanish and Chinese.)

Thanks for the free stuff!


Speaking in Tongues

May 3, 2010

I haven’t see this movie yet, but it looks excellent. Info below:


What would it be like if your parents put you in a school where the teacher
spoke a foreign language?

Speaking in Tongues uses this scenario to explore the provocative notion that being bilingual can be a national asset. Taking us beyond rote arguments and stereotypes, this intimate film witnesses the joys and challenges of four diverse children on their journey to become global citizens. Enter their world and ask, today is knowing one language enough?

You’ll be charmed and challenged by 2009’s San Francisco International
Film Festival Audience Award winner.

Free foreign language lessons

May 3, 2010

Free Foreign Language Lessons

Learn languages for free on Open Culture.com. The site features 37 foreign languages, including Spanish, French, English, Mandarin, Italian, Russian and more. Download lessons to your computer and mp3 player and you’re good to go.


Some of my advice on learning languages

May 3, 2010

I published this article on Diva Tool Box on how to learn foreign languages using music:


Bridging the Online Language Barrier

May 2, 2010

From On the Media (WNYC):

Bridging the Online Language Barrier

April 30, 2010

Each year the internet grows more multilingual. The good news: this has allowed hundreds of millions of people to get online and use their native language. The bad news: it threatens to divide the web into separate Internets along language lines. OTM producer Mark Phillips reports on the translation tools trying to bridge the language divide.

Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages (New York Times)

April 30, 2010

Here’s a great article, Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages

Video on relationship between Language and Music, “Music, Language and the Brain”

November 29, 2009

Great video of a lecture by Aniruddh Patel on the relationship between language and music at the Library of Congress. The discussion of how language background can effect classical music from England and France is fascinating.

Notes from the You Tube description:

In our everyday lives, language and instrumental music are obviously different things. Neuroscientist and musician Ani Patel is the author of a recent, elegantly argued offering from Oxford University Press, “Music, Language and the Brain.” Oliver Sacks calls Patel a “pioneer in the use of new concepts and technology to investigate the neural correlates of music.” In Patel’s presentation, he discusses some of the hidden connections between language and instrumental music that are being uncovered by empirical scientific studies.

The Music and the Brain Lecture Series is a cycle of lectures and special presentations that highlight an explosion of new research in the rapidly expanding field of “neuromusic.” Programming is sponsored by the Library’s Music Division and its Science, Technology and Business Division, in cooperation with the Dana Foundation.

Aniruddh Patel is the Esther J. Burnham Senior Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology at the Neurosciences Institute.

Web based foreign language lessons

September 25, 2009

The following Internet-based lesson plans were created for foreign language classes by participants in the Technology Workshops of the California Foreign Language Project and the California Language Teachers Association.


Good videos about accents and language learning

September 25, 2009

1. Are you having difficulty learning English? Check out this videos about how to make difficult English sounds with the help of food:

2) Here are some tips on learning Spanish by listening to music:

3) Learn the Spanish verb conjugation song:

4) Popular You Tube video, The One Semester of Spanish – Love Song,

5) Teaching French to children through music (Slangman):

Dr. Oliver Sacks on language and music

June 30, 2009

My admiration for Dr. Oliver Sacks is no secret. He was just on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night talking about the effects of music on the brain. I am thrilled that he was discussing this on mainstream TV as more people watch The Daily Show than have read his excellent book, Musicophilia. He discussed that even after a stroke, people will still remember music even if they forget language. I wonder what would happen to someone who had learned another language through music. Would he/she have a better chance of retaining their language skills after a stroke?

Watch this clip from The Daily Show:


This man is a wonderful gift to humanity.

The art of the staycation

June 27, 2009

The art of the staycation



I’d never heard the word staycation until this year. Journalists send out queries to travel writers asking about how to write tips on staycations.


While waiting for the bus to La Guardia airport in Queens, New York, I saw a sign that read, “Daycation: Treat yourself to a hot dog for 50 cents”.


I chucked at the site of the ad and wondered what a staycation would be. 


Believe it or not, I am exhausted from traveling. This summer will be full of staycations for me. 


Here are some ideas for a staycation:


1) The summer is full of free concerts, outdoor movie screenings, dance performances and festivals. I’ll be there.


2) Not working. That’s quite simple. I will just take time to take walks, read for pleasure and spend time with my friends.


3) International Photo Album Potlucks. My college mentor organized a potluck seven years ago where all the guests brought photo albums from their international trips and prepared foods from those countries. We passed around albums and heard about people’s trips and stories. It was an inexpensive way to eat foreign food and “see” life in another country.


4) Videos and documentaries about other places. Oh yes! I will watch documentaries or movies about other countries on my TV screen. There is a time and place to visit a country and a time to just sit on one’s couch and vicariously travel.


5) Listening to my favorite music while hanging on my hammock. Oh, Maria Callas. You are my solace. 


If I think of some more ideas, I will write them here!


Learning languages is like the Matrix

May 20, 2009

Learning foreign languages is like being in the Matrix. The education is only part of the experience. You have to live the language to truly learn it. Read on in this blog post on the subject:



Living in the middle of many worlds

May 20, 2009

Are you multilingual and looking for a job? How about being a spy or economic hit man?

Candidate character description:

Multilingual, sensitive to other cultures, can mix with local populations in difficult areas around the world, can get used to harsh living conditions, can gain trust of people if different countries, smart, and resourceful.

Education: Economics, international affairs.

Job: Be an economic hit man. Lie for the US government. Manipulate international leaders and governments to accept “economic aid” contracts and bad loans that favor the US and not the recipient country.

I fit the character description and educational profile, but the job doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve been mistaken on several occasions as a spy, but I never knew the term “economic hitman” until the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins was published. I didn’t expect to relate so well to the narrator. I was just curious about the book because several people had mentioned it to me as a good book to read to understand how the US exaggerates how much foreign aid it gives to developing countries.

There were several parallels between my life and the author’s life, despite our 30 year age difference.

1)He attended a New England boarding school, but was not from a family that could afford such an education. (His dad was a teacher at the school.)

  • I got a scholarship to go to a college preparatory school for two years.2) In college, he was recruited by the National Security Agency. The CIA and US Military tried recruiting me after college because of my foreign language skills.
    He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.
  • My sister was a Peace Corps volunteer there.3) In Latin America, he went off the beaten-path and went to places most Americans never visited. Since he spoke Spanish, local people were very fond of him and showed him things most Americans never saw in depth, including the slums and marginal neighborhoods.
  • Same with me!4) His first job involved projecting electricity usage in Indonesia and inflating those numbers.
  • I had a college internship at the French Electricity Company charting electricity usage. (I didn’t over-inflate any numbers.)5) He conned foreign leaders and government agencies into accepting loans for US foreign aid programs that the governments could never pay back. The loans mostly went to US construction and engineering firms to build dams, oil company and infrastructure projects, and building sites the countries may not have even needed. Some of the dams and electric grid projects displaced people, polluted waterways and caused uproars.
  • When I worked in Bosnia, my salary was paid out of the US Department of Agriculture’s Monetization programs that dumped surplus American subsidized crops and milk powder on foreign markets. The USDA “gave” the surplus crops to US non governmental organizations working in developing or post-crisis countries to sell on the local market and use the proceeds to fund their programs. Well, the subsidized crops could be cheaper than the locally produced ones. So, then these NGOs who were supposedly doing good deeds could dominate the local market for these crops and outsell local producers. I was working on agricultural development programs. Therefore, outselling the local farmers was counterproductive. Luckily, none of my projects involved the same USDA Monetization program milk powder that was being sold on the Bosnian market.US taxpayers are not only paying to subsidize crops, but if the government takes farmer surplus and keeps it from the local market, then the government is artificially keeping prices higher than they should be.

    6) In pre-revolutionary Iran, two men took Mr. Perkins to a private meeting and told him that they were confiding in him because he was in between two worlds; he was in the middle.

    *I am in between more than just two worlds, I am in the middle of a lot of worlds, cultures, ways of thinking and languages. People tell me all sorts of things about their countries and leaders that they would never tell a mainstream person. Right now, I am in between so many worlds that I sometimes feel like I am floating.

    Wow! If those spy agencies had taken a hold of me after college, what would I be doing right now?

    I bet there are other people like me with mixed linguistic and cultural backgrounds who are prey to be recruited for these types of spy-like or economic infiltration assignments.

    I believe that those of us with a multilingual and multicultural background can do good in this world and not just exploit our talents and ancestry for the profit of corporations and greedy governments. My path is to teach others how to learn foreign languages easily using music and the media and be their own communicators. It took me a long time to find my niche.

    I hope my cohorts find their paths that benefit humanity.

Political barriers shouldn’t be linguistic barriers

April 2, 2009

Political barriers shouldn’t be linguistic barriers

I was recently in the former Yugoslavia as an election observer in Macedonia and was pleasantly surprised at how I was able to use Serbo-Croatian to communicate with various people: a Slovenian diplomat, an ethnic Albanian woman in Macedonia and a Macedonian man. When the Slovenian diplomat and I started speaking to our ethnic Albanian interpreter and our Macedonian driver in Serbo-Croatian, we were feeling uneasy about the Albanian’s reaction since she might link Serbo-Croatian to the former Yugoslavian government and its actions against the Kosovar Albanians. (We were in Tetovo, Macedonia, where there were ethnic clashes between Albanians and Macedonians in 2001. So, the topic of ethnic violence was quite relevant.) But, she was fine with our speaking in Serbo-Croatian and responded to us in English or Macedonian.

The language surpassed political barriers. The former Yugoslavs reminisced about Yugoslavian sports teams and music groups that existed before the fall of the former Yugoslavia.

The Slovenian diplomat told me that children in Slovenia no longer learn Serbo-Croatian and focus only on English and German. Since Slovenia broke apart from the former Yugoslavia and joined the European Union, the country is concentrating on being European and not maintaining strong links with its former co-Yugoslavs. Though I understand the political reasonings for focusing on teaching English and German in Slovenian schools, there’s no reason not to learn Serbo-Croatian. Why should the young generations of Slovenes not be able to communicate in another Slavic language with their Southern neighbors? They still have business ties to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and would have better relationships if they spoke to those people in their languages rather than English.

The same goes for former Soviet countries, especially in the Baltics, who also don’t mandate learning Russian in schools. Yes, I am very aware of the bad things that the former Soviet Union did in the Baltics and why people in the Baltics may not embrace Russia as their best friend, but they can’t deny the huge neighbor next to them. Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with one’s neighbor in their language rather than using a third language like English or an interpreter?

Having lived on both sides of the Iron Curtain, I am intimately aware of political barriers. It’s because of my personal history that I see how vital it is for people to learn foreign languages and communicate directly. It pains me to see how political changes can effect educational policy.

Incidentally, if it weren’t for my being able to resurrect my rusty Serbo-Croatian from when I lived in Bosnia in 2000-2001, I would have been in trouble. I got very sick while in Macedonia and my local election coordinators called for an ethnic Albanian doctor to come to my hotel room to examine me. Everyone else in our group left for a party and I didn’t want to bother the interpreter who was resting. The doctor and I communicated in Serbo-Croatian. Even though I was sick and not very strong, I was still able to talk to the good doctor and explain myself. Here I was, a Slavic woman originally from Russia, speaking to a Muslim Albanian man in his third language, Serbo-Croatian. According to political fault lines, we probably should not have been communicating. But he was a doctor doing his job and I was sick and needed assistance.

There were no political barriers between us.

Language is language. Politics are politics. Don’t confuse them.

Living in multiple realities

April 1, 2009

Being a world traveler and polyglot can disorient someone, even a seasoned traveler like myself. I think my brain is not able to process multiple realities simultaneously. I am actually kind of embarrassed to say this given how much I love travel and believe in its benefits. However, my recent trip to Macedonia left me feeling discombobulated, not in my body, disoriented, sick and weak. I think it’s partially due to the fact that I was experiencing multiple languages, cultures and places all at once.

Physically, I was in one place — Macedonia. Technically, the name of the country is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM. I am not going to call it that. I don’t care if someone reading this is Greek and is offended by the country’s name. (Northern Greece is also called Macedonia and the Greek government opposes its northern neighbor’s claim to the name Macedonia, citing that they are the only place with the right to bear that name.) I am not going to entertain nationalism and name wars. I’ll leave it to the diplomats to wrestle with what to call the former Yugoslav Republic. I’ll just call it Macedonia.

My body was in Macedonia — a country I’d never visited before. However, I felt like I knew the place already as it reminded me a great deal of my 15 months in Sarajevo, Bosnia after the Bosnian War. Being in Skopje’s Carsija, the old Turkish part of the city (cobblestoned, no cars, small shops), reminded me a lot of Bosnia. The smell of grilled meat and fireplaces brought back a lot of memories. I think that Bosnia, despite its violent history, antagonistic language, cold weather, and other negative things, really got under my skin. The haunting music and melancholic chords resonated deeply with me. Being back in the Balkans and seeing ugly grey Communist apartment blocks seemed very familiar. The talk of ethnic and religious conflict, land mines and the sound of a familiar Slavic language all brought me back to my life in Sarajevo in 2000-2001. The Macedonian language is similar to Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian. Most Macedonians studied Serbo-Croatian in school because it was the national language of the former Yugoslavia. When I resurrected my rusty Serbo-Croatian skills, people could understand me and would respond to me in Serbo-Croatian. Even when people were speaking in Macedonian, I could understand them.

I hadn’t spoken much of the language since I left Sarajevo in 2001, but as soon as I was entered back into the former Yugoslavia, the words came back to me. It took me a couple of days to remember certain words, but I understood almost everything.

I was in a familiar place, speaking a language that I hadn’t used in a long time and I felt very comfortable.

But my brain must have had trouble processing being a new place with an old language and speaking to other foreigners in Macedonia in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish and communicating with friends back home on Skype in French, Spanish and English. It was as though I was in a constant haze of languages, able to communicate and understand, but losing my bearing as to who I was.

Perhaps the definition of being a global citizen means being in linguistic fogs. I’d like to think that I can navigate between these multiple realities without any trouble, but that’s not the case. The talk of genocide and the memories of bombed out areas in Bosnia may have been too much for me to handle.

I came to observe the Macedonian elections. The day before the elections, I felt very tired. I woke up the next day feeling sick. I had to leave my election partner alone and take a nap during election day. I lost my appetite. I vacillated between feeling very cold to feeling super hot and sweating. I became congested and developed a deep cough. I was weak.

The ethnic Albanian doctor had to come to my hotel room because I was too weak to move. He told me I had a cold with flu symptoms. Even though I was sick, I could still maintain the conversation in Serbo-Croatian. I couldn’t believe it. I was terribly ill and had to go home. No vacation in Greece. No work trip to Munich, Germany. Home. I had to go home.

What happened? Some virus took me over. It also affected my brain. I came home and had trouble readjusting to warm California after snowy Macedonia. I didn’t feel like myself. On Monday, I felt like I was floating and didn’t feel gravity. I had to force myself to eat. Words sometimes came to me in Serbo-Croatian. Yesterday, I felt like I could fall when I got up. I had to se the doctor. She ran blood tests. There is nothing wrong with me.

“International travel is hard on the body. The change in environment can make people feel depressed or anxious and cause feelings of disorientation and sensations of out of body experiences,” explained the doctor.

But I am not stressed. Yes, the smoke in Macedonia was annoying. But there was nothing terrible about my trip.

I am not giving up international travel. But for now, I need to stay in one place. The fog of languages may always be there. I will probably always experience multiple realities at the same time given my proclivity to travel and communicate in different languages. I just need to learn to deal with it.

Island Fever or Island Hopping, Moon Handbooks South Pacific

March 13, 2009

I’ve never been to the South Pacifc, but if I were to go, I’d check out David Stanley’s Moon Handbook for the South Pacific.

” The most user-friendly travel guide to the South Pacific.” –Paul Therou

There are chapters on American Samoa, Cook Islands, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Niue, Pitcairn, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis & Futuna.


David Stanley has spent over 20 years traveling in the region and knows his islands well.

Just looking at the book cover makes me look forward to the summer.

The power of telenovelas

March 13, 2009

About 10 days ago, I stayed up quite late searching YouTube for video clips from Mexican telenovelas (soap operas) to use for a public radio piece about mybook, Language is Music.

I was laughing at myself as I was watching Latin American melodrama on the small screen and could only imagine the reactions of some radio listeners wondering if I was really serious about using soap operas to learn a foreign language

As silly as it may sound, melodrama has its educational benefits. Flying glass, hysterical women, philandering men, people coming back from the dead, unrequited love, broken hearts, battles of the heart — all much more interesting than studying grammar and vocabulary.

It’s not that watching Columbian drama queens and Mexican pop stars all day can replace the much needed lessons on sentence structure and grammar, but they can at least engage the viewer. The vocabulary is not complicated and is oft repeated, so eventually the words will register with their meaning if the viewer watches the soap opera frequently

I knew people in Bosnia who watched Latin American soap opera during the war (when they had electricity) and learned Spanish or Portuguese quite well from watching the programs.

After going through many episode segments of Thalia’s famous Mexican telenovelas, I settled on a lovers’ quarrel from Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty) laced with some sweet Columbian Spanish.

As long as the telenovelas don’t infuse you with new melodramatic characteristics, try them. You might learn a lot more Spanish or Portuguese than you expected! Watch the originals and not the dubbed versions in English.

Hello world!

March 6, 2009

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