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Posts from the ‘Languages’ Category

*English pronunciation might not be as easy as you think…

A New Year, A New Quarter.

Hello 2008!

After a wonderful week visiting friends in South Carolina and spending time with friends and family at home in North Carolina, I’ve been back in Seattle for about a week now. I spent my first West Coast-New Year’s Eve at D-CLAM, a house where several of my friends from Blue Sky live. (Named from the letters that start each of the girls’ names, D-CLAM reminds me of the Duplex. It’s physically a much nicer house, but it seems to be the place where people are always dropping by and hanging out).

School started back on Thursday and I’m already back to studying at coffeehouses. (Speaking of, I’m currently at University Zoka, a local cafe near my apartment). I’m looking forward to my courses this quarter. I’m taking Morphology (the study of the internal structure of words), Syntax (the study of the rules that govern the structure of sentences), and Teaching ESL Writing. So far, Syntax is the only class that’s met yet. I’ll admit that syntax can be dull, but my professor is very passionate and excited about it, which should help. Additionally, I remembered one of the things I love about my program here while we were introducing ourselves during class on Thursday. In addition to the basic things like where you’re from and are you an undergrad or grad student, our professor asked us all to list what languages we had studied. It was really fun to hear the different languages that my classmates were familiar with (in addition to the standard Spanish and French, almost a third of the class had some sort of familiarity with Ethiopian and various dialects, and other students had studied everything from Classical Greek and Latin to Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic). I was surprised to realize that I’ve formally studied three languages now (Latin, Italian, and Arabic), in addition to all the Slovak I have learned through my friends.

I also started my new job as an English tutor for Microsoft employees and family members. My first student is a 27-year-old who just moved here from India. We met for the first time on Friday and I really enjoyed the brief meeting that we had. We’ll be meeting twice a week for the next ten weeks or so to work on pronunciation and conversation skills as well as idioms, slang, and business terminology. I just spent an hour preparing for tomorrow’s session, and I can tell already that this job will be very useful for me. Because I’m tutoring a student who is not taking English lessons outside of ours, the entire curriculum is up to me. I have complete control over which textbooks and resources we use, as well as what activities we do during the sessions. It’s a lot of responsibility (it’s much easier to tutor a student who just needs help on homework assigned by another teacher), but it should help familiarize me with many available ESL resources and also develop a collection of resources and activities.

Finally, I will only be working as a nanny for about two more weeks. After that I’ll need to find an additional job to complement the English tutoring. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be working yet, but I have already started applying to a variety of different jobs- I’ll keep you posted!

Learning Arabic.


I was supposed to be learning Russian this semester, but when the class didn’t have enough people register, I switched into Arabic instead. Classes began last week, and learning Arabic is, without a doubt, the hardest language I’ve ever tried to learn.

At least, it is right now.

The first two classes were spent learning the alphabet and a few phrases (such as “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “where are you from,” “Are you a student?” etc). My pronunciation is terrible! Our teacher is a native speaker of Arabic. He taught us the sounds each character makes by writing the letters on a white board. At the end of the second night he pulled out some flashcards to quiz us. I thought I was doing okay with learning the sounds, until he started using the flashcards- instead of having the handwritten form of the characters, the flashcards had the calligraphic form instead, and it completely through me off!

Luckily, I didn’t have a chance to be quizzed, so I have a little time to review before Tuesday!

Once I’ve mastered the alphabet, I think learning Arabic might not be too much more difficult than learning another language- we’ll see.

I’m taking the course at Seattle Language Academy, a language school in Fremont. This is the kind of place I might like to teach one day. The first floor of the building is a cafe, Café Babel. Many of the people who work there are English students who came from various countries to learn English here. The second two floors of the building have all of the classrooms. The average class size seems to be about ten students.

My Arabic class has an interesting mix of students. We range in age from a high school senior all the way to people in there 40’s and 50’s. Everyone is friendly, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. (I think this comes from our continuous laughter at how ridiculous we sound trying to pronounce some of the characters)!

The purpose of taking Arabic is to complete the Language Learning Practicum requirement for my degree. By studying an unfamiliar language, we are supposed to “take notes” on what was easy or hard for us as students, and what our teacher did that made learning harder or easier. I think I will definitely get a good perspective on these things through this Arabic course!

On Phonology.

I’ve been sitting in a cafe (Bauhaus Books & Coffee in Capitol Hill) for over two hours now reading about phonetics and phonology.  I’ve read about affricates, fricatives, bilabial and labiodental consonants, stops, glides, liquids, and nasals.  Did you know that what separates one vowel sound from another depends upon how high or low you place your tongue, how far forward or far back in your mouth it is, how tense or how relaxed the muscles are, and to what degree of roundness your lips are?

I think what I’ve gotten from all this is one simple thing: if we had to think about what we were doing when we tried to speak, no one would ever say anything at all.


Now, excuse me while I go continue becoming an expert on just where your tongue should touch your teeth (only done to form consonants, never vowels, of course), and if you want to have a conversation today, forget everything I just told you about how your letters and sounds are formed, or, you might just find yourself, literally, tongue tied today.

What’s New?

Well, still pretty much everything. However, I am getting comfortable in my responsibilities as a nanny (who knew all the different ways to get a 10-week-old to fall asleep or a sweet but stubborn four-year old to make her bed)! I’m still learning my way around but I can successfully find my way to and from SPU, Target, Bella’s school, the grocery store, and the general downtown area without any problem now.

So then, what is new?

First, I’ve joined a gym. SPU doesn’t have a pool and swimming is one of my favorite ways to work out, so I decided to get a membership elsewhere. I signed up at LA Fitness earlier this week and had a free session with a personal trainer yesterday. This was the first monitored workout I’ve had since high school track- needless to say, I can barely move my legs today! Regardless, I’m really excited about the gym. I can use any of the gyms in the state of Washington, which is useful because there is one near my school and another near my house. The one near home is in downtown Bellevue and takes up 4 floors in a downtown high rise- fun!

Second, I’ve signed up to take Russian classes. My Master’s program requires all students to complete a “Language Learning Practicum.” Basically, we take a semester long class of a language we’ve never studied before and keep an ongoing journal of our learning experience, taking note of anything that could be useful to us down the road when we are the language teacher instead of the student. I thought about studying German, French, Arabic and Spanish before I decided on Russian. I wanted to take Slovak of course, but there aren’t any courses in that around here. (UW actually offers Czech courses but they conflicted with my schedule). Anyway, I had finally decided that I would study Spanish so I could communicate with our housekeepers, but then I found out I couldn’t study Spanish because it was too close to the Italian I studied in college. Russian, however, is completely different, and I’m excited about learning it. Studying a language with a different alphabet is a little intimidating, but I think this will be a good experience. My classes begin in early October, I’ll keep you updated.

Finally, last night I attended a reception for new grad students at SPU. It was an opportunity to meet faculty and other new students, hear the university’s president speak, and hear from former students. I really enjoyed meeting some people in my program and having the opportunity to ask a few questions about what I can expect from class. (Two of the girls I met started the program this summer and have already experienced some of the classes). I’m really looking forward to school beginning, although I realized last night that as soon as classes begin I’m going to be studying like crazy for at least 18 months straight! (Summer school is required)… That being said, I think I’ll go read a book of my own choosing before it’s back to assigned reading… ciao/čau!