Friday, 15 December 2017

Secrets of Learning Languages Part Two A

Unsuitable for adult learners  
Ponder the six-year-old Polish child. Since before she was born, the Polish child has been, unconsciously or consciously, listening to the Polish language. Her early attempts to speak were met with universal admiration. Her mispronunciations were corrected gently, or not at all. She has been carted around her neighbourhood by Polish-speakers, and almost everyone she has met has smiled at her and asked her simple Polish questions, initially without expecting any reply. If she has difficulties with Polish pronunciation, which is common among Polish children, she will be sent to a kindly speech therapist. Only now is she being taught rudimentary reading and writing.

I have before me the elementary reading textbook for two generations of Poles, Elementarz (1974), and it is hard to read. Here is a random example:

Kto to? To Ala i Ola.
Ala stoi i Ola stoi.
A to lalki Ali i Oli.
Lola stoi i Tola stoi.
A oto As Ali i osa.
As stoi. A osa lata.
Taka to ta osa.

Good luck finding clues to all that in a Polish for Foreigners elementary textbook. It was years before I discovered you can sometimes replace the verb "to be" with "to" and that it makes life simpler. 

Thankfully, just like a six-year-old Polish child, I am now capable of figuring out Elementarz. Unlike a six-year-old Polish child, however, I have been horribly neglected these past six years. Polish ladies don't all smile at me just for living. I don't get daily universal admiration for my Polish skills. My family doesn't slowly and distinctly repeat what I say in Polish. There are no Polish cartoons on television, and I had to find songs for Polish children on my own. 

On the plus side, I am big enough to wrestle my massive dictionary down from the shelf, I am allowed to go the library on my own, and I have enough money for Polish classes. When comparing children's ability to learn languages and adults' ability to learn languages, adults and children have different advantages. But the top lesson from Elementarz is that you should not be depressed if you can't read children's books after studying a language for three years. A three year old native speaker can't read them either. 

But books meant for native children's literacy development are not interchangeable with books meant for foreign adults' linguistic development, so Elementarz should be put aside for a long time, reserved for such advanced japes as reciting its poems at parties. The Adult Way of Doing Language is served by three principal methods: Self-Study Series, Classes and Private Tutors. However, I recommend reading books about learning languages first.  To learn more effectively, it's a good idea to learn HOW to learn.

How to Learn Languages Books and Blogs

When it came to learning Polish, I should have read "How to Learn" books first, but better late than never. I have profited very much in the past two years from reading books about language-learning and about memory-training.  Here are my favourites:

Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner 
Mezzofanti's Gift by Michael Erard.

Mezzofanti's Gift introduced me to the seductive world of hyper-polyglots and their blogs. My go-to online resource for language advice is Alexander Arguelles' Foreign Language Expertise

I am a lot more comfortable writing than I am socialising with complete strangers, so the Benny Lewis Fluent in Three Months advice to go to a bar and start repeating your three weeks worth of gibberish to native speakers and bask in their admiration leaves me cold. And skeptical. 

Self-Study Series

Pimsleur--Ideal for Pronunciation.

Because I was easily embarrassed six years ago, my first attempts to learn Polish involved Pimsleur. I took out the first Pimsleur Polish lessons from the library, and eventually my generous father bought me the whole Pimsleur Polish program as a gift. I will never forget shutting myself in the Georgian linen closet/library/laundry room in our flat with Pimsleur Polish 1 Lesson 1 and my acute embarrassment at repeating "Przepraszam" after the CD. To put this in perspective, I was alone in a huge house with thick walls in a spacious park with no neighbours, and yet I felt mortified. 

Pimsleur programs are both incredibly brilliant and incredibly limited, and I recommend them as starting points because they are all about pronunciation and drilling the basics into your resistant brain and clumsy tongue. There are no reading materials. You will learn very few words, but if you obey the program you will learn how to say them perfectly. 

Colloquial... (Routledge)--Good start to Grammar.

Our church organist very kindly gave me his Colloquial Polish (by Bolesław W. Mazur) set,  and I never gave it back. I never finished it either, which is a pity, and I should take another look. I was working my way through when I began Polish classes a year later.  Like Pimsleur, the "Colloquial" books have crucial listening materials, but they also teach reading and grammar. 

Specialized Stuff--Keeps you going. 

If you are learning one of the Big Languages--French, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic--you will have no trouble finding self-study courses. Less popular languages for study, like Polish and Urdu, aren't covered by all the big publishing houses. But that's okay because there are smaller publishers who do cater to learners of one particular language. 

The elementary Polish for Foreigners series in Poland (and at the University of Toronto) is Krok po Kroku, but a Polish friend gave me the text for Polish in 4 Weeks, and I read it from cover to cover. I did most of the exercises, and I was sad that the CD was missing.  

After visiting it at the store a few times, I bought Part 2 of Polish in 4 Weeks. I listened religiously to the CD although I see I gave up on the exercises. This is probably because I felt class homework was enough. 

(Suddenly I realise why Benedict Ambrose worried that I did nothing all day for years but study Polish. We interrupt this program so I can go tell him.) 

Although I really loved Polish in 4 Weeks, and it certainly improved my grasp of grammar and listening comprehensions, it didn't adequately pour Polish into my stubborn brain. I now realise--thanks to Fluent Forever--that this was because I never studied the material.  

Eventually I began to memorise the Polish in 4 Weeks dialogues, but I did this by writing out them out over and over again. In real life, you don't write out dialogues over and over again. You speak them. And yes, you do repeat the same things: who you are, where you are from, why you speak X, what you think of X-land, how your husband is doing today, and what you think of the appalling social changes sweeping your own miserable country. 

Preprinted Flashcards

I do have a set of Polish flashcards, which I basically had to go to Poland to get. Although I think flashcards are crucial to learning a language, I think they are more effective when you make them yourself and when you use words taken from an ongoing lesson, book or film.  Flashcards isolated from context aren't great. And, besides, when it comes to words crucial to Polish social life like "oczepiny" (a series of traditional Polish wedding rituals), good luck finding them in a box of preprinted flashcards. 

No matter what self-study series you use, you absolutely will not advance quickly if you do not do the hard work of memorisation and recall, preferably aloud.


Next up: university classes, day and night





Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Secrets of Learning Languages Part One

They look a lot more worn now.
I can no longer resist the lure of my blog, so here I am with some Secrets of Learning Languages (Part One).

1. You don't need talent.

There is probably such a thing as talent, a mysterious gift that separates the Very Good from the Outstanding. However, you didn't need talent to learn your native language, and you don't need it to learn other people's languages either. One of the most damaging things a child can believe is that she can't do something because she's simply not talented. Her logical assumption will be not "Try, try again" but "Why should I bother?"

A grown-up told me when I was 19 or so that I wasn't "good at" languages. I had been taught French for twelve years, Italian for three and Latin for one and received A or B grades in them all.  But I believed the grown-up and went on to do abysmally in university Latin, Greek and Irish before switching my major to English Literature because I knew the A's would come easily (talent!), and they did.

I am now reasonably fluent (see #7) in Italian and Polish, and use both languages for work, but this is not through talent.

2. Interest + Application + Time = Language

So you don't need "talent" for learning languages. You need to work. Unfortunately, "how to work" is not often taught in school, and if you sailed through elementary school, you might not have learned it on your own before you hit the wall in high school. Also unfortunately, a capacity to work (in my culture anyway) is treated like a virtue, not a skill, and even then it is second banana to "talent."  So here are the main components of language work:

Language work involves interest, application and time.

Interest: When learning languages it is best to pick a language you have good reasons to learn. However, these have to be compelling and personal reasons, not merely practical. The most practical (and one of the hardest for anglophones) language you can learn right now is probably Mandarin. But unless you have deep personal reasons for learning Mandarin, like an all-absorbing love of China, Chinese cuisine, your Chinese boyfriend, Kung Fu or eavesdropping on Mandarin-speakers on the bus, you are probably not going to power through the pain involved in learning Mandarin.

I picked Italian in high school to avoid Art class, but also because it was the most widely-spoken European language in my city at that time. Learning to speak it was also a sort of revenge on the Italian-Canadians who bullied me in elementary school. Years later it became the Language of Vacations Abroad.

I started Polish to help sell the Polish translation of my first book and didn't quit because a kind friend told me not to bother even trying because I would never, ever learn Polish.
And now that I can read it, I'm too scared. 

Application: I have been studying Polish for about six years, two months, and I have used many different materials: textbooks, class handouts, films, songs, dictionaries, grammars, novels, talking books, prayer books, poetry books, tourist brochures, and food labels. I would have become fluent years ago had I studied a little EVERY DAY. My current level of fluency has come about because I  have studied for at least an hour EVERY DAY without a break since October 8.  But more importantly, I never quit (for longer than one angry night). Never quitting is the secret to language-learning because of the magic of time.

Time: Given what I now know about how I learn languages, I predict that I will be able to function in Polish society without linguistic problems in three years. If I begin Urdu this January and study every day, I will be able to converse biographically in Urdu in three years.

If only I would give Italian half an hour of my daily attention outside of work ....

Well, I don't do that badly chatting to my Italian tutor and translating what Marco Tosatti thinks because I started learning Italian 31 years ago. Every time I have learned, recalled or relearned and (especially) heard or spoken an Italian word since September 1986, my Italian skills have been strengthened.

I have often praised my high school Italian teacher for her excellent teaching, but I was a dud when she enrolled me in an Italian language contest c.1989. (More on the inadequacy of classroom learning later.) To my horror, after three years I couldn't actually speak Italian. (I assumed I lacked talent.)

Flash forward to 1997. At the end of 1997, I decided to relearn French, Italian, Latin and Greek. French and Greek eventually fell by the wayside, but I worked my way through my high school Italian textbook and Wheelock's Latin Grammar. I also borrowed a Passport Books "Teach Yourself Italian" set from the Library. In 1998 I went to Italy for the first time, and I could speak Italian. Not comprehensively, but well enough for touristic purposes. Well enough for my workplace, too.

The fact that I can chat away with my Italian tutor twenty years later probably has as much to do with that intense relearning in 1997-8 as it does with the initial learning in 1986-9. But there is another very important factor:

3. Getting so used to feeling stupid you no longer fear it. 

By embarking on language learning, you are risking feeling stupid at regular intervals for years. That which you have been able to do well in your own language since you were six (or sixteen or twenty for reading and writing) you will no longer do well.  You will stammer, blush, feel stupid and hate yourself. You will think "Language Fail" again and again, especially when the object of your Target Language communication answers you back in English.

But I have many thoughts on this subject, too:

a) even native speakers don't speak their native language perfectly (or intelligibly)* all the time, so even if you achieve "native-like" fluency, you will still make mistakes;

b) governments across the world pour money into teaching children English, and that's why all those young people in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Poland and even Russia speak at least tourist-level English;

c) humility improves your character;

d) it's scientifically proven that the trauma of embarrassment over mistakes helps you memorise the corrections;

e) the better you get, the more impressed other people are that you speak the Target Language at all;

f) realising that the process of learning a language is psychological, not moral, helps kill shame;

g) the shame wears off the more often and the longer you speak to native speakers.

4.  The highs make up for the lows.

Speaking in Polish is much more difficult than speaking in Italian, but when I use either successfully,  my brain seems to flood with dopamine. I leave Italian class feeling high: happy and hilarious. I'm not quite there with Polish classes although I do enjoy reading Polish very much.

When I finish a week's work on a chapter of the Polish translation of The Magician's Nephew, I feel very satisfied. And naturally I am pleased when I recall enough words to ask a Polish interview subject some questions. However, there is still a lot of fear/shame mixed up in my Polish communications, and it will probably linger for at least another year or so.

Fear/shame is obviously one of the lows. Other enemies to your language-learning happiness are skeptical friends, alarmed members of your family, and unsympathetic or merely clueless native speakers of your target language.  However, you can turn these negatives into plusses.

First, you can use the friends' skepticism as a goad, as I did. "I'll show them" may sound like an odd inspiration, but as I mentioned above, it has worked for me twice.

Second, your family members' alarm will wear off as they get used to your new hobby. Eventually they may start to brag about it. After complaining for six years about how impractical learning Polish is, Benedict Ambrose volunteered me as his hospital ward's Polish translator.

Third, if you can't take the heat of a nation's character, get out of their language kitchen. In general, the French hate French spoken badly. In general, the Poles are blunt. In general, non-anglophones do not understand just how insulting rude English words sound to anglophones, so if Francophones or Allophones tell you in English how you sound in their language, it may hurt more than they mean it to.

The way to deal is to find unusually kindly people who are native speakers of your Target Language and practise on them. These include teachers, but remember that not all teachers are kindly or able.
śłedź! śłedź! yummy śłedź!


5. Yes, you have to memorise. 

The good news is that language classes aren't useless (more on this later). The bad news is that you will have to supplement classes with memorisation.

For about forty years I laboured under the delusion that to learn something all you have to do is go to class, do the homework and cram for the exam. If despite doing all these things, you don't get an A, you don't "have talent", so give up.

What the last six years, two months have taught me is that the only way to stuff hundreds of words and dozens of grammatical points into an adult human head (or my adult human head) is through constant memorisation through testing.

It makes me a little sad, now, thinking about the five years of Polish night school classes I took without spending every other night memorising the new words presented in the lessons. I did the homework, and I participated in the classes, and I never fell asleep once, despite being a morning person. However, there were never any tests, and so I never actually studied, and so my spoken and written Polish progressed but slowly.

I read, yes, and I looked up words in the dictionary. (Working with a Polish dictionary is a skill in itself, let me tell you.) Reading is the easiest part of language-learning for adults. I also wrote letters, and occasionally got a Polish friend to correct them. But I couldn't speak Polish very well, and I had a very hard time concentrating hard enough to comprehend spoken Polish. Eventually I found this so frustrating, I finally began reading books about fluency. And they all said the same thing: you have to memorise.

6. There's a problem with Anki.

The fluency books recommend memorisation though flashcards in  Spaced Repetition Systems like Anki or, for the less electronically inclined, Leitner boxes.

Gabriel Weiner of Fluent Forever believes that using English on flashcards impedes memory so, not being electronically inclined, I made hundreds of flashcards with pictures on one side and Polish words on the other. Drawing passable pictures took SO LONG I gave up and turned to Anki.

However Anki has a big bug. If you miss a single day of review, Anki will present you with more cards than you can cope with. Miss a week and Anki will hit you with a blizzard of pictures. You will go out of your mind with impatience waiting to come to the end of your afternoon-long Anki exam.  The more new words you put into Anki, the worse the problem becomes.

Another problem is that you might not remember what concept you were trying to indicate with your pictures. This is a particular problem for any word not a noun.

Besides, it turns out that Weiner is not quite right. Although young people may learn faster with images, older learners may learn faster with words. This is, in fact, true for me.  I am much more likely to recall text than a picture. I have noticed this while speaking, When I need a Polish word I can't quite remember, it comes floating up before my mind's eye in my own handwriting.

I now have a new Spaced Repetition System to cope with the overload and work with my script-loving brain. After reading a new chapter of The Magician's Nephew, I write down all the words I don't instantly recognize. That came to 144 this week. I divide the list by 6. From Monday to Saturday, I look up the dictionary definitions for a sixth of the words, e.g. 24.

Then every day I look at the list and choose the five to ten most useful-looking words.  I make English-Polish flashcards for them. They go into the "Test tomorrow" part of my Letter box. The next day, after I learn them again, they go into the "Test Sunday" section. After Sunday's test (and relearning), they go in the "Test a Month from Now" slot.

On December 26, I will test myself on the "Sunday cards" from November 26, and then they will go in the "Test in Two Months" box.  This is not at all scientific, but I suppose in February I'll put them in a "Text in Six Months" box. Or maybe I will throw them on a bonfire. It is impossible to count how many words a language has, but my Oxford-PWN Polish-English Dictionary contains "200,000 words and phrases".

That's a lot of cards.

7. Fluency is a continuum.

My Polish tutor is guilt-striken because she doesn't think she is earning her fee. Mostly she sits in a hipster cafe listening to me chatting away about my week. She attempts to teach me grammar, but either I know something very well or not at all. And every week I turn up knowing 30 more words she didn't teach me. What's a Polish tutor to do?

"The problem is that you are fluent," she said.

"No, I'm not," I replied, astounded. I was astounded because, for one thing, I understand only half of whatever she ever says, and for another, the only way I can really get going in a Polish conversation is to travel down the well-worn track of "When I was ..."

It may be truthful to say that I am fluent compared to all my tutor's OTHER clients, or that I am fluent next to the vast majority of non-Poles, or that I can rattle off ungrammatical Polish for five minutes at a stretch. At any rate, it is probably a good idea not to get too hung up on the word "fluent" although for six years, two months I have longed to become fluent and waited in vain for the magical switch I've heard about to flip so I can understand all Polish.

Suddenly I remember the exchange between my night school teacher and me when I was feeling particularly disgruntled with my lack of progress. "I have been studying for X years, and I still can't have a conversation," I said, or words to that effect, in Polish.

"But we're having a conversation right now!" protested my night school teacher.

First year of learning Polish: no grey hair. 



*I have met many English-speaking Continentals who have a hard time understanding Scottish accents for the first few years of their residence in Scotland. Some Scottish accents still give me trouble, and I've been here for almost nine years.


To be continued...







Sunday, 3 December 2017

Chariot or Flying Carpet or Well-Trained Dragon or ...

Every morning I silence the alarm on my iPhone and fall out of bed. After making coffee and doing a quick scan of the latest emails, I shut the computer and begin the day's dictionary searches.

This is because, as mentioned at work, I am reading a Polish translation of The Magician's Nephew. On Sundays I turn to a new chapter, read the whole thing, and write down the words I don't understand. Then I divide the list into six mini-lists. Every subsequent day I tackle a mini-list and choose 5-10 words to memorise.

I am now on Chapter 6, "Uncle Andrew Begins to Have Troubles," which is my English translation of Mr. Polkowski's Polish translation of "The Beginning of Uncle Andrew's Troubles."

To repeat what I said at work, it is very interesting to read a childhood favourite as an adult and in another language. You see all kinds of things you didn't see before. I've already pondered Uncle Andrew's willingness to use children in scientific experiments; now I'm contemplating Uncle Andrew's ability to convince himself, through use of alcohol and dressing his best, that a beautiful witch is in love with him. C.S. Lewis said this was a very grown-up type of silliness. Why, yes.

But another thing I have noticed is how vividly Jadis (the beautiful witch) speaks, and how what she says in Polish sticks in my memory. This is a bit unfortunate, as Jadis does not say things that you can say in polite conversation at Polish weddings, e.g. "SŁUGO!" ("You minion!").

Jadis, the last survivor of a civil war she waged against her "przeklęta" ("accursed") sister, describes the river flowing with blood, and herself pouring out the blood of her soldiers like water ("Potwór," mutters Polly, which means "monster", so is also useless for weddings), and what she said to her sister before wiping out the joint (i.e. "Tak, zwycięstwo, tylko że nie twoje!")

In Chapter 5, Jadis was awe-inspiring, but now in Chapter 6, she is rather funny. I think this is partly because instead of speaking English in Uncle Andrew's cozy London row house, she is speaking Polish. And just as some Poles first arrive in the United Kingdom with antiquated ideas of what the United Kingdom is like, so does Jadis.

"Procure for me at once a chariot or a flying carpet or a well-trained dragon, or whatever is usual for royal and noble persons in your land," says the Queen of Charn to Uncle Andrew.

When I first I heard these exact words at my mother's knee, it seemed perfectly reasonable that Jadis would expect such transportation in Victorian London, which she knew not at all. But after reading Polish Jadis demand, "Postaraj się natychmiast o rydwan (chariot) lub latający dywan (flying carpet) albo o dobrze wytresowanego smoka (well-trained dragon)....," I giggled.

Possibly my adult giggles are unfair to Jadis as my GREAT DREAM is to ride over vast acres of Polish countryside in a horse-drawn sleigh until I am terribly cold and then am returned to the warmth of a long, low country house called a dwór where I am given delicious clear red soup to drink and crunchy krokiety to munch. So far this has NEVER HAPPENED--partly because I am never in Poland in the dead of winter, but also partly because my own Polish friends never seem to have horses. They are utterly mechanised and given a choice would probably purchase snowmobiles, which is not the same thing at all.

Where was I?

Right, Chapter 6. Well,  I must say that a chapter a week is very slow going, but it is much better for my brains than just plowing through a book without looking up all the unknown words, let alone memorising the most useful of them. I read both Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Polish in that skimming fashion, and although this might not have been totally useless, it certainly did not improve my speaking skills. However,  working so hard on Chapters 1 through 5 of The Magician's Nephew has certainly increased my oral vocabulary. At any rate, I say "w każdym razie" instead of "at any rate", which I tended to say an awful lot.

While reading something about language acquisition this week, I started to think about using all the knowledge about learning languages I have acquired--after six years of messing around with Polish--to begin learning Urdu. After reading up on Urdu, however, I decided that 2018 would not be the year. One thing I had forgotten was how difficult the first year of learning a non-Romance language is , and I was reminded when I looked at the Urdu alphabet.

The Urdu alphabet has "up to 58 letters", which is a depressing thought, and Urdu is written from right to left, which is not so depressing as it is unnerving.  While reading about this, I was suddenly reminded of my first foray into Polish, which was pronouncing "Przepraszam" ("Pardon me").  Now I can say prze and przy and szcz and styczeń without a problem, but it took a lot of painful and embarrassing work.

Do I have time for Urdu? No, I do not. And when I mentioned this to Benedict Ambrose, he cried out in dismay against the whole idea. He thinks learning Urdu is entirely impractical and was not swayed by the news that those who master Urdu can easily understand Hindi, too. Of course, he also thought Polish was terribly impractical, and yet who was it who explained to his battered Polish roommate in the neurology ward that the police needed to keep his clothing for evidence? Me. So there.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Church, Crisps, Spa, Reduced Sugar: A Better Week

Devoted readers will be happy to read that this was a much better week than last. On Sunday Benedict Ambrose felt well enough to go to Mass. He hadn't been since Assumption Day, and that was in a wheelchair. After a Member of the Men's Schola waved us over and suggested B.A. sit by the radiator in the choir pews, I surprised both B.A. and myself by bursting into tears.

Afterwards B.A. still felt well, so we went to someone's Sunday Lunch across town and had a lovely time until B.A. felt fatigue approaching and I called us a taxi. 

The next day, while I was typing madly away in my home office (formerly B.A.'s home office), he stuck his head through the doorway to inform me that he was going to the nearest grocery store for crisps. I was rather alarmed, partly because it was already dark outside, but B.A. was adamant, and  he returned half an hour later, only a little shaky, with a beer and crisps. 

He repeated this feat on Tuesday or Wednesday; I can't quite remember which for the big event of mid-week was my trip to a spa in the countryside. The various reviews I had read about this spa led me to believe it was heaven on earth, with doting attendant angels. Sadly, it did not live up to the hype. 

First, the spa, which is on the estate of a stately hotel, was a little hard to find. The estate was not well signed. I got lost in the drizzle, which was not at all nice. Then when I appeared in the antechamber of the rustic, rather Nordic- (or Canadian-) looking cottage, the young women at the desk were slow to amble out to greet me. This left me standing about awkwardly, wondering what do to with my wet boots, broken umbrella and damp raincoat. 

Eventually, however, a young woman did come out to greet me. She invited me to sit down and fill out a form, and my heart sank as she handed me a tablet, for the last thing I wanted to see on my day away from my desk was another screen. However, I filled in the electronic questionnaire and put on some slippers and followed my lacklustre hostess around the spa. She swallowed half her words and gave me the impression that she had been doing this for so long, she just no longer cared. Even worse, the sauna area was noisy; a drill split the air and visible through the ceiling-high windows were men building an addition. The "herbal sauna" was quite useless except for women who don't mind sweating in their bathing suits in the full view of construction workers. (Nobody told me to bring a bathing suit, incidentally, so it's a jolly good thing I did: the spa's bathrobe was not voluminous.)

This spa is rather expensive, so I felt rather cross about the noise and the men and the lack of customer service, and felt crosser still when a woman who seemed to belong to the spa (or the work project) in some management capacity began to pull open the door to my mud-treatment chamber while I was towelling myself off. The lazy girl who had showed me into it and given me inadequate instructions as to what I was supposed to do had neglected to turn over the sign that had "Busy" written on the back. 

"What kind of place IS this?" I cried. 

I started writing out my one-star review in my head, but then when I trundled out back to the desk, I was met by a blonde angel of a masseuse/facialist who bore me away to a lovely room with a massage table that was like the world's most comfortable single bed. There I spent an enormously 90 healing and relaxing minutes, and I forgave the spa for my stupid first two hours.  That said, I made darn sure I got the Afternoon Tea that was part of my Spa Day package. 

After I hoovered my Tea and tired of reading fashion magazines, I got dressed and floated back out into the rain.  I caught the country bus back into Edinburgh and went to my Polish lesson, during which I was inclined to be merry. 

In conclusion, the trip to the country spa was worth the time and money and initial aggravation because of the splendid masseuse-facialist and the chance to lounge around in a luxurious Nordic-chic interior reading Scottish Woman, The Tatler and Vogue.

Naturally I returned to work on Thursday, which was American Thanksgiving, so all the American journalists as LSN were on holiday. This meant that the Canadians had to buckle down and write our little heads off for two days. 

Fortunately I felt so great after my spa day that this was relatively easy to do, and I was given a very interesting assignment that involved translating five pages of astonishing revelations about Saint-John-Paul-2-as-Mystic and then scrolling through video to find exactly where the Monsignor was recorded saying those things. The biggest challenge was figuring out how not to translate "piaga" as "plague" and "orde" as "hordes" because, hello, islamists, like nazis and commies, are at any rate human beings. I failed in the latter attempt, but in the former I went with "scourge." I see Tornelli latterly translated "piaga" as "wound", which I like better, too, but is not really accurate.

Another reason I was happier this week than last (a week ago B.A. declared that I was angry all the time) was that I have once again given up wicked, evil, horrible sugar. I did have little cakes as part of my Afternoon Tea at the spa, but that was it. I am now back on the wagon until St. Nicholas' Day. 



Saturday, 18 November 2017

Coming Up for Air

Does anyone want to read about someone who works all the time?  Hot Fuzz, the famous British comedy about workaholic cop Nicholas Angel, was brilliantly funny. It is one of the few films that has literally made me weep with laughter. But in reality....

Perhaps not that interesting.

Nevertheless, my parents still read my blog, so this is what my weekday looks like:

6:50 AM --Wake up, thinking about work.

7:15 AM -- Check Facebook, thinking about work.

8:00 AM - 11:00 AM -- Language study/get groceries/laundry/housework.

11 AM - 7 (or 8) PM -- Work.

7 PM or 8 PM -- Make dinner and eat it with B.A. Think about work. Take breaks to check work. 

8 PM - 11 PM -- Try not to think about work. 

It's Saturday, and I don't want to think about work. Shortly I will close the computer and look up Polish words instead. One brilliant thing about language study is that it is all-absorbing, which means it prevents me from thinking about work. 
Of course, sometimes I translate something for work, which means I am doing language study and work at the same time. 

While I work, Benedict Ambrose sits in a chair between the radiator and the empty fireplace and convalesces. He is slowly gaining weight, but his eyes are still sunken in his lined face. He reads a lot of Catholic news, so when I ask him at supper what he's done today, the conversation becomes about work. 

The change from writing (tops) an article a week to writing up to three articles a day has been nerve-wracking. It's an entire different discipline. In fact, the first activity isn't really a discipline: it's just fun. Well, maybe not ENTIRELY fun.

When I wrote this article, I spent several hours in my guesthouse room or in a cafe reading and translating (with dictionaries) various Polish news articles. Since I had been at the Warsaw Independence March anyway, out of sheer curiosity, it made sense to write it all up the next day and send it to Catholic World Report. I was a year ahead of my time; the western media took more of an interest THIS year, when I wasn't there.

Not being there made it a bit frustrating to write THIS article, but it was morally necessary to write it because of all the fake news in the English-language press. This time I had to contact people who WERE there and would both talk to me and consent to their names appearing in LSN. And now, of course, I have set deadlines, so I usually need people to talk to (or message) me at once. 

Another frustration is that Poland (not just Polish) is hard for the English-speaking world to understand, and the English-speaking world is hard to explain to Poles who don't speak much English. It's like trying to explain the Second Amendment to the American Constitution to Swedes, and Swedish comfort with nudity to Americans. 

One of the problems papered over by the Agents of Diversity is that people--peoples--actually are really diverse. It's not just their foodstuffs, or their religious traditions, or what women wear. It's also their relationship to the physical environment in which they live, and their attitude towards politicians, and their concepts of manhood or womanhood, and their histories, and their borders. 

Diversity is not changing dresses on a Barbie Doll. Sometimes diversity is almost all people in a given area sharing a multi-generational experience of the same place, language and history. That's not how it is in my hometown Toronto, but as much as I love Toronto, I don't think the world is or should be a giant Toronto. 

With the exception of conquest of the Channel Islands by the Nazis (which is almost never spoken of), Britain hasn't been invaded since 1066. Perhaps that's why the English* allowed their borders--mental, religious, cultural, personal, sexual--to have become so porous, whereas the Poles--whose borders have been erased and redrawn dozens of times in the past thousand years--have firm and distinct borders regarding Poland and Polish life. 

Complicating this, are internal Polish battles over what these are or should be. From a conservative Polish point of view, a left-wing Pole (still absolutely furious that the conservative PiS party won the last election) would sell his grandmother on the streets of Brussels, let alone write a whiny article in the Guardian about how awful Poland is. 

Anyway, so much for my attempt not to think about work on a Saturday. Maybe I will flee the Historical House and take refuge in a hipster cafe.

*Update: Britishness, by the way, is by its very nature multi-national and multi-ethnic. Canada has never had colonies--being made up of former British colonies--but it too has always been dramatically multi-ethnic, starting with three major groups: First Nations peoples, French-speaking Canadians (mostly descended from the French) and English-speaking Canadians (mostly descended from, or born in, Britain). 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Winter's Day

An oldie but goodie from The Clerk of Oxford, reminding us that November 7 was considered the first day of winter by the Anglo-Saxons.


Super-trad Calendar 

I am reminded of Anglo-Saxon class at the University of Toronto long ago, the pleasant melancholy of leaving the old Mediaeval Studies house after an hour or two of group translation of Beowulf. Across the street stretched the wooded Queen's Park in which wicked Grendel might have lurked, lonely and envious of the warmth and companionship of indoors. 

Currently I am reading C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew in Polish, writing down all the words I couldn't generate myself in conversation on cue cards.  I've budgeted a week per chapter, and such is the magic of the Narnia heptalogy, listening and reading to the same chapter over and over again is not at all dull.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

What's This Strange, Light Feeling?

Benedict Ambrose returned home from the hospital with me yesterday by taxi-cab. I pulled out two enormous IKEA bags of assorted clothing, bedding, Spectator magazines, prayer cards, etc., and paid the driver. After settling B.A. on the sofa and getting him a snack, I got down to some work. 

Later, when B.A. had decided to try for a nap, I answered the hallooing of the property manager. She was at the bottom of the stairs preparing the Historical House for Hallowe'en weekend tours. After fussing with bicycles and such other things that had to be moved, I asked the manager if there was any post. She said there was a book-shaped package for me on B.A.'s desk in the office.  So I got my coat and rushed into the beautifully fine and mild October day and suddenly felt---happy. 

I hadn't felt happy in weeks. I had literally forgotten what happy actually felt like. But there it was: happiness. And of course this was because B.A. was at home, alive and tumour-free, and a book-shaped package was waiting for me at his office! 

Happiness is a great, great feeling, and I can see why it is associated with children. All of a sudden, I didn't have a care in the world and I was getting a present! 

It didn't matter that the present was probably from me to myself. It cost only about £3, it turns out, for it was the Polish translation of The Magician's Nephew I ordered from Amazon. 

And now I am happy that the work week is over and I can spend a delightful chunk of the morning writing out long lists of Polish words I don't yet know. 

I can also write an essay on something other than B.A.'s illness. Both my Polish tutor and my Italian tutor must be emotionally exhausted, having doubled as my emergency psychotherapists for months. (My Italian tutor has had a break, however, as I really couldn't keep our appointments these last three weeks.) Not only could I talk all about B.A.'s late, unlamented brain tumour in three languages, I did.  When I told my soft-hearted Polish tutor about B.A.'s post-op rantings about the triumph of the Immaculate Heart (triumf Niepokalanego Serca), she cried.