Saturday, November 29, 2014

Notes on An Interesting Book (Note di un libro interessante)

Di recente ho letto un libro interessante di un americano che rimase in Italia per quattro settimane imparando a parlare italiano, ed imparando anche a cucinare piatti della cucina italiana.

Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family, è un diario di
Mark Leslie dei 28 giorni ha rimase in Viterbo, Italia. Mentre era li, ha vissuto nella casa della famiglia Stefani, dove ha riempito le sue giornati prendendo lezioni di cucina da Nonna, e lezioni italiano da Alessandra. Queste lezioni inclusi spesa con Nonna, lezioni formali con Alessandra e molti conversazioni con i vari membri della famiglia and gli amici incontrati durante i suoi quattro settimane in Viterbo. Il libro di Signor Leslie descrive le sue lezioni di cucina in grande dettaglia e contiene più di 30 ricette che lui ha contribuito a preparare (e mangiare) per (e con) la famiglia Stefani. Egli condivide anche i conti del suo viaggio di fine settimana a Roma, e le altre gite che ha preso con i suoi ospiti, tra un picnic accanto un lago di montagna, una sera in una festa tradizionale, ad anche un pomeriggio passò guardate la tradizionale Palio di Siena (corsa di cavalla) su TV, con Nonna battendo la sue gamba nera e blu nella sua eccitazione. Con il tempo Mr. Leslie tornato a casa negli Stati Uniti, si sentiva come se avesse acquisito una seconda famiglia in Italia. Infatti, il signor Leslie visita ancora la famiglia Stefani ogni anno, riunioni che hanno approfondito i legami che sono stati inizialmente intrecciati durante il suo primo soggiorno con loro 9 anni fa.

Beyond the Pasta è un leggere divertente per chi gode di memorie di viaggio (come faccio io) o è affascinato dalla vita al di là dei confini degli Stati Uniti (come me). E, forse più importante, è una fonte di alcune grandi ricette per chi ama il cibo italiano.


I recently read an interesting book by an American who stayed in Italy for four weeks learning to speak Italian, and also learning how to cook Italian cuisine.

Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family, is Mark Leslie’s journal of the 28 days he spent in Viterbo, Italy. While he was there, he lived in the Stefani family’s home, where he filled his days taking cooking lessons from Nonna (grandmother) and Italian lessons from Alessandra (mother). These lessons included grocery shopping with Nonna, formal lessons with Alessandra, and many conversations with the various family members and friends he met during his four weeks in Viterbo. Mr. Leslie’s book describes his cooking lessons in great detail, and contains over 30 recipes that he helped prepare (and eat) for (and with) the Stefani family. He also shares accounts of his weekend trip to Rome, and other outings that he took with his hosts, including a picnic beside a mountain lake, an evening at a traditional village festival, and even an afternoon spent watching Siena’s traditional Palio (horse race) on TV, with Nonna beating his leg black and blue in her excitement. By the time Mr. Leslie returned home to the United States, he felt as if he had acquired a second family in Italy. Indeed, Mr. Leslie still visits the Stefani family every year, reunions that have deepened the ties that were initially woven during his initial stay with them 9 years ago.

Beyond the Pasta is a fun read for anyone who enjoys travel memoirs (as I do) or is fascinated by life beyond the borders of the USA (as I am). And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a source of some great recipes for anyone who loves Italian food.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

La Giornata del Ringraziamento

(credito per il foto: questa immagine è stata spudoratamente preso in prestito da Internet)
(photo credit: this image was shamelessly borrowed from the Internet)

Oggi è la giornata del ringraziamento negli Stati Uniti. Io e mia famiglia abbiamo festeggiato con una grande cena. Abbiamo mangiato tacchino con ripieno, purè di patate, sugo, mais e rotoli. David, Joshua, Jonathan e Nicholas erano qui. Maggie non poteva venire perché lei doveva aiutare la sua madre cucinare la cena a la casa del suo genitori. La sua madre ha avuto recentemente i problemi di salute e non ha avuto l'energia per cucinare una grande cena da sola. Jonathan e Nicholas hanno appena tornati a casa pochi minuti fa. Jonathan spera trovare un negozio alimentari che è aperta, perché Maggie ha bisogno poche cose per mettere gli ultimi ritocchi sulla sua cena.

Adesso, il mio lavoro è finito! David e Joshua possono pulisce i piatti prima mangiamo i pasticci. David mangerò il pasticcio di mela, Io mangerò il pasticcio di pecan, e Joshua, forse, mangerà tutti e due!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. My family and I celebrated with a big dinner. We ate turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and rolls. David, Joshua, Jonathan and Nicholas were here. Maggie was not able to come because she had to help her mother cook dinner at her parent's house. Her mother has had health problems recently and did not have the energy to cook a big dinner by herself. Jonathan and Nicholas just returned home a few minutes ago. Jonathan hopes to find a grocery store that is open, because Maggie needs a few things to put the final touches on her dinner.

Now, my work is finished! David and Joshua can wash the dishes before we eat the pies. David will eat apple pie, I will eat pecan pie, and Joshua, perhaps, will eat both!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Learning a Second Language: Some Whys and Hows

The first two things I want to discuss as I take this blog in a new direction are:
  • Why I’m learning Italian, rather than, say, Spanish (which I studied in high school), or French, or any one of scores of other languages.
  • Some of the materials I’m using in my Italian studies.
The first item is explained easily. First, given my Italian heritage, I’ve always had an urge to speak the language. Second, Dave and I want to spend an extended period of time in Europe after we retire, and northern Italy is a good area to use as a home base for traveling around the continent. Third, when Dave and I go to Italy next fall, I want to be able to have at least a few conversations with people in their language.

The second item is more involved. The primary language instruction tools I’m using are:

Pimsleur’s Italian
I stumbled across this last spring when Dave and I first started talking about spending a significant chunk of time in Italy when we retire. This method is based primarily on listening and imitating/speaking. Written materials are not introduced until well into the course, and those are used in a very limited fashion. 

Positive things about this method are:
  • It offers instruction in a wide range of languages.
  • One hears and imitates proper pronunciation from the beginning.
  • Fine points of grammar are explained at appropriate points in the lessons, for example, when teaching new expressions that deviate from the norms.
  • Each lesson is 25-30 minutes in length, which makes it nearly perfect for using while commuting to and from work. I’ve been purchasing the CDs, which I then install on my computer and iPod. After I began purchasing the CDS, I discovered that another version of the course is available for direct download as mp3 files. Oh, well...
  • It was one of the first methods to use “spaced repetition” as a teaching and learning method. This simply means that, when new vocabulary is first introduced, it is used frequently. Over time, however, the intervals between usage of particular terms are expanded, and terms are eventually repeated just often enough to reinforce (or re-teach) them as one continues adding new tools to one’s language set.
Negative aspects of this method are:
  • It is very expensive, perhaps the most expensive language system available in the USA.
  • It doesn’t utilize newer, interactive technologies that have become available since Pimsleur devised his method 50-60 years ago. His method was cutting edge then, now it is old school. It’s still effective, but it’s not nearly as appealing to a new learner as more modern language learning systems.
This is an electronic learning system created by and for a new generation of language learners. A word of warning, which I’ll put here because it has both negative and positive points: spelling counts. I don’t mind (too much) when I get dinged for honest-to-goodness mistakes, but I absolutely hate being penalized for typos. Then again, I can (and should) guard against this by reading my answers carefully before hitting the “enter” button. As you can see, this “criticism” may say more about me than about the program.

Positive aspects of this learning system are:
  • It offers lessons in a wide array of languages.
  • It is an Internet-based system that uses interactive technologies, including computers, tablets and smartphones. Lessons are synchronized across all of one’s devices, so that one can pick up any device and begin exactly where one stopped at the previous session.
  • It’s fun for anyone who loves using computer and gaming applications. Much like the world of computer games, Duolingo users accumulate points as they advance to higher levels of achievement. The points can be used to “buy” stuff in the Duolingo shop. Most of my purchases consist of extra “hearts,” which allow me additional chances to complete a lesson without getting sent back to the beginning. Anyone who has ever played a computer game will recognize that Duolingo hearts are analogous to the extra lives that one acquires in order to keep advancing through the game without penalty. I only use extra hearts if I’m near the end of a lesson and feel ready to move forward.
  • It introduces a good range of vocabulary quickly.
  • It is based on sound, scientific principles of language learning.
  • It provides opportunities for hearing, speaking, writing and reading the target language. The lessons utilize all of these skills, and an “immersion” section that contains articles for translation practice offers in-depth reading, translating and writing practice.
  • It has many user forums in which users can exchange ideas, links to other resources, etc.
  • It is free. It offers an amazing range of materials at absolutely no cost. And that's a beautiful thing. 
Negative aspects of Duolingo are:
  • The “voice talent” used to record the lessons is not always top-notch. It sounds computer-generated to me (and Joshua), but the “voices” are discussed in the forums as if they belong to real people, so I may be wrong about that. For example, there is a lengthy thread in the Italian forum that contains many complaints about “Francesca.” I was relieved when I found this thread, because I had been thinking my difficulties in understanding her were primarily due to my crummy hearing. Apparently, there is a new “voice” named Carla that has been made available recently to a limited number of users on a trial basis. Those who have heard her (I’m not one of them, unfortunately) say she’s much better than Francesca and they wonder why Carla hasn’t been made available to all of the Italian learners yet.
  • There is little, if any, explanation of grammar. This can be frustrating when one is trying to piece together the rules and norms, only to be confounded by an expression that doesn’t follow the expected pattern.
Anki is an electronic flash card system that has transformed an old technology. You may remember creating, or buying, 3x5 flash cards when you were learning French, Spanish or German (perhaps even Latin?) in high school. Anki allows you to do that with your computer.

Positive features of this system are:
  • Flash cards are stored both online at the Anki website, and on one’s devices. This means that, unlike Duolingo, one may use the flashcards without being connected to the Internet.
  • Flash card learning sessions can be synchronized via the Anki website to ensure that all devices are tracking one’s progress together.
  • Flash cards can be purchased, or created by the user. I create my own, as I enjoy the process of finding audio samples and pictures. I believe that the search and creation processes lodge the content more firmly in my mind than would occur if I simply spent a few seconds per day reviewing someone else’s product.
  • Flash cards can be reviewed in just a few minutes a day. So, even if one is pressed for time on any given day, one can still take 5-10 minutes to review a set of cards.
  • The system automatically records the intervals at which content should be reviewed. This is done according to algorithms based on the principle of – you guessed it – spaced repetition. Therefore, over time, one covers all of the available content, rather than just reviewing the same few words or phrases every day.
Negative features of this system are:
  • Creating flash cards is time consuming.  I enjoy it, for the most part, but it definitely requires a significant time commitment. I generally spend an hour or two on the weekends creating new cards.
  • The cards are only as good as their source. If you create your own cards, you control the content completely. If you want good cards, you’ll have to work hard to make good cards. If you purchase ready-made cards, you’ll want to be confident that your source is giving you correct information.
Those are the three primary tools I’m using to learn Italian. I also use a variety of other tools – a discussion group, books, news articles, music, movies, opera, etc. – that I may discuss in the future. Now, I know I said last week that I was going to start writing some of this blog’s content in Italian. As promised, I will – but not tonight. For one thing, this post is already quite long. More to the point, there is no way I can repeat everything I’ve written here in Italian. Therefore, I won’t even attempt it. Instead, I’ll close by saying this: if you’re thinking about learning a new language, or reviving an old, forgotten one, check out some of the new tools that are available online now. Who knows? You may find something that inspires you to just do it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Bilingual Future

Hello, world!

It's been a long time since I've posted anything on this blog. I've decided that I'll fix that by using it as a place to post bilingual musings in English and Italian. I don't need much practice writing in English, but I certainly need to practice writing in Italian.

As you know, there are four main components to language usage. These are:
  • listening
  • reading
  • speaking
  • writing
As you look at that list, you may wonder why I listed them in that order, rather than an order that may seem more intuitive, such as: listening, speaking, reading, writing. After all, hearing and speaking go together as one set of connected activities (all speakers like having someone to listen to them, right?), and reading and writing from another set of connected activities (writers love having readers, and readers love writers who give them something to read!).

The reason I listed the communications functions as I did, however, is that I've organized them according to the nature of their functions. To wit, hearing and reading language are passive activities - we use them to receive content provided by others. In contrast, speaking and writing are active functions - we use them to produce content to be received (we hope) by others. Generally speaking, the passive language activities are somewhat easier to learn than the productive ones.

All this brings me to why I must start writing in Italian. I can speak Italian almost any time. I do it to my dogs all the time. I do it with Dave and Joshua sometimes. I also do it with my iPhone, for which I've set Italian as my home language (Italian is also my home language on Facebook). I nearly always read Italian articles and exercises aloud in order to train my tongue and ears to produce and recognize the right sounds. I speak Italian in my car, in my get the point. I often use Google Translate to check myself. But writing in Italian is a different matter. I write my shopping lists in Italian, but that barely counts, since that just involves using simple words and phrases. Therefore, for the time being, this blog will become a place for honing my Italian writing skills.

And now, having announced my blogging plan for the foreseeable future, I will close what I hope will be my final monolingual post.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fairfax Choral Society Singing Kyrie Eleison, by Louis Vierne

Since the Fairfax Choral Society is getting ready for a concert tomorrow, I decided to do a quick and dirty slideshow of a piece we sang last fall. This is a movement from Louis Vierne's Messe Solenelle, which he composed while he was chief organist at Notre Dame in the early 20th century. I figured some of my Notre Dame photos would be appropriate since that church actually is connected to the music. The text is:

Latin -
Kyrie Eleison,
Kyrie Eleison,
Kyrie Eleison.

Christe Eleison,
Christe Eleison,
Christe Eleison.

Kyrie Eleison,
Kyrie Eleison,
Kyre Eleison.

English -
Lord, have mercy on us,
Lord, have mercy on us,
Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, have mercy on us,
Christ, have mercy on us,
Christ, have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy on us,
Lord, have mercy on us,
Lord, have mercy on us.

The text is simple, but you'll notice that Vierne, like most composers, got a lot of mileage out if it. Enjoy!