A new blog!
I decided on Friday to start an atheist blog! I'll be talking about my beliefs of course, and also the way I incorporate religion and ritual into my life. I want it to be a place where I can exchange with other religion-friendly nonbelievers and open-minded religious people.

This is my blog, Atheist Ahoy.

I've got three posts up at the moment, and hope to have more soon.

In other news, I only wrote part of a script in April, but at least it should me I can do it. And I read over 600 pages in foreign languages in April. Which is good, but I could improve on it if I really sat down and read some novels in French.

100 Word Story
I keep meaning to post an account of my madcap adventures in Washington DC and Montreal (Quebec, Canada) but I haven't gotten around to it. I've been back nearly a month. This is bad.

On the bright side, I wrote a story today, inspired by a fellow who writes a 100 word story every day and posts it on his blog. Without further ado, here it is:

She stood on the edge, drawn by the urge to jump, repulsed by a fear that brought her to her knees. She took a deep breath, and peered down into the void, wobbling on the precipice. She gulped, lifted one foot to take that fatal forward step - and put it down behind her. A half turn. A second step away. A gust of wind that knocked her over mid-step, knocking her against the pavement before sending her tumbling down, down. A dizzying fall, and SPROING! The cord that tied her to the bridge jerked her back up. She was flying.

Fun for Language Learners #3 - Marmiton and French recipes
In the francophone blogosphere (I mostly read CanalBlog), I keep hearing about Marmiton.org, a site where users submit and comment recipes. It's not quite as photo-filled and flashy as some of its English-language competitors, but you're not here to learn English, right? And it's pretty good nonetheless, with features about seasonal recipes, categorized recipes, and versions in Spanish, Italian, and English (the English one is called "Let's Cook French"). Because it's all about user-submitted content, the four sites are probably rather different, but if I was studying those languages I might give them a whirl.

There are a few things to know when using French recipes - they (the French) use the metric system, and measure most dry ingredients (sugar, flour, etc.) by weight, not volume, though liquids are usually in mL and cL. The exception is for small quantities, which I'll explain below. All temperaures will be in celcius or (occasionally) refer to the settings on old French ovens.

vocabulary after the cutCollapse )

The Sensuality of Languages
Last night I was watching Buffy, and there's this guy who starts going on and on about how sensual languages are, and just think about the difference between "car" and "voiture" for example. He gets really into it, because this is Buffy we're talking about, and there are supernatural forces involved.

It's true that languages are sensual, in the sense that each has a feel of its own, but I don't think that feel has much to do with individual words - it's more about the pacing and the sounds of a language, rather than whether you say "butterfly", "papillon", "chou" or "mariposa". I mean, people say that everything sounds better in French, but I've never really seen it, even though one of the reasons I picked French to study in high school (over Spanish and German) was because I had heard that, and especially from my mother.

That said, while I don't see it on the level of individual words, the language can be downright fun when spoken well. The trouble is that it takes a long time to appreciate it and to be able to play with a language oneself.

Then too, speaking a language is a very tactile experience, the more so the better you get - at first, you use the sounds of your native language to approximate those of your second (or third, whatever) language, but as time goes on it gets easier to use the real sounds of the language. At this point speaking can become downright exhausting, because you're learning to use muscles you've never had to exercise that much. This is one of the reasons why it's difficult to pick up a language again after a long hiatus - you have to get back in shape! I've been known to choke on the French R from time to time myself. But when it goes well - a somewhat arbitrary state of affairs - it makes me feel smart, in control, clever, in a way that's as much about the physicality of words and body language as the slight, mundane cruelty of an expertly-wielded joke. Spoken languages bring with them their own culturally-specific body language, of course - something I'm not all that good at - and human interaction is about the play of space among other things - you can feel it when things are going really well with a friend or lover - something about the way the space between you outlines a certain energy or tension.

Can you tell that I'm a very tactile person? Someday I'll have to write an entry about that...

Fun for Language Learners #2 - Push Start (French)
Push Start is a French show about video games that I discovered recently. They have all the videos on their website and on Dailymotion - a total of 35 episodes thus far. It reminds me a bit of when I used to watch X-Play on TechTV/G4TechTV/G4TV back in the day, except that you never see the hosts and it's not played as much for laughs. The previews are also mostly in the promotional vein, whereas X-Play never had any compunctions about ripping the designers a new one if they didn't like a game. In other words, the two shows are about as unalike as two shows about video games could be.

Many of the interviewees speak English and are dubbed into French - something I always found a little disconcerting (speaking out of my monolingual American childhood here) because it drives home the fact that we're not in Kansas anymore, or at any rate the expected audience isn't. Interviewees who speak French are not subtitled even when they have a noticeable accent (perhaps the producers of Push Start have a better opinion of their viewers' intelligence than G4 execs do). I understand Quebecers (at least of the urban variety) pretty well, but it takes a bit of getting used to if the only accents you know are some of the more 'standard' French ones. French video game terminology is often borrowed from English, much like French computing terminology in general, which could be a boon, although personally I didn't recognize very many of the English words in French when I first started seriously working on my listening comprehension.

Fun for Language Learners - the idea
As you may know from this previous entry, I think that the easiest (not to mention most fun) way to learn languages is to simply watch, listen to, and read things that you enjoy, even if you don't understand them. That is to say that in the beginning, you'll need to find things that you can enjoy with little to no understanding, and you may want to start mainly with videos, because you can get a lot out of the visuals in many cases.

I didn't come to this idea entirely on my own - I started watching French in Action on my own in order to go faster than my far-too-easy university French course on the advice of the good folks at How to learn any language, and started into internet radio (RFI) and reading novels and French-language Wikipedia, it was slow going and I resented it, because even though it was a goal I had set for myself, RFI was boring, and I was frustrated with not understanding.

Learning Japanese has been a much more positive experience, perhaps partly because, unlike French, it was something I wanted from the start, and also because I already knew a bit about Japanese pop culture and Japanese things I liked, and so when I found All Japanese All The Time, whose author promotes the idea of doing fun things in your target language all the time, I had some idea where to start. I also started doing this three months, rather than four or five years into my studies, and the result is that my progress in Japanese has been fairly rapid and seemed easy, even though I remember months of almost total noncomprehension. Said months were easier to bear because they came towards the beginning - I knew I shouldn't be able to understand, and had no false pride - and because the things I was watching were generally entertaining. I also came to like the Japanese language more than I have ever liked French.

Recently, after I found out that I wasn't going to Japan next year after all, I decided to refocus on French, because I want to study in Montreal and will need all the language ability I can muster. I am still rather ignorant about French things compared to my level of knowledge about Japan, but there's a lot more out there online than a few years ago, and I've found things I really like, which has made me feel a lot better about the language.

Anyway, the authors of All Japanese All The Time and Antimoon have explained the idea at great length, and Khatz of AJATT also gives a lot of ideas of things to watch/read/listen to if you're learning Japanese. There's also 100 Japanese Things, which lists and explains Japanese things for Japanese learners. But I have yet to find such a thing for learners of French (tell me if you've seen one!), and of course I have a lot of favorite Japanese things the above sites don't mention. So I figured I'd start my own list. Number one, of course, is the above-mentioned French in Action.Collapse )

Graduation! Bread! How to fill up on vegan food!
First off, I graduated with honors in Feminist Studies. Whoo! I'm in consideration for all those types of honors (Magna Cum Laude, etc.) that depend on class standing, too. I got back my grades for the quarter, as well: A, A-, and B+, which is quite good, especially since I had senioritis and procrastinated rather more than I should have. I'm still looking for something for the fall, but I feel good about the one interview I had. I also need to start studying for the GRE, since I haven't taken a class that required any math skills whatsoever for a year and a half or so. I've heard that it's generally like the SAT though, so I'm not really worried.

In other news, I've started making bread. I had previously made pizza dough and sort of cinnamon-y buns (they were supposed to be pan dulce, but I fiddled with them) with pretty good results, but that's it for my previous yeasted bread experience. But for a potluck at the end of the quarter, I made vegan challah, and when my parents and grandparents came up for graduation weekend I made it again. Some people were astonished that it was vegan, and everyone who tried it liked it.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
For the potluck. I wrapped a dish towel around it and stuck it in a paper bag, hugging it to my chest so it wouldn't be damaged, since I had another class beforehand. It was really hard not to just eat it!

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
The second one. Photo taken by my lovely mother. :)

Friday of graduation weekend I spoke at my department's 'senior celebration'. I presented a paper I had written for my senior seminar, entitled "Okinawa: health and militarization in historical context". Afterwards there was a carrot cake with marzipan slugs on top and slug trails made of jam (banana slugs are our mascot) and my advisor came to tell me and my family how well I'd done and that she thought I would make a great librarian, because of my dedication to in-depth research and my curiosity, picking different subjects for the final paper in each class. I was touched, and also surprised - I hadn't realized that most students write their papers on one or several themes rather than using them to explore new things.

That night I made the bread, and served it with a root vegetable bake and a kale-white bean dish. It was really filling, which surprised me a bit. I had the same experience with the tempeh tacos with spicy slaw I made tonight. This leads me to conclude that the ideal mix for a filling vegan or vegetarian dinner (both of these were vegan) is tons of veggies with a decent serving of protein, moderate amounts of starch, and some healthy fat. This is exciting, because one of my main problems as a vegan was that I felt hungry most of the time, perhaps due to not much veggies and too little good fat. If I can fill up this well on vegan stuff, I can reduce my dairy and egg consumption no problem (I have been doing so lately, especially since I decided I didn't want to buy milk so often after a bunch went bad).

First Quiche, cookbook ideas, and continuing language study
I've been wanting to make a quiche for awhile, and I've also been salivating over the lovely first cookbook from Chocolate & Zucchini, a food blog originally in English though now with a French version, which is by a French woman... I hadn't even made any of the recipes from the site, but many of them sounded really good, and I hesitated about buying the cookbook for a long time. Well, as it turns out, my school's Science and Engineering Library has a copy, so here I am!

Anyway, I made the broccoli and apple quiche. It's tasty, in an unexpected way - sour apples (granny smith) and savory things are a really good mix. The only problems were that I used a nonstick metal pan instead of a ceramic dish, so I had to cook it a bit longer and it didn't brown as much as the photo in the book, and that my crust leaked custard (milk/cream/egg, as is typical).

As for the aforementioned cookbook ideas, I have two. The first is based on the same concept as Like Water for Chocolate, which I had to read in high school - I loved the idea (a story illustrated with recipes) and disliked the book itself. And then too, I wasn't as into cooking as I am now - I viewed it mainly as a chore and an occasional source of brownies, pies, cookies, and lemon bars, not as a potential creative outlet. Anyway, I would want to write a cookbook of that type, but more recipes, and short stories or poems featuring the dish, not a novel.

The other came from the thought that something must be done about the lack of decent Mexican and other Latin American food and U.S. regional food in many parts of the world. I've been able to find out about many French cookbooks that focus on U.S. food, some of them even regional stuff, but the question is whether or not any of them are both good and comprehensive. I found one that said it contained 300 recipes, but based on the cover I suspect it had a focus on the kind of food that passes for mainstream (as opposed to ethnic or regional). I mean, muffins, pancakes, cupcakes etc. are great and all, but what about bagels? Pan dulce? Flautas? and a zillion other things. I'd have to do more research though.

Anyway at this point a cookbook is a pie in the sky kind of idea for me - I don't think my recipe-making and modifying skills are up to it yet. I mean, I have maybe two original recipes - multigrain vegan banana muffins and guacamole soup - to my name, and a number of modifications - my (wholegrain vegan) pancake recipe, my variation on (vegan) cornbread, and my versions of cuban black beans, tomato sauce, lentil soup, etc. Fortunately, I've gotten to the point where not only can I follow a recipe and have it turn out well, but I can also sometimes rescue a dish that's gone a bit weird on me.

I think, though, that cooking is like any complex skillset - you just keep going, keep observing, read what interests you about it.

As for the language study, I've been reading and I'm on Skype and Lang-8. I've learned a lot of new words and phrases, and I've been fooling more and more French people into thinking I was one of them (maybe I should see how long I can keep it up sometime) but my grammar issues persist and sometimes I just can't get the words out right. Grrrr. This is mostly French I'm talking about here.

Textbooks, wikis, feminism, and a request for assistance
I've been trying to think about the politics of textbooks, and why they usually feel so remedial. This stems in part from my membership in Wikibooks (a wiki textbook site run by the same foundation that runs Wikipedia). I'm considering working on the book about feminism, which is absolutely terrible right now. There is very little content, a lot of red links (removed or never created pages), no readily visible activity, and what little content there is is very textbook remedial (possibly because some of it came from Wikipedia) and fairly U.S. and Europe-centric. Bleurgh.

I'm really not sure if anyone would use even a more complete version of the book, and I like the idea of course readers as opposed to textbooks, because a reader always has a sense of being incomplete, and because readers mean you get into materials used by theorists and whatnot right away as an undergrad. Then again, a wiki is also never complete and it's somewhat egalitarian (depending on access to and comfort with technology). A wiki textbook, then, is odd - although I suppose traditional encyclopedias reflect similar institutional viewpoints and privilege to textbooks. I feel like a feminist textbook ought to look very different from most textbooks, and a wiki might be able to do it, but by definition, of course, I couldn't do it alone, and I'm afraid I'd have to.

My other problem is that though I've been on Wikipedia for a while, I've never felt up to writing an article about feminism - the only article I wrote from scratch was the one about Drakkar Entertainment, a German company that owns several record labels and does other services for bands as well (the current version is probably quite changed from that). That article was mostly an abbreviated form of the English version of the about page on their site. My most significant other contribution was to translate most of the NASA article from English to French a couple of years ago (before that the French version was only a short article corresponding mostly to the introduction from the English one). I've always felt nervous about writing a complete article, especially on a complex and contested subject like feminism. But I suppose I should be bold.

Anyone want to pitch in?

By the by, I ran into a classmate today, and we were talking about wikipedia for some reason. When I mentioned I had an account, she seemed surprised and asked if that meant I could edit it. I said that anyone could edit most articles, even without an account. She seemed impressed and asked if I had done so. This whole incident made me wonder if I'm unusually nerdy or tech-savvy, or if she was unusually the opposite, or a little of both. Hmmm.

Reading in foreign languages: enough with dictionaries!
I believe that reading should be enjoyable. Ditto language learning. In fact, an excess of unfun reading or language learning can kill motivation to do either one. And yet teachers often advise the (very unfun) use of dictionaries and laborious reading methods that are supposed to improve comprehension.

This bugs me, and not just for the reason I gave above. There are several other problems with this approach:
-looking up words is rarely helpful unless you understand the surrounding text quite well and have a vague idea of what the word means already (from having seen it before). Otherwise, not only will the definition not help you much to understand, but you won't remember it later.
-If you do it in a bilingual dictionary, it causes you to start translating, which impairs comprehension quite noticeably.
-it slows me down a lot. I want to get to the point.
-it makes me feel like I'm in class. This is stressful and makes me think in terms of numerical progress, though language learning does not work like that.

I think that for language learning, it's best to read things you enjoy in large quantities and as fast as is comfortable or as allows for acceptable (to you) comprehension. Only use the dictionary when you've seen a word repeatedly and it seems important but you're just not sure what it means (for nouns, an image search sometimes works better). I think this is the best way to become a better reader and writer in the language of your choice (and enjoy it, coming to like the language more).

I believe that Stephen Krashen has something on his site about how counterproductive teacher-imposed "reading strategies" often are. Khatz of AJATT of course writes a lot about the importance of enjoying the journey, but he's largely pro-dictionary.

Just a note - I'm not against dictionaries on the whole. I love looking up words and phrases that have been bugging me or to find out their origins. I think the way that words travel and change their meaning over the years is fascinating. For instance, "alley oop!" is from the French "allez hop!", and "entrée" is borrowed from French, but in French it means appetizer, not main dish.

EDIT: I forgot to add that eventually it's helpful to use monolingual dictionaries, in part because it teaches you how to define words, in part because you may need to know how to use them. I've also heard of people who learn to read and write in a language by working their way through a good monolingual dictionary.


Log in