Sunday, July 23, 2017

Learning Language?

As is my wont, I'm listening to a book on CD in my car.  I usually favor history and lectures and such, because the continuity isn't as important as with, say, fiction.  Today I was running errands, listening to a lecture on language.  The lecturer is going over some of the evidence for/against the idea that grammar is innate/inborn in humans, and as part of his discussion, he's talking about how very easy it is for little kids to learn language compared to adults.  Yes, he basically says that little kids don't even have to work at learning language.

But here's the thing.  If you've spent time with little kids, you realize that they're working really hard for hours every day learning language, learning to manipulate the world, and so on.   I think we're disrespecting little kids somewhat if we don't recognize that they're working really hard at all the learning they're doing.  It looks like it's not work, and hopefully there's plenty of fun and play involved, but even that is brain work.

If I spent 8+ hours a day constantly having people talking to me within a context, giving me feedback on my attempts to talk, I'd learn a language more quickly than otherwise.  In fact, I learned Spanish in an immersion program as a young adult, and within a couple months could hold a pretty decent conversation.  I didn't sound great or perfect, but I could hold a basic conversation with someone who was willing to be patient, and many people were willing.   It was exhausting, too, way more than you might think.

One of my colleagues went to Nicaragua last year to work on her Spanish, doing an intensive immersion program, living with a family, and so on.  She told me about one day when she just broke down and started crying (worrying her host "mother" greatly in the process).  She told me it made her think about when toddler's get so upset about something that seems unimportant because she was just learning a lot of stuff, working hard, being very tired, and very frustrated by not being able to express herself.  And like a toddler (according to her), she just got really upset and started crying over something that wasn't that important.

All this has nothing to do with whether it's harder to learn a language as an adult.  It may well be.  But we rarely learn languages as adults the way we did as children.  (And, for most of us, as an adult, we're learning a second language, so we know to think about things like grammar and such.  It may be much harder to learn grammar and such for a first time if you've never learned language, I suppose.)

The lecturer also talked about accents, but I think that's a bit of misdirection, since we all have accents within our native language, and learning a specific accent in a second or third language may be harder because we've learned to make certain sounds very young.  (Or so a colleague tells me: an infant begins to sort out and imitate specific sounds from that language/s they're exposed to really young.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer Projects

It's been a busy summer, full of projects of varying sorts.

I did some professional stuffs, and still have more to do.  But on the housing front, I got my floors done, powerwashed the deck and part of the house, and am in the midst of painting the exposed structural wood on the underside of my deck.

The floors look great (and involved moving stuff out of half of the house, and back again, with lots of trips to various places to donate clothes and such.

The deck looks WAY better than it did!  And I've fallen in love with the power washer.  (Good tools are amazing!)  (You can get a sense of how dirty it was in the top picture.)

I'm about one third done with the final coat (well, I hope I don't need a second coat of paint), and all primed (two coats) on the exposed (and very weathered wood) structural framing for the deck.  I think the color is a little different than what's on the rest of the lower part of the house, but it should be okay.

I have two more projects (both professional) that will probably take about a week each, maybe less, and then more reading prep for teaching at the Abbey.  But so far, things are beginning to feel more ready.  I'll feel a lot better about leaving with the house in good shape for the winter.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Will

I watched the first couple of episodes of Will last night, thanks to my Sister-in-Law who told me it was on and where to find it.  (Because I'm slow on pop culture stuffs.)

Things I liked:
It felt like the producers/directors were trying more to catch the sense of shockingness, wildness, and "on the make-ness" of early modern London (especially from the point of view of a newcomer from a smaller community, Shakespeare), rather than being "accurate" in terms of music, costuming, and so forth.  It was like watching a really good modern production of Shakespeare that's trying to do the same sort of thing.  (It's sort of like making some things feel familiar rather than emphasizing the estrangement of the past.)
Cast diversity.  (First, England in the early modern period was more diverse than popularly thought, and second, give those actors a job!)
Music.  (I laughed at "London Calling"; I liked that it wasn't all Purcell and lutes.)
Staging the Theatre.  (That dance scene early on with Will Kemp: chaos.  Fun.  You definitely get a sense that the audience had a lot of power and was active in the theatre.  I found putting women in the background/offstage at the Theatre interesting, but I'm not sure I buy it.)
Edward III.  (They gave it to Shakespeare, which was interesting.)

Things I didn't like:
Torture.  (I just can't watch torture.  Or won't.  Showing torture in explicit ways seems really popular on TV in the past couple of years, and probably contributes to me watching less TV.)
Shakespeare's Catholic.  (Maybe.  No one really knows.  It gives them lots of tension.  I usually don't get that much sense when I read early modern lit and such that most people were really focused on anti-Catholicism in the 1590s because Mary Stuart was dead and the Armada defeated.)  (I bet they read Stephen Greenblatt, eh?)
Chronology?  (Shakespeare's first plays get performed in the early 1590s, but they've killed off James Burbage via torture, though he didn't die until 1597.  I don't know how he died, but it seems like they missed opportunities to do more with Burbage.)

If this becomes a "thing," then we can expect our students to declare with confidence that Shakespeare was Catholic and so forth.  Worse things have happened.  (At least it doesn't show Oxford or Bacon writing the plays, right?)

I'm probably not going to watch more because I really dislike torture.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Rules of Three

You've heard about these, no?  The idea is you prioritize three things, and that's it.  You make a big list:

3 big goals
3 things for the year
3 things for the month
3 things for the week
3 things for the day

Or whatever.

I have my doubts.  Maybe I'm totally wrong.  No doubt I will never be a great Shakespearean, biker, birder, or violinist.  (See, four things!  And not even the most important.)

Or the people who do this successfully have someone else in there life who handles all the other things?

Let's imagine, here's my lists.

Big goals: being a kind and responsible person, professional success, adventure

3 things for the year: teaching at the Abbey, publish an article, [not public]

3 things for the month: study Victorian lit, prep courses for the Abbey, [not public]

3 things for the week: read Mill on the Floss, study Victorian lit, [not public]

3 things for the day: read Mill on the Floss (pages), power-wash deck (part), practice

But here's the problems.  First, the being kind and responsible seems huge, and important, but not something that you say for a month, well, this is the thing I'll do to be kind and responsible.  Instead, being kind and responsible probably means I need to say "yes" when a friend needs help (moving, for example).

There's a shadow list, too.  Here's the real list, with the shadow list in bold:

3 things for the year: teaching at the Abbey, publish an article, [not public], violin (vibrato, Book 4), time with friends, adventure (birding, etc), prep/teach new senior seminar in spring

3 things for the month: study Victorian lit, prep courses for the Abbey, [not public], pass Book 3 test on violin, [not public], garden, bike, kayak (ie. be outside!), eat meals, do laundry, spend time with friends, help friend move, work on paper

3 things for the week: read Mill on the Floss, study Victorian lit, [not public], practice Book 3 stuff a lot (solidify memorization of 3 pieces), [not public], power-wash deck and north side of house, take down wild grape vines off trees in the back of the yard 

3 things for the day: read Mill on the Floss (pages), power-wash deck (part), practice, eat, do laundry, garden stuff, grocery shopping.

I'm probably forgetting some things.  But you see the difficulty.  One of the [not public] things is something that's important to a friend.  It's important to me because of my friend.  It will take some serious time.  But it doesn't achieve the sorts of things most people who use these three priorities put on their lists, I don't think.  (And it does contribute to the overall being kind and responsible.)

Laundry, for example.  It doesn't take lots of time, but it's necessary to keep from being dirty and really stinky, so for basic social function.  Someone has to do it, no?  And that someone is me.

Grocery shopping takes more time, but again, unless I'm going to call for take out pizza every day (not much else is delivered around here, I don't think), I need to go shopping.

I've spent a ton of time this month practicing the violin, trying to pass my Book 3 test before Strings leaves town for a month, since I'll be gone before she returns.  When I go, I'll be away from the violin for at least 10 days, maybe more.  I'm worried that if I don't pass the Book 3 test (which involves playing three pieces from memory to my teacher's approval given my level), then the time away will mean I have to rememorize the pieces again.  (I should have access to a violin at the Abbey or help finding a student violin to rent.  And then Strings has offered to teach me via skype if we can work out the timing.)

I think I've accepted that I'm too scattered to be really successful in some peoples' terms of success.  I'll never be a famous/great Shakespearean, never be a pro-biker, never be a really good birder.

Do people really use the rule of threes in a happy and serious way?