46, 47, 54 | Creative Prompts for Language Arts

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of The 64 Arts.

Knowledge is the acquisition of facts and wisdom is knowing what to do with them.

Or something like that…

Point being, it’s great to educate ourselves about something but until we put it into practice, we’re missing the best part! So here are some prompts for a bit of creative play about our foreign language, slang, and jargon topics:


Explaining how our cups, pints, tablespoons, and teaspoons all interact to a room much more familiar with metric!

1. If you’re anything like me, you find helping other people incredibly rewarding. Volunteer at your local library or literacy center. They might be in need of storytime readers for the kids section or ESOL volunteer tutors like my friend Lyssa does! Even if your schedule is too busy to commit long-term, you can offer to be a guest like I was two weeks ago for a cooking segment. Put your particular skills to work in a fun way!

Melissa & Jennifer

Lyssa and I

2. Learn a new language. Again, I’m a fan of DuoLingo (though I’ve let my Italian lessons slip–gotta get back to that!) but there are plenty of other ways to go about it. To make it more interesting, create a skit in your head and use Google Translate or Babel Fish to translate it back and forth a couple of times to see how garbled it can get. Just for fun, of course.

3. Go on a word search! Not the puzzle in the activity books type, but on a hunt for word origins. One of my favorite things from Latin class back in high school was learning derivatives. Sometimes they’re obvious, but look up some innocuous words in the dictionary and see where they come from, tracking a few levels back when necessary, and it gives you a whole new perspective on what that word really means. You can do the same with phrases, too! There are books like Common Phrases and Where They Come From that will make it easy on you without resorting to too many dusty tomes. (Looks like that particular book might be out of print, but that’s what used book stores are for, right?)

4. Brave a new frontier. This next one’s not for the faint of heart (or the innocent, for that matter!) but if you’re feeling brave, go hang out on Urban Dictionary for a few hours and see what’s going on with slang today. It’s both interesting and frightening to see how words take on new meanings in common usage.


5. Watch Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russel. Fabulous movie in general, but I specifically remember at the beginning when Patrick comes to live with Mame and he starts asking “what does ____ mean?” Mame hands him a pad of paper and a pencil and tells him to write down all the things he’s unfamiliar with so they can go over them later. Have you ever made a list like that? One of my favorite things about reading books on a Kindle (aside from the lack of strain on my thumbs) is the ability to highlight a word and instantly look it up thanks to the preloaded dictionary on the device.

46 | No Passport Required

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts; specifically Art #46: Foreign Language.

Hands down, one of the best ways to learn a foreign language is through an immersion program. In this sort of sink or swim environment you have no choice but to develop your ear and at least a rudimentary grasp of the vocabulary and grammar or starve in the process! Of course, for those of us lacking the funds for an extended stay abroad, creating our own immersion program can be a bit more involved, but not impossible by any means.

Start with some basic language education–either your rusty High School French or a program like Duolingo–just so you’re not starting from square one. Then, start incorporating media in that language into your entertainment routine:

  • Forgein movies without subtitles (or at least not English subtitles*). Television shows that you’re already familiar with are also a good option–the point is to start equating dialogue with vocabulary.
  • Read books in your chosen learning language. I had a copy of Goethe’s Faust back in middle school that had the German on one page and the English translation on the facing page–I didn’t learn German but I did pick up a few tidbits. Foreign-language magazines can be found in larger bookstores as well as online and might also give you some practical practice
  • Set your default language on your computer or browser to your immersion language: obviously this wouldn’t be a good idea for your work computer, but at-home browsing could give you some interesting opportunities.
  • Ask a fluent friend to speak only in their native tongue with you. Another blog I follow–The Swiss Life–is written by an American ex-pat in Switzerland and she and her husband only speak German at home during the week (if I’m remembering correctly) to improve her comfort level with the language.

I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting–perhaps radio? There are certainly podcasts available in many languages and many Internet radio stations from different countries or even enclaves throughout the US that cater to non-English speakers. I suppose even songs and their liner notes/lyrics could help, too! Basically, the more input the better, whatever you’re most comfortable with and can arrange ready access to.

*Making the assumption, of course, that my readers are primarily English speakers, based upon the browsing data.

46 | To Be a Cunning Linguist

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts. 

Oh, come on, it had to be said!

Learning a language is not just about training your tongue, or the translator in your brain, it’s also about training your ears to pick up on different sound combinations. That’s probably why a lot of language programs focus on the spoken bits than the written, at least at first.

Deciding that now is as good a time as any to learn a (spoken) language, and not necessarily wanting to invest in a Berlitz or Rosetta Stone-level product, went poking around the ‘Net to see what sort of free programs were available. First came up Fluent In 3 Months (which I’d heard of before) but it seems to be more of a strategy than an actual language course, and I was looking for something a bit more direct. (And the fact that Benny of fi3m looks alarmingly like my first husband didn’t help at all!)

Next on the list was Duolingo–a 100% free language learning site, offering a dozen languages, and incorporates gamification in the form of XP, in-site currency, and leveling up. I do believe that’s right up my alley!

So far I’ve only covered the first two basics sessions and the beginning phrases. I’m still stumbling over verb conjugations (the bane of my existence, I swear!), but I could probably get my point across at a newsstand or apple cart with the 36 words they say I’ve learned. I’m not exactly warming up my passport, yet, but I have hope.

I chose to learn Italian on this go-round. Todd thought it was because it was closest to Latin–think again. While, yes, all of the Romance languages have their common roots in Latin, it’s not nearly enough to make it a skate-job, even if I remembered more than I do! We’ve got a fairly sizable Hispanic population in Florida–the farther south you go you almost have to be bilingual (so I’ve been told) to get a decent job with Cuba and Puerto Rico so nearby, so Spanish is probably the most common language option in local high schools. I used to want to learn French when I was a kid and tried to teach myself from this old record set of Mom’s with these pretty blue and white-striped books, but I couldn’t stick with it.

No, it has more to do with where I eventually hope to travel. England and Ireland are tying for the top of my list, but some form of English is spoken commonly there–I could get by. Italy is next and I have a feeling I’d need to know the language more there. Plus, Italian always sounds so melodic and beautiful compared to, say, French which seems to require a permanent sneer, or German which is just so guttural! Of course, if I opted to learn Danish I could practice with a local friend, but I think my next language after Italian will be Japanese. Not only would I like to be able to watch the little anime I do watch without relying quite so heavily on subtitles, I’ve heard they have much simpler verb conjugations and you aren’t going to accidentally call someone something very not nice if you don’t use the right inflection. (I was in an ESOL-heavy home room part of middle school and we undertook trading languages. My partner was Vietnamese and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that there were routinely 8 different meaning to a 2-letter word depending on your tone!)

Audience participation time: How many languages do you speak and is there one you’d like to learn?

And if you decide to sign up on Duolingo, look me up!

Change Pinches, But It Can Help, Too

Everyday Adventures

So last week I said I was looking to make some changes in my blog-life and in that quirky way the universe has of tossing things together, life threw me another change.

Lessons are sometimes very easy to spot, no?

Driving home from work one day last week there was one of those big light-up road signs declaring one of the roads I take to and from work will be closing for 7 months. Seven months.

And I am, admittedly, a serious creature of habit.

But at least I had two weeks to figure out my plan of action, right? That certainly counts for something.

The funny thing is, I’d changed my route earlier this year, and it’s not one I want to go back to.

See, I used to go a very logical way to work that took my through a very large intersection. That intersection is monitored by a red-light camera and has a huge lead-in between it and the intersection before it. On a good day I’d catch the light before it or clearly come up to it while it was still red, but more mornings than not I’d be in this cosmic game of chicken with the light going 40 mph (the speed limit) trying to gauge how long the left turn signal had been red or what the crosswalk countdown is currently on, all while wondering if I slow down on yellow (like you’re supposed to!) how much damage the car behind me is likely to do.

It was just way too much stress to start every. single. day. with and I had to make a change. And that change–while adding a third school zone to drive through–greatly decreased my pre-work stress and didn’t add any time to my commute.

The route home was simple enough to fix: a single lane change just before the detour and I’m able to scoot around the construction obstruction by way of a stair-step of streets. On the way too work I have a few more options, so I’ve been trying them out one by one, trying to decide which is less likely to cause a fit of road rage.

Changing up our schedules wakes us up.

Have you ever ended up at your usual destination and not remembered the trip at all? We become so entrenched in our routines that our brains go numb. By changing things up, even if you don’t necessarily have to, wakes our brains up and makes new connections in our head. Feeling in a rut? Change up something in your day and see if it helps.

It’s not just the acceptance of change that helps us, it’s looking for the perks, as well. For instance, on my new way home I pass several stores that I forgot were there–Chinese grocery, office supply, and even our smaller–yet more accessible and including the only Barnes & Noble we have left–mall. This opens up all sorts of easy errand-running possibilities!

So while I don’t necessarily relish making this change in routine, I’m learning from it. And I think that’s probably the greater lesson.

Have you encountered any change you could learn from, recently?

the 13th Art: Charms, Drugs & Magic Words

64 Arts

As used in anger, they will be explained together with occult practices, but do not include black magic.

Let’s begin this art with a little dispelling of certain notions that might make this topic difficult for some folks, starting with the definition of occult. Some folks get really uncomfortable around that word or the ideas and images it brings up. So let’s think about that for a moment.

(from the Free Dictionary) Occult adj.

1. Of, relating to, or dealing with supernatural influences, agencies, or phenomena.

2. Beyond the realm of human comprehension; inscrutable.

3. Available only to the initiate; secret: occult lore. See Synonyms at mysterious.

4. Hidden from view; concealed.

5.a. Medicine Detectable only by microscopic examination or chemical analysis, as a minute blood sample; b. Not accompanied by readily detectable signs or symptoms: occult carcinoma.

First off, I’m not going to go into supernatural stuff, so no worries there. Five doesn’t even have the slightest thing to do with our purposes here, today. Rolling definitions 2-through-4 all together: why do things have to be so difficult to understand or hidden?

You know the phrase TMI, right? Too Much Information. And, while, yes, there are some things, some details, that I might not want to know about private lives or health weirdnesses, in general? That’s more of an appropriateness issue. I’d even go so far to say that there’s no such thing as too much information from a research and learning position.

I love to research. I get an idea and the first things I’ll do are head to the ‘net and the bookstore.

Growing up I was afraid to ask certain questions, check out certain books from the library, that sort of thing. I hated that feeling the not being able to know. But more than that, looking back, I hated the small minds that thought facts were bad, the ideas were evil and the part of me that cared so much.

If there’s anything that defines my life it would have to be I want to know more and I want to know why. If I have that information I’m a happy girl.

If there’s a point I’m trying to make, here, it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid of information. All I ask–patiently, kindly, hopefully–that you will keep an open mind. That you will think about the things that come up. That you will ask the questions that arise in your mind. That you will not censor curiosity.

Here’s some of what I plan to cover in the pursuit of this art over the next couple of weeks:

  • Crystals
  • Aromatherapy
  • Home Remedies
  • Meditations
  • Affirmations

Feel free to ask any questions you might have, I’ll bet I at least have a book with the answer in it.

See, I don’t worry what other people think about what I read or know anymore.