Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bits and pieces

My life's been rather hectic lately, but fortunately my language activities are in far better shape than my blogging frequency would suggest. I've finally committed to improving my Mandarin and learning to read and write it, and have hired a wonderful tutor who's pushing me through the very excellent Integrated Chinese text. I was surprised to discover how much aesthetics matter while writing characters (especially traditional characters, which I insist on learning); it's like drawing, and definitely teases the right half of my brain.

My Spanish is getting a good amount of practice with all the work I've been doing lately in immigrant justice, and my church recently hired its first Latina minister to begin in the fall. I'd been steadily losing my conversation skills since moving out of California, but I feel them returning rapidly.

Here are a few interesting language tidbits I've found recently:
  • I went to a fabulous restaurant called Pangea last weekend in New York City. Pangea (or Pangaea) is the name of the supercontinent that existed before it split into the seven continents we know today. I'd never thought much about the name, but while staring at it I suddenly realized it's from Greek παν-, meaning "all", and γαια, meaning earth. Makes sense!
  • A translation/interpretation professor I had many years ago once said in class that in Spanish there's a verb meaning "make the sign of the cross", but I never knew what it was. Finally, I had the chance to ask my future Latina minister, and she told me it was "persignarse". I think that's one of the few cases in which the Spanish uses fewer syllables than the English.
  • I learned the four tones of Mandarin Chinese as a child from my parents, but never made the distinctions well and was always confusing the second and third tones. Studying the language more formally in adulthood, I saw a rendition in music notation, and I've found them much easier to keep straight ever since.

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