Just another tourist in Istanbul

Just another tourist in Istanbul

“Do you have a book in English to learn Turkish?” At the large book fair next to one of the universities in Istanbul, I figured I’d find something I’d enjoy. “In English?”

He handed me a phrase book.

“No. To learn Turkish. Grammar.”

He handed me a Turkish grammar book—in Turkish.

“In English?”

He handed me a learning grammar. This was it.

“How much is it?”

“How much?”

He started leafing through a catalog.

“You have to order it?”

“…sorry. No English me,” and he looked to the ground. He pointed at the price on the page. I paid, said, “Teşekkür ederim” (“thank you”), and left.

I have an easy time connecting with others thanks to my language “superpower.” But what do I do when circumstances eliminate that ability?

Here was a young man, selling language books next to a university. How could we not have something in common? But I would never know. At the end of my recent trip to Greece, I spent a day-and-a-half in Istanbul. Without being able to speak any Turkish, I had a disappointingly difficult time connecting with people there.
Unable to connect?

Loving Language:

I have tried to articulate the problem of monolingualism, even offering a “cure” for monolingualism. Regardless of the satire of this piece, this rings 100% true, “This linguistic isolation has a detrimental effect on the cognitive development of monolingual White children.”

Why would the linguistic mainstream deprive their children of what is proven to offer a cognitive advantage, teaching them another language?

Originally posted on The Educational Linguist:

I have written a previous post debunking the so-called language-gap.  In this post I flip the script and imagine a world where interventions have been developed for monolingual White children using the same language gap discourse.

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It is a well-documented fact that by the age of 5 monolingual White children will have heard 30 million fewer words in languages other than English than bilingual children of color. In addition, they will have had a complete lack of exposure to the richness of non-standardized varieties of English that characterize the homes of many children of color. This language gap increases the longer these children are in school. The question is what causes this language gap and what can be done to address it?

The major cause of this language gap is the failure of monolingual White communities to successfully assimilate into the multilingual and multidialectal mainstream. The continued existence of White…

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How do I connect when I'm bad at Greek?

How do I connect when I’m bad at Greek?

“Me want now go yon church?”

“What name belongeth yon market?”

This is how I imagine what my Modern Greek sounds like: a combination of Shakespeare and Tarzan. You see, I’m bad at Greek. (It’s not all Greek to me, but a good portion of it is.) I can read some Biblical Greek (a simpler version of Ancient Greek a la Homer), but I know only a little Modern Greek—and it’s words with very little grammar. A foreigner from the 10th century.

Last weekend I got back from a trip to Greece. Read how it went

How do you learn about their story?

How do you learn about their story?

The salesperson just spoke to those people in English, I realized.

“Do you speak English?” I asked the dark-haired young man across the aisle from me. His face showed sun, wrinkles, and fatigue, making it hard to guess his age—somewhere between 25 and 45.

“No,” he shook his head and smiled as he pointed to the young woman sitting next to him. I had noticed her enormous, beautiful brown eyes, which, though tired, never closed during this long train ride.

“What language do you speak with them?” I continued, indicating the older man and younger women he was traveling with.

“Kurdish,” he answered.

I had him: “Bitdhaki al-arabi?” “Do you speak Arabic?”

His face lit up, “Yes, I speak Arabic.”

“Where are you from?”

“Syria.”

“Are you fleeing the war?”

“Yes.”

How do we learn others’ stories?

What beauties will you find once you enter the language ecosystem?

What beauties will you find once you enter the language ecosystem?

I have a friend who loves mushroom gathering. He takes his kids to the woods and everyone looks for mushrooms, and when they find them, they put them in the basket. After and hour or two, they go back to the car, and in the grass they dump out all the mushrooms and sort them into different varieties. With a field guide, he looks up each variety, sorting the piles into edible, inedible, and unknown. Gathering up the first pile, he puts them back in the basket and takes his family home to enjoy the harvest.

So how does he make sure not to poison his family?

He’s no expert, but he has a field guide and mushroom-hunting friends. He uses his guide to pick out the useful mushrooms and errs on the side of caution. He may bring some of the questionable ones to ask his friends about. Even when collecting goes badly and nothing is edible, he and his family learn about the life of the forest ecosystem: what mushrooms grow where, how living things decompose, and how the forest changes in subtle ways from month to month. After a few years, he picks out some edible ones with confidence.

The language ecosystem

How can we come together over the language barrier?

How can we come together over the language barrier?

While I continued to talk, I was losing my train of thought. What had I said? What was coming next?

When was this going to be over?

As my face got hot and my chest tightened, I looked out at blank faces of my 17-year-old classmates.

“Est-ce que vous me comprenez?” “Do you understand me?”

Surprised by a direct question, one or two audience-members brightened. “Oui!” I heard.

How soon could I be done with this book report?

* * *

Every student gets nervous presenting in front of the class; mine was in a foreign language. I was delivering my part of a French book-report—French book, French report—on Voltaire’s “Candide.” Stumbling around, I felt like a kid learning to ride a bike: a few good pedals, then a wobble, pedal, wobble—ready to tumble at any time. I had to plumb the depth of Voltaire’s French language, and express it in French in a compelling way.

Finally, my speech was over. I knew my teacher would be merciful, but how about my classmates? At the end, one girl consoled me, “Yours was kind of more interesting, since you spoke without just reading your report.” I wasn’t equipped to even grasp that comment: was that a big deal or a consolation? Was she being nice, or expressing honest relief?

Over 20 years later I still ask myself, “Did I make any sense at all?”

Confronting the language barrier

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