Tag Archives: English

J’ai backé mon car dans la driveway

acadieman.com_-_bd_skirt
Chiac is an Acadian French dialect spoken in New Brunswick, Canada. It is grammatically French, but it liberally sprinkles its sentences with English words. Emma Jacobs recently became kind of obsessed with Chiac. She kept returning to New Brunswick to hear more of the dialect. And that’s what we hear: musicians, artists, writers and regular folk who speak Chiac every day. And, of course, the superhero depicted above.

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:30 A spin of the radio dial in Moncton, New Brunswick.

1:00 Canada is chock-full of language policies, at provincial, territory and city level.

2:35 Chiac is not Franglais.

In France, stop signs read "Stop."  In Quebec, they read "Arrêt.” In New Brunswick, both words appear on stop signs.  (Photo: Emma Jacobs)

In France, stop signs read “Stop.” In Quebec, they read “Arrêt.” In New Brunswick, both words appear on stop signs. (Photo: Emma Jacobs)

3:25 “Je prends un large double Americano our sortir.”

5:20 Should a public-service movie about teenage bullying in Moncton include dialogue in Chiac?

6:50 Is Chiac “bad French”?

7:50 The “Stop” sign in New Brunswick.

9:00 Some Acadian history: why Moncton sits on a linguistic border.

10:30 Language rights protests of the 1960s

13:30 Musician Gabriel Malenfant struggled at school to learn academic French.

15:31 Dano LeBlanc and a friend dream up “Acadieman.”

17:00 Singer Caroline Savoie wonders why she was subtitled by French TV.

Caroline Savoie performing in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick. (Photo: Caroline Savoie)

Caroline Savoie performing in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick. (Photo: Caroline Savoie)

19:25 How much Chiac is too much Chiac?

19:35 Novelist France Daigle uses formal French in her narration but her character often speak in Chiac.

23:13 Politician Bernard Richard: “We have a saying: ‘We learn French but we catch English.'”

27:25 “Ah papa, j’ai entendue il y a un nouveau jeu qui saute. Puis, il y a pretty awesome.”

MUSIC HEARD IN THE PODCAST

00:00 Podington Bear: Dramamine

13:48 Radio Radio: Guess What?

15:03 1755: C.B. Buddie

17:52 Lisa LeBlanc: J’pas un Cowboy

18:48 Lisa Leblanc: Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde

25:16 Radio Radio: Cliché Hot

29:36 Lisa LeBlanc: Kraft Dinner

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The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook . There’s a longer version of this post here. And this is me on Twitter.

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The death of Spanish death in one American family

Bradley Campbell goes home to Dallas, Oregon, to find out why his Honduran-born father decided to “kill” Spanish a couple of years before Bradley was born.

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:25 “Does your dad speak another language?”

01:30 US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro’s relationship with the Spanish language.

2:00 Bradley Campbell’s dad “killed” Spanish

3:25 “Rrrrrr”

4:50 The first time Bradley’s dad was called a beaner.

5:30 1923, the year Hortensia Maria was born.

7:20 Dad and Uncle George always spoke English to each other.

8:30 A restaurant stop in Colorado.

10:20 Some background on Bradley’s hometown, Dallas, Oregon.

12:05 Dad doesn’t feel like he’s fluent in Spanish.

13:40 Spanglish rears its head.

14:15 In the US military Dad meets a guy from Mexico.

15:25 Bradley still holds a grudge.

17:00 Spanish springs back to life.

18:02 A phone call to Abuelita.

19:52 Bradley tells Nina and Patrick about his visiting his Dad’s home in Chile.

22:23 The person delivering this week’s credit for the National Endowment for the Humanities is a pretty well-known guy. Recognize the voice? Let us know at Facebook or Twitter.

MUSIC HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

“Dramamine” by Podington Bear

“The Dead of Winter” by Will Bangs

“I’m So Glad That You Exist” by Will Bangs

“Alguien” by Cucu Diamantes

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Stand-up comedian Gad Elmaleh leaves fame, fortune and…French behind

Nina P. put together this episode.

In comedy, timing is everything.

And the timing was perfect for Moroccan-French comedian Gad Elmaleh to come by the studio recently to star in our wordy, nerdy podcast, The World in Words.

Oh my Gad! How do you say that in French? | The World on YouTube

Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh (Photo: Caroline Lessire)

Moroccan-French Comedian Gad Elmaleh (Photo: Caroline Lessire)


In France, he’s huge, performing in arenas for thousands of fans. Elmaleh describes his style as a combination of physical and observational comedy. He’s often been compared to Jerry Seinfeld. In fact, he played the voice of Seinfeld’s character in “Bee Movie”

But Gad Elmaleh recently left fame, fortune, and French behind to pursue a stand-up career in the US in English for literally a fistful of dollars.

His new show, “Oh My Gad” opens in New York City this January.

It’s the culmination of a dream that he spoke about last year with Seinfeld in the web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

“My dream is to be able one day to go on stage in English in a comedy club here and to do my thing in English.”

Elmaleh was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up speaking a mixture of French, Arabic and Hebrew. He’s done stand-up sets in all three languages. However taking his act on the road to the US and doing a set in English has been hard work, says Elmaleh. He studies the English language and pronunciation for two hours every morning. He has been documenting this English language journey and recently put out the short film: “10 Minutes in America.” In the film, he gets advice from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman.

Sarah Silverman warned him that mere translation wouldn’t work. “You have to start over,” she tells him in the film. “It’s not just translating — you have to craft a joke. You are going to need some years.”

It took getting on stage and bombing for Elmaleh to heed Silverman’s advice.

“In the beginning when I got here in the US I said, ‘You know what? I have a great show. It’s 90 minutes in French that killed every night. I’m going to translate that.”

And that’s what he did. He worked with his English teachers to translate his jokes.

“I immediately realized that that was not at all what I needed to do,” says Elmaleh.

All the jokes that had killed with a French audience didn’t make sense to Americans.

“For example, I had many jokes about when you go to the restaurant the air conditioning is freezing and the first thing they do is bring you a glass with ice water. So French people were laughing a lot and then I did this at a comedy club in English and Americans were like, ‘Yeah, well we do that.’”

His material has since morphed into observations about his move to New York City and observations about American culture and the trials of learning English.

And doing this new material in English has been unexpectedly liberating, he says. He is more free and daring in English than in French.

“It’s stressful, it’s hard but it’s also liberating,” explains Elmaleh. “With English it’s not that I have nothing to lose but I take a little risk — I like it.”

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:00 Gad Elmaleh explains his English dream to Jerry Seinfeld

1:22 Gad receives advice from Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman

3:09 Gad figures out that translating comedy from French to English isn’t as easy as merely translating jokes

4:03 English lessons

5:00 Gad, born in Casablanca, Morocco speaks four languages

6:00 English is exhausting

6:29 The first joke that Gad ever told in English

7:51 Feeling like a different comedian in English versus French

8:56 Gad is “blown out of the water”

9:11 The cliché about Texas is not true (For more about Texas clichés check out the World in Words episode: “Talking Texas in Iran”)

9:31 Nina critiques Gad’s NYC cab driver joke

10:26 PC, PDA…what does it all mean?!

12:50 Gad isn’t as balanced and together as you may think

14:00 Gad jokes about restaurants in America: Are you still working on that?

15:00 Gad’s thoughts on being alone and starting all over again

19:00 Answer to last week’s NEH accent quiz

MUSIC

“Bad Scene” by Podington Bear

“Little French Song” by Carla Bruni

Please write a review of The World in Words on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Overcast or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks!

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Learning English on the fly

Podcast contents

00:00 English-proficient kids help their English-challenged parents

01:14 Monica Campbell visit an ESL class

02:23 “Their kids are learning to be Americans, but they don’t have the opportunity to be Americans in the same way.”

03:23 Some schools are holding separate PTA meetings in Spanish, says Patricia Baquedano-López of UC Berkeley.

03:58 Vietnamese immigrant and ESL student Quang Dang tries to keep up with his 4-year-old daughter.

06:27 Another student from Mexico is learning English so she can ensure her special-needs daughters gets help at school.

Photo: Christopher Connell/Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo: Christopher Connell/Flickr/Creative Commons


08:58 Monica’s father and the “Champagne of teaching.”

11:37 Is there less of a demand for ESL classes? Don’t some immigrants get along just fine not speaking English?

13:04 Joy Diaz learns about Arabic and influence on Spanish from her daughter’s preschool teacher.

14:07 Singers Juan Luis Guerra and Celia Cruz (unconsciously) pepper their Spanish with Arabic.

14:45 It is, of course, all about the history of Spain.

17:15 This wonderful song is “Bilingual Girl” by Yerba Buena.

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Wordnik, the dictionary that welcomes your invented words

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China’s English-language megacontest

This post is from Nina Porzucki. Read it if you like but for the full effect, listen to the podcast above.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee plays out this week and while you may be excitedly watching the best spellers in the US battle it out in Maryland, halfway around the world in China, Beijing’s kids are competing for a different kind of title: China’s Best English Speaker.

The Star of Outlook English Competition, sponsored by CCTV, the Chinese State television network, is the largest English competition in the country and, ostensibly, the world.

A sea of parents eagerly await to see when their child will perform. Cameras galore. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

A sea of parents eagerly await to see when their child will perform. Cameras galore. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Hundreds of first through third graders, middle school and high school students gathered at a compound an hour outside of Beijing in the hopes of winning a place to compete at the National Championship this summer. They’re up against a mere 5 million of their peers from around China.

Getting to the national finals, which is televised in front of a huge audience, is an almost Herculean feat involving round after round of exhausting, multi-day tests. But winning means fame, entrance to a good college, a bright future. That’s how former national finalist Michelle Cui explained it to me.

“Such exposure on TV if you make it to the national final and all the things that comes with it will look so good on your track record and CCTV is the deal. … It’s really the maximum exposure an individual can get,” Cui said.

Today, Cui works in advertising and lives in Seattle. All of her fellow competitors have gone on to do interesting things: Host TV shows, write books, one even became the CCTV White House correspondent.

Jack, 7, and his mom at registration.  They lived for a few years in Washington, DC.  Jack remembers that he liked "Capitol Hill" the best.  That, and picnics.  Jack's will perform his favorite song for the talent competition, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Jack, 7, and his mom at registration. They lived for a few years in Washington, DC. Jack remembers that he liked “Capitol Hill” the best. That, and picnics. Jack’s will perform his favorite song for the talent competition, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Photo: Sunny Yang)

The kids I met this weekend want to win. Perhaps their parents want it even more.

“I’m not nervous,” 7-year-old “Jack” Zhou Zihan tells me. “I’m looking forward to win the first prize.”

Jack is fairly typical of the Beijing kids I met. They’ve lived abroad, traveled extensively; they’re part of a rising, affluent middle class. Jack lived in Washington, DC, as a toddler. His mother worked at the Chinese Embassy.

He studied English at a very young age, his mother told me. The golden age is two or three, she says, the same age that native speakers learn.

“I want him to be an ambassador between the two countries and around the world,” she says.

Some of the costumes and props were incredible. This little girl is dressed up as Beijing opera performer. The theme of the speech portion of the competition was "I Express China to the World."  Beijing opera was a pretty popular topic as you might imagine. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Some of the costumes and props were incredible. This little girl is dressed up as Beijing opera performer. The theme of the speech portion of the competition was “I Express China to the World.” Beijing opera was a pretty popular topic as you might imagine. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

There are many, many parents with high expectations and blind, or perhaps deaf, love. After witnessing the talent portion of the competition, it’s clear the kids can speak much better than sing English.

But their talents weren’t limited to songs. Contestants had just one minute to show off any way they chose. There were magic tricks, flute performances, one salsa dancer, a couple of Rubix Cube experts, a hockey skater. By dinnertime Saturday night, one of the judges, Hester Veldman, looked bleary eyed.

“I watched 450 talents today. I heard the Frozen song about 300 times,” she says.

Kids and parents crowd around to see the list of finalists. Out of more than 400 kids that competed in the Beijing semifinals, only 80 move on the final round and only 9 from each division will move forward to the National semifinals. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Kids and parents crowd around to see the list of finalists. Out of more than 400 kids that competed in the Beijing semifinals, only 80 move on the final round and only 9 from each division will move forward to the National semifinals. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Veldman’s originally from the Netherlands, but she’s been teaching English in Beijing for the past year. This is her first time judging this kind of competition.

“The parents are really serious about it. I saw a dad who was actually commanding his son to move this way and stand that way and don’t do this and speak louder. They’re used to that pressure. They’re used to it from being in kindergarten all the way to now. So, to them, it might feel like summer cam,p but with our western eyes we think ‘Wow that’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid.’”

"Harry" Xing Wang dressed up to take the stage as Obama circa 2008.  (Photo: Sunny Yang)

“Harry” Xing Wang dressed up to take the stage as Obama circa 2008. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

And then there are kids like Xing Wang, who calls himself Harry.

Harry’s tiny, with glasses. He looks about 11, but he’s 13. Whatever he lacks in size he makes up double in confidence. Harry’s never lived abroad. His parents don’t speak English. They moved from Inner Mongolia to Beijing five years ago. Harry started learning English in the third grade, which is relatively late. Beijingers start in the first grade. But while Harry’s English isn’t the best, he is teeming with ideas. He tugs at my sleeve in anticipation of telling me his talent, which he eventually does.

“Today I’m going to study a part of Obama’s speech. His speech he said in Chicago. Maybe it’s the first time he became president,” he tells me.

Sure enough, Harry takes to the CCTV stage in a red tie and dress slacks and delivers Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech. He came up with this talent idea himself, he tells me. He’s a big Obama fan and he figures, many of the judges would probably be Americans, so this speech would surely make them feel patriotic and surely get him a high score. Clever kid.

Harry performs Obama’s speech to great applause. One judge calls out, “you should run for president.” Harry bows thank you and runs off stage. He is beaming. I whisper a question.

“How do you feel?”

“Very good,” he says.

Harry gives Obama's acceptance speech, hand gestures and all. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Harry gives Obama’s acceptance speech, hand gestures and all. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Outside we speak a little about his feelings for his own president, Xi Jinping — or Chairman Xi as Harry calls him.

“You know Chairman Xi, he is trying to do something called Chinese dream,” he tells me.

President Xi’s Chinese dream, he says, is to help China rise again, to become an important and powerful nation.

“So what’s your Chinese dream?” I ask him.

“I’m going to do my best to help my country grow up.”

Harry may think his country may be in need of growing up, but he himself appears to be doing just fine. He finds out he’s survived the Beijing semifinal and final round. He’ll be headed to the National Semifinals in June — just one round away from the big televised event.

Harry passed out after a grueling weekend. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

Harry passed out after a grueling weekend. (Photo: Sunny Yang)

When I went to wish Harry good luck, I found him passed out, asleep in the back of the auditorium. He doesn’t need my luck anyway. He already told me he’s confident he’ll make it all the way to the TV. I wonder if he’ll give an encore performance of Obama’s speech on CCTV.

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Spanglish is older than you think

Hugo Reid at Rancho Santa Anita, as imagined in a 1885 sketch  (Wikimedia Commons)

Hugo Reid at Rancho Santa Anita, as imagined in a 1885 sketch (Wikimedia Commons)

Read this post from Nina Porzucki. Or listen to the podcast above.

To truly explore the early roots of Spanglish, we have to go back to the dawn of the Dons.

Picture California in the early-19th century, when Los Angeles was known simply as the little “pueblo” and “Alta California” as the region was then called, was still a part of Mexico.

And living in the a rancho just north of the pueblo was a young Scottish adventurer named Hugh Reid. In the 1830s he left the old world for the new — Mexico. And in his adopted home he was rechristened with an additional Spanish name, Perfecto Hugo Reid. Reid would eventually settle down on a ranch in southern California near the San Gabriel mission in what’s now Arcadia, a suburb of Los Angeles, where he married a local woman, Doña Victoria.

Robert Train has been obsessed with Hugo Reid’s backstory for the last few years. Train is a professor of Spanish at Sonoma State University. We met recently at the Huntington Library archives in Pasadena, to read Reid’s extremely yellowed letters.

Reid wrote to a man named Abel Stearns, another gringo — yes, that was a term, Train says, that was used around that time — living in Alta California. Stearns had emigrated from Massachusetts and, like Reid, he had also become a Mexican citizen. Reid’s letters to Stearns detail daily life in early California.

In one letter, Reid tells Stearns about his recent trip around other parts of Mexico. It’s a fairly ordinary letter at first, except woven into the mostly English letter are phrases in Spanish. Often sentences will start in one language and shift to fluidly to the other language. Neither Spanish nor English, this is pure Spanglish.

Letter from Hugh Reid to Abel Stearns (Nina Porzucki)

Letter from Hugh Reid to Abel Stearns (Nina Porzucki)

Hugo Reid wrote letter after letter to Abel Stearns in Spanglish. That’s not to say he couldn’t write in strictly Spanish or strictly English. He could. And he did — Train has plenty of examples of those — but often the Scotsman chose to use both at once doing what Train calls code-switching.

“It’s not about not knowing one language or the other. That’s a sort of myth that some people seem to think — that code-switching is all about not knowing one language, not being able to find the word. But that’s not typically the case. He knew how to say “take a little rest,” says Train.

Reid could’ve easily communicated to his English-speaking-mate in English. But instead he chose Spanglish.

Both Reid and Stearns married native Spanish speakers. Historians don’t know for sure but assume they spoke Spanish inside their homes. And Reid’s correspondence reflects a sort of back and forth between worlds. The Spanish words often key into domestic affairs, like requests from Reid to buy cloth from Abel Stearns store. Stearns was a merchant. He is credited with helping to start the port in San Pedro.

In another letter, Hugo Reid writes, “… the old woman requires for the house a piece of percale and best in manta blanca. Si no hay percala send her pura manta blanca. I remain yours truly, Perfecto Hugo Reid.”

“Percala” is a type of cloth called percale in English and “manta blanca” is coarse cotton, but the most curious part of the exchange is not Hugo Reid ordering fabric for his wife in Spanish but what he calls his wife in English: “the old woman.” It’s a direct translation, says Train, of how men in Alta California might’ve referred to their wives in Spanish.

“La Vieja, which I guess is the standard use of this time for ‘the old lady,’” Train says.

So what’s the big deal? A few native English speakers spoke Spanglish to each other way back when. What’s this have to do with anything today? Simple, says Train. Hugo Reid’s letters are reminders that California was, is and has always been a multilingual place.

In fact, when California became a state in 1850, the new constitution was written in both English and Spanish. For many years, California laws were written in both languages. But somewhere along the way, English usurped Spanish. And Spanish became, well, a foreign language.

When I learned Spanish in southern California public schools, I learned it as my foreign language prerequisite.

Reading the signs as you drive down Third Street in East LA, Spanish is far from a foreign language. But the real lingua franca is Spanglish. The sign for the East LA institution, King Taco is a great example. “King Taco. The Best Food in Town. Burritos y Tacos Al Pastor. Y Carne Asada. Park here.”

King Taco is an East LA institution. (Nina Porzucki)

King Taco is an East LA institution. (Nina Porzucki)

Robert Train and I did park and eat and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the women sitting at the table next to us. Two young mothers, Desiree Gardenas and Brenda Padilla, and their toddlers are speaking Spanish and English and, yes, Spanglish.

Do you ever mix the languages together, I asked them. Yes, of course they said. It’s normal.

Post lunch, around the corner from King Taco, Train and I made one final stop at the Calvary Cemetery.

It’s a beautiful, old cemetery on a hill. Thousands of stone monuments commemorate the early residents of the pueblo of Los Angeles. And the modern city, with her tall skyscrapers and her smoggy skies, can be seen in the distance. This is where Hugo Reid and Abel Stearns — these early Spanglish speakers — are buried mere miles from where Spanglish continues to thrive.

“I read this part of a whole immigrant story, part of an unexpected one really,” Train says.

Hugo Reid died at the age of 42, just two years after Mexican Alta California became the 31st United State. Incidentally, in his final days he became obsessed with saving another language, the language of the Gabrieleño Indians, the ancestral language of his wife Doña Victoria. Sadly, that language has not survived.

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