Tag Archives: Spanish

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

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

Listen above or on iTunes.

The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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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.

Please write a review of The World in Words on ITunes or Stitcher, or wherever you get listen to the podcast. Thanks!

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The World in Words is also at PRI and on Facebook .

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Utah’s language gamble

A second-grader leads her class in a Chinese exercise at Santa Clara Elementary School. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

A second-grader leads her class in a Chinese exercise at Santa Clara Elementary School. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Read this post from Nina Porzucki. Better yet, listen to the podcast above.

Several years ago, Utah decided to start teaching foreign languages in public schools — beginning in the first grade.

Utah probably isn’t the first place you’d think would be at the forefront of language education in the United States. When it comes to per-student spending in public schools, Utah comes in dead last among all 50 states. What’s more, Utah passed an “English Only” law 15 years ago, declaring English to be the state’s sole official language.

A Chinese classroom at Santa Clara Elementary school in Santa Clara, Utah. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

A Chinese classroom at Santa Clara Elementary school in Santa Clara, Utah. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

So what accounts for this language push? One man: Republican State Senator Howard Stephenson.

Stephenson has served in the Utah legislature for more than 22 years. He calls himself a “government watchdog” and idolizes Ronald Reagan. He’s even got a page dedicated to the past president on his website. Safe to say, the senator is wary of the government messing in his business.

But during a 2008 trip to China, where the government messes in everyone’s business, Stephenson had what he describes as an “epiphany.” He met many Chinese students who spoke with him in fluent English. They were bright, eager and articulate.

“On the plane ride home, I was worried about America’s future,” Stephenson says. “I was excited for the Chinese and their rising nation, but I wondered what could I do as a policymaker to assist in helping the United States connect to these rising nations?”

Stephenson promptly introduced a bill to fund the teaching of critical languages, like Mandarin, in Utah’s public schools.

His fellow policy makers weren’t exactly on board at first.

“Some legislators were saying you can’t expect children to learn such a complicated language as Chinese,” he remembers. “And I reminded them that there are hundreds are millions of children in China who are learning it quite well. They do well, why can’t our children? Are our children’s brains wired differently than a Chinese person’s brain? I don’t think so.”

Stephenson also argued that a multilingual Utah would be good for the state’s economic future: A state full of fluent Chinese speakers is a state open for business.

His bill passed.

It was signed into law by then-Governor Jon Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin and later served as the American ambassador to China. Now, seven years after Stephenson’s airborne epiphany, there are intensive language programs at 118 schools in Utah, and not just in Mandarin. The program also teaches Spanish, Portuguese, French and German, and the state intends to keep growing the list.

Second grader, Tiari Puriri is in the English portion of her day at school. The Utah immersion model is a 50/50 model in which students learn half the day in the target language and half of the day in English. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Second grader, Tiari Puriri is in the English portion of her day at school. The Utah immersion model is a 50/50 model in which students learn half the day in the target language and half of the day in English. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Tiari Puriri is one of the young Utahans learning Mandarin. Now a second-grader, she started learning the language in first grade at her school in Santa Clara. It’s a small town in southern Utah more than two hours away from Las Vegas, the closest big city. Think arid, desert landscape, red rock formations and not too many Chinese speakers.

“This is what she brought home yesterday,” says her mom, Kristina, who shows off her daughter’s math homework. There’s not a word of English on the page, just Chinese characters and some numerals. “If she hadn’t put that there, and there weren’t pluses and equals, I don’t think that I would know that this is math.”

Kristina Puriri enrolled her daughter Tiari in the Chinese immersion program at Santa Clara Elementary starting in the first grade. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Kristina Puriri enrolled her daughter Tiari in the Chinese immersion program at Santa Clara Elementary starting in the first grade. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Learning math in Chinese is a part of Utah’s 50/50 dual language immersion model. Yes, it’s a horrible, jargon-y sounding phrase, but it basically means that half the school day and half the subjects, like math, are taught in the target foreign language and the other half in English.

When Kristina and I went to pick up Tiari from school, she was a bit shy about speaking Chinese on tape. But she readily sang a “clean-up” song in Chinese.

She and her class learned it from Xiao Fung, Tiari’s second-grade Chinese teacher. She came to this tiny Utah town from Chongqing, a city of 29 million people, thanks to a teaching exchange program funded by the Chinese government. That’s part of the way Utah can afford this program.

Mandarin teacher Xiao Fung had never been to the states before coming to teach in Utah. Though she can speak English, she is careful to only speak Mandarin in school in front of the kids. If the students ask her a question in English, she'll reply in Mandarin. This is a strict part of the Utah teaching model. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

Mandarin teacher Xiao Fung had never been to the states before coming to teach in Utah. Though she can speak English, she is careful to only speak Mandarin in school in front of the kids. If the students ask her a question in English, she’ll reply in Mandarin. This is a strict part of the Utah teaching model. (Photo: Nina Porzucki)

But not all of the parents at Santa Clara Elementary were thrilled when they heard a teacher from China was coming to the school — or that Chinese was going to be taught at all.

“My initial thoughts were like ‘Oh my gosh, there’s already so much our kids have to do,'” says Summer Lang, who has two kids at the school. “I push hard on my kids. I expect a lot, but I just think there’s a fine line. There’s a fine line of pushing. Too much, too hard, too young.”

Lang and several other parents started a petition against the program. She wasn’t alone in questioning the importance of learning another language in a world in which so many people speak English.

“A lot of countries are fluent in English too, but that’s because everybody comes here,” Lang argues. “How are we to pick one place where we’re going to become fluent as a second language? English is kind of the universal. Everybody speaks it.”

She’s also one of Kristina Puriri’s very best friends, but things got a little tense between them. “It kind of got ugly there for a while,” Lang admits.

Ultimately, things cooled down. The principal reassured parents that Chinese immersion was optional, and Lang chose not to enroll her children. Still, it’s a source of sensitivity.

“I went to Santa Clara Elementary, and we’ve chosen to stay here and raise our family here because of the tradition,” Lang says. “Change is hard whether it’s positive [or] negative.”

Change is hard, but Utah just might be in a unique position to pilot this kind of program. Language learning isn’t such a wild notion in this very Mormon state: For generations, Mormon missionaries have fanned out across the world, and stop in Utah first to learn the language of the place where they’ll serve.

Kristina’s husband, Michael, actually jokes about the “Mormon question.” “You told her why we’re doing this, for the church?” Michael Puriri asks his wife.

The Puriris are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In fact, Kristina learned Portuguese on her own mission in Portugal.

“There [are] 88,000 missionaries out in the world today, but if we open up China with all those people, we’re going to need, like, another million missionaries,” Michael chides his wife. “So we figure with all these kids here learning Chinese…”

“But that’s not why we’re doing it,” Kristina says. Most Mormons don’t think this way, Kristina tells me over and over. And she says she’s most excited about the little ways in which learning Chinese will allow her daughter to connect with others right here in the US.

“I’m excited for the future when we can go to a Chinese restaurant or see a Chinese tour bus at Disneyland and she can go back and forth and back and forth,” she says.

Or maybe she’ll one day lead that Chinese tour bus through the national parks of Utah. That’s what State Senator Stephenson likes to envision: connecting his landlocked state of Utah to the rest of the world.

“Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century,” he says. “As many nations are rearing children with bi- and trilingual abilities, we need to step it up because we’re in a world competitive arena.”

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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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A bilingual seal of approval for high school graduates

Peter Kuskie and Maria Regalado are students at Hillsboro High in Oregon and are on track to receive a new bilingual seal on their diplomas. (Photo: Monica Campbell)

Peter Kuskie and Maria Regalado are students at Hillsboro High in Oregon and are on track to receive a new bilingual seal on their diplomas. (Photo: Monica Campbell)

Read this post from Monica Campbell. Or listen to the podcast above.

Let’s take a trip back to September 1995, when Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was talking about education on the campaign trail. “If we want to ensure that all of our children had the same opportunities — yours, mine, everyone’s — in America, alternative language education should stop,” he said.

“Alternative education” was a code for bilingual education, and Dole was speaking at a time when states like California banned bilingual programs. The idea was that learning foreign languages was fine, but not to the detriment of being fully literate in English.

A 2012 graduate of the Santa Ana Unified School District wears a medal honoring her bilingualism and holds her diploma with California's bilingual seal. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Spiegel-Coleman)

A 2012 graduate of the Santa Ana Unified School District wears a medal honoring her bilingualism and holds her diploma with California’s bilingual seal. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Spiegel-Coleman)

But those days are fading — and fast. Just head to Hillsboro High School, near Portland, Oregon, and step into the Algebra 2 class. The concepts — open intervals, integers, logarithm rules — are already challenging for most students. Now learn them in Spanish.

From start to finish, teacher Moises Curiel instructs in that language, and the students plug away, asking questions and working through problems in groups.

Learning in another language isn’t a problem, because the students have two things in common: They all know English, and they’ve studied in Spanish for years. Many of the students here either grew up speaking Spanish with their families, or want to speak Spanish themsevles, like Peter Kuskie. He’s a sophomore who grew up speaking only English.

Yet Kuskie’s Spanish is good — really good — because he spends most of his school days moving between classes instructed in both languages.

And while dual-language learning been around for years in the US, what’s new is what Kuskie and many of his classmates will get on their diplomas when they graduate: an embossed seal honoring their bilingualism.

The effort started in California, spearheaded by a statewide coalition called Californians Together, and is now spreading to states like Illinois, New York and Florida. Along with Spanish, there are bilingual diploma seals offered for Mandarin, Vietnamese and other languages

“What we … have been about, really, was to try and change people’s perspectives as well as their feelings about bilingualism,” says Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together.

Arturo Lomeli, Hillsboro High’s principal, hopes the seal will have more than symbolic value. “It’s so demanding, it’s so rigorous,” Lomeli says. “They’re walking in and they’re processing English, Spanish and math and inputting in Spanish what they’re hearing — processing in English, outputting in Spanish.”

Lomeli also points to how some — but not all — studies show that bilingualism slows the brain from aging. Students learning another language are also less distracted, and even earn higher salaries over time.

Hillsboro High teacher Moises Curiel teaches Algebra 2 in Spanish. To honor the students' bilingualism, the school will offer qualifying students a bilingual seal on their diploma. (Photo: Monica Campbell)

Hillsboro High teacher Moises Curiel teaches Algebra 2 in Spanish. To honor the students’ bilingualism, the school will offer qualifying students a bilingual seal on their diploma. (Photo: Monica Campbell)

Spiegel-Coleman says the United States faces real risks if it continues to be a monolingual culture.

“There are issues of national security,” she says. “You’ve heard from the Department of Defense over and over again that they are lacking professionals who can deal and communicate and negotiate in countries across the world in the language of that country. Going through an interpreter, you lose something.”

But while bilingualism is strengthening in some parts of the US, foreign language instruction is dropping nationwide. One reason is that the federal “No Child Left Behind” law, enacted 12 years ago, stressed traditional subjects.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in some parts of the country also doesn’t help. SEALS_language

Principal Lomeli says he can’t control the political rhetoric, but insists “we need to catch up with the rest of the world. We need to prepare students for a global society, and we haven’t been doing that.”

Some students aren’t worried about issues that are quite that big. For them, mastering another language is a personal matter. Maria Regalado, a junior whose parents are Mexican says, “I’ve had Spanish since I was born. So, I just get to keep it and not let it go, you know?”

She says now she can visit Mexico and “really talk” with her family, and she thinks her improved Spanish will also help her career. She wants to study criminal justice and become a police officer, and she knows some Latino families in the area can’t speak English and can feel distanced from law enforcement. She’s looking forward to bridging that gap.

Kuskie, her classmate, says it was his mom who convinced him to try and become bilingual. She was turned down for a job at a job at health clinic in Hillsboro, an area flush with new immigrants.

“She knows the people there and then they said, ‘Well, you need to learn to speak Spanish.’ So that’s why she couldn’t do that. So she’s been trying to learn Spanish, too,” he says.

Not everyone at the school is on the bilingual track. Kuskie says his friends who aren’t in the program ask him why he takes classes like Algebra 2 in Spanish, and he does acknowledge that it is “a little bit” harder.

But he’s up for the challenge, he say. And for students like Kuskie and Regalado, whose goal is real bilingualism, they’ll have a seal on their diploma to prove that come graduation day.


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What happens when the doctor says ‘hospice’ and you understand ‘poorhouse’?

Ospizio al Colle del Piccolo S.Bernardo, Italy. Languages such as Italian ('ospizio') and Spanish ('hospicio') have words that sound like 'hospice'. But they mean something different: old people's home, poorhouse, refuge for migrants. (ro_buk/Flickr)

Ospizio al Colle del Piccolo S.Bernardo, Italy. Languages such as Italian (‘ospizio’) and Spanish (‘hospicio’) have words that sound like ‘hospice’. But they mean something different: old people’s home, poorhouse, refuge for migrants. (ro_buk/Flickr)


Here’s a guest post from Los Angeles-based reporter Daniela Gerson.

Beware of false friends — similar-sounding words with common etymologies. False friends like hospice and hospicio don’t mean the same thing.

The Spanish-language pages of Medicare and the National Institutes of Health translate hospice as hospicio. To Los Angeles resident Manuela Flores this just seems bizarre

Hospicio is a place for orphans,” says Flores, an immigrant from Nicaragua who has lived in the United States for nearly three decades. Spanish speakers from other countries give different definitions— to some it’s a refuge for migrants, to others a home for elderly people who have no family to support them. But whatever the variation hospicio means a place for the destitute, and definitely not somewhere you want your loved ones to end up.

Nicaraguan-born Manuela Flores misunderstood what hospice meant. (courtesy Manuela Flores)

Nicaraguan-born Manuela Flores misunderstood what hospice meant. (courtesy Manuela Flores)

Flores says until recently she had never come across the concept of hospice care, and she would not even know how to give a name to it in Spanish. In English, hospice means an end-of-life program that includes at home medical services as well as psychological and social support. For anyone who is eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, hospice care is free. But Hispanics nationwide are making use of hospice services at lower rates. Researchers have found linguistic and cultural barriers are part of the reason.

“You have patients being offered basically to go to the poorhouse to die and they say, of course I don’t want to do that,” says, Jason Bowman, a Brown University medical student who has devoted himself to studying hospice care and Hispanics ever since he took a trip to Ecuador and learned the word was being mistranslated. Bowman, working with Dr. Joan Teno, recently completed a national study that documented that the rate of whites being treated with hospice was 30 percent higher than Hispanics.

“I think it is heartbreaking,” Bowman says, “because the Hispanic culture possibly more than any other that I’ve studied would benefit most from the central themes of hospice which are quality care focused around family and friends and support, holistic incorporating religion and spirituality, avoiding invasive sterile environments like a hospital.”

The Spanish and English words for hospice have the same Latin root: hospes. In Spanish the word came to mean a home for the poor who were unable to care for themselves. In English, the concept of hospice as a service to care for the dying took off in the 1940s in Britain. It was brought to the United States in the 1960s.

Overall, hospice care in the US is growing. And people who provide the service are starting to market it to Hispanics.

Hospice of the Valley in central Arizona is one such organization that’s creating marketing materials that cross cultural divides.

“It was difficult for me,” a man identified as Delmar Contreras says in a video produced by Hospice of the Valley. ” I was kind of skeptical of the whole idea of hospice, being a Hispanic, and we take care of our own. Me and my lady were struggling, how take care of Mami.” Contreras goes on to explain that when he realized that hospice was actually the best way he could care for his mother. “It’s the best decision that I ever made. I could never take care of my mom that way.”

That’s one person who was won over, but there are millions more facing deep cultural barriers. In California, Silvia Austerlic meets with groups of migrant workers as a cultural liaison for Hospice of Santa Cruz County.

“I say that I work for hospice and I ask, ‘Have you heard about hospice?’ And always there are many people who never heard about the service,” says Austerlic, a native of Argentina. “I say, ‘That’s great, so let me tell you.’ We don’t use the word in Spanish, hospicio; we use the words servicios de hospice.”

She uses the English word to avoid confusion. Then comes the key step of explaining a new concept.

“Hospice is a program, but it’s also a philosophy,” says Austerlic. “When I say it’s a philosophy I look into the eyes of farm workers and they all nod. They understand it’s not just someone coming to your house at the end of life. It’s a different relationship with death. It’s not how you want to die. It’s how you want to live until the end.

That’s something that Manuela Flores, the Nicaraguan immigrant, wishes had been explained to her. Flores says her medical provider used the English word, but his explanation was inadequate. When her mother-in-law died less than 48 hours after her family had approved hospice care, Flores was terrified that they had “signed off on the death of la señora.”

Flores believes immigrants like her need to better informed about programs like hospice. “I am not going to return to my country,” she says in Spanish. “I am going to end my life here with all of my family. And so I need to know. Regardless if we know English, we are working here and we need to know about programs like this. There are people who have died without knowing about these programs.”


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For your next cocktail, would you prefer ‘The Bitter Taste of Calm’ or ‘Seven Days in the Grave’?

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Here’s a guest post from Alina Simone.

How do cocktails get such memorable and wallet-opening names?

We’re used to the idea of bartender as therapist — a great shoulder to cry on — but bartender as poet? As historian? As multi-linguistic wizard? I admit that I was guilty of my own prejudice until I met bar owner and cocktail consultant, Joaquin Simo. Well it turns out, good bartenders are always on the hunt for literary as well as libatious inspiration, from iPod playlists to more old-fashioned sources.

Joaquin Simo prepares a cocktail (Photo: Alina Simone)

Joaquin Simo prepares a cocktail (Photo: Alina Simone)

As Joaquin tells me, “one of the best ways to name drinks, is just pick up a racing form, cause someone’s already done all the heavy lifting of thinking of a short, quippy, memorable name.”

But sometimes the search for a name starts with a hunch — an elusive feeling. The perfect visual can help:

“Sprezzatura is that great Italian, that almost, like, stylish disheveled thing,” says Joaquin, “where you see an Italian guy in an impeccably tailored suit and a perfect shirt, except his cuffs aren’t done. Or his tie is like artfully askew. You know, these little details where you’re like, is that on purpose? It’s kind of rakish and stylish and awesome. So we had this great drink that was a riff on a French 75 and, I wanted it to be elegant and stylish and sexy and so, Sprezzatura Royale, it turned out to be.”

OK, but what kind of name do you get by relying on your taste buds alone, without help from Twitter, sexy Italians or racing forms? I decided to invite an expert to Pouring Ribbons, Joaquin’s bar — my friend, stand-up comedian Eugene Mirman. Spending a lot of time in bars has made Mirman something of the equivalent of a foodie: a drinkie.

“There are three beautiful drinks in front of me. One has what can only be described as having very valuable grass in it,” he says.

That’s Eugene’s first impression of the drinks Joaquin brings over to our table. He is trying two classic cocktails and one house original. The first two are a couple hundred years old — the last drink, only weeks old.

Unfortunately, the first name Eugene comes up with can’t be shared on a family-friendly site, like this one. Sorry guys.

On to drink two:

“That’s very good. I’m going to call it — The Citrus Good Morning. It’s like what you’d pour on your feet to start your day,” he says.

Stand-up comedian and cocktail taster Eugene Mirman (Photo: Alina Simone)

Stand-up comedian and cocktail taster Eugene Mirman (Photo: Alina Simone)

Turns out he wasn’t far off — this classic cocktail is called the “Corpse Reviver #2.” One of a class of drinks intended to be consumed first thing in the morning to ward off a hangover.

Now for the last drink, the one with that stalk of “valuable grass” in it — better known as dill. And the name Eugene comes up with…? Seven Days In the Grave.

“I can obviously taste the flesh, and it’s not fresh, but it’s not so old that you’re like, Yuck!” Eugene explains, adding, “I’ve basically either named a drink, or poorly described World War I.”

Seven Days in the Grave is a pretty awesome name, but Joaquin’s is even better: The Bitter Taste of Calm. Turns out the story behind the name is just as memorable.

Whenever one of Joaquin’s business partners has to board a flight, he takes a pill for anxiety, which he slowly grinds between his teeth, “and as he’s chewing it, turns and says, ‘Ah, the bitter taste of calm,’” Joaquin explains. “And because there are so many things that are kind of bitter and savory in this drink, that name struck me immediately. I was like: We’ve got to name a drink after this; it’s one of my favorite expressions. So that’s where that name came from.”

When you’re naming a drink, nothing quite beats life experience, except maybe, one’s native tongue. Joaquin was born in Quito, Ecuador, and often looks south of the border for linguistic inspiration.

“I am a firm believer that anything in Spanish is going to sound better than anything in English: Like fork. Blech! Tenedor. That’s elegant, you know, that’s really cool. You know, beet? Meh. Remolacha. That’s awesome!” he says.

But spiking a cocktail menu with Spanish doesn’t always work. Take the time one of Joaquin’s coworkers decided to update a Prohibition-era cocktail called The Monkey Gland.

“Well, Monkey Gland does not work, in Spanish, at all. Not that it sounds that great in English but: glándula de mono .” No thanks.

Then Joaquin wows me with another great factoid from his seemingly bottomless archive: The original Monkey Gland got its name from a dubious surgical procedure invented by Russian doctor Serge Voronoff where grafts of monkey testicles were transplanted into guys hoping for a Viagra-like effect. Turns out, that’s another secret naming trick, Joaquin tells me. Get people thinking, “If I order this, I’m destined for love tonight.”

I’ll drink to that.


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The language of sports motivation

German water polo player Moritz Oeler (Photo: Benjamin Lau)

German water polo player Moritz Oeler (Photo: Benjamin Lau)

Here’s a guest post from reporter Katie Manning.

Many athletes are awaiting what may be the highest-pressure event of their lives at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Staying focused during the competition is easier said than done.
To combat their nerves and to aid motivation, many turn to words. Which words they choose goes deeper than their personalities and the particular sports they play. It also depends on their cultures.

Somdev Devvarman is India’s highest-ranked tennis player. His pre-match ritual is to hunch over his racquet and meditate.

“My style is very much being silent, being still,” says Devvarman.

Indian tennis pro Somdev Devvarman (Photo: Katie Manning)

Indian tennis pro Somdev Devvarman (Photo: Katie Manning)


He focuses on “being by myself, being aware of what every situation is and warming up the right way, then going out and performing. If there’s a lot of dialogue within yourself, that means there’s a lot of stuff going on in your head, which means you’re not present to react to things that are happening around you.”
In India, meditation and spirituality are part of life. Indian athletes draw on that and other, more global strategies.

Younger Indians follow Michael Jordan and other famous athletes on Twitter. That’s changed the language they use for motivation, according to Devvarman. “You basically use the exact same words in different languages,” he says. “In Hindi, ‘let’s go’ is chal.” He knows the Serbian equivalent too: ajde.

Mortiz Oeler of the German national water polo team uses a variation of Devvarman’s approach.

He spends many hours studying videotapes of his opponents before he jumps into the pool to face them. He becomes calm and focused not through meditation, but painstaking analysis of his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.

“It makes me nervous if I just hear my heart all the time and act like ‘I feel like this,’ and ‘I feel like that,'” says Oeler. “I need a structure.”

Oeler plays his best when he can reign in the chaos of the water polo pool. It may be a cliche, but he says it is the German style.

Yet if calmness is ideal, why do some athletes huddle, chant and seemingly work themselves into a frenzy?

That, too, may depend on where they are from.

Polo player Mauricio Diaz lives in the US, but he grew up in Costa Rica. He says the American approach couldn’t be more different than in his homeland.

In Costa Rica, “Everyone is super chill,” says Diaz. In the US, “Everyone is out to kill each other. It’s ‘let’s go out there and hammer the opponent.’ It’s a lot of yelling … ‘Let’s wreck them into the wall. Rip their mallets apart.’ It’s all these big aggression words.”

During matches, Diaz mentally eggs himself on by calling himself a “sissy.” Players even toss the insult around at each other. They try to get their teammates worked up to help them play better.

“That’s a little more Latin American culture. In the US, they cater to you a bit more, so they’ll say, ‘Hey, great playing. You’re doing fantastic,’” says Diaz. “That’s not the feedback I like to get.”

He also likes to recall a Costa Rican saying while he plays, pura vida, or pure life. It became his on-field nickname in the US.

Diaz tries to balance a pura vida mindset with the more aggressive approach he’s learned in the States. It’s not an approach he’s always comfortable with.

“I thought it was a little extreme, but it also kind of fires that blood again. It’s a good motivation because the pressure helps you build the fire in your blood, but being able to keep it cool in your mind is where you can actually play your best,” says Diaz.

What works for one player might not for another, but Chilean sports psychologist Alejandro Serrano says you can’t ignore local culture.

“In team sports [in Chile], they try to motivate with emotions,” Serrano says. “In the States, it’s a little less emotions, but a little more, kind of, if you love it, do it. You can do it. ‘Let’s do it!’ Here [in Chile], you will find a lot of sayings like, ‘We’re going to war;’ ‘Let’s do it for the family.’”

Motivating an entire team with the same words doesn’t work, says Serrano. In soccer, a striker might benefit from an adrenaline-revving pep talk, but a defender needs to be patient and wait for the right moment. While a war-like speech might be fun, it won’t actually help a team’s performance.

Self motivation can also backfire, if it piles on too much pressure. Serrano’s advice: cut out the pre-game chants, don’t get down on yourself, understand that the game isn’t everything. Just be in the moment.

“If they have a glove, I write something like FS [for ‘Feel the Sensation’],” he says. “If you think most of the time, you’re dead … I try to teach them not to think.”

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    How to make a living as a Spanish teacher in Guatemala. Hint: Skype

    Marco Antonio Tabin Garcia, in Antigua, Guatemala, Skypes with a student in Chicago. (Photo: Laura Knotts)

    Marco Antonio Tabin Garcia, in Antigua, Guatemala, Skypes with a student in Chicago. (Photo: Laura Knotts)

    Here’s a guest post from reporter Emily Files.

    When Marco Antonio Tabin Garcia was younger, he considered emigrating from Guatemala to the United States.

    “Because I had heard in United States, there was gold,” he says.

    He knew he’d need to travel illegally, crossing through Mexico, so he decided against the journey. Instead, he got a job teaching Spanish at a local language school, where he earned about $2 an hour. He continued teaching at local schools for more than 20 years.

    Now 49, Tabin Garcia has found a way to make a much better living without leaving his own home. He teaches Spanish lessons on Skype, mostly to American and Canadian students. He makes $10 per hour, five times what he made at the local schools.

    Erin O’Reilly, a veteran language teacher based in California, teaches in traditional classrooms and online. She’s seen online language lessons take off globally in the past three years. She says it co-incides with growing Internet access in developing countries.

    “This is transformational for language learners who are trying to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting,” O’Reilly says.

    But she doesn’t think classroom teaching will die out any time soon. She says language learners often need the structure and motivation that comes with in-person lessons.

    Photo courtesy Laura Knotts

    Photo courtesy Laura Knotts

    For Tabin Garcia, Skype lessons have been so profitable that he quit his job at the language school last month. He’s been able to buy luxuries he and his wife could not previously afford, like a washing machine. His dog, Manchas, used to sleep on a cardboard box. Tabin Garcia recently bought him a cushy dog bed.

    On a recent Thursday evening, Tabin Garcia had a one-hour Skype lesson with student Laura Knotts, who lives in Chicago. They made small talk about weather and their families and Tabin Garcia corrected her mistakes.

    Knotts is one of a dozen students Tabin Garcia teaches each week. He’s brought his wife and sister into the business as well. The two women now have a few of their own students.

    Tabin Garcia’s weekly income of about $150 to $200 supports not only himself and his wife, but his extended family. He says his 7-year-old niece used to be malnourished and became sick. Her parents didn’t have enough money to pay for a doctor.

    “She would have died,” Tabin Garcia said. “Her condition was very, very bad.”

    He used his Skype earnings to pay for her medicine and food. She’s doing better now.

    There are some roadblocks to teaching via Skype. For one, an Internet connection is expensive, as is the laptop he uses. Some people don’t know how to use Skype. Tabin Garcia has trained a few friends and family. And, of course, there are always technical glitches. But Tabin Garcia has been able to keep his independent business going despite those problems.

    Talking to students in different countries has made him more interested in traveling outside of Guatemala, something he’s never done before.

    “I would like to visit the country where students live,” he said. “I would like to visit Chicago. I would like to visit Canada. Winter Canada, for seeing the snow.”


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    Don’t speak English? Doesn’t matter if you use baseball’s sign language

    Here’s a guest podcast from my Big Show colleague Nina Porzucki

    He may not speak English fluently, but Koji Uehara doesn’t need English to be fluent in the language of baseball.

    It’s as easy as: A, B, C. Or, rather make that: one, two, three.

    “One finger is a fast ball; sometimes that index finger’ll get swirled, that’ll mean a two seam fastball; sometimes there’ll be a sharp knifing motion, that means cut fastball. Then there’s two fingers, usely a curveball or breaking ball, three fingers means…” said Dirk Hayburst, a retired Major League Baseball pitcher who is fluent in the language of baseball.

    Hayburst can go on and on. Maybe it’s not so easy after all.

    All those swirling fingers and knifing motions are the way catchers speak to him. In fact, Hayhurst pitched many, many games in the minor leagues to a catcher who hardly spoke a word of English.

    “We just broke camp from spring training and we’re driving the team bus and he’s sitting on the bus reading a book called English for Dummies,” Hayhurst recalled.

    On the field, though, he was certainly no dummy.

    “You spend one week throwing to this guy and he knows what to do,” Hayhurst said.

    A pitcher and catcher learn from one another just by flashing a series of ones, twos and threes. But it goes beyond mere hand gestures, says Hayhurst. Speaking the language of baseball also means knowing the unwritten rules of the game. Rule number one: you don’t peek. That means the batter can never look back at the catcher to look at signs.

    But if a batter did steal the signs — when Hayhurst was pitching to his Spanish-speaking catcher, language wasn’t an issue.

    “My catcher, who doesn’t speak a lick of English outside of these baseball rules, said, ‘He peeking! He peeking!’ And my next pitch was high and tight and I put this guy in his place,” Hayhurst says. “I don’t think he read that in the English for Dummies book.”

    When you want to nail someone, Hayhurst says, the sign is an over-turned palm with the thumb gesturing angrily.

    So what are the origins of the baseball signs?

    “The basis for signs and signals and sign-stealing pretty much go back to the American Civil War,” said Paul Dickson, author of The Hidden Language of Baseball.

    Baseball was played before the Civil War, but coded hand signals became a common tool for soldiers on the battlefield trying to communicate with one another. Coded signs and signals were used by both the Confederate and Union armies. After the war, those coded signs were carried from the battlefield to the ballfield. The jump from soldiers in battle to men on a field isn’t a hard leap to make, says Dickson.

    “The manager, who is the field general, is in uniform and he’s directing, the first and third base coach are the first lieutenants, the catcher is the sargeant directing the men in the field [and] the pitcher and catcher are the battery,” Dickson said.

    Signs were not only meant to communicate with allies but to confuse the enemy who was actively trying to break the code. Just as the unwritten peeking rule is universa,l so it seems is the act of decoding the opposing team’s signs. And throwing “deeks,” or decoy signs — that’s part of the game, too.

    “You have to disguise your signs. You’ve got your poker face out there in front of the world,” said Joe Vavra, a third base coach for the Minnesota Twins

    Vavra has a pretty good poker face, and a good memory. While he’s throwing out deeks, he also has to remember the real signs for each player on the team as well as teach them the signs.

    “We’ll go over them, we’ll go over them, we’ll go over them,” Vavra said.

    As for teaching the players who don’t speak English. Who needs it? Vavra just mimes the movements for the players who aren’t completely comfortable in English.

    “I can show them the actions and they understand,” Vavra said.

    Still not every play in baseball can be reduced to a tap on the forehead or a brush of the arm. Language is sometimes necessary, like during a mound visit when players and the coach come together to discuss strategy. What happens when everyone speaks a different language? Hayhurst says yes, sometimes, you just have to bring the interpreter to the mound. But even then the situation is not quite clearcut.

    “The interpreter will speak and the shortstop will try to reinterate what the interpreter is trying to reiterate from the coach to the second baseman who speaks really only fluent Japanese,” Hayhurst said. “And the funny thing is, is whether the Japanese second baseman understands or not, he will be bowing his head over and over again, which confuses the American coach because that’s a sign that [the Japanese player] understands.”

    But the Japanese player may just be bowing his head as a sign of respect toward the coach.

    “So it can be a recipe for disaster, it really can,” Hayhurst said.

    Still, oddly enough, he says more often than not miscommunication has nothing to do with a player’s native tongue. In fact, according to Hayhurst, when two players do not speak the same native language they can actually be more attentive and careful when reading the signs.

    “I’ve seen guys mess up signs who speak the same language way more than I see problems with guys who grew up 3,000 miles away from each other,” Hayhurst said.

    So this weekend, when you’re watching the series, be on the lookout for the verbal and the nonverbal signs. There’s a whole lot language going on.


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