Reading in Another Language

I began learning French in 5th grade.  I participated in my public school district’s program called “French Back to Back.”  This program consisted of 5th grade students being a paired up with a French student of the same and age and gender.  Though typically the group of American students would go live with the French student they had been paired with and their family for three weeks and then the French student would live with the American student and their family for the subsequent three weeks.  The year I did it, the school we exchanged  with whether due to disinterest or another reason would not send back the French students so we simply went there for three weeks.  In preparation for this, the 20 or so of us who signed up for this experience from schools all over the district met once a week to learn basics of the French language, French culture and the expectations and requirements of “French Back to Back.”

After this, I kept up with French throughout middle and high school and even to college.  I remember one of my classmates in high school was reading Harry Potter in Italian and I thought, “I could never do that in French.”  While in college, my reading capacity in French grew as I had to do it for multiple assignments, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I began reading in French for enjoyment.  I too started to read the Harry Potter series.  In fact, while Michael and I spent two weeks in the mountains of Greece with his yiayia we developed a pattern where we exercised and stretched in the morning, then came downstairs with our books in Greek and French respectively which we read while eating our Greek “Fitness” Cereal.

Greece 2011

Greece 2011

I have been thinking about how reading is so beneficial to learning a language.  I was a voracious reader as a child and there were so many words that I picked up from reading books.  I never bothered to look them up in a dictionary but by using the context, especially since many of these words were repeated, I was able to garner the meaning.  The same thing can happen by reading in a foreign language.  It is a great way to enhance vocabulary.  It is true that the amount of unknown words may be greater in a foreign text than if you were reading in your native language but the fact remains that you will be learning vocabulary in an authentic situation.

This is not to disregard the importance of oral practice with language learning however.  In fact, though I learned new words by reading in English when I was younger, there was some I did not know how to pronounce until I was much older.  (Example:  succumb.  I was sure it was pronounced “sahcoom.”  I sounded like an idiot when I said it aloud).  Being able to pronounce words correctly is important for oral communicatory purposes with a language though not necessarily for purely written communication.  I went years not knowing how to pronounce the name “Hermione,” but that didn’t mean I enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s books any less!

Michael and his yiayia in Greece

Michael and his yiayia in Greece

Thoughts on reading in a different language?

Eating through the weekend…

Michael and I have spent this past weekend getting our fill of food and of Lost (we are on Season 6 and so antsy to figure out what happens) before Lent starts on Monday. Last night consisted of popcorn with melted butter and individual peanut butter treats.  Michael had his traditional Peanut Butter and Grahams and I spread peanut butter on a salt free rice cake, then placed a few chocolate chips on.  I put it in the microwave for 25 seconds til the chocolate and peanut butter got melty and I could swirl it together.  I then placed it in the freezer for a few hours, mmm!  Today we went on a very indulgent grocery shopping trip where returned home with frozen pizza, fish and chips, muffins and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy.  We proceeded to eat all of these throughout the idea with a little hummus and vegetables thrown in on the side!

 

10 Things I’ve Learned About Boston

I moved to Boston from Michigan this past August.  I am a natural homebody and so I was worried about how I would adjust to this change.  I am pleased to announce that things have been going quite well!  The architecture is beautiful and there is a large pond right near my apartment to go running around. During the last 6 months here, I have had the opportunity to learn quite a bit about the city of Bahston, the East Coast and living in a city in general.  10 things I didn’t know before I moved:

  1. If you go to the movies in Boston, and ask what kind of pop they have.  Most likely the guy behind the counter will look at you as if you were crazy and hesitantly point at the popcorn.  They word they are looking for is soda.
  2. Speaking of movies-want to see a movie in downtown Boston? Great idea…however, be sure to get there on time.  And by on time, I mean approximately an hour before the movie starts.  Otherwise, there might not be any tickets left or all of the seats will be filled and you will be forced to sit on those seats at the front of the theatre.  Those seats that make movie watching an incredibly painful and uncomfortable experience.
  3. The drinking fountain is called a Bubbler.
  4. Aunts are called AHHNTS.
  5. Roundabouts are called Rotaries.
  6. The subway is called the T and the passes are called CharlieCards.  I am not sure why, but I like it.
  7. The horn on a car is no longer used as a device to warn others.  It is more like a stress ball-when one is angry and frustrated in traffic, they simply use the horn to let others know so.
  8. Do not be surprised if the street you are driving on suddenly changes names or if you can’t find a stop sign for it.  These streets are meant to test your wits and willpower.  How long will you continue going even if you have absolutely no idea where you are?
  9. The New England Aquarium is really excellent, however, once you go through it, there is no point in paying for it again.  One of the best attractions, the seals and sea lions, are right outside in plain view to visit whenever you like! (Definitely go in at least once though, penguins and turtles oh my!)
  10. After a blizzard or large snowstorm, it is considered commonplace to dig out your car then place a household item such as a chair or recycling bin in order to save it.
Penguins at the New England Aquarium

Penguins at the New England Aquarium

Spring is Coming…I hope

Happy Daylight Savings!  I can’t believe how rejuvenating it is to have it stay light outside later into the evening.  Though there is still snow on the ground here in Boston, seeing the sunlight stream in at 6 p.m. this evening made me crave one of my favorite warm weather treats: iced coffee (or iced chai).  In fact, last week on a particularly warm day I stopped at Starbucks and picked up an iced caramel macchiato for me and a plain iced coffee for Michael because I was in such a spring-y mood.  When I arrived home, I discovered that he too, had been in that mood and had shaved off his beard!

 

For some reason, the time change has really hit me hard this year.  In general I try, try, try to wake up around 5 a.m. and exercise before work in the morning.  I love doing this.  Perhaps I do not love it at 5 when my alarm goes off, but it puts me in such a good mood for school all day and I feel so productive.  However, this morning, I just couldn’t do it.  What do you know?  I felt bad at school today.  This means that tomorrow for sure I will be getting up.

My whole life I have been really affected by daylight and time.  I seem to notice when it gets light in the morning or dark in the evening more than others and my mood can be dependent on it.  I remember driving into the city of Boston last March with Michael and since it is further east than Michigan I could not stop marveling at how early it was light there.  He was not quite as amazed.  Happy Monday and enjoy the light!

Michael with beard after Blizzard Nemo of 2013.  It is all gone now!

Michael with beard after Blizzard Nemo of 2013. It is all gone now!

Trials and Tribulations of Learning About Confidence as a New Teacher

One of the main things I have been thinking about recently with teaching is confidence.  As a new teacher, one of my largest struggles is battling the want to be “liked.”  Stepping into the classroom for the first time as a teacher can almost be as bad as stepping into it as a new student.  You just want the kids to like you.  I have learned the hard way that being well liked does not equate to being respected.  In the school setting, being respected is more important than being liked.  

I am a natural people pleaser and so this truth has been very difficult for me to embody.  I worry about hurting the students’ feelings and making sure they are enjoying school.  This is could be an issue. Worrying about the students’ opinions of you means that you might not always be consistent.  Yes, I’ve been learning that equal is not always fair and there can be exceptions to the rule in certain circumstances, but in general it is best to be consistent.  If you set a rule about homework, it is up to you as the teacher to follow through with it not matter no what.  I am someone easily swayed by tears but I keep constantly reminding myself about what is best for the students in the long run. Also, think about your own school experience- were your favorite teachers the ones that were pushovers?  Or were yours the ones that were fair and had solid, strong rules?

My classroom management philosophy has evolved since my first day of student teaching.  I began teaching then with the idea that we shouldn’t restrict students and they should feel free in the classroom and there shouldn’t be many rules.  Attending school is a privilege not a prison sentence.  For the most part, I am still for this, however, a couple of experiences have shaped my new philosophy.  First, my mentor teacher informed  me that for some students, a relaxed classroom can feel unsafe for certain students.  They are not sure what the rules are and how they will be supported or if they will be supported by the teacher.  This thought really stopped me.  The last thing I wanted was for my classroom to be an unsafe environment.  However, it completely made sense that a classroom without guidelines could be chaotic and confusing.  Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that though students’ individual freedoms and voices need to be respected and acknowledged, first, guidelines must be established in order to create a safe environment for this freedom to occur. 

My first teaching job after student teaching was as a long-term substitute in a middle school.  This was a great learning experience for me.  Especially because, as many new teachers do, I definitely made mistakes.  As hard as it is to admit, I had one group of students that could definitely smell my fear and took advantage of it.  Though there were productive days, I quickly realized that this group of students did not respect me.  Which meant, that they also did not respect the subject I taught.  This put them at a complete disadvantage and they did not even realize it.  I still think back on that experience and cringe.  I constantly hope and pray to always do better.

Teachers need confidence to be teachers.  They need confidence in themselves.  They are not perfect and not always right but they have to be confident in their abilities.  Students and parents may try to de-rail them, oftentimes unintentionally, but a teacher must know herself or himself and not back down.  In my opinion, these are the best teachers.  The ones with confidence.  Am I anywhere near that? Not yet, but I work and try everyday and everyday it gets better.

Flax On, Flax Off…

When we are young, we cannot even begin to imagine what the world has in store for us.  God leads us on paths way different than what we could’ve ever expected.  Growing up, I never thought I would be marrying someone who is studying to become a Greek Orthodox Priest, but look at me now!  Another thing happened to me today, that I never thought would happen. I bought Flaxseed Meal from Whole Foods.  Then I used it.  Two years ago, I had no idea what flaxseed was (except that it was often referred to on Gilmore Girls as being a staple in the Kim household).  Actually, let’s be honest, until about two weeks ago I didn’t really know what flaxseed was.  So how did a girl like me end up buying a product like that in a store like Whole Foods?

It all began when I started experimenting with those Two Ingredient Cookies.  I loved the idea of having healthy cookies that I could eat many of (as I’ve said, I really need to work on portion control).  After making them once, Michael suggested using flaxseed in them.  I didn’t hate the idea, I just had no idea where to go to buy it.  While in the regular grocery store one day I looked around and ended up buying a granola mix that contained flaxseed.  The mix was delicious but not exactly what I was looking for.  I continued to make the cookies without flaxseed until today.  While in Whole Foods picking up some  frozen Amy’s Burritos (which are really healthy, tasty and quick to make in the microwave when you are in a rush), I saw flaxseed and flaxseed meal.  Not really knowing what the difference was, I took a leap of faith and purchased the meal.

I then made the Two Ingredient Cookies (which now have more than two ingredients) with: 2 bananas, one cup of Fiber One Original cereal, one cup of Flaxseed meal, two spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon.  The flaxseed makes the cookies look very unappetizing but they taste good.  The key is to not expect it to taste like an ooey gooey delicious cookie but to accept it for what it is and really appreciate the crunch of the cereal and the banana flavor.  In fact, I packed away a few to take to school tomorrow for breakfast! (I also added some chocolate chips to a few and those are a nice touch).

Language in Schools

In college, I minored in French.  I love the language and spent six weeks living in France after my senior year of college.  In some ways, one of my biggest regrets is not spending more time over there so I could have a more enriched knowledge of the language.  However, I also know that it would’ve been to hard for me to be away from home for that long.  Though now that Michael and I are making plans to live in Greece at some point, perhaps I could make my way back for sometime.  Due to my interest of French and Michael’s passion for Greek, the process of language learning often comes up a lot in our conversations.  After watching a video about learning languages and theories on the best way to do it, I felt compelled to reflect upon it.  This video felt that the best thing to do at first was to just speak and not worry about grammar.  The grammar would come later.  Thinking about my own school experience with language, I felt compelled reflect:

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In school, as many know, we are often drilled with grammar despite the fact that much evidence out there shows that conversation and oral practice is a much better path to fluency.  My days in French class consisted of verb charts and memorized conversations, neither of which led to much language fluency amongst myself or my classmates.  The question is, if this format of teaching does not seem to produce the desired results then why are we teaching in this way?

An unfortunate element to schools today is the fact that assessments are required not only formally by administrative teams, state and national laws or accredidation boards, they are also required by students and parents themselves.  Students and parents typically judge progress and success based on numerical grades instead of authentic qualitative data.  This assessment-orientated school atmosphere may have led language classes to become the giant grammar charts that they are.  It is much easier to assign a grade based on grammatical errors (or non errors) than on a student’s speaking skills.  One is much more objective than the other.  Due to this, oral speaking cannot be the focus because how would a teacher be able to showcase the student’s progress and level in one letter?  Would that letter grade be based in relation to other students’ levels?  Would there be a set number of phrases that a student would have to learn by the end of the year?  Or would a student have to take home a practice chart to fill out how often they practice their language?  None of these offer very solid ways of assessment.

Conversely, perhaps I am thinking in the wrong direction.  Perhaps schools are doing nothing wrong because it is not their goal to teach oral fluency but to teach the structure and grammar of a language.  This would not quite make sense in the fact that in all other academic disciplines, the structure of a subject is taught and then usually put into practice.  For example, in English classes, we are taught grammatical rules, but then we put those rules to the test by using them in authentic situations.  This does not often happen in foreign language classes until the collegiate level.

While spending time in France, I felt embarrassed when I said that the only other language I knew besides English was French, when most of the French students my age were working on their third language.  Is the way we teach foreign language a reason for the fact that we fall behind in this area?  Or is there just not a drive amongst Americans to learn other languages?

Thoughts on Marriage

Tonight at dinner, Michael and I were reminiscing about the day we got engaged.  He asked me to marry him on June 14, 2012 and we then went out to dinner at The Old Club on Harsens Island with both of our families.  We were trying to remember what we ate at dinner that night but couldn’t seem to recall.  What I remember was feeling like my stomach was all in knots.  I couldn’t eat anything for 24 hours and I couldn’t sleep the night after he asked me.  I was in such a daze.  Since then, the past 8 months have flown by though last June waiting a year to get married seemed like an eternity.

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One of the things that we have been doing in preparation is reading a book called Preserve Them, O Lord by Father John Mack.  In my opinion, this was probably one of the best things that we have done.  It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement, the pressures and the stress of planning a wedding, registering for gifts and booking a honeymoon that it is easy to forget about planning for a marriage.  This book has really helped me to see marrying Michael in a new light.  I am not just happy about it because it means spending time with the person I love most in the world, I am also excited to be beginning a journey toward growing closer to Christ with Michael.  The richness of this is so great.  Michael’s yiayia has said that it is important to find someone who loves God first and then you.  I know that I have found that in Michael.  I can’t believe that in just 4 short months, we will be married.

Experimenting…

I have always been hesitant in the kitchen.  Perhaps it derives from the fact, that I tend to have perfectionist qualities and like with most things, cooking needs practice in order to be perfect.  Early on in life, I accepted that I wasn’t a cook.  One of my best friends is an awesome baker (check her out at misspetitesweets.com), my future sister-in-law can make treats of all varieties and my mom’s cooking sustained me marvelously for the first 23 years of my life.  I figured that I had all these cooks around me, I didn’t need to be one.  Cooking just made me nervous.  I went to a small school for college where it was the norm to live in the dorms until your senior year.  Therefore, the first time I really had to cook and fend for myself was when I moved into an apartment with 7 other girls my senior year of college.  Due to being busy and not really knowing what to do in said kitchen, most of my meals consisted of frozen pizzas or leftovers with the occasional baby cupcake on the side.

Though this may have been acceptable for a college student, when I moved to Boston this past August into my first “grown-up” apartment, I realized that I couldn’t survive on frozen pizzas alone, no matter how delicious they may be.  I was thinking about how in June I would be getting married and to me that meant that I needed to get over my fear of the kitchen.  One of the first things that helped me was a George Foreman grill.  My George Foreman is a plus for many reasons.  First, growing up, grilled chicken was a staple in our household.  My mom would grill a bunch at a time and we would have it in the fridge for salads, sandwiches etc….  Since I do not have an actual gas grill outside of my apartment, the George Foreman is the next best thing.  Secondly, cooking meat was always intimidating.  The George Foreman allowed me to grill chicken in a healthy, easy and quick way.  This enabled me to build my confidence.  The second thing that really helped me was joining Pinterest.  It may seem crazy, that something as distracting as Pinterest could help me become more productive, but I got really excited about many of the recipes on there.  So many of them seemed so much more real and doable than those in traditional cookbooks.  For example, I have been trying out different versions of these Two Ingredient Cookies that I found on Pinterest.  My favorite one so far is:  2 cups of Fiber One Original Cereal, a spoonful of peanut butter, 2 bananas, and cinnamon to taste baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

My mom is an excellent cook and until I started cooking on my own, I never realized how much I picked up from her.  I do not, by any means, mean to say that I am anywhere near as good as her, but by watching her cook for years I have been able to pick up quite a few things, especially in the vegetable preparation department.  She is always cooking vegetables in new ways, and I have learned to use the ingredients that I have and make it up as I go along.  I will never be Wolfgang Puck, but at least I can now sauté a breast of chicken without worrying that the fire department will have to come.

Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous

Tonight Michael and I went and saw the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful.  It was a pretty exciting event since my best friend, Hollis, was in it as a munchkin.  We saw her face.  More than once.  It was great.  In fact, I spent the first half of the movie frustrated with the plot because it did not yet involve the munchkins.  I am a little concerned that as she becomes more and more famous, I will no longer be able to concentrate on plot lines at all and only be able to annoy the others in the audience by pointing her out and going “there she is!”

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All in all, it was a good evening.  Michael and I started by having dinner at the Village Smokehouse in Brookline where he rejoiced at the amount of food he got (sausage, baked beans, sweet potato fries, corn bread and vegetables) and I was proud of myself for ordering the appetizer portion of ribs instead of the whole size.  I understand the logic of portion control, but I often have a hard time following it.  I have the capability to eat large amounts of food and so I usually do.  However, that often leaves me with a stomachache and a strong desire to lay down and “slug*.”  This is not a healthy or satisfying way to live life and so one of my struggles has been working on not letting myself get to this point.

*Slugging is a term that Michael and I made up in Greece in 2011 when we would eat so much that we couldn’t do anything besides lay down.