Monthly Archives: March 2014

Poisson D’Avril – Learn French

What helps make learning a foreign language possible at first is the cognates, the words or phrases that are similar to or the same as words in English.  Poisson D'Avril - Learn FrenchAccording to Paul Pimsleur, while French was never actually joined with English, historical cross-pollination means that American newcomers to French can guess the meaning of 30% or more of a random list of words.    (Paul Pimsleur, How to Learn a Foreign Language, 2013, p. 11) Poisson D'Avril - Learn French

What is fishy, however, is when the language you are learning seems arbitrary, when the cognates don’t quite match.   An early memory of one such fishy linguistic misnomer is poisson rouge, the French term for a goldfish, which is literally a “red fish.”  It drove me nuts.  (I’ll admit that most real goldfish you see in their bowls are more red than anything else, and that gold, as used in English, is the term that is actually furthest from an accurate description of the patina of these denizens of the domestic depths.)

Poisson D'Avril - Learn FrenchHowever, the big fishy surprise was yet to come:  these self-same inhabitants of cloudy octagonal bowls all across the US, were, for one day in April, the center of the comedy stage in France and Italy, the wet and cold rulers of a world turned on its fins.

It turns out that the holiday known as April Fool’s Day on our side of the Atlantic is known as Poisson d’Avril when celebrated by the French and Pesche d’Aprile when celebrated in Italy.  (Judging from the absence of great vintage post cards on-line, the Italians may have come to this more recently than the French.)

Poisson D’Avril Tradition

Poisson D'Avril - Learn FrenchThe tradition of a day for pranks and pranksters on or about April 1, has existed as far back as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: See “The Vain Cock” where Chanticleer is tricked by a fox. (Wikipedia).

The most benign version of a Poisson d’Avril gag nowadays involves tagging one’s friends and mates with the image of a fish taped to their back, without them noticing — the aim being for the fish to stick as long as possible without the persons noticing that something is fishy around them.

Poisson D'Avril Grownup w/ fish on back

Poisson D’Avril

Poisson D'Avril Kids w/ fish on back

So, you want to learn to speak Portuguese?

Well, the first question after that is WHICH Portuguese?  Because you have a choice of the Portuguese they speak in Brazil – and the Portuguese they speak in Portugal (which is from where the language first started).

The reason for this, if you don’t already know, is that back in the age of “Europe exploring the world, and colonizing the landmasses it found,” Portugal was one of the important players of the game. Brazil became a Portuguese colony (and in that way, became the Brazil we know today) on the 22nd of April, 1500. As with Christopher Columbus thinking he’d gotten to India and calling the American Natives “Indians,” the 2nd Portuguese India Armada was headed to India – and landed in Brazil by accident.

so you want to learn to speak Portuguese?

Which Portuguese dialect should you learn?

The Portuguese knew a good thing when they found it, however, and turned that accident into a very lucrative colonization. Brazil was their colony until the 7th of September, 1822, which is now celebrated as Brazil’s Independence Day. (This is skipping a huge amount of fascinating history, of course.)

Which Portuguese Dialect Should You Learn?

All of which leads to – you want to learn to speak Portuguese, but which Portuguese language do you want to learn? Portuguese is spoken in Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The largest of those countries is Brazil, and their form of Portuguese is now going back to Portugal and influencing the language in the home of their former colonists, through Brazil’s catchy music and addictive soap operas.

The Portuguese spoken in Brazil versus the Portuguese spoken in Portugal can be compared to the differences between American and British English: i.e., some differences in vocabulary and grammar, but the phonology and prosody are much more different from each other (even more than the Parisian and Québécois varieties of French).

So, it does matter which Portuguese-speaking country you are going to when you decide you want to learn the language!

Learn to Speak Portuguese with Pimsleur

The reason this is very much on my mind is that I’m the co-writer of the newest version of Pimsleur’s Brazilian Portuguese I (the 3rd Edition!). I’ve had to do all this research in the course of working on the program. I would say that I was happy to get the Brazilian form of the language – because who doesn’t like long walks on perfect beaches, watching sunsets on those beaches with a caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) in hand, and of course, partying the hot Rio nights away during Carnaval! (This is not to neglect their world-class museums, of course, and many people think “Brazil” and then think “football” – or soccer! – as their very next thought.)

Sadly, Pimsleur does not see the necessity of sending their course writers to the countries speaking the languages of the courses upon which they are working! (An obvious oversight, from my humble point of view!) So I have yet to experience that caipirinha on the beach, or dancing in the streets wearing little more than some well-placed sequins. But during the writing of the course, I have developed a true love of, and appreciation for, Brazilian Portuguese. (Of course, as a writer of the course, I don’t really learn to speak Portuguese the way a course learner does! I would have to go back and do the course “as a learner” to really learn the language through the Pimsleur Method. You would think a bonus of the job was learning all these wonderful languages, but instead, us writers often get left remembering only favorite phrases after we move on to writing the next course!)

I jokingly tell friends that it is the “language of cats” because, mostly, of the word for “no” – which is “não” – and which is pronounced very much like the “meow” my family’s cat speaks with some regularity. Unfortunately, learning Portuguese while writing the course has not let me in on the secret communications of felines, but I do wonder if cats don’t understand Portuguese speakers better than they do English speakers. (Not that they won’t ignore either, if the mood suits them.)

But, seriously, Brazilian Portuguese has a flow and a music to it which is a pleasure to hear. It is no wonder that Brazilians create such excellent music, because they are halfway to singing already in just their regular chit-chat. And there is another reason to learn to speak Portuguese!

My Favorite Portuguese Words from the Pimsleur Course

Two of my favorite words from the course include the “-zinho” diminutive ending. The cafezinho is the traditional Brazilian cup of coffee, like the Italian espresso. It literally means “a little coffee”, and it is a small, sweet, and intense shot of caffeine. It used to be offered to guests, at business meetings, and at regular intervals throughout the day. Sadly, the proliferation of the Italian-style cafés have endangered this indigenous tradition, and in the bigger cities of Brazil you have to specifically ask to get the traditional cafezinho. Still, I think it is worth trying, if you are visiting Brazil.

Not unrelated is tchauzinho, which literally means “little goodbye.” It’s a casual, “Bye!” or “Laters!” sort of leave-taking. But I think it is a good word to sort of sum up Brazilian Portuguese, which is a friendly language, and the exuberance of the culture is expressed by all the words which are so much fun to say. It’s a pleasure to listen to – and a pleasure to speak.

So, if you are going to Brazil, make sure to get a Brazilian Portuguese course, so that you learn to speak the right sort of Portuguese. However, if you are going to Portugal, Pimsleur also offers a European Portuguese course. I haven’t worked on that one, myself, but I hear from my co-workers that it’s excellent.

Either way, I hope you have fun as you learn to speak Portuguese!

Learn Russian Culture: Cold & Flu Cures

Wintertime is the season of sickness, when colds and the flu run rampant through the population (the perfect time to learn Russian tucked under the covers!).  With their bitterly cold, endless winters, the Russians know this better than anyone, and have perfected an assortment of effective treatments to ward off sneezing, coughing, fevers, and sore throats without resorting to a doctor or pharmacy visit.  If you are going to learn Russian, knowing some classic home remedies will surely impress any native speaker.

Learn Russian Remedies & Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

The first thing that everyone thinks of when “home remedies” and “Russians” are mentioned in the same sentence is, of course, vodka—and there is some truth to that.  If you are feeling the beginning of a cold, a shot of vodka with pepper or garlic will help kill the germs. Garlic, with its powerful antibacterial and immune system-boosting effects, is widely used for homeopathic purposes in Russia, helping with everything from colds to toothaches to open wounds. If the thought of straight vodka and raw garlic doesn’t appeal to you, the vodka can also be taken in hot tea with honey before bed. Before you fall asleep, for extra warmth, make sure to wrap yourself in a few extra blankets, sprinkle some mustard powder in your socks, and learn this Russian saying:  derzhi golovu v holode, zhivot v golode, a nogi- v teple.  (Keep your head cool, your stomach empty, and your feet warm.)
If you wake up the next morning feeling crummy despite these preventative measures, it’s time to break out the big guns.  Congested?  Hacking cough?  Get ready for the most tried and true of Russian decongestants: mustard plasters.  Made of a mixture of dry mustard, flour, and water, then spread on a cloth and applied over the chest or back, these help draw out all the gunk in your system, and reinvigorate your circulation.  They do tend to get uncomfortably hot after a while (think blistering), so don’t plan to leave them for more than half an hour.  Fortunately, half an hour is just enough time for you to boil a big pot of potatoes.  Remove them from the heat, throw a towel over your head, and breathe the steam for a while.  Potato steam is better than plain boiled water steam because it gets and stays hotter, plus you have potatoes to eat later on (if you can avoid coughing on them).  After your steam and plaster treatment, be sure to continue to consume vast quantities of tea with honey and lemon.  To mix it up, you can also try hot orange juice- never cold!

With any luck, the cold will have vanished—or at least been scared into submission by these most uncompromising home remedies.  So next time you feel the sniffles coming on, reach for the potatoes and garlic instead of the Dayquil, and heal yourself the old Russian way.