Using Personal Connections to Motivate Language Learning

Me standing in wooden shoes at the Keukenhof, a flower park in the Netherlands, March 2015.

Learning a new language can be motivated by many factors and developed in different environments. While I have taken language courses in classroom settings, my most recent foray into a new language has been less structured, and more personal.

In April 2015, I visited the Netherlands at the end of a semester abroad in England. Much of my mother’s extended family still lives in the Netherlands, and she and I spent about five days meeting relatives and exploring areas like Amsterdam, Heerhugowaard, Volendam, and The Hague.

My relative and I took a canal boat tour in Amsterdam, March 2015.

While not universal, we were surprised by how many Dutch people spoke English, and spoke it well. Our family explained that English language is a required subject for most students, beginning at a young age. The proliferation of English media also helps them to learn not only the formal English of the classroom, but also the common phrases and expressions used in everyday conversation. My mother and I do not speak Dutch, so we relied heavily on our family when traveling, shopping, and communicating in general. The language barrier was not a significant challenge on our trip, however, as so many of the people we interacted with could speak at least some level of English, and many written texts were also available in English as well.

My relatives and I (center) in Chicago, October 2017.

In October this year, a few of these relatives had the opportunity to visit America for several weeks. They spent a weekend with my immediate family in Illinois before visiting other cousins in Indiana and then flying to Tampa, Florida, where a mini-reunion took place. My mother and I took them to Chicago for several days to see the city sights: the Shedd Aquarium, Millenium Park, Michigan Avenue, Chicago 360, and an architectural boat tour. While my mother and I still acted as guides, they could have functioned independently due to their fluency in English; they were able to read parking machines, store signs, menus, and ticket information on their own. Their language abilities afforded them comfort and agency even in a new place, and it allowed them to interact fully with their environment without needing much help outside help.

They later told me that they were not only fluent in English, but also had working knowledge in German, French, and Spanish as well. While this kind of language variety is impressive, it is not uncommon for the world at large. A European Commission report from 2012 found that 77% of people in the Netherlands have practical skills in at least two foreign languages (p. 13), and English is the foreign language most Europeans are able to speak at 38% (p. 19). In other regions of the world, such as those in Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East, it can be common to speak or learn more than one language. These additional languages are not always taught exclusively in a classroom environment – as is common in English-speaking countries – but instead learned more organically through exposure and everyday use.

A Pew Research Center article from 2015 details that only 25% of American adults reported speaking a language other than English in a 2006 survey, and only 43% of this group said they could speak the language very well. While these numbers may be changing, and these statistics are never exact, it is clear that Americans spend less time and effort learning foreign languages. A 2015 article from The Atlantic quoted Richard Brecht, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, as saying, “It isn’t that people don’t think language education is important. It’s that they don’t think it’s possible.”

Language learning, especially later in life, is not easy. I studied Spanish in high school and Latin in undergrad, but I retain almost no functional or conversational skills in these languages. However, many online resources make language learning possible – and fun – after people have left the formal classroom environment. I am currently using Duolingo – an interactive phone app – to learn Dutch, in the hopes of one day being able to speak to my relatives in their native language.

If you are interested in learning a foreign language, there are many resources that are available to you, whether you are at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or not:

Rosetta Stone – for University of Illinois students and faculty, look under Quick Links on the Literatures and Languages Library homepage and login with your netID and password

Mango Languages – through the Urbana Free Library with your library barcode and Champaign Public Library with your library barcode. Many public libraries have Mango Languages subscriptions; check the online resources page.

Duolingo – freely available on iOS, android, and Windows devices

Ethnologue – This is not a language-learning tool, but it includes updated statistics about languages worldwide. Use a University of Illinois netID and password to log in.

Happy language learning!

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sources

Devlin, K. (2015, July 13). Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/13/learning-a-foreign-language-a-must-in-europe-not-so-in-america/.

Friedman, A. (2015, May 10). America’s lacking language skills. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/05/filling-americas-language-education-potholes/392876/.

TNS Opinoin & Social, European Commission. (2012). Europeans and their languages. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/eb_special_399_380_en.htm.

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Mestizaje and religious celebrations in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

This week, from April 10th  to April 17th, is the celebration of the Holy Week in the Christian world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this religious festivity, as with most of the Catholic rituals celebrated in the region, must be read under the light of the historical process of colonization.

Latin America and the Caribbean is defined, in a great part, by Mestizaje. Mestizaje is a social process of encounters, beyond people’s skin color, which includes encounters and struggles involving and identity, beliefs, practices, power structures, and knowledges (See resources on mestizaje here). As a mestiza myself, I have been fascinated with noticing how religious practices and rituals contain and express very vividly the mixed nature of the region.

In fact, colonizing the spiritual beliefs of native communities was one of the most important strategies throughout the colonization of Latin America. Catholicism was carried by the colonizers as the religion of “civilization”, and only through evangelization would indigenous people overcome “savagery”. With this mindset, indigenous communities across a great portion of the continent were evangelized though a process called “reduction”. This  referred to progressively converting native peoples to Catholicism in places called “missions“, which gathered the native communities for evangelization, agricultural production, crafts and construction. Evangelization took place through preaching the bible, instruction, and also through coercion.  Natives would be forbidden to speak in their languages and their temples would be destroyed, among other practices of colonization. These missions were conducted mainly by Franciscan and Jesuit religious communities, and were particularly strong in the Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile and Argentina), Paraguay and northern Brazil. Similar missions were also established in Central and North America, up to today’s Arizona, New Mexico and Texas (More information here).  These missions grew almost like towns, and developed as agricultural and economic centers.

Left, Jesuit Missions in colonial Argentina (Image:Argentina Historica). Right, ruins of Jesuit Guaraní missions in Paraguay (Image: World Monuments Fund).

These practices extended from the early colonial times in the 1500s until the mid 1700s. The Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish empire around 1768. However, in some regions, similar practices of evangelization survived until the early 1800s (Read about the Jesuits in Latin America here. Additional resources at the library here).

As is the case with other cultures that have gone through colonization, mixed beliefs and practices that blend elements from native and colonial traditions emerged in Latin America. At a religious level, rituals vividly reveal this process of mestizaje. Academic interpretations on how and why this mixture of beliefs took place, and of how this process dialogues with particular characteristics of each community, are too varied and extended to discuss here (See some resources here). The fact is that religious traditions become adapted to the cultures where they were installed. As an act of survival and, perhaps, resistance, native communities in Latin America appropriated these rituals and maintained elements from their own tradition despite colonization.  Examples of this are the celebration of the Virgin of Candelaria. This Virgin is considered the patron saint of several towns across Latin America. In Paucartambo (in Cuzco, Peru), the Virgin of Candelaria is also known as “Mamacha Candelaria“, a term and a celebration which draws from native Andean religiosity.

Celebration of Mamacha Candelaria in Paucartambo, Peru. Image: Still from documentary “Festividad Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo” by Folclore Peruano

Through a history of colonization, appropriation and syncretism, religiosity in Latin America has historically been experienced with passion and intensity. Therefore, the celebration of the Holy Week is a major celebration across the region.

Unlike the egg hunting celebration of the United States, the holy week of the Catholic tradition is heavily charged with a spirit of penitence and renewal. This is tied to both the Roman prosecution of Jesus, and the betrayal which lead to Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. The basic structure of holy week celebration in catholic countries which were Spanish colonies usually involves processions showing Jesus and Mary’s suffering:  Starting on Palm Sunday with his entry to the city of Jerusalem where he was received as the son of God; through to Holy Friday, the passion, where he is crucified; and finally ending on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Friday, or Good Friday, is when the largest amount of processions take place, representing several stations from Jesus’ apprehension to his crucifixion. These biblical episodes are recreated as processions, each with vivid displays of statues and enacted representations, such as Christ’s imprisonment and execution, and the celebration of his resurrection. This is called Viacrucis.

Left, Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia (image: Blog Semana Santa de Popayán). Right, Viacrucis at the lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua. Image: Fotoblog, “Hoy” Newspaper

Huge statues of saints are carried in procession, usually by men paying promises to them, and taken from churches into the streets, followed by believers.  While maintaining these basic patterns , there are a great spectrum of variations of the kinds of displays and additional rites that have evolved in different communities.

The ritual celebrations of the Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia, for example, are a very classic representation of the processions that take place in Spain, the country where the tradition first originated.  The Judios de Masatete in Nicaragua and the Borrados in Nayarit, Mexico, on the other hand, demonstrate how the incorporation of native traditions and local culture can result in a very different representation of the same celebration.  Another example is the lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua, where the procession is adapted to water with canoes.

These are just a few examples of the wide diversity of religious syncretism and celebrations that take place in Latin America which are strongly expressed during the period known as Holy Week. Countries like Mexico and Guatemala also present a rich variety of cultural expressions through Catholic rituals; while in Brazil and the Caribbean the Spanish and indigenous traditions blend together amidst a strong African influence.

If you are interested about these processes of mestizaje in Latin America and its manifestation on spiritual practices, we invite you to consult books as “South and Meso-American native spirituality: from the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation“. If you are fluent in Spanish you can also take a look at “Religiones y culturas : perspectivas latinoamericanas“. The library holds a large collection on Latin American cultures and religious traditions, as well as on Catholicism in that region. In addition, we invite you to visit out International and Area Studies Library, and bring your questions to our Librarian on Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor.

 

 

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Climate Change and Feminism

By Aminah Koshul

http://www.predictions2016.com/2017/01/27/five-technological-innovations-identified-to-tackle-climate-change/

The pervasive nature of social justice is such that it demands we connect the two seemingly unrelated issues of climate change and feminism. A surface-level analysis of both issues does little to reveal the extent to which the two are related. However, it is important to recognize that an integral component of sustainable development is curbing climate change, which we erroneously view within the framework of technological advancements alone.

It is true that technology may mitigate problems related to climate change, but to propose an effective solution with both short-term and long-term goals, human activity must be distinguished as the root cause behind it. Social issues such as overconsumption and overpopulation are primarily responsible for driving the negative effects of climate change. Accordingly, it is necessary to seek out solutions that are not based in technology alone and are preventative rather than reactionary in nature. Carbon tax and solar panels may be a good start, but they do not even begin to combat the deep-seated social issues, such as poverty and gender inequality, which contribute to climate change.

http://womengenderclimate.org/category/news/ and http://www.soroptimistinternational.org/advocacy-roundup-si-un-reps-help-give-a-global-voice-to-women-and-girls/

Climate change and feminism can go hand-in-hand if we empower women with work and educational opportunities that diversify their role in society beyond wives and mothers. This facilitates population control by reducing birth rates, which is essential to maintaining current rates of consumption without depleting resources. Such initiatives can be introduced in both the global north and south by granting women bodily autonomy at the policy level, as well as at the social and behavioral level.

http://web.unep.org/gender/

The United Nations Gender and the Environment Program (UNEP) promotes a gender-inclusive approach geared towards sustainable development. It recognizes that sustainability requires the inclusion of all sectors of society, especially those that are most vulnerable to climate change. UNEP has adopted gender mainstreaming policies in which women’s interests are recognized in the implementation and evaluation of programs in political, economic and social spheres.

 

https://www.facebook.com/WhatToDoAboutClimateChange/

 

This is obviously easier said than done, but it provides a more sustainable solution to climate change that can be affected in both large-scale, institutional and small-scale, individual scenarios. Countering climate change requires an agenda more comprehensive than engineering affordable green technology, and by aligning the goals of sustainable development with social justice, we can envision a world which manifests the principles necessary to build a brighter future.

References

Loring, P., Boucher, M.J. (2017, March 21). Climate change is more than a tech problem, so we need more than a tech solution. Retrieved from Eco-Business: http://www.eco-business.com/opinion/climate-change-is-more-than-a-tech-problem-so-we-need-more-than-a-tech-solution/

United Nations Environment (n.d.). Welcome to Gender and the Environment. Retrieved from United Nations Environment: http://web.unep.org/gender/

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr

Social Media and Honesty: Expressing Yourself Anonymously

Nowadays, social media is a given.  Whether you tweet, update your Facebook status, or enjoy uploading images of a midday meal or two, the assumed default is that everyone is involved in at least one type of social media.  That assumption, combined with our own need to be ever-connected, continues to feed the development of new and intriguing takes on social media.  Case in point:  Sarahah.

Created by Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq and named for the Arabic word for ‘honesty’, Sarahah enables users to send anyone in their social network—friends, family, coworkers—anonymous messages.  The goal, he says, was to enable people to give feedback to others without fear, as factors like age gaps or rank differences can make it difficult to have open, constructive discussions.  As such, the site explicitly avoids recording the identity of who sends what, so users can send and receive messages without worrying that their confessions will be linked back to them.

The site was originally made to help businesses, but quickly grew beyond such specific scope thanks to 270 million views and 20 million users.  Most popular in Egypt with nearly 2.5 million users, the site is also gaining ground in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria and Kuwait.  This number will undoubtedly continue to grow as the service develops further—and with its FAQ page revealing a ‘reply to message’ function is in the works, clearly there are plans to do just that.

Although this specific social media service is a trending, up-and-coming new platform, this is not the first time its foundational idea of ‘anonymity’ has been a means of the, somewhat oxymoronic, privately public social media confession.

In January of 2005, for example, a project wherein unidentified people would send in decorated postcards with a personal, untold secret on it was created.  Over the course of two years, the project, and community around it, expanded to such an extent that the PostSecret webpage was launched.

Whisper, released in March 2012, is primarily a mobile app, although it does have its own website.  The app follows PostSecret precedent of secrets or confessions overlaid on pictures, with the difference of all the submissions being digital.

Finally, there’s Yik Yak—a smartphone app launched in 2013 with the goal of allowing people to create, view, reply to, and vote on anonymous posts…but only those created by other users within a 5-mile radius of one’s location.  As of late, however, the app has begun to shift away from complete and total anonymity by granting users the option to post under their specific profile name.

Whether it’s through snail mail like PostSecret or an online site like Sarahah, it’s obvious that people desire an anonymous means to connect and be heard—especially in those instances where the topic of conversation is sensitive or potentially uncomfortable.

References

Rashwan, N. (2017, February 27). ‘Ready for honesty?’ An anonymous message site takes off. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-39067533

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). PostSecret – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PostSecret

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Whisper (app) – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisper_%28app%29

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (n.d.). Yik Yak – Wikipedia. Retrieved from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yik_Yak

 

Erin Shores

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Share this post:
Facebook Twitter Tumblr