Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bilingualism as a Rubik's Cube

I wrote several of these, Metaphors of Bilingualism, when I was in Italy with a Fulbright, in 2014. For example, Bilingualism as unfinished architecture, and Bilingualism as a dream, which sums up all the others. I can't believe it's already been three years since I was wandering around Padova and Venice, collecting bilingual writing in Italian high schools, and making new friends.

The good news is, I can still speak Italian and, surprisingly, use it quite a bit, as I keep in touch with friends, vacation back in Italy, read, etc. In fact, I have been noticing lately that Italian seems to be interfering with my well-established Spanish, both in speaking and writing. This observation is the inspiration for my new metaphor: Bilingualism as a Rubik's cube.

Photo by Marco Blazevic,  
So, let's imagine that each side (color) of the Rubik's cube is a language. Generally speaking, by the time we're four or five years old, we are already carrying around a Rubik's cube with one side complete: the color of our native language, AKA mother tongue. This is the language we acquire naturally and easily, from the time we are born. If you are lucky enough to be born into a household where more than one language is spoken, you will have two native languages and thus be a simultaneous bilingual... and, following the metaphor, have two sides of your Rubik's cube complete when you enter school.

However, it is a myth that true bilinguals must acquire their languages simultaneously from birth. The fact is, the majority of bilinguals (and they are still bilinguals!) do not fall into this category. Instead, most bilinguals acquire their languages sequentially, meaning they acquire one language at home and one later, in school or through experience, like living in a different linguistic environment (more on simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism here).

Ok, back to the Rubik's cube. Let's say you are a sequential bilingual, like most (and like me). You got your first side of the cube with your native language: let's say it's yellow. Then, maybe through school and some cultural immersion, you acquire a second language, so you complete a second side of the cube: let's say it's red. However, as you are trying to assemble that red side, sometimes yellow squares move in. If you immerse yourself enough in red, maybe you will even have some red squares move into your yellow side of the cube. It's pretty hard to get both sides to be complete and stable, but they can eventually get there.

Now, you want to add another language, so you attempt to solve a third side of the cube: let's say it's green. Of course, as you are assembling the green side, you get some yellow squares and red squares in there. While you are sorting things out, you also get some green into your red side. The point is, it's impossible to solve one side of the cube without moving squares from the other sides, and those colors are going to mix up to some degree. You can eventually, and with great effort, straighten them out, but they will, at least at first (and maybe when you are really getting tired of trying to solve this darn cube), they will mix up.

Maybe you have experienced this yourself. For example, this is why, when you speak a second language, you likely have an accent. The "accent" is just your brain and speech articulators imposing phonemes (speech sounds) from your first language onto your second- phonological yellow squares moving into the red or green side of the cube. Of course, language is not just phonology. You can mix up words, produce sentences with a word order that make sense in one language but not another, attempt to translate slang or idioms that sound absurd in the other language.

Why does this happen? Ojo: This is where the metaphorical gets theoretical. Linguists used to think that a bilingual person's languages were separate, independent systems in the brain. In a now classic paper in the field, Francois Grosjean argued against this idea in 1989. Almost 30 years later, most researchers agree that bilingual language is a dynamic, unified system. That is, a bilingual person's languages are integrated and overlapping, and can be used purposefully and strategically either individually or together (e.g., in code-switching or translanguaging). Ofelia García has promoted and explained these ideas well, as well as their implication for the education of bilingual children.  

In summary, just as a bilingual person's languages are part of the same linguistic system, the different colors of the Rubik's cube are part of the same cube. In both cases, the parts influence each other and the whole. So there you have it: bilingualism is a Rubik's cube!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Torino (Turin)... not all coffee and chocolate

Torino's famed bicerin, at the cafe that invented it in 1763
We were so fortunate to be able to visit Italy last week, the week leading up to Christmas. We flew into Milan and headed straight to Padova (Padua), to visit dear friends and old haunts from my Fulbright, now almost three years ago. Just as I remember it, Padova was precious: charming, narrow streets and bustling piazzas and markets. A bonus: The Christmas lights were absolutely amazing.

Piazza della fruta, Padova

Padova at night
Of course, a trip to the Veneto Region requires a visit to Venezia (Venice!). I wrote about my first visit to Venice during Carnevale, when the water was high and I couldn't get into San Marco. Things were still cold, but less wet, this time around.

Venice, "La Serenissima", glorious as always

Piazza San Marco, Venezia
But wait a minute... this post is supposed to be about Torino (Turin), capital of Piemonte and former capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1865). It was our first time in the Piedmont region, and the views of the snow-covered Alps -even in the city- were stunning. Although I had done my research and made a list of must-sees and must-dos around town, the purpose of our visit was for my husband to reunite with a childhood friend, which turned out to be a blast and, of course, provided us with an amazing, local tour guide. 

Torino is a true city with close to one million inhabitants, but its center is very walkable, allowing visitors to experience a good amount of landmarks in a day or two. So, what to do, eat, and see in Torino? Start with a cafe- you won't have to go far. We were told that this city has more cafes per capita than anywhere... and many of them are historic and so beautiful. We started at the birthplace of the city's signature drink, Al Bicerin. Bicerin is a mix of espresso, super-thick hot chocolate, and steamed milk or cream. I am not a coffee drinker, but I finished my glass (yes, it's served in a small wine glass), accompanied by not only the typical brioche but marron glacé (sublime, candied chestnuts) and gianduiotto, Torino's traditional chocolate (btw, the city is known for both coffee and chocolate, and is home to both Lavazza and Nutella).  

We visited a few other cafes during the day... really, they are amazing. One that everyone knows about is Fiorio, which dates back to 1780. Writers, royalty, and political leaders frequented this cafe over the centuries. We just stopped in for gelato. 

The bar at one of Torino's many historic cafes... help yourself to a tiny glass of water from the fountain

The historic Caffe Fiorio
Of course, one can't just drink coffee and eat sweets all day. Fortunately, Torino also has the largest street market in Italy (so we were told), il Mercato di Porta Palazzo, which sells everything under the sun, including food from all over Italy. Other great places to shop are Via Garibaldi, a long pedestrian street running through the historic center (Piazza Castello to Piazza Statuto), and Via Po, where you can find all the high-end, "fancy" shops. 

Garlic and (below) artichokes at Porta Palazzo market

Is it time for lunch yet? Stop by an osteria (we got to go to il Caffé Vini Ranzini, run by the same family since the late 1800's), to eat some snacks served on a cutting board (al tagliere) with a glass of wine (dare I start talking about Piedmont wines?).

Once (and still) a refuge for laborers after a hard day, Caffé Vini Ranzini still serves hard-boiled eggs at the bar
I just realized so far I have only talked about food and drink! No problem... as you are wandering from cafe to cafe, it's not difficult to visit all sorts of landmarks in the city center: Palazzo Reale (royal palace), Mole Antonelliana, Po River, museums... 

Ancient city walls from Roman times

La Mole Antonelliana, architectural symbol of the city
 ... and, of course, churches, full of stunning Baroque architecture and art. 

Santuario della Consolata

Chiesa dei Santi Martiri (Via Garibaldi)

One of many nativities on display at Chiesa dei Martiri
Overall, although it's not a typical destination on Italy's tourist track, Torino is well worth the trip. Years of being known as the HQ of Fiat (since 1899!) gave Torino the reputation as an industrial city (I even heard someone say that Torino is the "Detroit of Italy"). However, there is so much history and culture to be seen here from well before Fiat came on the scene. The 2006 Winter Olympics helped the world see Torino in a new light, as a vibrant city to be enjoyed. So, be prepared to eat well, drink well, learn and walk a lot as you explore this fun and fascinating place!     

A bedazzled Christmas tree in Piazza del Castello, in front of the Royal Palace 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Back to Guatemala: Tomorrow!

A year goes by pretty quickly. It's already been a year since I last traveled to Guatemala to facilitate a service learning program (with students). Today I am looking back at what I wrote last year, preparing for this journey.

Got my hands on some tools to help custom-build a wheelchair for this little guy 

Last year, I posed three questions, which I will attempt to answer here.

1. How can we foster sustainable relationships with community partners in the towns we will visit?

Next week will make three times that Speech-Language Pathology has taken a team of students to Guatemala to promote literacy enrichment. In conjunction with the local mission that coordinates our week, we have been able to establish a relationship with a school for children with special needs, and are nurturing a relationship with an after-school program that also solicits sponsorships for individual children in their program to cover school and healthcare expenses. Continuing to return to these places, and keeping in touch with them during the year, helps build and maintain the relationships. Of course, challenges are always the short time we are actually in Guatemala (one week), and the uncertainty in planning all the details of our days there.

SHU students engaging with Brillo de Sol students
2. How can we find out, from the communities themselves, how we can participate with them? What do they really want from this collaboration?

This is a tough one. There seems to be an endless amount of needs in the towns we visit. It concerns me that the people in these communities are used to seeing groups of gringos coming in to provide them with goods or services. Last October, we traveled without the team of SHU nursing students who usually provide over-the-counter drugs and vitamins in the temporary clinics we set up. Many Guatemalans came to the community center looking for medicine that we could not offer.

I think this is why it's critical to have relationships with the leaders of local organizations in the communities we are attempting to serve. We can't meet all the individual needs of those who come looking for help, but we can try to implement some sort of systematic support to those who are there, working full-time, on a permanent basis to improve their situations.

Book donation to Ahava Ministries' after-school program. Thank you, Lectorum and Scholastic Books!
3. What are the long-term impacts of global service learning on the participating students? How will this experience influence their academic and professional inquiries and applications at home? What is my role as a facilitator in supporting/enhancing the students' learning?

Lots of questions here! I am confident from reading returning students' reflections -including a follow-up reflection from a few SLP students who did the program twice- that there is a definite, positive impact for the students. For many, there is intercultural development. For some, there is transformative learning. Perceptive students can clearly see and are able to articulate how what they learn from this experience will transfer to their life and work in the US (e.g., in working with culturally diverse communities).

My role as a facilitator has been a bit different this year, as we provided a structured, cultural awareness curriculum for the students before leaving. Over the last few weeks, the students have been reflecting on who they are, delving into dimensions of their own culture, and learning about Guatemalan history and culture, in preparation for our experience. Hopefully, this will increase intercultural development outcomes. We will see. At any rate, this year, I am going to try to be both a coach and an observer of my students. I want to support them, but I also want to let them figure things out on their own, and watch them do it. I am looking forward to this process.    

A reflective student writes in her journal during lunch break

I have to say that I head back to Guatemala excited, but with the same concerns as always. Maybe rather than wondering what our team can do in just one week, I should see us as just one element of a much bigger picture. We are only a piece of the giant puzzle composed of all the various gringo groups and "helpers" who show up and want to do good in this place. Our intentions are good. We will do our best to contribute.

Evening sky in La Antigua, Guatemala 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Manchester: El Laberinto

After Liverpool, and with two dear friends from Italy, I sang my way through "Manchester England, England... Across the Atlantic Sea"...

One of the many murals around Manchester
A friendly hotel receptionist from Spain suggested, “Manchester es un laberinto”: a labyrinth, a maze... a tough place to navigate. However, it is still a walkable city, and in just one evening and one full day, we really covered a lot of ground.

Manchester is full of canals. However, they are sometimes hard to reach!
Like Liverpool, Manchester is also a historically industrial city. Today, many of the old factories, textile mills, and warehouses have been converted to apartments, offices, and museums. Wish we could do this in Bridgeport, CT! Although my time in Manchester was brief, here are some memorable stops. Note that admission to all the museums and public/historic sites in Manchester is FREE!

1. John Rylands Library: My favorite place! Check out the link for gorgeous photos. The library is a late-Victorian, Neo-Gothic building opened to the public in 1900. It now houses various exhibits, special collections, rare books, reading rooms, etc. For a library-lover or anyone interested in architecture, this place is a must-visit. Not to mention, one of the current exhibits, Magic, Witches, & Devils in the Early Modern World, was really fascinating. 

Inside John Ryland's Library

An adorable little "machine"... you put in a coin and it plays a scene (in the library)

2. Right up the street is the city's historic Town Hall, a beautiful, gothic-style building constructed from 1868-1877. By signing in and getting a visitor's pass, we were able to go upstairs to visit the famous Great Hall and peek into some banquet rooms. A solid stop.

Manchester Town Hall, with the sky looking typical.
3. Canal Street, the “gay quarter” is a vibrant passage right along one of the many Manchester canals, lined with lighted trees, clubs, and music. We walked here at night, after a late dinner, and the scene was buzzing.  

4. People’s History Museum: Housed in the old pump house, right on the river, the museum's setting is the perfect ambiance to present an interactive history of voting rights, workers’ rights, and civil rights in the UK. There was also a special exhibit, Grafters, of rare and powerful photographs of factory workers, miners, and other laborers… Overall, an inspiring visit.

5. Museum of Science and Industry: A conglomerate of old warehouses with different things to explore in each, this museum can be quite overwhelming. We stopped by at the end of the day wandered briefly... ended up spending more time relaxing on a couch with tea in the museum cafe. It happens! 

6. Food. I have to say, we were again fortunate to choose some really great restaurants in Manchester. Here's a little list. The gorgeous food photos were all taken by my talented friend, Andreia Amarandei.

- Vietnamese. Wandering around the Chinatown area the evening we arrived, I convinced my friends to try Vietnamese food at a new place on Portland Street, somewhere between Princess and Oxford Streets (they don't seem to have a website yet). The place was full of extended Vietnamese families and friends, filling up large tables and keeping the small staff on their toes. It took a long time to get our food, but it was worth it! 

- Wasabi Sushi’s dessert room. After our pho etc., and on the recommendation of our server from the Vietnamese place, we walked around the corner and down the street to Wasabi Sushi's Dessert Room. Bright and bubbly in so many ways, this place serves all the quasi-novel, icy, chewy, gummy, popping desserts you sometimes see in bubble tea places and/or different Asian restaurants. Here, they were all together! We enjoyed lychee snow ice with various toppings. A super treat.

Lychee snow ice, with lychee jelly, strawberries, and little rice balls 
 - Mr. Thomas's Chop House: Traditional British food in a traditional, Georgian style house, this place serves bangers and mash, Shepard’s pie, welsh rarebit, etc. They even have Sunday roast. When my friend suggested this place, I thought, “Chop house = nothing vegetarian”. Well, I was almost right, but pleasantly surprised to learn that their (what I would call "French"-) onion soup is made with a vegetable broth, not beef as I am used to in the US. That plus the Lancashire Waldorf salad was a good lunch for me.
Bangers and mash (not suitable for vegetarians -ha!)

- Ning Malaysian. We passed by this place in the morning and I remembered it all day. At 8:15 that evening, we were lucky to get in without a reservation. This place was hot -and so was the food! A delicious way to end a fun day in Manchester. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Enjoying Global Englishes –and other languages- in the UK

I just spent a week in the UK to attend and present at the EARLI SIG Writing conference, in Liverpool. As you might imagine, attending this sort of event among Europeans (the British are still Europeans, for the moment; plus, participants came from all over Europe) entails being in a super-multilingual, multicultural context at various levels: exactly the kind of environment I love!  

The sign outside of Mr. Thomas' Chop House. "Mancunian" = from Manchester. 

At the conference, research was presented in numerous globalEnglishes; that is, varieties of English spoken by people from all over Europe, the UK, and the US. In fact, most –if not all- of the attendees were multilingual and, in many cases, also living multicultural lives. For example, I met a woman from Portugal teaching Portuguese in Mozambique, a young woman from Chile studying in Netherlands, an Italian woman working in Sweden who had previously worked in the US, etc. I also spent some time chatting with a woman from Glasgow, Scotland who grew up in Germany and also speaks Spanish (her husband is from Mexico and they are teaching their children both German and Spanish at home). Wish I would have known about the Spanish sooner, since for me it was really difficult to understand her Glaswegian English!

Local "For Rent" (not bathroom!) signs.

On the topic of not understanding English, the Liverpool dialect is unique and quite a challenge. It's called Scouse (here's another example). I maybe understood 50% of what I heard from native Liverpoolians. In one instance, at the train station, a shop was selling pasties (dare I call them "British empandas"?), and one of the ingredients advertised was swede. I stopped to ask what swede was. The woman working said something like, “ciopamveip adodipvah ik paidnoapite.” Translation: “It’s like a carrot; no, a turnip. Do you know what a turnip is?” OH! A turnip! But wait... this site says swede is not turnip, but rutabaga. 

"No diapers"

To make things more exciting, I spent the whole week with three friends from Italy, so, among us we were speaking mostly Italian. After the conference, we took a free, walking tour of Liverpool in Spanish (easier for the Italians to understand), guided by a guy from Galicia. It was kind of a relief to listen to and speak Spanish at that point!

Whenever I come to Europe I am amazed at the ease of mobility among people, languages, and cultures. All this makes me wonder if and when the US will ever embrace multilingualism as a way of life. I think some areas (e.g., Miami, New York) have done so, but, in general, to quote a colleague I met at the conference, “The US is one of the only countries in the world now where most people are still monolingual”. Perhaps... but how can we change this??? 

Free top ups! 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Liverpool: Home of the Beatles and the Three (Dis)Graces

I loved Liverpool. As soon as I arrived I felt like I could live there. It’s small enough that you can quickly get oriented, walk everywhere, and feel relaxed, yet there’s plenty to see, do, and eat.

Liverpool Pier Head/Albert Dock area
Photo by Andreia Amarandei
Liverpool was a thriving port city during the Victorian age, spanning most of the 19th Century. However, due to industrialization, the world wars, and changing economic conditions, the city suffered high rates of poverty and unemployment during the first half of the 20th Century. Things started to turn around a few decades ago, and, in 2008, Liverpool was awarded the EU City of Culture award. Thanks to this distinction, the city has been able to invest huge amounts on development. Nowadays, there’s an overall great vibe in this up-and-coming place, and the locals are very friendly and hospitable. After four days in Liverpool, here are a few of the highlights.

1. Waterfront. Liverpool is interesting because it’s a port city, but the port is pretty much right in the center of town. The buildings along the waterfront, where the River Mersey opens into the Irish Sea, create the iconic skyline of the city. Much of the old pier/port has been built up with walkways, public art (e.g., Superlambananas), shops, and museums, which now constitute the pier and Albert Dock area.

Waterfront walk on a sunny day in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

One of the superlambananas on the Liverpool waterfront

If the weather is nice, it’s a great place to wander and catch some street entertainment. If it starts to rain, you can visit one of the many, free museums in this area (Museum of Liverpool, International Slavery MuseumTate Liverpool, World Museum). The Beatles Story museum is also at Albert Dock, but not free.

Finally, I should mention “the three graces,” historic, beautiful buildings on the waterfront that make up the traditional skyline. The ultramodern buildings of the new museums are sometimes referred to by the locals as “the three disgraces”, as they stand in contrast to the graces as stark, cold, and even ugly pieces of architecture.

View of Liverpool's Three Graces: The Royal Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool Buildings

2. The Cavern Club. On a tiny street embedded in the pedestrian shopping area is The Cavern, an underground club where the Beatles used to play before they became famous. Here they were discovered by manager Brian Epstein, who put them on an international scale. The original Cavern Club was destroyed in the 1970's due to the development of Liverpool's underground railway. However, the site was excavated and rebuilt in the early 80's, and today is a not-to-be-missed stop on any city walk.  

A brick wall outside the Cavern Club: Each brick is inscribed with the name of a band that played here

Actually, the presence of The Beatles is everywhere in Liverpool. On a separate, Beatles bus tour hosted by the conference, we saw the red gate of Strawberry Fields (it was a Salvation Army group foster home for children), John Lennon’s childhood home, Brian Epstein’s home, Paul McCartney and Lennon’s respective colleges in the Georgian Quarter, and the still gorgeous Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Room, where The Beatles used to hang out. Our tour guide said that a recent study suggests that the city of Liverpool earns over one million dollars a year in revenue just related to The Beatles.

3. Chinatown. I heard from a tour guide that, out of Liverpool’s nearly 500,000 people, about 10,000 are of Chinese origin. For Liverpool, this means a small, but lively Chinatown with a couple of blocks of shops and restaurants.

Chinatown Arch
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

4. The Anglican Cathedral. A turn-of the (20th) century monolith, Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral hosts the UK's largest organ and heaviest and highest bells in the world. To the shock of my Italian friends, there is also a full-service cafe and gift shop right inside. When we visited, several elementary schools were rehearsing for a large-scale, hip-hop-style, praise-the-Lord concert. 

5. Food. 
Spice Lounge at Albert Dock has awesome Indian food. 
- We also discovered Bakchich, on Bold Street, a Lebanese place with the best falafel I have ever had. Great for vegetarians! 
- For a traditional English breakfast (not the tea, but a full plate of food featuring fried eggs, sausages, beans, and hash browns- I wonder where the US breakfast came from?), visit Maggie May’s Cafe, also on Bold Street. This place also serves the traditional Liverpool dish, (lob)scouse, a rich lamb/beef stew (not great for vegetarians!).  

Delicious Lebanese food at Bakchich, on Bold Street in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

Overall, Liverpool rocks. With friendly locals, a vibrant history and culture, and an up-and-coming feel, it's definitely a place to check out. Careful though... the Liverpool dialect (also called Scouse) is extremely difficult to understand! Stay tuned for more on the world Englishes I experienced at the EARLI SIG Writing Conference in Liverpool!