Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time: sip it slowly

I really wish Time was a cup of tea or hot chocolate: a beverage you need to sip slowly and carefully. Instead, Time is nothing like that: it's more like a glass of coke you drink without even realizing it when you are very thirsty and in need of a cold drink. Water is there, too, but we always go for the coke. When it's gone, regrets come: "I shouldn't have! I'm on a diet!". And if your conscience does not bring this thought, then your throat and nose will, when you feel that funny tickling. Maybe it's not a regret, but still something that has gone through all too quickly to be duly appreciated.

And that, my friend, is time. It flies like an arrow, they say, but sometimes I feel it flies more like a rocket. You blink, and months, perhaps even year, have already gone by and you ask yourself: HOW? Where did all the plans go? Don't you remember, when you were 16, and had all those fantasies about how life would be at 25? or at 30? Brilliant career? A stable relationship? Kids? Decent apartment? Independent? Everything seemed possible back then, didn't it?


Next thing you know, you're approaching your 30th birthday and none of your plans has actually turned into reality.

Is it time to regret?
Time for new plans?
Time to think?

Time to live. I think I like this option best. Because you know what? Time is not a hot beverage, but you can pretend it is: approach all the experiences carefully and fully. Keep them in your mouth for a bit: the taste of that kiss, the sweetness of that chocolate, the texture of those words; keep them on your ears for a bit: the sound of that music, the happiness in that gaggle, the sincerity in that complimet; keep them in your senses for a bit: the smell of those flowers, the scent of that hug, the strength of those arms; keep them in your mind for a bit: the smile of that girl, the sweetness of that gesture, the stars in that gaze. Just keep them with you, feel them fully, and take everything you can from them. That's what makes time meaningful and real.

A clichet? yeah, that is probably it. But what's wrong with it if it works?

Monday, March 07, 2011

An easy language

If I was given a penny for all the times I heard that "English is easy", I would probably be rich by now.

It seems a lot of people think that English is easy. But what is "easy"? Isn't it just a mere point-of-view? What is easy for me may not be as easy for someone else. And this alone is enough to tear down the assumption that English is easy. But I can go further, and I will.

On my side, I have nothing less than one of Bernard Shaw's masterpieces: The Pygmalion. That's what we can find in the preface to the book:

"The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen."

Now, if English is difficult for the Englishmen, then how can it be easy for ESL learners?

Of course, at the basis of this "misconception" is the idea that English Grammar is not as complex as Italian or Spanish Grammar. It is important to point out that by "grammar", in this case, learners usually mean "morphology".

But isn't it just too superficial to judge the degree of difficulty of a language based only on its morphology? Then why is it that we take 10-15 years to learn English to an advanced level if it is so easy? Isn't the huge vocabulary hard to learn? And what about the collocations? And prepositions? Not to mention pronunciation and intonation...

I guess the difference is the mere objective: if you want to learn a basic English, then it's not that difficult. Probably, it wouldn't be so hard to learn basic Spanish, German, Italian or even Chinese, for that matter. Now, if you REALLY want to know the language, then you have to try VERY HARD because it's nothing less than a life-long endeavor.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bye-bye CPE

That's with great relief that I announce I have finally taken the CPE test. Hopefully, this will mean that I won't have to read those extra-boring texts any least not for the next month. The only problem is that I don't know whether I passed or not. I will know only on January 25. Till then, I can only cross my fingers.
I have another great announcement this semester: I've passed the entrance exam for my MA program in Linguistics and I am really happy to go back to college and continue my studies (it was about time as I have graduated 4 years ago!! My goodness, time really flies!).
Finally, the best announcement of all: I am travelling. After 2 years spent on the very same spot and city, I am sure a travel will help me recover some energy for the next semester (which announces itself as a not-so-easy one). Where am I going? Well, as always I will spend time in Italy visiting my big family. This time, though, I was craving for something different and I will spend a few days in Switzerland and Amsterdam as well. I just can't wait to set off!!
That's just a short note for today, which has raised from the promise I made to myself: write something new and something in English before my writing gets rusty. I will write more and it will be about translation.

Now, if you want to know more about Cambridge exams, just click here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

studying for CPE

My CPE prep classes have already started and I am pretty happy with them. However, no matter how good the teacher is, it is inevitable to always be haunted by that know that voice inside your head which tells you: it's so hard and you are not even close to be prepared for this test. And actually, by now, I'm wondering if it is ever possible to really feel like you are prepared for the test. Each part of the test brings about obstacles almost impossible to overcome: what if I exceed the 2 minutes time in the speaking part? what if the writing is about something I know nothing about? what if the Use of English test is full of those texts on business and biology which I simply don't understand? groan...I'm starting to feel depressed already, and I'm going to take the test only in December!!
However, this is not the time for despair: something can still be done - namely, exercise!
Luckily people in cambridge are fully aware that they are preparing a very difficult (impossible?) test, and they are willing to help us. Of course, I know they write books which are meant to help us getting prepared - and they sell it at a high price, knowing that it is almost impossible to pass the test without these books. However - strange as it may sound - they are also willing to help us for free!! yeah, you got it: no costs whatsoever! Isn't it very solidary of them?
  • The first website I recommend is ExamEnglish, which is good not only for the exercises it provides, but also because it helps getting a better/bigger picture of what all of these Cambridge and Toefl tests are about. This way you can find out if the test you want to take will actually help you in achieving your goals.
  • The second website, very familiar among Cultura Inglesa students and teachers, is Flo-Joe. The website describes itself as "the place on the web for Cambridge exam preparation". If you are taking the Toefl, some exercises might still be helpful, but the test is really different. Flo-Joe can be very helpful if you are planning to take FCE, CAE or CPE as it provides many many many exercises. It is specially useful to prepare for the reading, writing or Use of English parts of the test.
  • ETS, which is the organization that oversees the major American tests (GRE, SAT, G-Mat, etc.), is also responsible for Toefl. The new Toefl is now IBT, which stands dor Internet Based Test. The ETS website provides some helpful tips and question samples for you to get prepared for free. However, if you really intend to take the test, it is advisable that you either buy the book with the Cd-Rom (which gives you a better idea of how the test will look like) or pay for the online preparation. The cost will be pretty much the same.
If you do as much exercise as you can, I think you have good chances to get a B in the test :)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Truth is: books are more important than their writers. I really think so. Of course, writers are very important as people - as everyone else. Books, instead, are different: they can become your own even if it was not you who wrote them. Books can acquire your own personal interpretation, flavor and color. Books can interpret your life, even though the writer does not even know you exist. I know, it might sounds insensitive - or even insensible - but I really think books are more important for each one of us - the readers - than the writers are.
Of course, I have my favorite writers, and I admire them. As a kid, I would read any of Roald Dahl's books. My first was "the Chocolate Factory". Once I read "Pride and Prejudice", I would read any other Jane Austen's book. After reading the "Italian Fairy Tales" by Italo Calvino, I would always be glad to start a new Calvino. After finishing Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code", I couldn`t wait to read "Angels and Demons". Once I had the chance to read Camilleri, I just couldn't stop reading about Montalbano...and so on. Describing myself as a "fan" would be too much. I admire writers for what they write - more than for what they are (except rare occasions).
I wouldn't say I was a JD Salinger fan, but "The catcher in the Rye"is still one of my favorite books. I was very surprised to read about his death on the paper the other day...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A walk in the park: Alice wondering about her land

Yesterday we finally had a nice day in BH. We had to endure an implacable rain for days - it seemed months. Gray, lazy and melancholic days, I have to say. But finally it's over: good weather has come yesterday and I decided to celebrate the sunny day with a walk in the park.

It was a very meaningful walk - I was searching for something there. But this is a long story, which needs to be properly set.

Some time ago, a person who is very dear to me sent me a text: "Lo specchio" (The mirror, in Italian). Funny enough, the text was in Portuguese, with some Italian expressions. The impact was deep since the first line: it was about me. It was simply unbearable to read it... I couldn't do it, I could not breathe, I felt overwhelmed and violated: how could someone be so conceited as to write about my inner self?

However, I admit that the reason why it was so hard to read it - and why I felt so naked after finally managing to get to the end of it - was because it was (partly) true. I really felt like in front of a mirror, and I did see myself in it, but it was a very strange self: a self seen through someone else's eyes. A very unsettling feeling. The text was a gift. And I didn't say "thank you".

I was sent this text quite some time ago, in October. On January 1st, in another attempt to read it, I still had mixed feelings about it: flattered, of course, and amazed, for sure, but also uneasy, uncomfortable, and distressed. Finally, surprised to feel so much after so long.

This is when I took the decision: to live the text. To live its story, to be the character, to see myself through someone else's eyes - ever seen "Stranger than Life?". According to the author, I was supposed to be walking down Avenida Afonso Pena, go inside Parque Municipal, and there try to find something I was looking for: identity and a feeling of belonging.

Honestly, on January 2nd, I was not really feeling a particular lack of identity or a pressing need for belonging. However, I changed my clothes, put a book and the camera in my purse, and set off to Parque Municipal to see what would happen there.

I entered the park and, as always, felt overwhelmed by its variety and colors. I remembered the times I would spend there with my ex-boyfriend, where he first told me "I love you" and scared the hell out of me. Or when we would walk there together after class. Or when we rented one of those boats and tried to row around the pond - not really successfully, I must admit. I remembered taking my Italian friend, Elisa, and her Dutch friend Mila, to take pictures there. As I caught sight of the pond, very old memories of a younger me, my mom and my dad came to my mind. I must say I don't really remember when I was little and we came here together, but my mom used to tell me about that and I just imagined it over and over, the same way exactly all the times, so much so that it became a memory. I also remembered walking around the pond with my uncle, Firmiano, in 2000, when I still spoke no Portuguese and I could never interrupt him - and he would go on and on discussing about philosophy and anthropology, following his own stream of thoughts.

As I was approaching the pond, the magic of the memories started to fade away. First, I saw the path was obstructed by three pigeons - flying species of which I feel tremendously scared. This made me uncomfortable, but, as I am struggling to overcome this absurd fear, I decided to be strong: "you can do it", I whispered to myself, and that did the trick. As I was walking around the pond I noticed the path was filthy - probably because of the rain - and I soon decided to abandon it. The only way to do it was either to go back to the pigeons or to continue until the kids' poor and old amusement park. Families and kids crying and yelling everywhere. Nothing against kids, but I was looking for peace and the vision of what was expecting me did not exactly cheer me up. I moved fast through the yelling and the crying and the screaming and made it to a more peaceful area. Phew!

I went back to appreciating the gardens of the park, its ponds, its bridges, its trees, its colors, its birds...and there I was: I could take quite a nice picture from that angle! I got the camera out of my purse, turned it on, placed it in front of me...and noise again! A group of people was coming, they were very close, and were laughing and commenting about something. I felt disturbed and irritated, turned off the camera and walked away. I also felt stupid for not taking the picture. And told myself I would go back later and take it - but in the end I didn't.

While I was walking and wondering about some ugly, rusty metallic "sculptures" that were place there supposedly as a decoration, a guy stopped me, greeted me and offered me his hand. I was holding my camera and, trying to move it to the other hand, the gesture was awkward. I felt impatient with this guy, dressed in a way that reminded me a little of a skater and of a hippie, smelling like beer at 11am and imposing me his handshake like that. He said he was a poet called Joker Indio (I believe), he showed me two sheets with three poems for a few cents - all I had in my wallet. I went on reading the poem: I didn't like them except for one, which was signed by his "alter-ego" Alfredo Baco, o ilusionista. Still, I was glad I had bought them.

I kept walking immersed in memories and fantasies, until I reached the gate in front of Medical School. I remembered going there to see their "Bartucada". I also remembered walking on the hidden path on the right with my dad - and, at times, my brother - to go and come back from the supermarket.

I saw a kid running from his family, and decided to go the same way. There were some people, though, and I felt uncomfortable again, with the impression everybody was looking at me. The concentration of pigeons here was much higher - and these seemed to like to fly very low. There is only one thing worse than a pigeon on the floor: a pigeon flying over your head, or in your direction. I felt so nervous I decided to leave the path and found myself stepping on slippery mud. I tried to get out of there, saw an unoccupied cement bench, close to some kids' toys. There were two little girls playing, but I figured they wouldn't bother me. I sat down, found a comfy position, took my book out of my purse, got my cell-phone playing Frank Sinatra's best songs on a very very low volume, and started to read. I was happy. The sun was warm, I was sitting under a nice tree, there was a little breeze, not many people around, no pigeons, a nice view of trees, palms, the pond, the gardens.

I had barely came to the end of my second page when a grandpa and his grandson sat down on the bench close to me. The sat very close to me and that already disturbed me. I was thinking whether I should stop the songs, or if they would think I felt uncomfortable with them there. They were noisy, talking, the son asking for his granpa's cell phone. As soon as he got hold of the device, he started playing the most noisy games on it, while the grandpa had his eyes lost somewhere in the green of the trees. I could not concentrate on my reading and I felt an urgent need to leave the place. But I didn't. I finally gave up on Sinatra, and tried to focus on the book in spite of the annoying beeping and crashing that was coming from the boy's cell phone. They finally left. As soon as they disappeared, somebody else showed up: the creepy-crawlies. I had to tap them off my book, my purse, my cell-phone, my jeans, my sneakers...God! They were everywhere, I felt them crawling on my hair, down my back, in my ear...I had to leave the place! I hate the creepy-crawlies!

On the way back, I took "the road less traveled by", the one that was dark and gloomy and that I used to take with my dad. As I walked, I finally started thinking about the reason that brought me to the park. I thought about identity and about home: is this city the place I belong to? I looked at the big trees, saw things moving on the leaves, rolling down, swishing on the grass. Cats - an animal I love - looked at me indifferently. I looked at the plants on my left: they looked big, purple, alive and scary. On my right I could see a tall untidy grass. I could hear the noise of hundreds bugs for which I had no sympathy. And I felt I was rejecting and rejected by the place. The plants intrigued me, but I couldn't sympathize with them, or understand them, as they seemed so into their own nature and their own environment, so indifferent to my presence. I ended up rejecting them as something I didn't want and I walked fast to the gate. As I was reaching the way out, I stopped suddenly, my heart accelerated. I saw something moving in the grass very close to me. It was just a cat: it jumped out, crossed my path calmly looking at me with its yellow eyes. Then, finally, I was out.

Did I find what I was looking for? Did I look into the mirror? Did I see what was there? Did I just see what I wanted to see?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Globalization: good news or bad?

In order to write about globalization, it would be a good start if we knew what “globalization” means. This term, that we hear and use on a daily basis, has suffered from inflation: it means everything and sounds meaningless at the same time. And why is that? Because “globalization” is a very broad term which can apply to many areas. According to Wikipedia, globalization has to do with integration of different economies, societies and cultures through “a globe-spanning network of exchange”. The different kinds of possible exchange range from economy to technology, culture, language, politics, ideas, etc. It is exactly because of this wide spectrum of “meanings” that it becomes difficult to label Globalization as either good or bad. For this reason, we will approach just one aspect of globalization: the cultural aspect.

Of course, the term culture, in turn, carries a lot of different meanings, one of which relates to information and knowledge. Now, can you think of any other time when knowledge and information were as much accessible as now? Thanks to the mechanisms underpinning globalization, this is the Age of Information. As much so that, if we ask our grandparents what language is spoken in “America”, they would probably answer “American”, and this is not only because they were/are not interested in learning, it is also because when they were young and their brains were eager to learn new things, they were not given enough information and stimuli. What happens if we ask the same question to a 6-year-old today? They will not only tell you that Americans speak English, but they will also tell you about Obama, the White House, Washington and their last trip to Disney World or New York City.

Nowadays, in fact, it is much easier to obtain information on other countries and to visit them as well. Thanks to globalization, our world looks much smaller than it used to be and this enables us to learn more things about different places, different cultures and different languages. And since when learning things is bad for us? The important thing is that we be sensible and critical towards what we learn. It is not a matter of embracing a new culture: it is a matter of learning and understanding about other people’s costumes and realizing that there are other ways of living besides our own. Furthermore, when we are presented with a different culture, the contrasts that we perceive between our own costumes and the new ones foster a deeper understanding of our own selves and our own identity. In a nutshell, learning about others promotes a deeper view into ourselves. There is no way this can be considered a bad thing.

Finally, when we have a deeper consciousness of who we are, we appreciate what is unique and important to preserve in our own culture. And that is when the opposite process of globalization takes place: glocalization. This new concept applies to those people who are able to bridge the gap between global and local thinking by being open to the new globalized age without forgetting their own roots and history.

This awareness prevents us from forgetting who we are without preventing us from interacting with the New and the Different, therefore this is the attitude we should all look for and promote in our kids. Globalization cannot be stopped, but we can give it a positive twist, if we only want to.