How to Be Happy: Learn a New Language

Note to readers: I know, I haven’t posted anything except a smattering of book reviews since September 1st. My profound apologies.

I love languages: acquisition, history, alphabets, sounds, shapes, grammars, linguistics. I spent 18 months of my life acquiring a master’s degree in English as a Second Language just so I could understand, and it’s all very fun to me. Once upon a time, I owned a book and inside it’s pages were poems written in English and another language. I remember one little poem was translated into German. While in the car with my mother and grandmother, I proceeded to read the poem out loud, convincing everyone I could read German. Though I knew little about the different sounds that different letters owned in different alphabets, but in my mind I was reading German. And I liked it. It was fun. I experimented with sign language a bit, though I never reached fluency.

In high school, I took two years of Spanish and loved it. To this day, I can’t understand why I never spent a whole four years in Spanish. Side note: Ms. Zuelly, if you catch this on my Facebook page and read this, I’m kicking myself in the pants for not taking both Spanish 3 and 4.

Surprisingly, learning a new language can be fun and rewarding when approached the right way. Currently, I’m studying Mandarin Chinese with the Yoyo Chinese online platform. Here’s what I’ve learned while learning Chinese.

Pacing. Don’t expect fluency overnight. Because I learned a select few phrases with my boyfriend’s help, I foolishly thought I could jump right into intermediate beginner’s Chinese. Wrong. I, like everyone, else had to start at square one. While I wanted instant fluency, right now I can say “I like cola” and “I have four wives and a younger brother.” Every little bit helps.

Drill. When learning a new language, repetition and drills are key. Flash cards? Yes. Staring at worksheets? Yep. May I suggest using the online tool Anki? This helps me and paces my flash cards so I don’t become overwhelmed. I’m not for sure how it works if you’re not provided the electronic flash cards, but it’s a wonder. Finally, even when it’s most frustrating, you’ll have to press on.

Talk. In both Spanish and Korean, reading is my strong point. I can read most signs in Spanish and sound out most of the phrases in Korean. However, I am terrified of speaking in a foreign language. When I lived in Korea, I would take the bus instead of a taxi. If I took a bus, I didn’t have to speak. I find speaking painfully nerve wracking and I hate failure. If I speak, I want to be flawless. I don’t want to be just another laowai butchering the mother tongue in the Chinese restaurant while ordering chicken lo mien and wontons.

For example, the boyfriend and I went to a Chinese restaurant nestled between a liquidation store and a fruit store. I wanted ice water, but he had ordered hot tea in a kettle. Instead of asking the server for water, boyfriend called the server over and then stared at me.

Are you going to ask her for ice water, or not?

Me: Mute, internal dialogue: why can’t I find contentment with hot green tea?

*Instense stares*

Me: Wo yao bing shui.

Water acquired and very few blushes had. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

If you’re looking for happiness, I suggest learning a new language. Learn something typical: Spanish or French. Learn something wild and rare: Esperanto or Latin. Learn the language your grandparents spoke when they came to the country you live in: Maybe Italian, Greek, Korean, Russian, Chinese, or Mixteco. The possibilities are endless, and when you learn a language, the potential for happiness is endless.

Happy learning!

Zai jian!



Take 3 for Gifted Education

Last year was my first year as a gifted and talented education resource teacher and coordinator. I knew about negative 50% about gifted education services. Seriously: Little-to-no professional development in previous districts, no mention of gifted education services in my undergraduate courses, and little visibility. There is no one person or place to place the blame: gifted education is a strange animal. To eliminate some of the oddness, strangeness, and mystery surrounding gifted education, let’s take time to discuss 3 myths.

1. Myth: Gifted education is elitist. You know what and who I’m talking about. You casually mention an activity that your child participated in as part of the gifted program at your school and this person goes ham (with a capital H).

“Well, how come if Johnny gets to go to third grade for reading, Jimmy has to stay behind in first grade for reading? That’s not fair! ” 

Gifted education is one of many modifications and differentiation available for students.  Sometimes this looks like meeting in small groups with a teacher, while often, this may be a special assignment in a typical classroom. Think of gifted education like you would special education: changing the curriculum to meet the needs of a student. Would you tell your neighbor, whose child is on the Autism spectrum and receive specialized services, that she is elitist and participating in an unfair system? I doubt it, and leads to my next point.

2. Myth: Gifted kids are pretty typical. If by typical, you mean they all breathe oxygen, then you’re correct. On the contrary, gifted kids are not typical. There’s the stereotypical gifted child: quick, alert, ready to learn, eager to please, good vocabulary, excited to be at school. Yes, these students exist, but they’re not the whole of your school’s gifted population. Against popular belief, gifted students come from all walks of life and have varied ability levels.

For example, a student may have a gift for English language arts and reading, but may have a special education IEP and receive services for other needs. Sometimes, the disability masks the child’s gift, or vice versa. In the same field, an English language learner may have a knack for math, but still may not have English proficiency. Don’t be fooled: gifted kids come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

3. Myth: You can’t help your gifted child. So very false. You CAN help your gifted child! It may seem daunting at first, but there are plenty of resources to begin. If you live in Kentucky, Google the Kentucky Association for Gifted Education. There are so many great resources and events for parents just like you! On a larger scale, the National Association for Gifted Education is an excellent resource. You can also help your child by participating at school, discussing options with his or her teachers, and becoming an advocate for gifted students.

If you have any questions, tips, or comments about gifted learners or supporting gifted education in your area, drop me a note below. I’d love to hear from you.