Category Archives: Learning a new language

Unique Dual-Language/Bilingual Book Formatting

When I decided to publish my book on Christopher Columbus’s calamitous fourth voyage along with the Spanish translation as an e-book I faced formatting problems.

In the days when books were printed on dead trees the solution for presenting dual-language/bilingual books was to place the two texts on separate pages. Usually the original text was on the left-hand page and the translation was on the right. This method had its problems. First of all, the two different languages don’t always have an equal number of lines in a paragraph because of spelling and other differences so one page of text might be longer than the other which can be visually unappealing.

Another problem with the two-page method is that the reader is forced to switch pages in order to check their reading comprehension making it easy to lose one’s original place.

Using a split screen on a Kindle or other electronic reading device isn’t very practical or visually appealing. You can turn the text on a kindle so that the screen presentation is wider but now there are too few lines on what is now the vertical screen, and again the reader has to take their eyes of the main text to follow the translation.

My solution for eliminating that problem was to present the main text in BOLDFACE followed immediately by the translation in italics. Like this:

CHAPTER 1

The Old Man

CAPÍTULO 1

El viejo

 

I don’t remember how the old man, Juan, came to live with my mother and me. It seemed he had always been there. He was no blood relation of ours. Not that I knew of, anyway. He was simply there.No recuerdo cómo el viejo, Juan, vino a vivir con mi madre y conmigo. Parecía que siempre había estado allí. Él no tenía ningún parentesco con nosotros. No que yo supiera, de todos modos. Él simplemente estaba ‘allí.’

As a young child he scared me. It wasn’t anything he did. It was just him. Short of stature, tiny almost, his sun-weathered skin was wrinkled like a piece of dried up discarded fruit. He was forever hunched over. Even standing and leaning on the old piece of tree limb he carried with him everywhere he was never straight. His back was always bent as if he’d just spotted something on the ground and had stopped for a second to get a better look at it. When he’d been drinking he wasn’t just bent forward, he leaned to one side or the other, too.  You could tell, looking at his arms, that he had once been very strong. The muscles still rippled under the faded designs permanently inked into his skin.De niño él me asustaba. No era nada por lo que él hiciese. Era sólo él. Corto de estatura, casi diminuto, su piel quemada por el sol estaba arrugada como una pieza de fruta seca. Siempre estaba encorvado. Aún de pie y apoyado en el viejo pedazo de rama de árbol que llevaba consigo a todas partes, él nunca estuvo erguido. Su espalda siempre estuvo doblada como si hubiera visto algo en el suelo y se había detenido por un segundo para obtener una mejor visión de ella. Cuando él había estado bebiendo no solamente se inclinaba ligeramente hacia adelante también se inclinaba de un lado al otro. Viendo sus brazos podrías decir, que alguna vez él había sido muy fuerte. Todavía se veían los músculos fornidos debajo de los diseños de tinta permanente en su piel.

He never combed or brushed his hair.  It was blindingly white and what little there was of it grew in isolated spots on his head. It was as light and fine as dandelion fuzz and the slightest suggestion of a breeze would cause it to flutter nervously.Él nunca peinó su cabello. Era un blanco cegador y lo poco que quedaba de él creció en lugares aislados en la cabeza. Estaba como ligero y fino, cual la pelusa, como la flor de la planta del diente de león y que ni la más leve brisa lo haría agitarse.

His eyes were the darkest blue; like the color of the sea where the straight line of the horizon meets the lighter blue of the sky and it often seemed that he was staring intently at that distant line where whatever a seaman is looking for will first appear. And his large, hawk-like nose cleaved the sea of his face like a shark’s fin slicing through the calm waters inside a reef.Sus ojos eran del azul más oscuro, como el color del mar, donde la línea recta del horizonte reúne el azul claro del cielo y que a menudo parecía que él estaba mirando fijamente a esa línea lejana donde todo lo que un marinero busca aparecerá en primer lugar. Y su nariz grande, como la de un halcón, hendida en el mar de su cara como la aleta de un tiburón surcando las tranquilas aguas dentro de un arrecife.

He scared me, old Juan did, but that was when I was young. As I got older and he slowly revealed his story to me I grew to love the man and marveled at the adventure of his life. Él me dio miedo, el viejo Juan lo hizo, pero eso era cuando yo era joven. A medida que fui creciendo y poco a poco él reveló su historia, yo crecí con el amor del hombre y la maravilla de la aventura de su vida.

Juan would spend his afternoons at one or another of the taverns on the waterfront in the port of Cadiz below our house. I don’t know where he got the money to buy his wine but the old sailors, merchants and dock hands who worked along the waterfront always paid him some deference and bought him a cup every now and then. I had also seen him, once or twice, pouring the leftovers from someone else’s cup into his own when they left their tables to answer a call of nature. If he moved from one bar to another during an afternoon he was usually able to cage enough so he would be staggering as he climbed the small hill to our house in the evening. Juan podía pasar sus tardes en una u otra de las tabernas en el paseo marítimo en el puerto de Cádiz, más abajo de nuestra casa. No sé de dónde sacó el dinero para comprar su vino, pero los viejos marineros, comerciantes y los ensambladores de muelles, quienes trabajaron a lo largo de la costa, siempre le pagaban cierta deferencia y le compraban una copa de vez en cuando.Yo también lo había visto, una o dos veces, verter los restos de la copa de otra persona en su propia copa cuando dejaban sus mesas para responder a una llamada de la naturaleza. Si él fuera de bar en bar durante una tarde, usualmente podría guardar bastante, así que estaría tambaleante mientras subía la colina a nuestra casa por la noche

It was a rainy, early spring evening when my mother insisted I go down to the docks and fetch Juan back to the house for dinner. He and I stood in the doorway of the tavern looking out at the rain-soaked street and the caravels anchored in the river dreading the idea of having to leave the cozy warmth of the bar to journey into the cold night air when Juan mumbled, “It was just like this on the night I first met them.Era una tarde lluviosa a principios de la primavera temprana, cuando mi madre insistió en que fuese a los muelles a buscar a Juan para la cena. Él y yo estábamos en la puerta de la taberna mirando hacia la calle empapada por la lluvia y las carabelas ancladas en el río, temiendo a la idea de tener que abandonar el calor acogedor de la barra para viajar en el aire frío de la noche, cuando Juan murmuró, “Era como ésta, la noche en que los conocí.”

“Met who?” I asked.“¿Conociste a quién?” le pregunté.

“My friend Ferdinand and his father, the Admiral.”“A mi amigo Ferdinand y a su padre, el Almirante .”

We stepped out into the rain, our chins tucked deep into our soggy cloaks in a vain attempt at keeping out the cold, and trudged back to the house. Juan didn’t utter another word the rest of the evening.Caminamos bajo la lluvia, nuestras barbillas metidas profundamente en nuestros capotes empapados en un vano intento de alejarnos del frío y nos encaminamos a la casa. Juan no dijo ni una palabra más el resto de la noche.

As you can see it’s easy to follow the main text and if a reader wants to check if their comprehension is up to par the translation is right there without having to go to another page.

The book is available in two versions: English/Spanish (for Spanish-speakers learning English) and Spanish/English (for English-speaking readers studying Spanish) at the Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, the Sony Store, Apple, Page Foundry.com and Baker-Taylor for $4.99.

 However, I’ve decided to give readers of this blog a discount. First you have to sign up for an account with Smashwords.com. I know some of you might be reluctant to do that but I can assure you they DON’T give away your e-mail address and they DON’T SPAM YOU.

At Smashwords the books can be downloaded in a number of different formats:

Kindle (.mobi for Kindle devices and Kindle apps), Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others), PDF (good for reading on PC, or for home printing), RTF (readable on most word processors), Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices), and Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting).

For those of you who don’t own a Kindle, and iPad or any other “tablet” you can read the books by downloading the free app Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac which simulated those readers on your home computer.

If you want to buy the English/Spanish version,

“Buy” it and when you go to check out of the site insert the following code (VB92L) where it says “price” and you will pay only $2.99.

For the Spanish/English version

use the code (PE75U).

You can also buy the books in paperback for $9.99 at Amazon.com

English/Spanish version: http://www.amazon.com/Adversitys-Wake-Calamitous-Christopher-Columbus/dp/1475266510/ref=sr_1_22?ie=UTF8&qid=1344268733&sr=8-22&keywords=richard+philbrick

Spanish/English version: http://www.amazon.com/La-estela-adversidad-Spanish-Edition/dp/1477476725/ref=sr_1_19?ie=UTF8&qid=1344268830&sr=8-19&keywords=richard+philbrick

Because of printing and shipping costs there is no discount available for the paperback versions.

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I Stand Corrected (Though Not Humbly)

Ah, the pitfalls of learning another language. . . In yesterday’s post I incorrectly translated the slogan on the Super Barú supermarket sign. It reads, “Esta mejor que nunca.” I took it to mean “It’s better than nothing.” It actually means, “It’s better than ever.” Of course that makes a lot more sense than what I said but not nearly as funny. “Esta mejor que nada” means “It’s better than nothing.”

One can only hope a literate vandal with a sense of humor sees the sign and sneaks in there some dark night and changes nunca for nada. I’ll keep my eye on the sign and let you know if it happens.

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Solving Problems From A Distance

Just before leaving the States I sold my car to my roommate of five years. The amazing thing is in all that time we never had an argument. Yesterday, however, we had our first. I was really pissed off. Here’s why:

The idiot didn’t transfer the title to his name. He has been working a job in Stuart, Florida the past few months and got caught speeding. Normally not a big deal except for the fact that he doesn’t have a driver’s license. It had been taken from him several years earlier in New York where he comes from. So now the car has been impounded and his excuse for not transferring the title is his lack of a license.

It seems the only way the impound yard will release the car is by my sending them a notarized letter authorizing the car to be released to another friend who DOES have a license.

This wouldn’t be a big deal in the states where it seems that just under the number of lawyers, real estate agents and used car salesmen comes notaries public. I was a notary. Big deal. You send a bonding company $75 bucks and they send you a rubber stamp and a cheesy certificate signed by the governor. Being a notary in a Latin American country is something else, again. It seems to be just one step below being a lawyer. I remember the surprise my immigration lawyer showed when I mentioned that I was a notary in the States.

I designed a letterhead with my Panamanian address and wrote a letter to the impound yard authorizing my friend with the driver’s license to have custody of the car. Then, not having a printer here at the house, I downloaded the letter onto a thumb drive, took the bus down to Dolega where I had it printed out at one of the internet cafes. Not too difficult and only 20 cents. Then I asked where I might find a notary and they directed me to the alcaldía, the mayor’s office. It is only a short walk from the cafe to the alcaldía and in short order and payment of a $5 fee it was done.

Next came another bus ride down to David center to find some kind of international courier service to send the letter as quickly as possible to my miscreant friend. Luckily there was a place called MailPak only about four blocks from the bus terminal that serves as an agent for FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Two very attractive young ladies in their early 20s run the place. I told the girl who greeted me, in Spanish, that I wanted to send a letter to the States as fast as possible. I have no problem expressing such things in proper Spanish but her immediate reaction was to ask me if I spoke English. Of course, I told her, but added that I feel uncomfortable speaking English to Panamanians since Spanish is the language of the country. This didn’t deter her in the least and she insisted that we conduct the transaction in English. I think she wanted the practice and she spoke English quite well. Both of them did.

The least expensive way of sending the letter was with DHL but at the exorbitant price of $42.80 cents. Almost ten bucks cheaper than FedEx. And there’s no such thing as “overnight,” either. Three to five days and the impound lot is charging $25/day to keep the car. So, I forked over the money for the letter and sent it on its way.

With that out of the way I spent another 20 minutes or so talking with the girls in Spanish…MY turn to practice and they complimented me on how well I spoke. Whether they were simply flattering me I don’t know, but aside from having to deal with a problem at a great distance I enjoyed the task.

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The Joy Of Not Understanding Panamanian Spanish

As I’ve said before, I often find it difficult understanding the Panamanian version of Spanish and sometimes it’s frustrating. Other times it has its advantages.

Yesterday when I boarded the bus to go on my photo expedition I sat down next to a tiny little man who could have been the inspiration for the Travelocity garden gnome. I chose to sit next to him because of his size and the fact that the seats on these buses weren’t made for people of normal size so sitting next to him I wouldn’t feel cramped. Not only are the seats designed for tiny butts but the aisle is so narrow that it can only be negotiated sideways. Only children can walk down one facing the direction they wish to travel.

As soon as I was seated the little man gave me a toothless grin and stuck out his hand for the customary dead fish handshake with a friendly “buenos” on his lips. “Buenos” is the customary greeting here, not “hola.” Sometimes  people will add a “dias” or “tarde” but for the majority a simple “buenos” is all encompassing. Even passing strangers in the street, if you catch their eye, will give you a “buenos.” I like that.

With the handshake over the old man proceeded on some kind of a rant. Not one that seemed to have any animosity attached to it; more of a protracted monologue. People in front of us turned to see what was going on. I had almost no idea of what he was saying. I caught a few words like “plata” (money) and “camino” which could either mean “I walk” or a route, or street or something, but understanding little else he was saying there was no way for me to put it into any context.

Even when the seats across the aisle emptied I remained where I was. He was harmless as far as I could tell and I knew if I moved a fat woman with two kids would get on at the next stop and sit next to me. The old man rambled on as we descended the mountain and on through Dolega. Eventually he trailed off and a few minutes later he was sound asleep.

At the bar of the “jardin” by the waterfall, however, I had a nice talk in Spanish with the young bartender, Fransisco, and understood at least 85% of what he was saying which is quite enough to follow the thread of a conversation. The few times I didn’t understand what he was trying to say he’d pause a moment and then approach his idea from another direction to make his point clear. It’s nice when people do that as it indicates a real desire to communicate with you. I don’t know how often the young man has an opportunity to talk to foreigners but I hope our little time together left him with a favorable impression of some of the gringos who have come to live in his country.

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Language Encounter At The Supermarket

One problem I’ve encountered here in Panama has been finding some spices I need for my favorite recipes, specifically cayenne pepper. None of the four supermarkets I’ve been to in the city of David, Panama’s third largest, has had it and when I’ve asked people who work at the markets I’m greeted with a blank stare. They don’t have a clue to what it is.

Today in the spice section at the El Rey supermarket I found three bottles of cayenne. Pricey but essential. I bought two of the bottles and good guy that I am left the third for some other gringo who might be looking for it, too. In the veggie section there were packages of small peppers, red, green and yellow in the same pack. I thought perhaps I’d buy some and try drying them myself. I asked the clerk in the department if they were “picante” and he answered me in English. “No, sweet. You want hot?”

“Si,” I said.

“Over here,” the clerk said.

What he had were habaneros which I didn’t want. In our brief conversation he spoke to me entirely in English and I responded entirely in Spanish without even thinking about it. Oh, well.

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Learning A New Language

Having retired to Panama I’m having to deal with learning a new language. My third, actually. And while it’s a challenge it’s quite fun.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a blog by a French girl living in Australia describing the challenges she’s facing dealing with a new language. Now, Australian is sort of English in the same way the language of the U.S. is sort of English. They both derive from the same roots but each has veered off slightly and have become distinct in their own ways.

Also, yesterday I stumbled across this post in Bits and Pieces which came from A Public Flogging and there’s no telling where he might have appropriated it from. But I think it’s hilarious and is a good example of what people go through when they travel outside their linguistic comfort zone.

In 1965, in a noble attempt to help the rest of us understand Australians, Alistair Morrison published Let Stalk Strine, a glossary of terms used Down Under:

air fridge: average
bandry: boundary
dismal guernsey: decimal currency
egg nishner: air conditioner
garbler mince: a couple of minutes
marmon dead: Mom and Dad
rise up lides: razor blades
sag rapes: sour grapes
split nair dyke: splitting headache
stewnce: students
tiger look: take a look

“Aorta mica laura genst all these cars cummer ninner Sinny. Aorta have more buses. An aorta put more seats innem so you doan tefter stan aller toym — you carn tardly move innem air so crairded.”

The book went through 17 impressions in one year, a sign the problem had gotten completely out of hand. Just a few months before it appeared, the English author Monica Dickens had been signing copies of her latest book in a Sydney shop when a woman handed her a copy and said, “Emma Chisit.” Dickens inscribed the volume “To Emma Chisit” and handed it back. “No,” said the woman, leaning forward: “Emma Chisit?”

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English Class At American School

One of the blogs I read without fail over my morning cup of coffee is Chiriqui Chatter. The city of David and Potrerillos are in the Province of Chiriqui in the western part of the country bordering Costa Rica. Several months ago Don Ray, the blog’s author, wrote about meeting with students at the American School in David who were studying English. Native English speakers would meet with the students once a month to help them train their ears to hear the English language. One of the hardest things to do when you’re studying a foreign language is to “hear” it. I find that I “speak” Spanish much better than I “hear” it.

I remember so well when I landed in France without speaking French, that I didn’t hear anyone speaking French. All I heard was noise. None of it made sense. It wasn’t even babble. It was simply static that I couldn’t comprehend. I remember quite well the day as I was walking back to my boat after visiting Antibe’s wonderful open air fruit and veggie market I HEARD A WORD! Out of all that noise there was a distinct WORD. Not only that, it was as if the entire town had held a meeting the night before and said, “tomorrow we’re going to teach Richard a word,” because everywhere I went I heard that word. I don’t remember what that word was, but it was the start of my immersion into the French language.

I thought these sessions were an excellent idea and got in touch with a young lady named Patricia and asked to be put on a mailing list if they had one so I could attend when I finally moved full-time to Panama. Yesterday I went to my first meeting. The instructor is a young man named Marvin who actually attended American School when he was a lad before living in the States and in London, England, for several years.

It was thought that there were going to be five or six gringos (by that I mean anyone foreigner whose first language isn’t Spanish) coming. I was the only one who showed up possibly saving the day’s agenda from total failure. I had a great time. Guess it’s the ham in me. My year teaching Nautical Science at West Jefferson High School in Gretna, LA, stood me in good stead. I was placed at the teachers desk and easily went around the room asking questions of each of the students, all adults I should say, making them tell me why it was they wanted to learn English. Everyone answered that it was, first, to advance in their jobs and secondly the challenge of learning something they thought was important to them. Several of the students are teachers, themselves, and apparently learning English has become a requirement for them.

In turn I answered their question to me. They were, I’m sure, those they ask all the gringos who come to their sessions. “Where do you come from?” “How do you like Panama?” And from the girls, “Are you married?” What do you think of Panamanian women?” “Do you think you will ever have another girlfriend?” Hmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder if they’re hinting at something? Of course I’m old enough to be grandfather to each of them.

The session lasted for about an hour and a half and didn’t seem that long at all. It whizzed past and I think everyone enjoyed it. I made sure everyone participated and the level of fluency was quite good for people who had only been attending classes once a week for the past six months. There was a real level of dedication here.

When the Q&As were over cake, snacks and sodas were brought into the classroom.

I didn’t bring my camera with me and in any event I rarely take pictures of people. Perhaps I believe, just a little bit like so many indigenous people do, that each photo takes a little of that person’s soul. But Don Ray has graciously given me permission to use photos from his blog of his previous visits to the class.

These two girls, whose names I don’t remember, are teachers  The gentleman, Guillermo, is a hair dresser. Many of his clients are foreigners who don’t speak Spanish but DO speak English, and he believes, rightly so, that if he can learn English and be able to talk to the women his income will increase. I don’t know the woman in the photo.

Most of the women who attended were teachers.

These girls teach at American School. Those smiles weren’t just for the camera, they were on the whole time the class was in session.

The lady in the center of the picture and the one on the right work for Super Baru, one of the supermarket chains in Chiriqui. They are studying English hoping to advance in their jobs. I don’t know who the woman on the left is though by the blouse she’s wearing I’d say she’s on the school staff. She wasn’t there yesterday.

The girl on the right is a lawyer and the other girl is an environmental engineer. I have to confess that while I was polite with the guys and made it a point to be sure they were included in the exercise with so many attractive women in attendance…well, you understand.

Finally there were these two. Though Don pegged her as a teacher in the post where I picked up the photo, she said she was a physicist. One with a winning smile. Oh, yeah, there’s a guy in the photo. He was a nice kid and had one of the better grasps on the language of the entire group.

I’m looking forward to next month’s get together.

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