Reap what you sow

June 17, 2012 § 7 Comments

“If you have plans for a year, sow rice.
If you have them for a decade, plant trees.
If you have them for all your life, educate a person.”
Chinese saying

I like it when art brushes against science, when science questions art. The two seem to go hand in hand.

Making the Spanish plant earlier today, as I pieced together the words, I was looking for rules, inquiring about structure. Here are some of the things that caught my attention, and which made me think about how I wanted to express them.

“Arroz” and “árboles” both start with “ar”, although “árboles” has an accent, which I’ve positioned high up off the “a” so it doesn’t attach to “arroz”.

“Para” and “por” are variants of each other. I don’t know what the rule is but I’ve learned the phrases as chunks; perhaps it’s based on singular or plural. It doesn’t seem to be whether it’s masculine or feminine, because “vida” and “año” both take “para”.

The imperative seems to end in “a”: “planta”, “siembra”, “educa”. I decided to share this letter, and make it big to emphasise this rule (and allow the three verbs to fit nicely into it).

The pronoun “los”, substituting for “planes” comes before the verb. You can choose one or the other of the (pro)nouns, the blue words, but not both together.

Language plants are scientific. They aim to demonstrate rules, linguistic rules.

A piece of art has no reason for being, other than to exist as itself, and give pleasure. Language plants certainly brighten up my life, and they seem to make others smile too, which I find immensely gratifying.

So whether you’re first and foremost an artist or whether you’re a scientist, please consider making a language plant with the plant maker, and popping it in the new Language Gardening facebook group for everyone to go “ooh” and “aah”, like María Inés has so kindly done. It’s her very first plant as well! A big round of applause for her, don’t you think (if you’re a scientist), or feel (if you’re an artist)?

Learn Welsh with Ceri

October 4, 2011 § 12 Comments

“I love Cadiz,
Cádiz reminds me of Wales;
I love the sea in Cádiz,
the sea reminds me of Wales;
I love the sunset in Cádiz,
I love the sunset over the sea in Cádiz,
the sunset reminds me of Wales;
I love the storms,
I love the storms in Cádiz,
I love the storms in the winter in Cádiz,
the storms remind me of Wales.”

They say what the son loses, the grandson seeks to regain. I’m ashamed to say I’ve learned more Welsh with Close Up Ceri in these last few days than in all the time I spent in my relatives’ farmhouses in the Land of my Fathers when I was too young to barely carry the lambs across the lush green grass for bottle feeding.

Welsh is a Celtic language, typically VSO, the red verbs come at the start of the sentence. “Dwi’n hoffi” means something in-between “I like”, “I love” and “I’m fond of”. “Mae” is a kind of third person verb tag of “to be”, both for singular and plural nouns, and here starts the sentences about reminding Ceri of Wales. Welsh is full of contractions and inflections, and the big grey “‘r” meaning “the” attaches itself to the red verbs. Despite being neighbours, English and Welsh it seems have substantially different grammars.

Ceri lives in Spain. Her poem, and with its strong repetition and parallelism I think it’s mesmeric, it must surely bring a tear to her eye, for growing up in beautiful Cádiz she knows what her children will have surely gained, but also what they will have surely lost.

Whoop Whoop, Greek Lesson #1

September 29, 2011 § 13 Comments

“Whoop whoop” as Vicky herself might say. She’s always whooping. Our great friend Vicky Loras, she’s so friendly, and helpful and diligent. We Skyped a few times as the language plant evolved and took shape, finally settling on one big red verb, “didaksa” which means “I taught”, and “didaksame”, “we taught”, as it’s all about her time in Greece teaching in her own school, The Loras English Academy with her two sisters Eugenia and Christine.

I suppose it’s best to describe her as Greek Canadian. She and her family moved back to Greece when she was just a sweet little girl of 8, so she of course speaks fluent Greek. Now she’s loving her time in Switzerland, teaching mainly business English and, despite the butterflies in her tummy, giving teacher training seminars at conferences.

We wrote the plant using the Latin alphabet to help show some Ancient Greek words that sneaked into English centuries ago: micro-, mega -, didactic, and scholio.

And on behalf of all of you, I thank Vicky sincerely for her generously clear pronunciation on the video below. She actually makes me believe I can speak Greek! Now that deserves a whoop whoop!

Spanish Colours

September 15, 2011 § 8 Comments

And next we find ourselves sitting in a bar overlooking the Atlantic waves crashing onto the Galician coast not too far from the end of the pilgrimage trail at Santiago de Compostelo and where Ceri and her loved ones found themselves on part of their Iberian adventure this summer. The locals converse in Gallego, somewhere in-between Portuguese and Spanish, but we’re going to stick to the national language.

In between mouthfuls of the local seafood specialities, and preferring to utter more stylistic language in the land of Don Quixote than the more prosaic yet practical phrases of ordering crab in a restaurant, we made – and by that I mean Alan of Hello Cruel World and his lovely Gallegan partner Sonia, with my persistence and persuasion – some poetic little plants with Spanish colours.

It’s an ordeal, trying to find rhyming words to fit the poem structure, and Alan gained as much as I did as he raked through his lexical sets. So thank you very much to both, and in particular to Sonia for supplying the audio so the fruits of that lazy afternoon a few years ago can now go public. After you’ve watched the video, how about the following activity? It’s good fun, and good revision too.

Try a Spanish Puzzle! Put the words back in the language plant.

Learn Chinese with Brad

September 8, 2011 § 8 Comments

In Cologne a few months ago, in-between two lectures given on consecutive nights by Professor Noam Chomsky, and whom I was able to have some memorable words with afterwards, I met a young dynamic Chinese friend of Mathilda, my wife who had only recently finished her degree in Germany but had already set up her own company importing pet products from China, by boat, to Germany. It was a truly impressive tale Yanjin told, bringing in container loads of dog kennels and cat baskets and all those things Rosco and Tiddles and Joey need to improve their lot to three major distributors who themselves shipped them on to individual shops around the country.

I took it upon myself – with the help of a pencil, rubber and my trusty notebook – to learn a bit of Chinese related to her work. The plant had lain unused, but Bread’s – you’ll understand if you’ve read it – recent post where he recorded himself speaking Chinese reaffirmed my desire to create a lesson, and a post, around it.

I am therefore most grateful both to Yanjin and to Brad, and hope you enjoy 4 minutes learning Chinese with us both.

“Animals are such agreeable friends –
they ask no questions;
they pass no criticisms.”
George Eliot

Swahili Lesson 1

September 6, 2011 § 7 Comments

It’s back to school, I hope everyone is as fired up and raring to get out of the starting blocks as Usain Bolt.

Learning a language can be fun, liberating, and painful. When I work with teachers and teaching assistants, especially those who are wanting extra support and know-how when working with foreign kids, the Swahili lesson we do goes down a storm. They’re put in the position of learner, and they suddenly experience how a word they saw, heard and said only a moment ago can float out of their minds unobserved. What they can see they’re after is a way of revising and recycling language that holds attention.

Over the summer, amongst other things, I’ve been making little videos, and if you’d like to learn a bit of Swahili, and imagine joining in with these Swahili learners, please be my guest and play the video. It’s only a couple of minutes long, and you’ll hear Swahili from a native speaker. And I promise I won’t test you afterwards.

“Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.”
William Butler Yeats


October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here is a language plant in Portuguese. Can you work out the quotation, and a translation?

“Não tenhamos pressa,
mas não percamos tempo.”
José Saramago, 1922 – 2010

“Let us not rush,
but let us not waste time”

José Saramago was a Portuguese poet and Nobel Prize winner.

Suggested activity:

Present the language plant to the class. Can your learners work out its translation? Which words directly translate into English? If you have Portuguese speakers, what do they think is a suitable translation?

What quotations or proverbs exist in your learners’ language(s)? How do they translate?


Thanks to Cecilia Coelho for supplying this quotation.

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