Saturday, November 28, 2015

Androgynous Declinations and Cross-Dressing Nouns

In many foreign languages, nouns have genders. But in Lithuanian, there are various categories of noun endings within each gender, all with their own declinations. Masculine nouns can end in -as, -us, -is, etc. Feminine nouns can end in -a, -ė, -is, etc. With six common endings x 12 common declensions (6 singular cases and 6 plural cases), there are 72 common endings I have to know. This actually wouldn't be too bad if there weren't so many other weird endings and exceptions.

For instance, you may have noticed above that the -is ending is both feminine and masculine. Actually, there are three possible declensions for -is nouns and no good way to know which is which just by looking at the word. I haven't even mentioned the peculiar nouns that do their own thing; there are just as many "special nouns" with unique, androgynous declinations as there are normal nouns.

Then there are the transvestite nouns. Nouns that are actually one gender, but dress up as the other gender. For example, the word for a male colleague (kolega) ends in -a, which is a feminine ending, and so it declines as a feminine noun. But it is, in fact, a masculine noun and therefore requires an adjective in the masculine form.

When it comes to gender-bending people, I'm of the "live and let live" mindset. But when it comes to grammar rules, masculine nouns should behave masculinely and feminine nouns should behave femininely. I'm old-fashioned that way.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unfurling the Flag and the Welcome Mat

On this blog, I’ve avoided commentary on controversial topics or on anything that touches on policy. But with all the uninformed chatter about Syrian refugees floating around the interwebs in the wake of the Paris bombings, I feel compelled to share my perspective on the matter.

I understand the worry and fear many people have. Although we are very good at tracking and/or stopping people who wish to do us harm from entering the U.S., we can’t catch 100% of the bad guys and, as we’ve seen, it only takes a few bad guys to do some very bad things. It is natural to react to the tragedy in France with fear. But I would argue that it is not the American way to let fear turn into paranoia.

Unlike Europe, where tens of thousands of refugees are pouring into the continent with virtually no screening, the U.S. has the luxury of only accepting refugees after a lengthy and thorough vetting process. It can take 1-2 years (or longer) for a Syrian refugee to actually arrive in America. Is there a statistical possibility that a wanna-be terrorist could make his way to a refugee camp, get on the long waiting list, make it through the vetting process, and finally get to America many months, or even years, later? Yes. But the chances of him wanting to go that route to get to America are very slim.

Shutting down the Syrian refugee resettlement program won’t really make America safer. In fact, not tending to the refugee crisis could make things worse, as my former boss Ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Left unaddressed, the strain (of the humanitarian crisis) will feed instability and trigger more violence across the region, which will have consequences for U.S. national security.

We can protect our country and security without becoming the ugly, hateful country ISIS portrays us to be. We are better than that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Crawl, Walk, Run

Five weeks into language training and I'm feeling pretty good. Surprisingly good. I know I'll hit a wall soon, but for now I'm enjoying learning a new language. This is my third language training at FSI. The pain and struggle of the first two have led to a self-awareness that benefits me tremendously this time around. A few things I've learned that are helping me get through the first two months:

I try to speak the way a 5 year old would. If I can forget that I'm an intelligent, well-educated 40-something year old woman, it takes the sting out of the early weeks of language training. It's much easier to talk about a news story the way a 5 year old would talk about it, than to try to talk about the news the way an educated adult would.

I'm a very literal person and I tend to say only what I mean to say. But nobody cares about what I actually did over the weekend. So instead of trying to say what I really *want* to say, I practice saying what I *can* say, even if it means making stuff up.

I am impatient by nature and a perfectionist - two things that may make for a good Foreign Service Officer, but make for a terrible language student. I know now that during the first few weeks, I'm supposed to be awful. I will get better.

I cannot go directly to a 3/3 level of proficiency, no matter how many flashcards I memorize or how much grammar I study. You have to get to a 1/1 before you can get to a 2/2. As much as it pains me to say it - Aim low (at least for now)!

And in my most profound bit of self-analysis, I understand that listening comprehension is the last thing that comes to me, long after writing, speaking, and reading. So there's no point stressing out now when I watch the news clips on YouTube and cannot understand anything.

Naturally, this advice doesn't hold true at the end of language training. At some point, I will have to be able to say what I *want* to say. I can't very well change U.S. policy to suit my language proficiency. But for now, I'll stick with crawling.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Language Students

You know a Foreign Service officer is in language training when...

* She carries flash cards with her wherever she goes.

* She gets a rush buying colored index cards and Sharpie pens.

* She appears to be mumbling to herself all the time.

* There are sticky notes with foreign words plastered over everything in her apartment.

* She often stares into space with a glassy-eyed expression while silently conjugating verbs or declining nouns and adjectives in her head.

* She often swears like a sailor when she fails to successfully conjugate verbs or decline nouns and adjectives in her head.

* As her proficiency in the foreign language improves, her proficiency in English... goes badder.

* She goes to bed at 9:00 pm in order to get to class on time at 7:40 am.

and you know the dreaded language test is approaching when...

* She seriously considers replacing her morning tea with a strong screwdriver.

* She spends an unusual amount of time developing sophisticated ideas about counterterrorism, entrepreneurship, and trade agreements.

Best of luck to all those in language training!