Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don't run for the trains

Today was a rough day. I had a lot of errands to run in every corner of the city. Nothing went the way I had planned either. I needed to go make photocopies at work for my classes on Tuesday, but the office was closed when I got there. I had a job interview, and even though they liked me, they weren't hiring non-E.U. citizens. I forgot my water bottle, and was really dehydrated. In total I had spent four hours of my day commuting, and accomplished nothing.
I was in Nuevos Minesterios at the end of my last task of the day, which is just one train stop away from Sol (one of the stations near my apartment). It's only a 3 minute train ride, but the train comes every 10 minutes, so when I saw that the train was in the station while I was still on the escalator, I ran for it. My cheapo shoes had no grip, it was difficult to gain any momentum, I was less than a meter from the door, when BAM the doors slammed shut. The traction of my shoes didn't work any better when trying to stop, and I slid smack into the train, and my leg fell down into the crack between the train and the platform. I tried to get my leg out, knowing that the train would pull away at any moment, but I was stuck. A man grabbed me around my torso, and yanked me, freeing my leg from its trap. A buzzer sounded, and the train doors flew open again. Security officers were running towards me, and the people on the car I had just slammed into were screaming. All I could register were the hands of the man who had helped me around my waist, they were now steadying me so I could stand on my own.
The man who had just helped me, gently put his hand on my back, and guided me onto the train, the man sitting in the seat closest to the door, stood up letting me take a seat. The train felt deafeningly silent. I didn't know which man had helped me, I had forgotten to look at his face, all I had seen were his hands. I said thank you, to everyone around me, I hope the person who helped me knew I meant him as well. When I got to Sol, I exited the train, and headed back to my apartment, I was very dazed, and the walk home felt surreal.
My roommate saw me as I walked in the door, and asked what had happened. I hadn't looked at my leg yet, so I hadn't noticed that two yellow bruises had formed, and a trail of blood was forming down my shin. She's a nurse, so before I could reply, she ran to her room and got the necessary things to clean the scrapes. I was still staring at my leg when she came back, and as I tried to explain what had just happened, I started to cry. My Spanish was useless in my emotional state, and she doesn't speak any English, but she hugged me and patted me on the back. She cleaned my cuts, and gave me a bag of frozen peas to put on my swollen ankle, and I waited for Ben to come home. I sat there not sure what to do all alone in my kitchen staring at my feet, wondering how on earth I still had both shoes...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WhatsApp vs. Line

With smartphones, minutes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Texting has become a more popular method of communication, and in countries with unlimited data plans (almost everywhere except the U.S.), paying for a texting option has given way to Apps like WhatsApp, and Line.
Both WhatsApp and Line are brilliant ways to text, using only data. So... Which is better?


Allows you to text other users using only data
Yes
Yes
Allows you to text international numbers registered by users
Yes
Yes
Free Calls or video Chat (like skype) to other service members
No
Yes
Where is is predominantly used?
Europe
Asia
Price
First year free
$0.99 per year after the first
Free… Always!
(there are stickers and games you can buy in app, but they are completely optional, and there is no pushy advertising)
Allows you to send videos, and Photos
Yes
Yes
Available on iOS and Droid?
Yes
Yes
Stickers
No
Yes


WhatsApp
With the point of either app being to allow you to text any other user... both are perfect, they do exactly that, and work better than my regular system because they work using my phones internet, rather than my phones service ability (if I have service, I have internet, but sometimes I have internet but no service).
With WhatsApp, the first year is free, but every year after that is $0.99, and there is no calling service. It is the prefered method of communication here in Spain, so you will need to download it if you have a smart phone. It is a fair price for the quailty of the app, and I not had any issues yet with it.










Line


With Line, it is always free, you can call other users. This App was widely used in Japan, and is the more popular texting system in Asia. The icing on the cake is the sticker feature, which I love. Most of Ben and my texts are exclusively stickers, they are a  cute/creepy/amusing... way to communicate with other users.
Bottom line, in Spain you will have to use WhatsApp, in Japan you will have to use Line. I prefer Line because it is always free, and way cuter, but when it comes to functionality, they are both perfect. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Teatro Kapital

Last night (Saturday) Ben and I went to Teatro Kapital, an 8 story club here in Madrid. This was the most awesome club I have ever been too, including all the ones I went to in Vegas. It's an old theater that has been converted into a club, the old classic feel, combined with thumping music, and amazing
lights is so cool. We happened to go on their birthday, and were treated to an amazing light show, glitter cannons, go-go dancers wearing rhinestone bras and g-strings, and a shower of balloons.
The different floors have different themes, separated by sound proof glass. The main floor is house music, the third is hip hop, one of the floors had Latin music, and the roof top had an open view of the night sky had no music (which was nice if you needed a break).


It was great dancing the night away. One of the girls I went with is an amazing hip hop dancer. She looked so cool in the club, I'm sure it emphasized my absolute lack of dance skills. I really enjoyed the glazed over look other people would get, when they saw her awesome moves, and couldn't take their eyes off her.  I desperately wish I could dance, and have been working really hard at it lately, but I'm fairly certain I am missing whatever gene she has that allows here to move more than two body parts at a time to music.
If you're looking for an awesome club in Madrid, Teatro Kapital is great. There are lots of tourists there, which means you'll here and see lots of English, but it's a great environment, good DJ's, and packed floor.


 




 Ben is now a die hard fan of the club, because they had a giant Star Wars reference....


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Coppelia-National Ballet of Cuba

Last Thursday, Ben and I went to a performance of Coppelia by the National Ballet of Cuba, choreographed by Alicia Alonso. Coppelia is a comedic ballet, where a doll (Coppelia) captivates the hearts of her creator (Doctor Coppelius) and a young Franz. Swanilda, Franz's girlfriend is determined to show Franz his folly by dressing as the doll to prove that Coppelia is not a real girl, this ultimately saves the life of Franz, and the two are happily wedded at the end of the ballet. The premise rings true of a love-bot tale, and the comedic portrayal through ballet is charming. Coppelia should be on the top of any ballet enthusiasts list of ballets to see.
The National Ballet of Cuba's performance of Coppelia was remarkable. Yanela Piñera's performance as Swanilda was amazing, she is an incredible ballerina, who's range of character, and ability is awe inspiring. I can't imagine a better performance than that done by her. Paired with Arián Molina as Franz, The National Ballet of Cuba's performance of Coppelia is one of the best performances I have ever seen.
Many ballet companies I have seen, over stretch their ballerina's. They give them choreography that is too difficult, which not only can they not execute, but their performance becomes completely void of personality. The choreography of Coppelia was some of the most technical I have ever seen, but never for a moment was I unsure of what their character was telling me.
The National Ballet of Cuba is one of the best ballet companies in the world, I would gladly go to any performance by them. I am so glad I saw their performance of Coppelia. I know this will stand as one of the best performances I have ever seen, and feel so fortunate that I was able to go to a performance by The National Ballet of Cuba.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brain Drain

You know that feeling after you take a really hard test, where it is difficult to think, and simple words and phrases are impossible to remember? Apparently that's a real thing called brain drain, or mental exhaustion. Brain drain is my limiting factor here (and often the reason I end up skipping a post...), I've been over clocking my brain. Way before my body winds down, my brain gives up.
Learning a language uses a lot of mental energy, and since I have been working really hard at my Spanish here (with great success I might add), I've been wearing out my poor little brain. It can get to the point where I can't form coherent sentences in my own language.
I have noticed that stress, and not enough sleep make brain drain set in faster. So I really have to manage my time effectively.
I'm getting better at resting my brain drain gauge, and have come up with two great tricks that work as mental fatigue reset buttons.
1. Coffee naps!
I'm lucky to be learning a language in a country that has siestas. When I hit that two o'clock slump, where my brain can do nothing more than make train noises, I drink a shot of espresso, lie down, and take a 15 minute power nap. The caffeine wakes me up, and my brain is fresh and ready for another round of abuse. 
2. Exercise
A walk works really well, but I think it's better to break a sweat. My favorite way to reset my mental gauge is to cranks some really girly music (Miss A, Katy Perry, 4minute, Ke$ha...) and dance like a drunken monkey. After about 15 minutes, my brain resets and I'm capable of forming coherent thoughts again.
I find that more exercise I get, the longer I can work my brain before brain drain sets in.
(this is how I imagine I look while I'm dancing to my K-Pop)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Work

Ben and I have finally started work. We've been here for a month and a half, and while we are still financially doing well, it has been stressful just sitting idly as the weeks passed by. We were warned that there would be no work in August, and work wouldn't really start till mid September to early October, but the reality was a bit taxing.
We did got our TEFL certificates through Canterbury in August in anticipation of starting work in September. Canterbury guaranteed work, which is why we chose to get our certificates with them. We will be private teachers here (very different from our jobs in Japan). Neither Ben or I have been assigned any of the guaranteed work from Canterbury, which is annoying, I have faith that we will have work through them in October, but seeing as we were given the impression we would be starting work at the beginning of September, and thus would be getting a paycheck at the beginning of October, I feel a bit misled.
 Through our own calculations, and prior research, we have found that our goal should be to work 20-25 hours per person, per week. So far I have 20 scheduled hours, and Ben has 4, but the offers keep coming, so neither of us is worried. The classes we have taught so far this week have gone very well, and for anyone interested I have links at the top of the page for our typed up lesson plans, and notes for the students.
Wish us luck!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Vuelta a España

Vuelta a España is Spain's version of Tour de France. It's a 21 day bike race, through Spain, that apparently ends less then a block from my apartment, on Gran Via in the heart of Madrid.
Sunday was the last day, and though I didn't even know it existed  until Sunday, I was very excited to see swarms bikes coming down the street we walk down everyday.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fashion's Night Out

Thursday, September 12th was Madrid's Fashion's Night Out. I've never (successfully) gone to Fashion's Night Out in any country, so I had no idea what to expect.

Here's the run down, it's shopping, but while you're shopping, people give you free cocktails, DJs line the streets, and everyone gets super dressed up. It was awesome. I wish I was always supplied with free drinks while shopping, I look way better in poorly lit dressing rooms after my third cocktail.


 








Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Weather

The weather in Boulder and Madrid are remarkably similar, which is why I think I haven't started feeling homesick. I still feel like I'm at home in a lot of ways, and the physical adjustment to this city has been so minimal.
You just about count on a sunny day here, in fact today is the first rainy day we've had since we got here. The sun isn't overwhelming here either, since the air is so dry your sweat actually evaporates, and is very effective at keeping you cool. Madrid also has the amazing feature of being a few degrees cooler in the shade versus direct sun. 
If you look at the geography of the two cities, they are about as similar as you can get for being on different continents. Both are in the middle of their countries, at the foot of mountains and are in a rain shadow, both are high elevation, and both are at 40 degrees north latitude. Ben really likes the geographical similarities because the amount of convergent evolution between the two places is outrageous. The soil is even similar in both countries, I'm fairly certain any plant that thrives in Colorado could also thrive here.
One of the nice features of the weather in both cities, is that there is generally a breeze going. This prevents that stagnant air you can get in other cities. Sometimes it can be pretty strong here, but most days it is just enough to be refreshing.
A rainy day in Madrid seems to be an excuse to cozy up in a cafe or stay at home. It feels so sleepy, and the normal hustle of the city has slowed to a crawl. It's a welcome change, and I plan to read, study Spanish, and cook delicious dinner.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where am I?

To celebrate Tokyo winning the Olympic bid, we decided to treat ourselves to one of our favorite Japanese dishes, Okonomiyaki. It's like a pizza/omelet hybrid. It's a food that requires the right ingredients (namely okonomiyaki sauce) and so pulling it off in a foreign country can be very difficult.
The other day as we were wandering around the city, we found an Asian market, they had all the necessary ingredients for all of Ben and my favorite foods. I have a feeling we'll be spending a little too much of our time and money there, as it is less then a block from where we buy our groceries every day.
Our okonomiyaki was delicious, we used uncured bacon strips, cabbage, and shallots to make it as authentic as possible. I miss Japanese food, I dream about it. One of the great things about living in a large city, is that there are people from all over the world, slowly Ben and I have been finding some really authentic Japanese restaurants, so we'll be able to eat the food of the land of the rising sun.

 If you are interested in making your own okonomiyaki, check out the recipe below.
Cooking with Dog, video tutorial.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Olympic Bid 2020

The three cities bidding for the 2020 Olympics were Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo. I liked the idea of any of these cities hosting the Olympics, and so yesterday as the final announcements came in I waited with baited breath.
We had seen signs about Tokyo's candidacy when we were there, and were excited to see Madrid's candidacy when we got here.
Here in Madrid they closed down one of Madrid's major streets, in preparation for the announcement. Concerts were held, parades were marched, it was all a very exciting lead up to the announcements starting at 9:30.
The first elimination happened at 9:30, and Madrid was the first to be eliminated. Istanbul and Tokyo got to make a second bid for their cities, and it wasn't until over an hour later that it was announced that Tokyo won the bid for the 2020 Olympics.
Tokyo will be a great host for the Olympics, and I'm really excited to see what this will do for their country, and the opening ceremonies. It made me a little homesick for Japan thinking about it.
Congratulations Tokyo!



Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wande With Me

Yesterday Ben and I took a walk, with the idea that we would take pictures of all the little details we saw as we wandered. Here are the pictures we took.

 








 





We found a Don Quixote Statue

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Life of Art

 Madrid is teaming with art. Sculptures top buildings, beautiful paintings adorn walls, filigrees and faces peak out of corners. It feels like the city is alive, and as each building is born, the decorations that cover it become more defined. Near our apartment right now is a building that is being restored, and it all but confirms my theory that art just grows out of the sides of buildings. I walk by it often to check out the progress, excited to see how the art has evolved.
Baby Art

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Are Adults or Children More Capable Language Learners?



It has long been held that young learners are more adept at learning languages than older learners. This is a discouraging notion to adults who often feel they have missed their opportunity to learn a foreign language. The idea that children are more capable learners is supported only by claims that limit the definition of language. Defining language, in a more natural way, by incorporating language aspects other than accent recognition, it is evident that adult learners are more capable language learners than young children.
Studies have shown that people are born with the capability to understand and recognize sound patterns in any language, but as they grow older they lose the ability to differentiate sounds not found in their native tongue (Kuhl, 2011, Flege, Yeni-Koshian & Liu, 1999, Singleton & Ryan, 2004, University College London, 2005). Though experts disagree on the ages and degree to which learners lose the ability to understand sound patterns in foreign languages, there are no credible studies that argue that sound pattern recognition is easier for older language learners than younger. This is only relevant to accent development within the language, and those that claim it reflects a greater difficulty in language acquisition as a whole for adults, are doing so without evidence to support that claim.
Because younger language learners are more capable at understanding sound patterns, a general assumption has been that this reflects a greater ability to learn languages. When we take a broader definition of language that includes depth of vocabulary, correct grammar usage, and the general ability to communicate, it becomes clear that adults are more adept language learners than children (Krashen, Long & Scarella, 1979). It should also be noted that second language acquisition is fundamentally different in children and adults, as language development with age follows different mental and cognitive patterns (Archibald, Roy, Harmel, Jesney, Dewey, Moisik & Lessard, 2006). Methods useful for teaching children may not be effective when teaching adults, just as many methods for teaching adults are not effective when teaching children.  When fluent is defined as the ability to express oneself easily and accurately, it is clear that many factors outside of sound patterns must be considered (Fluent, def. 1 Oxford). Language learners under the age of five cannot be considered fluent in any language, and cannot be expected to achieve fluency in a second language due to developmental constraints.
Adult learners should be made aware that language acquisition is a matter of time dedication. If less than ninety-five hours per year are dedicated to the target language, an increase in proficiency will not be observed (Archibald, Roy, Harmel, Jesney, Dewey, Moisik & Lessard, 2006). With adult students discussing how much time needs to be devoted to a language will give them an idea of their comparative progress, and may work as a motivational tool for students. Communication about the language, and emotional aspects of the language are useful tools with adults, as it helps them understand how to help themselves.
 Students focused on perfect pronunciation should be reminded that in order to communicate fluently, precise but not perfect pronunciation is required. Teachers should encourage adult students to focus on comprehensible pronunciation, and remind their students that accents that do not hinder a native listeners’ comprehension, are natural, and not an obstacle when communicating. Teachers should focus on correcting pronunciation when it is unintelligible, or if the mistake comes not from the students’ native language, but from not understanding how to sound out a written word.
Adult learners would benefit from being made aware, that like their native language, perfect language usage is not necessary for fluency, and should continuously focus on the aspects of the language that make them more capable of communicating effectively. Thus, it is appropriate to begin teaching colloquialisms, phrasal verbs, and slang before the student has mastered grammar, as they are more crucial aspects of communicating and understanding a foreign language than many aspects of grammar. Adult learners who may feel discouraged by their short-comings in a foreign language should be reminded that fluency and native speech are not the same thing, and that the more noble goal is fluency which will allow them to communicate with anyone fluent in that language.
When time is held as a constant, adults are more capable language learners than children (Krashen, Long & Scarella, 1979). The more time spent on a foreign language, the more capable a person will become regardless of age. The benefit of beginning to learn a language earlier in life is that it gives more time to devote to the language, and one may be able speak with a better accent. Adult language learners are able to achieve fluency much faster than children and to say otherwise is not only false, it is discouraging. Adult learners should be made aware of their ability to learn languages, and encouraged to keep at them.

Archibald, J., Roy, S., Harmel, S., Jesney, K., Dewey, E., Moisik, S., & Lessard, P. (2006). A review of the literature on language learning. Alberta Education, Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/media/349348/litreview.pdf
Flege, J. E., Yeni-Koshian, G. H., & Liu, S. (1999). Age constraints on second-language acquisition. Journal of memory and language, 41, 78-104. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0749596X99926384/1-s2.0-S0749596X99926384-main.pdf?_tid=474e36b0-0d91-11e3-b281-00000aab0f26&acdnat=1377440517_12d30206c6a150c1ee7f6fe196f9cf02
Krashen, S., Long, M., & Scarella, R. (1979). Age, rate and eventual attainment in second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 13(4), Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3586451?uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102580675833
Kuhl, P. (2011). The linguistic genius of babies [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies.html
Fluent [Def. 1]. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionaries. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/fluent?view=uk
Singleton, D., & Ryan, L. (2004). Language acquisition: The age factor. (2nd ed.). Multilingual Matters.
University College London (2005, June 15). Adults Can Be Retrained To Learn Second Languages More Easily, Says UCL Scientist. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 25, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2005/06/050615060545.htm