7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 172)

May 18, 2012 | 44 comments

— 1 —

First of all, thank you so much for the kind words and well wishes. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the prayers and support you’ve offered both for my neighbors and for me. I can’t speak for anyone else involved, but I know that I am still working through it, and it may be a while before things go back to normal — or, rather, until we settle into a new normal. I appreciate you bearing with me as I navigate through all of this.

— 2 —

For those of you in the Austin area, on Monday (5/21) I have the honor of joining Professor Robert Koons as part of his apologetics series at St. Louis parish. The event starts at 7:00 PM and should involve some great discussions. Hope you can join us!

— 3 —

My seven-year-old son has surprised us by showing a huge interest in learning Chinese. I found a poster of Chinese characters on sale somewhere and put it up in our homeschool room. The act of tacking it to the wall represented about 99% of our homeschool language curriculum this year, but my son took the initiative to learn about this language, and more than once I found him studiously copying the characters and trying to memorize their meaning.

I’m going to run with this and have decided that his big summer learning project will be to pick up some Chinese. (When he will have the opportunity to practice it, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll talk Jen Ambrose into letting us Skype with her kids.) Anyway, I’m adamant that the only method I’ll use is Pimsleur. I’m a huge fan of their approach, for reasons I’ll elaborate on in a moment, but here’s a video that summarizes their philosophy:


(And let me add that I have no affiliation with them and was not asked to promote their product. Though if they want to send me a check or an Ikea gift card for plugging their product that would be fine.)

— 4 —

I used some Pimsleur tapes to pick up some Czech before a trip we took to the Czech Republic a long time ago, and that’s when I became convinced that it’s extremely important not to see a language written while you’re learning it. To interpret written words uses a different part of your brain than mimicking sounds and associating them with concepts, and I think it throws everything off when you combine the two. I only listened to those Czech tapes for two weeks back in 2002, and I still remember almost everything I learned. Which is really handy, since here in Texas I’m constantly needing to ask where the subway station is in Czech.

— 5 —

You know what’s frustrating? When you get all excited about learning a language before a trip so that you can converse with the locals…then realize that you learned the wrong *$&%! language. On that trip to the Czech Republic my husband and I spent about half our time in a town right next to the German border, and everyone spoke German. The owners of our inn didn’t even speak a word of any other language…which was problematic, since we didn’t know any German. (Well, I did know a couple of curse words, and the phrase “good luck, ” which would have made an odd combination.)

Anyway, that hot mess reached its apex the afternoon that we tried to explain to them that we had aired up the tires of their loaner bikes. You don’t realize how hard it is to pantomime riding a bicycle until you actually do it; same with using an air pump. We never were able to get across what we’d done, and I’m pretty sure the owners were left thinking that I told them, “I am a galloping horse who sometimes stops to pant while digging ditches.”

— 6 —

Does anyone know of a faith-based support group for mothers who have chronic illnesses? A close friend of mine has a condition that causes her to spend a lot of time feeling fatigued and/or in pain. It’s difficult enough in and of itself, but she reports that one of the hard parts is simply feeling alone in her struggles. I think it would be a boon to her spirits to know that there are other Christian moms going through the same thing. Any resources you could share would be very much appreciated.

— 7 —

I hope you all have a safe and blessed weekend. Thank you again for your support.



  1. George @ Convert Journal

    I was never very good with languages. Fortunately, my daughter must have inherited better genes (top awards at school). She worked at a fast food place in high-school where she was the only one not of a certain ethnic group. They talked about her often, not with charity or affection and never guessed that she knew what they were saying. She did.

    My entry this week… From the Susan B. Anthony list — Welcome to the Bureau of Womanhood Conformity. The Fathers of Mercy: supporting the new evangelism since 1808. A child’s story of survival, born 4 months premature. Candid comments on the abortion business, from a former clinic owner. A whole new market snuffing-out life at the other end – Planned GrandParenthood. The liberal magazine cover craze.

  2. Dorian Speed

    Jen, I was really touched by what you wrote about your neighbors all coming together. You’ve all been in my prayers and it’s heartening to see that you do have that support system for one another. We’ve made good friends with some of our neighbors since moving here a year ago and it’s really nice to have people close at hand who can pitch in and help you out or just drop by for a visit.

  3. Joy

    Nice to “see” you again! I’ve been praying for you this week.
    Funny you should say that about learning the wrong language! When I was in Germany, we went to a McDonald’s (all I can say is we were traveling with kids…), and I ended up ordering in… SPANISH! Not knowing any German, I tried English first, then French, and finally ended up with Spanish. *sigh* But it was still better than when we were in the Czech Republic and I ordered by having the cashier point at the picture as I smiled and nodded or frowned and shook my head. Whatever works, right? 😉

  4. Allie

    I did Pimsleur in Turkish while moving out to graduate school – alas, I don’t remember a thing. 🙁 But, I do feel the need to plug a new language learning tool: Duolingo.

    It’s free, although it only supports Spanish, German, and French right now (I think it’s still in beta). I was doing the Spanish until my computer died, and I loved it. This is from someone who took four years of Spanish in high school (Spanish III twice, after almost failing Spanish IV). I think I learned more about Spanish in my month with Duolingo than I did in four years of high school.

    As a bonus, the idea behind it is that it will translate the entire web. If you’re familiar with reCAPTCHA, that’s using CAPTCHAs to digitize words in books. Essentially, the guy who invented CAPTCHAs felt bad that people were wasting so much time for security’s sake, so reCAPTCHA takes words scanned in from books that the computer can’t recognize, and uses it as a CAPTCHA, letting humans figure it out.

    Same guy does Duolingo. Duolingo operates on a similar principle: humans who are learning another language can be provided with text on the web, and can translate it from one language to another, thus translating the web. I highly recommend checking out their video here: http://duolingo.com/

    Sorry for nerding out. I happened to see this guy speak on Duolingo early last year, and then after being in the Beta, I was very impressed. Alas, I want to learn Korean for a short trip I’m taking in July, and I don’t think it’ll be available on Duolingo by then…

  5. Michelle

    That’s interesting that your son took the initiative to start learning Chinese! I love kids…aren’t they the coolest?

    Pray you are able to find your new “normal” soon.

  6. The Boring Blogger

    I never used my German in Germany, but it came in handy in Poland.

    Prayers for your neighbors…

  7. Linda Wightman

    I love the Pimsleur approach! I think they’re a little, shall we say, optimistic, about how much you can learn in 10 days, but it’s still very helpful for being able to understand and speak basic phrases. And they have larger programs for most languages. On the other hand, I find it weird (and not very useful) that the first thing you learn to do is pick up a girl at a bar….

    Have you checked out Little Pim? This is a version for children — my 22-month-old grandson loves listening to it and mimicking the sounds — and they have Chinese as one of the languages.

    Another FABULOUS language-learning experience is the HIPPO Family Clubs, which I’ve experienced both in Japan and in Boston. Unfortunately, this information is not very useful for someone living in Texas, but if you ever move to Boston…. (Bonus: they don’t have scorpions in Massachusetts.)

  8. elizabeth

    You and your neighbors have been in my prayers. You probably know that today is the first day of the Pentecost Novena of the Seven Gifts–it seems to me that the Holy Spirit has really been moving through you lately. Just in case you are interested: http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/pentecost/seven.htm

    God bless!

  9. Suzanne

    For learning Chinese, check out memrise.com. I am basically speaking Italian now thanks to this website, and I know they have a lot of Chinese materials too. It is free, and the material is user- sourced. It is simple to use and sort of like a game. I can imagine a seven year old enjoying it.

  10. Stacy

    I’ve always wanted to learn another language but I’ve been terrible at it. After taking German from middle school all the way through college, I probably know about 25-50 words total. Their approach makes sense, and I’m totally tempted to try it. You’ll have to update us and let us know how your son does with it!

  11. Douglas

    I’m a big fan of Rosetta Stone. It can be expensive, but it’s worth it, IMO and you can find sales that save a bundle if you are patient or get lucky with your timing. Combining audio and visual input is so much more effective than simply relying on spoken words without any visual feedback. Nobody learns their native langue simply with audio. We combine audio and visual input to decipher what our family means when they talk to us. My 9 year old likes Rosetta Stone and the full course only takes ~10 min/day after you get going (assuming you skip the supplementary workbooks). My son could do extra lessons and finish sooner, but I don’t want to push it in the third grade.

  12. Trena

    I was planning a trip to Rome, to run a marathon, so every time I ran I would listen to conversational cd in Italian. I had this plan of being able to speak a little Italian when I got there.
    Of course, I didn’t realize that I was practicing my Italian while out of breath so once I tried speaking it, my Italian sounded horrible. Needless to say, it worked out well that most people in Rome spoke English.

  13. Bonnie

    Jen, you continue to be in my thoughts and prayers – you and your neighbors.

  14. LPatter

    Jen – glad you’re back – still praying for everyone.

    LOVE the Pimsleur stuff!!! I have never heard of him, but have often reflected on language acquisition and its difficulty in school-based approaches, etc – I went to Germany at 15 for 3 weeks with my school but learned much less than I could have because of the backward way of teaching. (And because my host family was super-fluent in English – the 2 girls ages 12 and 15 had been to the US 7 times in their lives and the mom was an English teacher!) But nontheless by the time I left I was starting to get that sense of the “it sounds wrong” way of discerning the grammar, which didn’t “make sense” but I was thrilled!

    It (Pimsleur) kind of reminds me of the way I learned piano starting at age 4 – the Suzuki Method. Dr. Suzuki thought that we should not keep children from making music just because they are too young to read it – we don’t keep them from speaking before they can read! There are some downsides to it in terms of habits and acquiring the ability to read music later (takes the right approach and timing to make the shift and not all teachers discern this for each student adequately to ensure future proficiency for the long-term) but the acquisition and development of musicality and the intuition of the musical ear are unparalleled – and the sight of all the teeny kids playing instruments confidently is amazing!

    ROFL at your Czech bike pumping story – the visual is hilarious. love it.

    #6 – I think the Philosopher Mom and my friend Theresa and http://www.newfeminismrising.com might have some helpful tips.

    Have a great day!

  15. Aubree

    One of my very first weeks living in China, I had inherited a bike from the previous English teacher, and the air in the tires were in desperate need of pumping. But, I had no idea where to go.

    So I set off, walking my bike down the crowded street. I stopped someone at a local food stand, pointed to my tire, pushed on them to demonstrate that the air was low and simply said “where?” They pointed down the street and said something that I didn’t understand. I said thanks and walked down the street a ways; repeated said process and this person pointed farther down the street and said something again. Repeat x 3 – until someone actually points in a particular building. “Great!” I thought. I went to that building, repeated said process and someone ran to get a man who, apparently had been taking a nap. He came out, tucked his shirt in and pumped air into my tires and didn’t charge me a dime…. er didn’t charge me a “mao.”

    It was a good day.

  16. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    Ooh! Make sure you borrow a ton of China-based picture books from the library:

    Yeh-Shen (Chinese Cinderella)
    The Emperor’s Silent Army (the terracotta soldiers)
    Lon Po Po (Chinese Little Red Riding Hood)
    Adventures of the Treasure Fleet
    anything by Grace Lin
    Liang and the Magic Paint Brush
    Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories
    The Story of Noodles
    Fa Mulan
    and, of course, the Monkey King stories, which have been favorites around here for years!

    And if you want to learn to cook Chinese food, I can recommend two books:
    Betty Crocker’s New Chinese Cookbook — simple, Americanized recipes that use mostly easy-to-find ingredients
    Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge — FABULOUS, restaurant-quality recipes.

    Have fun!

  17. Corita

    My sister has been blogging about her struggles with chronic illness. She has a very interesting medical history; for seemingly no reason she has been the carrier/experiencer of a number of rare conditions, most recently one in her foot that doctors are scratching their heads over and talking about giving a paper on.

    I know that she took a little time off the past month or so due to illness and being overwhelmed by maintaining her two blogs, homeschooling, commuting to see her husband on the weekends, babysitting other children in the family and all her church-y stuff BUT when I asked her if she minded if I post the link, she told me that she is getting ready to start posting again and is also looking for submissions from guest posters about Christian life and chronic illness.


  18. Leah

    Re: #6, I don’t know about any support groups per se, but there’s a really great Catholic forum called Defenders of the Catholic Faith (http://forums.catholic-convert.com). The women’s forum there is an amazing support network. There are several women battling chronic illnesses, so it may be of help on that front too. It is by far the best Catholic forum out there. 🙂

  19. Tara

    Hi! I’ve been a follower of yours now for some time (maybe even a year?)but I am terrible at commenting since I read on my iPhone…but I wanted to say that I love your blog, I love your views on faith (though as a protestant I come at things slightly differently) and how you express your beliefs and lastly, point 5 made me laugh out loud in bed last night as I read it. Thank you for posting that.

  20. Steph

    Hey Jen, good to have you back. You’ve been in my prayers (as well as your neighbors).

    Thank you for the Pimsleur promo. I’ve been putting off learning my husband’s native language for the 7 years we’ve been dating and married. Eek. Maybe buying those CDs might give me the boost I need to actually learn it.

  21. Lisa Schmidt

    Hi Jen – you have greatly been in my thoughts and prayers for a couple reasons. One, my husband and I also witnessed a motorcycle accident a few years ago. Not as up close as you did, but still a tragic experience. Two, my father was killed in a tragic accident 3 years ago while he was working in his backyard. His neighbors held his hand as he lay dying. They served to be the hands and feet of Jesus to my dad that day, just as you did for the young man. You painted the most healing and comforting reflection for me. Thank you. Truly thank you!

    On a lighter note, I have two of my great-grandfather’s prayer books written in Czech. They are lovely heirlooms … that I can’t read! 🙂 I can make out the litanies, but that’s about all. Maybe I need to enroll in that class, too!

    Godspeed, Jen. Godspeed.

  22. Caitlin

    Were you really able to speak Czech without an accent?

  23. JC

    The series with Dr Koons has been very good so far. Monday’s going to be fun! See you there.

  24. Tracy

    Glad to see you are “back” as well. I have been keeping you & the neighborhood in my prayers this week. I hope you’re new normal comes along very soon!
    God Bless…

  25. Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace

    I’ll certainly continue sending prayers your way as you and your neighbors process this tragedy. I was the first person to find one of our neighbors in the parking lot a few years ago, and I often pray for that young individual and her still grieving family.
    I’ve never heard of that language program before, but it sounds interesting. I would definitely like to learn Spanish and may check that out. I wonder how knowing French will affect my learning Spanish orally.
    As far as support groups, often they have them for people who suffer from whatever the particular chronic illness happens to be. Oftentimes, you can find resources by illness for both the sufferer and the person’s family.

  26. Louise

    I’m continuing to pray for you and your neighbors, Jen.
    Thank you for the tip about the Pimsleur tapes. I had never heard of them before, but I think I’ll be checking them out! Good luck with your Chinese endeavor!

  27. Dwija {House Unseen}

    My husband, who is a complete language nerd/snob absolutely SWEARS by Pimsleur. He doesn’t want me to even attempt to use any other program to teach the kids a language. Got any hot tips on where we can get Pimsleur for…like…free or something? ‘Cause that would be super sweet.

    Praying for you and your neighborhood, Jen.

  28. Jay

    In my prayers.

  29. suburbancorrespondent

    The best way to learn a language varies from person to person. I can assure you, after 15 years of homeschooling 6 very different kids, that what works for one kid will be an abysmal failure with another. Case in point: my oldest daughter thrived on immersion-type foreign language learning (Learnables, Rosetta Stone, you name it). My oldest child, however, struggled; so I assumed he just wasn’t “good at languages,” since obviously immersion listening was the “right” way to learn (isn’t that what we all do as infants?).

    Fast forward to the present: my oldest majors in Arabic (rated as one of the most difficult languages) at college, where he learned the language via the traditional textbook method. Go figure.

  30. Sr Anne

    For the mom with chronic suffering: There is a Catholic apostolate called CUSA which describes itself as a way for people with chronic illness or disability to care for others like themselves through an online or postal service Christian support group. Impressively, CUSA is now creating a new “branch” for caregivers’ mutual support, too!

    More info, resources and so on at http://www.cusan.org/
    Here is a beautiful presentation of the spiritual heart and essence of the organization: http://www.cusan.org/the-chrisms-within-cusa.aspx

  31. Jamie

    You’ve been in my prayers, Jen.

  32. Valerie

    My caring thoughts and prayers from NZ for you and your neighbours.

  33. nancyo

    That’s wonderful that your son is so captivated by Chinese, and he is at a great age to learn. One of my daughters is a natural language learner, and is now fluent in both German and Portuguese.

    When we traveled to the Czech Republic several years ago, I was pretty worried about not knowing any Czech (and not being able to recognize or pronounce any words due to the different alphabet) but we found that, at least in Prague, English was extremely common.

    The country I visited where I had the least knowledge of the language was Romania, but there we were usually with relatives, or a guide, who could translate for us. Also, I know enough German to get by and had enough high school French that I was able to have “mixed language” conversations, complete with pencil-and-paper for writing numbers.

    I was just in Brazil for 2 weeks and returned home with a determination to learn some Portuguese. I was with my daughter who is fluent in the language, which was great because English speakers are very rare there, and I would have been lost without her. So your Pimsleur recommendation comes at an opportune time – I’m off to browse the selection on Amazon!

  34. Barbara C.

    Jen, I don’t know how your library system is, but I just checked on a whim and mine has several of the Little Pim DVD sets for various languages.

  35. Lacy

    Oh my gosh. I am totally ordering Pimsleur. You have changed my life! Hope to join your Quick Takes family next week!!

    Thanks so much!

  36. Laura

    Since we all know seven-minute frosting takes much longer than that to prepare, here’s a quick icing that really lives up to its name..

  37. Cathy

    If you ever want to practice your Czech, just head straight up north I-35 about 2 hours from Austin to the small town of West (comma) Texas. The town is full of Czech heritage, and we have an awesome Czech festival on Labor Day weekend every year.

  38. Jannet Lee

    My prayers are with you. Hope everything goes on well.


  39. Cat

    I enjoy reading your posts and had to comment on #6. Did you find any good groups for her yet? I would love to know as I suffer from Fibromyalgia and Meneire’s and I know a good group is hard to come by.

    She can always visit me and my community and we could always make one up.


  40. Patty

    Jennifer, I have to let you and your readers know of my extreme dissatisfaction with Pimsleur. On the basis of your positive comments of Pimsleur, I ordered the Italian language “Quick & Simple” CDs, for $9.95. (I received that but haven’t had a chance to use it yet.) Today, which is 3 weeks later, I received — UNREQUESTED — a trial version of a large set of the Italian CD’s called the “Gold” series. The instructions said I had 30 days to use them, after which I would be charged. I immediately called to cancel and found that if I hadn’t cancelled, the charge would be over $200 for the set (which contained probably a couple dozen CDs — I didn’t look it over that closely), and there were 2 more sets that would be shipped! I cancelled the two other sets, and was given instructions on how to return the package — and they do not pay for return shipping! So now I am out whatever the shipping charge will be when I mail it at the post office tomorrow. The Customer Service Rep strongly suggested I use “media mail” to return the package to make it cheaper. I am not happy about having to pay for return shipping of a product I did not ask for, and that I have to check the tracking number to make sure that they actually receive the package so I am not charged for it. I do not consider this a reputable company.

  41. Linda Wightman

    Patty, from what company did you buy your Pimsleur course? I’ll be happy to avoid them! But not Pimsleur itself, which has always served me well.

  42. greenminimalism

    As a language tutor, I can highly recommend the Pimsleur and Michael Thomas methods for audio and getting intonation right, and Rosetta Stone. But there’s no need to spend loads of money on expensive software – old fashion strategies can be made to be fun too!

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