A Few Questions for the Leaders of the United European Nations (Part 1)

Putting on the “developmental economist” hat, Colorfulifesite asks a first set of questions with the hope to determine how inclusive is the EU of its citizens in implementing the European mission and reaching its vision.

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Image courtesy of: Wikipedia

The European Union is currently faced with an economic crisis, a migration/refugee crisis and perhaps just recently, an identity crisis following the Brexit. During this moment of distress, doubts and skepticism, what is being done to unite the people of the different European Union countries?

A very important catalyst for unity is patriotism; and it rises from each and every countryman’s heart when any aspect concerning his nation is being threatened. Perhaps most of these feelings stay just like that, without being converted into an action of any sort. But the people are strengthened, they are inspired and in their own little ways they make the best of what they have to contribute to the mitigation of the said crisis.

Another factor that unites a population is pride. The American patriotism is partly based on their pride over being the superpower of the modern world (Thanks to the Yankees winning the civil war, progress and efficiency were stimulated!).

The French are also demonstrating a great example of patriotism and pride. And why should they not? They are bound to, and by, the victorious eradication of the monarchy, which paved the way to constructing the great Republic that they have now.

The examples mentioned above were obtained through victories in wars. Perhaps the EU could set a “first” by uniting the people in this period of nonbelligerence? Wouldn’t it be worth considering to strongly promote rescue missions, development and cooperation collaborations, international aid and other peaceful interventions executed under the name of the EU? this way, Europeans could take pride in identifying themselves as citizens united towards the mission of achieving social, economic and political justice…

* – *

As a response to the Financial-turned-Sovereign-Debt Crisis, “the EU and its member countries have been strengthening financial sector supervision”.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.currencynewstrading.com

The immediate response to the economic crisis consisted of rapidly setting up financing facilities for euro area countries experiencing severe financial problems. This measure not only solved the urgent needs of some countries to repay their debts, but it also boosted the morale of financial markets thanks to the projected effort towards a more stable euro area.

Complementing this initative is the creation of 3 European supervisory bodies, namely the European Banking Authority, the European Securities and Markets Authority and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority “to ensure that banks are better capitalised, behave responsibly and are able to lend money to households and businesses.”

The aim of course, is to protect people’s deposits and void forcing the taxpayers to carry the burden of a bank’s failure. At the same time, financial markets were calmed down even if their confidence has yet to be regained.

Institutionally, the problem seems being dealt with. But what mandates are being issued* to encourage governments to educate their citizens with basic financial concepts, risks and opportunities?

After all, the trigger of all this was the disaster in the American banking sector, brought about by the careless granting and obtaining of mortgages. Basically anyone who could write his name was granted one (or more!) of these. Even then, the ordinary people’s financial illiteracy caused them to take on more credit than they could actually repay. The situation was bound to be unsustainable from the start. Hence, the fallout.

When the crisis broke in Spain, many people who deposited their faith (no pun intended) on participating preferred stocks were buried even deeper into the pit. Mainly, they did not know what they were signing up for, the moment they were handed this product. Although this event was heightened by and did not cause the country’s financial crisis, it shows how the best way a person could protect himsef is through information. The capacity to discern right from wrong, logic from fantasy, facts from sales pitches and so on, is still the best defense**.

* – *

This could be a personal impression but, did Brussels seem more engrossed with the Greek (as well as the Spanish and Portuguese) financial crisis than the problems with migrants and refugees?

The question refers to the apparently disproportionate attention, analysis and media coverage as to “why”, “when” and “how” both crisis came to be. When the news about the Greek “mess” came to light, immediate investigations were done to discover the root causes of this salvajada.

The same could still be done with the current human crisis: we already know what the “pull” factors are in the grand scheme of things. Studying and informing about the “push” factors would be more useful for everybody- from policy makers to ordinary people. 

Greece, Spain and Portugal were under very tough scrutiny during the worst moments of the financial crisis. In the same way, the countries of origin of migrants and refugees could also be the object of close examination to learn what reasons motivate their population to leave.

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Image courtesy of: openeurope.org.u

*************************************************************************

Thank you in advance for your thoughts, corrections, suggestions and questions.

 * Accession to EU was conditioned by several convergence criteria such as capping the inflation rate (as % of growth), the public sector deficit and government debt (both as % of GDP). These criteria pressured the candidate countries to work towards compliance, with strong and at times adverse consequences to the ordinary people’s quality of life during the period of adaptation. Similarly, the European authorities could agree on a decree obliging country members to better educate their citizens (or at least any adult who makes use of financial services) in financial matters.

** Even something as basic as knowing that return rates on investments are directly and inversely related to the risks would already be a big help. See: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/fundamental/04/061604.asp for more information.

Sources:

  1. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/European_Union.aspx
  2. http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/explained/the_financial_and_economic_crisis/why_did_the_crisis_happen/index_en.htm
  3. “The Observer view on Europe’s migration problem”, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/24/mass-migration-problem-europe
  4. “EU leaders must finally begin to address the root causes of the migration crisis”, by Stephen Booth and Pawel Swidlicki, available at:http://openeurope.org.uk/today/blog/eu-leaders-must-finally-begin-to-address-the-root-causes-of-the-migration-crisis/
  5. Lessons from Spain and Portugal in the European Union after 20 years”, by Sebastían Royo, available at: https://www.cairn.info/revue-pole-sud-2007-1-page-19.htm
  6. “El Engaño Masivo de las Preferentes”, El País, available at: http://economia.elpais.com/economia/2012/09/13/actualidad/1347534473_888418.html
  7. http://ec.europa.eu/echo/refugee-crisis_en
  8. http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/index_en.htm
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In solidarity of what had come to pass…

Colorfulifesite would like to dedicate this space to acknowledge the victims of the various attacks in the last few days, as well as support their families and loved ones during this moment of adversity.

The struggle to not give into terror is a battle we are all engaged in. And part of this fight consists of preserving kindness and not resorting to stigmatizing population groups.

Doing so requires great amount of will and strength but as citizens, it is our way of helping the authorities do their job to mitigate the initial shock. That way we, as a society, can all move towards a more longer-term solution to end the problem while starting and/or continuing to heal.

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Image courtesy of: https://www.pinterest.com

 

Thank you for your courage, thoughts and prayers.

 

Sources:

  1. Live news on the Munich shooting, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/22/shots-fired-at-munich-shopping-centre/
  2. “After Paris Attacks. French Muslims, Refugees in Paris Are Fighting the Stigma Left Behind From 9/11”, by Alessandria Masi, available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/after-paris-attacks-french-muslims-refugees-paris-are-fighting-stigma-left-behind-911-2189412

What’s on a reader’s mind (1)

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Image courtesy of: http://www.eoi.es

I recognize the worth of feedback of any type. Yet I must admit that those which have been reflected upon deserve to be shared; especially an honest criticism that pushes me to grow and improve. I believe it’s a great way to show appreciation on one’s work. Somehow, it’s a more complete way to say, “Good job!”

Two weeks ago, I received this kind of comment for the first time. It came from Alberto Carbajo, my best friend in college, currently residing in L.A., California. He is also a very treasured confidant. I just feel really lucky to have access to thoughts from a brain like his. So dear Alberto, from the bottom of my heart (or pen, or keyboard, or laptop…) I CAN NEVER THANK YOU ENOUGH!

And to you dear reader, please don’t hesitate to leave any comment, opinion and/or impression to the contact page, the Reply Section of any post in this blog or you could also write to: color.fulife@yahoo.com.

Without further ado, let me share with you Alberto’s feedback (minor edits have been made).

As for the bear… I want to get in a debate of “justice vs policy”. Not all policy is just. I feel justice goes on a case by case basis and can vary depending on the observer. Whereas policy is like painting with a thick brush. In this case the policy is kill the bear because I guess once it has tasted human flesh they’re more likely to kill more humans? Is that the thinking behind it? We had a similar incident a few weeks ago in which a kid fell into the gorilla pit at the zoo and to rescue him they were forced to kill the gorilla. The gorilla wasn’t being violent and there was the option of tranquilizers but the rationale in that case was that shooting the gorilla was the safest thing for the kid.

Either way unfair and unjust for the animals but we live in a society that values humans over animals for better or worse. I would argue for better but that’s a different debate.

As for the argument that bears have been around for longer I don’t see where that leads. Fish have been around for even longer and nobody cares about fish the same for trees and even further for virus and bacteria.

It’s a rough world and ultimately it’s like Nietzsche argues in beyond good and evil. The world is divided in the powerful and the weak. The weak see the powerful as evil when the powerful may not care one way or another about the rest. And the only way for the weak to change the situation is for they themselves to become powerful first so that they are in a position to change things.

What all this rambling means is that the bear will always be weak relative to humans (although Crosby might disagree).

In defense of humans they are the only animals on earth that worry about the survival of other species and act upon it. Sure, we may be responsible for mass extinctions but at least we’re aware of it. And we act upon it (although petty squabbles get in the way).

********************************************************************

Alberto, you hit home when you mentioned about the kid falling into the gorilla’s pit. I’ve been trying to put myself in the mom’s shoes and I sincerely can’t imagine how I would react.

I guess my questions are: why are human lives more important than an animal’s? Because humans have dictated so? I consider this ugly arrogance, especially in a terrain supposedly reserved for the latter. Don’t we ourselves take precautions when we have to pass by a street known to be a gang’s “turf”? When we share a common habitat with any living creature, we should be aware of consequences and be a good sport…

As to the fact that animals have been around longer: it’s just a way to show us that we don’t have the right to simply apply our rule of law on what has been functioning well way before our existence. I suppose I’m trying to imply RESPECT in that sense.

As you said, being “powerful” is relative. In the wilderness, humans are nothing without any weapons (or animal repellant sprays). Perhaps the bear killing Crosby is the way the “weak” are taking the chance to gain strength so they could position themselves to change things.

And finally, YES! I agree about humans being aware of our own barbarities and how we try to make up for them. What I was trying to say is perhaps we’ll find it easier not to commit too much brutality in the first place. That way, we won’t have to squabble about how to act upon it. (Okay, okay, I know, I know, the productive model, wealth acquisition, progress, our children’s future… all suggesting different debates on their own.)

How about you, reader? What do you think?

Featured Young Talent: Carmen Zaragoza

One of my greatest sources of pride is the kind of friends I have acquired through the years. At first, I believed I nurtured relationships with kind, intelligent, driven and dynamic persons because of what influence they could have on me. Now, as a mother, I realize that even better than having great friends around me is that my son will be surrounded by marvelous people who will guide him and encourage him to constantly strive for excellence.

Successful people under the age of 30 start to be appreciated through Forbes lists, featured interviews and awards. There is, however, a larger number of young professionals who are too busy to enlist themselves to even be considered for these types of recognition. These are individuals who are just as committed, as ambitious and as industrious as those who are publicly acknowledged. For this reason, I considered shining a spotlight on one of them whom I had the great honor to meet, learn from and think with.

Carmen Zaragoza is a 29-year old professional in the microfinance sector. She is a silent but strong source of ideas, hard work and fierce determination.

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She left her native Puerto Rico because of her aspiration to earn a Master’s Degree in Spain. After considering that she finished her major in her home country, worked in Argentina and did an internship in Brazil, it was time for a change of continent. So, armed with her hard-earned savings and thirst for learning, she boarded a flight to Madrid in 2010.

The main reason she chose the capital city was because the degree that interested her offered a program that suited what she was looking for (Máster en Microfinanzas para el Desarrollo, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid). Contrary to what people may first think, she doesn’t have any relatives in Spain and her support system consists of her long-time partner, Iván (with whom she came to Madrid and with whom she’s living since then), and in the distance, she counts on her family specially her mother and her aunt.

You may notice that we’re in the year 2016- that is to say, 6 years since Carmen arrived and started her Master’s Degree. She stayed. She stayed because of the opportunities available and the quality of life. She says, “Madrid is safe, I can walk at night, and public transportation is reliable…”

So many things have happened since she graduated. One of them is the fact that she’s on her way to obtaining Spanish citizenship. But for me, the most significant moment during the past years was the day I interviewed her for an internship position at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (FMBBVA). Then and there, she displayed wit and showed her resolve to work in the microfinance sector. Had I not seen her résumé, I would have thought she was just one of those “fresh graduates” who’s scouting for a first job. Little did I know she already had a lot of knowledge and insight on microcredits- and from work experience, too!

Carmen has been generous enough to share some of her experiences and thoughts with Colorfulifesite, so perhaps it’ll be better if I give her the floor in this post.

On her studies and chosen profession…

K: What made you study your major?

C: My father’s family is full of accountants so it has become some sort of a “family” thing and I’ve always known I would study Accounting.

But I wasn’t happy about accounting, so I started to study another major, in Economics, because it gave me perspective and a broader view and understanding of what was happening in my country. But of course, I couldn’t leave it unfinished so I completed both majors, and I don’t regret it.

K: What made you want to work in microfinance? What was your first experience in the field?

C: My mom is a lawyer and a finance professor. She also has done research papers and works with micro-entrepreneurship and cooperatives in the field of economic development. That’s how I was introduced to microfinance. (I took Yunus’ book from her library.) Through her I learned that microfinance is a “leg” of a different way of economy, the social economy.

I started to search for jobs related to economic development; I even took the Yellow Pages and searched for a job in that field. In my last year of University I was hired as a loan officer in a Corporation in PR that gives credit to small businesses.

K: And what exactly do you do now? Can you briefly walk us through your current project?

C: Now I am the project leader of Distribution Channels at the Commercial Development and Innovation Department of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation.

The project is focused on how to bring the products and services of the Foundation’s entities to clients in an efficient, sustainable and innovative way; with the objective to reduce transactional costs for both the entities and the vulnerable entrepreneurs*. This is where mobile banking would come in, for example.

K: Sounds fun!

C: Hehehe! It is really interesting!

K: Can you describe your day-to-day routine at the office? What kind of tasks keep you busy?

C: I can divide my day perfectly between morning and afternoon. In the morning, I take my time to organize my tasks and duties, to do research and analysis, brainstorm, to prepare meetings, and exchange information and plans with other areas.

I dedicate time to learn about each country’s best practices and figuring out how we could adapt it to other countries (the FMBBVA is present in Latin America).

I also do a lot of market research, I perform a lot of economic and viability analysis and we give feedback as requested by our colleagues (in the Americas). We try to find innovative ways of doing things that can contribute to achieve our Mission. A lot has already been invented; it’s just a matter of picking what’s best for your need and adapting it for your own use.

In the afternoon, I go to a lot of meetings and videoconferences so it’s good that we can concentrate most of them after lunch.

On her ambitions: the ones fulfilled, as well as those still in the making…

K: The way I see it, you are now in a place where not many people your age would even imagine exploring (After all, you hold a double major, you’re a Magna Cum Laude with a stable job as Project Leader and you’re almost a European citizen…). Let’s refer to it as a “peak”. But, do you feel you’ve reached a peak or two at this moment of your life? If so, what other peaks have you to conquer?

C: This was a tough question for me. I really found it hard to answer. I think I’ve done some things in my life but I still have a lot to do. I’m just building the ground to continue conquering peaks. It’s the process that makes this adventure interesting…

K: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for 6 years, and I don’t recall hearing you say “I would like to be ‘boss’ in 10 years’ time”, or anything similar.

C: I mean, I can work for that but it’s not my ultimate objective. If that happens, it’s because I believe I can use that position to contribute to something, to make a change.

I manage to “just go with the flow”. If I plan too much, things don’t usually happen. We just can’t control everything. It’s different in PR, where I know that if I planned, I could be in a certain position given my age and experience.

Things are more difficult here in Spain (in that sense). I don’t know why. Well, as in Latin America there’s a lot of macho attitude. (In the past) I struggled a lot, “fighting” against the system so now I just decided to do my best and be as perfect as I can, knowing that “getting” to a certain position doesn’t entirely depend on me.

I think I’m going to conquer peaks; one of those would be developing something of my own in PR, But for now, my purpose is to learn, to take lessons for myself, for my curriculum and enjoy every opportunity.

K: What’s your ultimate dream? And what are you currently doing to reach it?

C: Personally I want to travel and continue gaining as much experience as I can. Given the (dream) project that we want to develop, we need to have an open mind. Travelling will give me the tools to have a wider perspective on issues and not be too judgmental. To work in microfinance and towards social and financial inclusion, you really need to have an open mind.

To reach it, I make it a point to not forget that it’s my ultimate dream. Keeping it in mind helps you reach your goals, I think.

K: Is this life what you imagined for yourself 10 or 15 years ago?

C: Never. I never imagined this life. 14 years ago my dad died and a couple of years after his death, I found out that I share the same condition. I’m not going to die just yet (laughs nervously), but my life turned around completely at 15- with the problems that it caused personally and at home. That had a huge impact in my life. I started to have more perspective and knowing that your life was good and suddenly realize “what the hell?” (it) helped me become flexible and more adaptable to changes.

The happiness is in the experiences, I believe. This motivated me to get out of my comfort zone. To not create necessities, enabling me to adapt to life’s situations and take and enjoy every opportunity that life has to offer.

“Past Carmen” would be shocked if I (“Present Carmen”) went back in time and tell her all the things that I’ve done. (Hahaha!)

K: Will you go back to PR? Why?

C: Definitely yes, but I’m not sure when, because I would really like to develop something related to social economy and microfinance in partnership with my mother. In the long-term, I’m also thinking of developing something with my boyfriend. He’s a psychologist specialized in drug addiction so we’re thinking of combining our fields and perhaps build something geared towards rehabilitation and social and economic inclusion.

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But that’s still quite far because to do so, we need to gain more experience. We can’t just go back and “try” or “experiment” to see if our ideas would work. We’d have to deal with real lives and real problems

On other thoughts to ponder…

K: Define success

C: For me, success could also be found in the process of achieving your goals. Sometimes you don’t achieve them but you have to take things that you learn along the way. I have the curriculum I possess because I took chances. I was flexible. I’ve always believed that in life, sooner or later things fall into place no matter how chaotic everything might seem.

But what’s really important to me is to take the journey and achieving your goals without taking advantage of anybody- not taking down anyone or pushing people down in the process. I believe in solidarity.

K: Do you consider yourself successful? Why or why not?

C: It depends on the day. Some days I feel good about myself, but other days not that much. The days I feel successful help me to have more confidence in myself, the days I don’t help me to see things I need to improve on and try to work on them.

K: That is the most intelligent answer I have ever heard to that question so far.

C: Really? Why?

K: Feelings are a spectrum and life is dynamic, I believe. A clear description makes us feel secure but feelings? It’s not a static concept, nor can you keep it inside a well-defined box. That just sounded unstable (Hahahaha!) I don’t know…

C: Yes, I know, it might sound psycho to some. But that’s also how I see it.

K: What defining moment made you say to yourself, “I am where I want to be!”?

C: The moment I started working as a loan officer for micro and small businesses, I realized I could combine economics with a more social view. For me it was good to know that I was helping people develop their businesses and that the loans I granted gave them access to financing, and that was directly impacting my country’s economy. It was great! It was then when I decided this is what I want to do.

K: Who is your mentor?

C: My mother, Carmen Correa. I’m very lucky to have her not just as a mother and best friend, but also as my colleague, as we both call each other.

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K: What most important lessons did your mentor teach you?

C: To have social awareness and integrity.

Social awareness for me is important because it helps you to always find a meaning of what you’re doing. We’re not thinking only of ourselves and that motivates you to be responsible, because what you do will have an effect on others.

As for integrity, I’d always blame my mom for making me “too honest”. But I’m not really the type of person who would befriend someone just to benefit from that relationship. Nor would I say “yes” to everything a superior would tell me just so I would be considered for a job promotion. It’s not my style. But I go to bed at night with a clear conscience and peace of mind.

K: Would you consider mentoring someone?

C: Yes, why not? If he or she finds me as a role model, that’s good. I laugh at my friends who tell me they follow my footsteps. But if there’s anything I can share with other people who think they can learn something from me, I won’t hesitate. If life would offer me a chance to mentor someone, I would consider it as a way of giving back…

In the Foundation, my first boss was a sort-of mentor to me. He would tirelessly answer each and every question I ask him. Sometimes he answers me with another question…

K: That’s because he wants you to think for yourself.

C: Yes! And I consider myself very fortunate for having had his guidance during my first years in the Foundation.

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K: What would be your mentee’s first lesson?

C: Among other things, I would tell him/her to be curious, to ask. You can learn from everyone, from a farmer, or a banker… be open to learn new things. Never assume you know everything.

-the end-

 

* Vulnerability refers to the inability to withstand the effects of changes in the environment. Therefore, vulnerable entrepreneurs are the socially and economically “weak” individuals exposed to livelihood stress as a result of different impacts from climate change, economic slowdown or crisis and/or environmental and man-made emergency disasters.

Deep Condolences

My heart is breaking

For those that stopped beating

My mind is asking

For those who will never dream

nor think, nor learn,

nor ponder ever again.

My hands are trembling

For the ones unable

to hold, or touch, or comfort

or feel anything, anymore.

 

I mourn, I weep and I hurt

for the dearly departed.

 

But my soul grieves for you

brother.

And now I wonder:

What kind of childhood did you have?

What sort of things made you laugh?

What were your friends like?

What made you cry?

Did you like fireworks?

Did you love the beach?

What were the words

they convinced you with?

 

Where are you now, brother?

Are you enjoying

the promised virgins?

Do you see the face of your Creator?

Or do you see them 84*?

 

 

*84 number of deaths as of 15/07/2016, 22:34

A Short Note On: Mastering a Language

I was once told that the moment you could express anger in a foreign tounge, then you can be considered highly-skilled in speaking that language. It was only two weeks ago when I realized that albeit the truth behind this principle, HUMOR has proven to me the best way to improve my communication skills.

A quick background

I hail from a nation of story-tellers, so the desire to understand different languages comes from my fascination with recited tales of adventures, droll anecdotes and parables offering moral lessons. All the better if these stories are based on true to life experiences!

Suddenly, there came a time when I also yearned to share stories of my own (remember when I said I talked too much?). I noticed then, that the more I got to know a language the more I felt attracted towards it. This attraction is currently making me want to better my abilities. And in principle, the best way to do this is to spend time in a place where the said language is widely spoken or a place where that language is native to.

But in real life…

… the manner of speaking and being understood vary according to culture*.

Communicating is really not as easy as textbooks describe, even if one is lucky enough to be able to practice in the language’s native land. As a result, foreigners who are trying to succesfully communicate in a new tounge must exert an effort to establish a connection with the native speakers.

In the Philippines, this is achieved through a smile preceding any question or comment. In France, one connects through la politesse (politeness)**. In Colombia, the tone and melody of the voice set the scene***. In Spain, people also make it a point to be polite but it seems to me they talk more directly to the point.

No matter what kind of connection sets the stage for communication, it cannot be argued that life generally presents us with more opportunities to use humor (unless you live in a conflictive or famined area). It may be in the form of wit, light banter or joke.

Continuing with the examples: French people seem very serious but they are also susceptible to good-natured teasing (especially when the weather is “not bad”). The Colombians and Filipinos share a very similar sense of humor (we all love jokes with double meanings), while the Spanish style could range from being witty to total absurdity (look for Miguel Gila and Martes y Trece, respectively).

So wouldn’t it be easier to make our way into a labyrinth of vocabulary and grammar through amusement?

(And perhaps a bottle of beer or a glass of wine…?)

I don’t doubt that verbalizing anger helps master a language. After all, it taps into our most primordial feelings and connects them to that new system of words. But practicality-wise, to whom would we vent our anger out for language skills improvement? Our partners or housemates? A public servant? The butcher? The baker? The candlestick maker? And even if we are able to find someone to “practice with”, would they really give an assessment on how we might have constructed the sentence? Because, digo yo, self-evaluation doesn’t count…

Isn’t humor a much better connector than anger?

A differing opinion

According to my husband, I may have a point. However, he also stressed that the words spoken in the heat of the moment “arise from the soul” and break out automatically. So if a person naturally blurts words of anger in a foreign language, this means that the language has taken such roots into the subconscious that it could be easily accessed to voice out strong emotions.

I agree. Anger might be more effective. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, it may not necessarily be more efficient. At the end of the day, it depends on what objective a person has in learning a new language: does he simply want to speak it, or does he want to use it to communicate with others?

In my opinion when someone is angry, oftentimes he just wants to send everyone to “where the devil lost his poncho” and leave- perhaps without even waiting for the other person to respond. This describes a situation where the speaker utters whatever is needed and doesn’t necessarily need a reply; this is not communication. Whereas, within a fun atmosphere there is a lively exchange of stories, reactions and impressions among people. Besides, feedback is more accessible. This is communication.

In my own words

I don’t consider myself a “master” of any language. I am honestly nowhere near that. Even with regards to my mother tounge (Tagalog), I have to admit I still have a lot to learn.

I do, however celebrate my mini-victories during the times when I am able to grasp French humor or on occasions when I make my Spanish parents in-law laugh.

 

* For example, I learned how to speak Spanish in Spain, but when I went to Colombia… TENAZ! Whatta difference the Atlantic makes!

** It is compulsory to greet “Bonjour” before starting any kind of conversation with anyone. It is also important that you wish the other “Bonne journée”- or whatever is applicable- after bidding goodbye.

** If you are speaking to someone with who you regularly see like a co-worker or a client, it would be highly appreciated if you asked them first how they are doing, how their family is doing, etc…

Basic Skills as Basic Tools

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Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
– Confucius

 

Everytime I share some kind of trivia in family gatherings, my sister S and my father M would always ask, “How did you know that?”. As an adolescent I would always reply, “Because I’m smart!” But now as an adult I realized that I really am not all that.

True, I have been blessed with a very good memory which helps retain anything of my interest (it has also allowed me to win a few quiz bees back in the day). For the longest time, I counted on memorization to gain information. However, pregnancy, motherhood and all the hormones involved must have done something to my brain: I can feel my capacity of recollection slowly wane. This is how I came to see that there are other methods for learning and they are actually very much within my reach!

Somehow, somewhere along the way I discovered that a few basic skills could be turned into very dependable tools for my continual search of knowledge.

Reading

I first learned how to read when I was 5. I will never forget the first story book I read with my mother E- Pamilya Ismid. Papá will unbelievingly shake his head if I told this to him, but I swear I could still remember the awesome feeling I got when I became aware that I COULD READ! It was as if a whole new world opened up before me- a world made up of endless halls decked with numerous doors waiting to be opened.

So I read and read and read some more… my parents would insist on diversifying my library while I pushed for my preference to simply complete my collection of a certain series about twin sisters. Thank goodness my parents were persistent and did not give in! You see, I didn’t know until several years ago that there are actually two kinds of literacy:

Simple literacy is the ability of a person to read and write with understanding a simple message in any language or dialect.

Functional literacy, meanwhile, is a significantly higher level of literacy that includes not only reading and writing skills, but also numeracy (the ‘rithmetic that completes the ‘three Rs’), which leads to a higher order of thinking that allows persons to participate more meaningfully in life situations requiring a reasonable capacity to communicate in a written language.”

– Juan Miguel Luz, A nation of nonreaders

It was only in college where I found out that the kind of materials you read actually mattered- a lot. I met many fellow students who may not be very eloquent, yet their arguments had structure and logic (and sense, of course). I envied them but I just associated it with the superior Spanish educational system and never made any connection with what type of reading they did. Because of this, I continued with life without really developing the functional aspect of reading.

Although something inside me was already aware that it’s not the same to read Nancy Drew mysteries or Noli Me Tangere or a Trigonometry Manual, at the time I simply didn’t care. Consequently, it took me quite a while to reach a “higher order of thinking”.

Come 2008 when I was admitted to my Master’s Degree. Reality struck quite hard: knowing how to read matters even more. There were so many interesting materials to be studied and of varying subjects, too, that it overwhelmed me at one point.

This made me recall how much I laughed at my parents (I was 14, alright?) and told them how funny they seem reading a book entitled “How to Read a Book”. I remember finally admitting to myself that the idea wasn’t silly at all. Ah yes, the joke was on me because had I known then how to effectively read, I would have been more productive and perhaps I would have better contributed to past debates and brainstorming sessions. (Although, I can’t help but think that perhaps the author could’ve entitled the book “How to read effectively”?)

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Fast forward to the present time… I find myself in a new country, under totally new circumstances, but with the same childlike eagerness to learn how to read. Say what you want about the French, but these people READ. If you’re a book lover/hoarder just like me, come to Paris and you’ll see more than a couple of bookstores in one street as well as specialized stores for classical, hardbound editions. Likewise, you could find used books at more than half the price, and some really old ones that are worth 50 cents of a euro; plus if you’re lucky enough, you could find free books in the streets or in bus stops (you can also leave your own pre-loved books for others to enjoy)!

I used to wonder what made them read so much*. From what I’m seeing, for them reading is a habit borne out of necessity. In the short time that I’ve been acquainted to the language, I observed that the French grammar is so complex, one must read and re-read anything written so as to avoid any misunderstanding. Now, this is only my opinion, but I recall “complaining” to my French teachers before because it seemed like there were more exceptions than there are rules, concerning the written language**. Thus, reading is a basic, vital skill for one to thrive in this setting.

Back in the Philippines and even in Spain, I never once stopped to mind any notice on cork boards or almost any type of announcement. People just find a way to get hold of the message through neighbors and peers. Not in France. Maybe it’s because this is a more individualistic society (something to be certainly be discussed in another post). The thing is, now I read EVERYTHING, ANYTHING that is posted in the walls of our building, the grocery glass doors, the vandalism on the streets… just in case. And more often than not, I actually learn one new thing before I go to sleep.

Listening

I speak 3 foreign languages and in all of them, there is a clear distinction between: hearing and listening, oír y escuchar, and écouter et entendre.

The first words of each pair  mean “to be aware of sound through the ear” while the second ones mean “to pay attention”. The former seems to be a passive activity, the latter requires a more active involvement.

As a child and a teenager, I didn’t really excel in listening as much as I could have done. I talked a lot. I talked so much, I got chosen as one of the Northern Mindanao representatives for a national extemporaneous speech contest.During the moments I did listen, I filtered between interesting and uninteresting, and only tuned in to what caught my attention. And then almost immediately, I would go back to talking.

Adulthood has taught me that as a responsible citizen, it is my obligation to listen to many things, including those that don’t necessarily interest me. It is informative, it is enriching and it gives a clear basis for any argument I may wish to express. For this to be possible, it is imperative to know how to listen.

Eventually, I learned to listen when I was 28 years old after I enrolled in a Bikram Yoga class. This exercise, based on active meditation is only feasible with open ears and a clear mind. It is not always easy to clear the mind, but opening the ears is achievable. Listening, just like any other skill, could be enhanced through repetitive practice. So after one year and a half of constant training, I was finally beginning to listen.

Strange as it might sound, thanks to this, I’ve never enjoyed going on job interviews as much as I am doing now. For some topics I thought I knew fairly well, I discovered so many fine points that are easily overlooked. As a result, two of those meetings have given me several ideas for future blog entries. It’s a pity I won’t get to work with such bright people, so in the meantime I’ll make myself busy by diffusing what they shared with me.

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Online, I found heaps of guidelines and principles for effective listening. Let me share those that I consider indispensable if we want to increase understanding:

Stop talking

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.

-Mark Twain

Clear enough. Next.

Be patient

In Spain (at least from the Central Plateau southwards), Germans have always been viewed as very polite and formal people. The reason being that they patiently wait for the other person to finish talking before they speak. This is of course very unlike the Spanish, who are known for their passionate nature (well, some of them) and who would cut the other in mid-sentence to prove a point.

Well, my very knowledgeable friend J (I call him the “Walking Encyclopedia”) told me that Germans do it actually out of habit. I don’t speak German but according to him, the grammar is such that the verb is located at the end of the sentence!*** So logically, they would have to know what entirely happened before they could even form an opinion inside their heads.

(Pause for polite laughter)

Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t mean that patience should be taken for granted. A true seeker of knowledge would apply this principle for the sake of being taught something new.

An everyday affair

Needless to say, one of the many things I am grateful for at this time of my life is the opportunity I have to practice reading and listening. The fact that I’m living in a foreign country, that I have to hone my ability to speak its native language and most of all, that a tiny person’s life depends on me forces me to:

i) read, re-read and read again as many times as I have to, and

ii) to listen very intently to whatever anyone says to me

These are exciting times, indeed. And I can’t help but insist on how thankful I am because I’m not sure I’d be doing the same if motherhood and unemployment simultaneously found me in any of my comfort zones (geographically speaking)…

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

 

* Here, let me echo host and blogger Lourd de Veyra, “We read not because of the message, but because it feels good to read. It’s ‘delicious’ to ‘feed’ on words. It feels good to drown in sentences that are very well sewn together. There are words that could make you drunk, or worse. Is it too much? I don’t think so. Some people get addicted to Candy Crush. You could also get addicted to words and written words. Everything could be developed.” (Translated from Tagalog)

**For an easier explanation, let’s just say that spoken French and written French are like two dialects of the same language. If you believe that the spoken French is beautiful, then you might just cry tears of joy if you get the chance to read the “masters” in original version (Hugo, Dumas, Camus, etc…)

*** According to Wikipedia: “The main sentence structure rule is that the conjugated verb is the second element in a main clause or the last in a subordinate clause. Verbs in the infinitive are generally placed after their respective objects.”

 

Sources:

  1. “A nation of nonreaders”, by Juan Miguel Luz, available at: http://pcij.org/stories/a-nation-of-nonreaders/
  2. “Hoy, basahin mo ‘to”, by Lourd de Veyra, available at: http://www.spot.ph/this-is-a-crazy-planets/53357/hoy-basahin-mo-to
  3. “Spoken vs Written French: The 5 Differences You Need to Know”, available at: https://frenchtogether.com/differences-written-spoken-french/
  4. Quora: Why are written and spoken French so different? available at: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-written-and-spoken-French-so-different
  5. http://www.merriam-webster.com/
  6. Listening Skills, available at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-skills.html
  7. Wikipedia