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Thursday, December 22, 2011

NBTMV - Step 3 of Learning Spanish is to Start Speaking

As you know from my previous videos, I have been using a 3-step process for learning to speak Spanish: (1) Listen and Repeat, (2) Listen and Understand, and (3) Start Speaking (and as I have said, you also have to study vocabulary and grammar along the way).
For me, the “start speaking” step was easier said than done and it may be the same for you. Even though I gained some basic Spanish speaking capability from my “Listen and Repeat” step using the Pimsleur method, I had the usual fear of making silly mistakes if I were to speak Spanish. Also, I was not sure of many Spanish words and verbs, even though I had already completed the “Listen and Understand” step by watching a free online streaming video program called Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish and by listening to Spanish radio stations during my daily commute.
After spending about a year completing the first two steps, I researched on the Internet and found that many people take immersion classes to start speaking Spanish. After some searching, I located a well-regarded school -- Christian Spanish Academy or CSA (if I were advising them, I’d have suggested that they keep their Spanish name Academia Cristiana de Español  and abbreviate it to ACE in English :-)  in Antigua Guatemala and enrolled there for a week in early 2010. For the total cost of $400 USD, I had 8-hours of one-on-one lessons each day plus a week of home stay with a very nice host family with three meals.
CSA follows a structured program. I was given an exam and placed in Grade B (they have grades A through G). That week of immersion got me started speaking Spanish even though I still had not gone beyond the present and the past tenses for the verb conjugations. To continue building my skills, I have been taking a two-hour class every Saturday from CSA’s e-learning program via Skype. I am now in Grade C, but, even though I still have lots of grammar to learn, the week of immersion study in Antigua, Guatemala definitely helped kick-start the process of starting to speak in Spanish for me. You may want to consider something similar to get going with your “Step 3: Start Speaking” :-)

Here's some more information to help you...
For my previous videos on the 3-step method for learning Spanish and the details of the first two steps, see:

I have lots of information about books as well as photo with my host family in the blog post with an overview of the 3-step method. Here are
Naba Barkakati with Chris Morales (host)

Dinner with host family and other students (photo by Michael Herpy)

Photo by Michael Herpy - at dinner in host family's kitchen

Here are a few photos of Antigua, Guatemala (it's a very beautiful city):
Antgua - near the central park

Antigua - around central park

View of Antigua from a hill nearby
Volcan Fuego near Antigua, Guatemala
Update (2014)
My wife decided to learn Spanish as well and we both went back to the Christian Spanish Academy in February 2014 for a week of lesson. I have been continuing my lessons online through their elearn pogram and my wife has started the lessons as well. I can speak Spanish fairly well, as evidenced by this toast in Spanish at my daughter's wedding in Barcelona:

Here are some photos from our recent visit to the school:
At the entrance to the school
View on entering school
With Angélica

Inside the school courtyard

My wife with teacher Viki

My teacher Merly Guzmán

Classroom in open courtyard

With Nestor and Carlos (elearn program)
Anabela Ponce

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NBTMV - On the need to assess impact of technology before adopting it

It’s important to assess the impact of technology before using it either in a product or for your or your organization’s use (for that matter, for the nation’s use as well).
Let’s start with an example. Suppose you are a cell phone manufacturer and you decide to capture all user actions so that you can “debug” -- fix problems -- when something goes wrong and also improve performance when you see some parts of the system not performing to expectation. Capturing user actions is a perfectly valid approach to this need, but, if you did not inform the users upfront, they’d probably be concerned about privacy and security of the collected information.
As another example, suppose we promote production of ethanol from corn as a fuel and as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. However, corn is also used as food and as cattle feed. What if there is impact on food prices and cattle feed because corn is diverted from these uses to ethanol production.
One way to avoid such problems is to conduct a technology impact analysis (or technology impact assessment) up front. The framework is fairly straightforward. You consider the technology for some intended use. Now, before you adopt the technology, think of all the unintended consequences, which are usually not good. These are foreseen, but uncertain, and, therefore, “risks.” If you think of them up front, you can then take action to either mitigate these risks or decide to accept them.
In the case of the cell phone example, if this was done, the cell phone manufacturer could have foreseen the privacy and security risks and acted beforehand by informing the users about the intended use of the information being captured and letting them opt in, if they so desired.
In summary, it’s important to assess the impact of technology before deciding to incorporate it in a product or adopting it for your or your organization’s use. Proactively doing an impact assessment could save you lots of headaches and, not to mention, potential negative consequences later on.
Here's some more information to help you...
The following book covers similar ideas and may be interesting to check out:

Monday, December 12, 2011

NBTMV - Step 2 in learning Spanish is to Listen and Understand

I have been using a 3-step process for learning to speak Spanish: (1) Listen and Repeat, (2) Listen and Understand, and (3) Start Speaking (of course, you also have to study vocabulary and grammar along the way). For the Listen and Repeat step, if you use the Pimsleur method, as I did, then you’d have already learned the basics -- Spanish pronunciation, alphabet, numbers, days of the week, and so on and you would be speaking some Spanish already.
However to get ready for conversations in Spanish, you need to complete the next step -- Listen and Understand Spanish so that you can understand when someone talks to you. I started this second step by watching a free online streaming video program called Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish that’s essentially a telenovela with 52 episodes, each 30 minutes long. I watched all 52 episodes twice and only then I could begin to understand them comfortably.
Next, I began listening to a local Spanish radio station on my commute to work. And, when possible, began watching TV programs on Telemundo or Univision.
When you first begin listening with the intention of trying to understand, you’ll found it difficult to keep up, as I did, but just keep at it and slowly you’ll begin to understand more. Although the basics you learned in Step 1 should get you going, you should also study some vocabulary on the side. I read Mastering Spanish Vocabulary to expand my vocabulary. That attempt also got me started with reading Spanish and I realized how easy it is to read in Spanish -- you just say words as they are written (you know what I mean if you try to read Fench :-)
By now, I can speak some Spanish, but I still have more grammar to learn and, even now, I cannot fully follow along when people speak fast on the radio. But the main point is that by first devoting time to listening and repeating and then spending tons of time listening and understanding, I was able to get to the point where I could begin speaking Spanish. I’m sure you can do the same with my method for learning to speak Spanish.
Here's some more information to help you...
For my previous videos on the 3-step method for learning Spanish and the details of the first step, see:

To watch the Destinos streaming video, visit the Annenburg Media web page at: and click the VoD (video on demand) link to the right of an episode. 
Here's the vocabulary book I found useful:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Managing your Google+ stream

If you are a typical Google+ user, it’s either “famine or feast” when it comes to your Google+ stream. When you first join, the stream is in a “famine” stage with new posts appearing few and far in between. Perhaps all you have are your posts and those from members of your family who reluctantly joined Google+ at your urging even though they’re already on Facebook :-)
It’s easy to get out of the “famine” once you realize that you can add other interesting people to your circles even if they don’t add you to theirs. Plus there are Google+ Pages from organizations that you may want to follow. At this point you get a healthy number of posts in your Google+ stream. You probably read most of them, comment on some, and even feel great in having a discourse with others of similar interest.
Soon some others see your public posts as well, like them, and start adding you to their circles and, assuming you have similar interests, you reciprocate. Before you know it, you can get to perhaps 100+ people in your circles. This is when things get tricky. Some of the people in your circles are going to be more prolific than others and now your stream has way too many posts. You can hardly keep up. Now you are in the “feast” stage of your Google+ stream and, if you are like me, you probably don’t like it because it’s now hard to keep up, let alone provide thoughtful comments.
If this is your situation, don’t give up, just “Use the Circles” and Prioritize. First, arrange everyone judiciously in circles. Instead of lumping people into a few large circles, subdivide into smaller circles according whatever is important to you. Then, check the postings of only the circles that you care about, by clicking those circles one at a time.
For example, now I focus primarily on my Family circle and a small "Professional Connections" circle, otherwise, it gets to be too much. I also apply the rule that "real life trumps Google+ or anything virtual on the Internet" and that family is the highest priority. With  these simple rules, life is good again and I still love Google+ :-)
Here's some more information to help you...
I described why I love Google+ in an earlier blog post:

You should turn on 2-step verification for your Google+ account, here's how:

Monday, December 5, 2011

NBTMV - To learn Spanish, start by listening and repeating

In an earlier video I described my method for learning Spanish: (1) Listen and Repeat, (2) Listen to Understand, and (3) Start Speaking. In this video, I elaborate on what I did for my “Listen and Repeat” step, where I simply listened to a native Spanish speaker and repeated as requested, without knowing any Spanish grammar or how to write in Spanish.
I followed the Pimsleur method for this, primarily because they provide the lessons on CDs and I could listen to the CDs and repeat loudly during my morning commute. Each lesson is 30 minutes long. The instructor gave directions in English asking me to listen and repeat in a conversational voice whatever was being asked of me -- repeat words, respond to question, all in Spanish, of course. And that’s the main point -- you repeat as closely as possible what a native Spanish speaker says. Here’s an example from the first CD where a man and a woman converse:
-- Perdon, señorita. ¿Entiende ingles?
-- No, señor. No entiendo ingles. Hablo español.
-- Hablo un poco español.
The lessons really make sure you get the pronunciation... for example, for “Per-don,” the instructor says “don” and “per”, with rolling “r” and then put together “per-don.” Similarly for “señor,” “español,” and “ingles.”
Pimsleur suggests that you do one lesson a day, but you can repeat that lesson. I did one lesson a day and, taking into account weekends and holidays etc., finished the 90 lessons of Pimsleur Spanish I, II, and III in 6 months. These lessons gave me a good start with Spanish pronunciation and basic vocabulary, but I still couldn’t converse in Spanish. I was afraid and often couldn’t understand the question. So I had to continue to “Listen and Understand” Spanish, learn vocabulary and grammar, and “Begin Speaking.”
Now I can speak some Spanish, but I still need to learn a lot more grammar. Nevertheless, by “listening and repeating” I was speaking right from the start and that kept me motivated.
If you are thinking about learning Spanish, you should definitely start with lessons where you “listen and repeat” what a native speaker says.
Here's some more information to help you...
You can find links to Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons in my previous blog:

I even made a video in Spanish explaining my method for learning a new language, you can view on this blog post:

Friday, December 2, 2011

To lose weight, think of the human body as a system, but with a mind of its own

What with the holiday season approaching, many of us will face the chore of managing our body weight. In 2003, I had been able to lose 30 lbs by thinking my body as a system and making abrupt changes to its inputs--food intake and exercise intensity. Here’s how.
Being an engineer by training, I thought of the human body as a system that takes in food and exercise and produces a body weight as output. In 2003, after seeing a show on public television (“The Perricone Prescription”), I decided to change my diet -- primarily by replacing the carbohydrate (rice) with lots of vegetables, mixed leaves, etc. and by starting the day with a hearty breakfast soup. I also stopped drinking coffee with creme and sugar, and switched to black tea. At the same time, I increased my exercise level abruptly -- from running on treadmill at 12 minute a mile pace to 10-minute miles for 30+ minutes. I made sure that the volume of food at each meal (with mostly veggies now) was similar to what I ate before so that I didn’t feel hungry and could sustain this diet.

As you can see in the graphics, my actions caused two abrupt changes in the body’s inputs -- somewhat less food and somewhat more exercise, both at the same time. Consequently, the body weight did drop and, for those of you with engineering background, the body behaved in a manner similar to many systems --  the weight dipped down and up and gradually settled at a steady level. I lost over 30 lbs this way.
The problem, however, is that the body is not a dumb system -- it has a mind of its own and it reacts to loss of fat etc. and, after the initial shock of weight loss, tries to preserve and regain fat and weight, even though I continued to eat and exercise about the same. So the weight does tend to creep up over time, but this seems to happen slowly over many years -- e.g., a gradual gain of 5 lbs or so over 8 years for me.
In summary, you can initiate weight change by thinking of your body as a system and making a small, but abrupt change in diet composition and exercise level. BUT the body has a mind of its own and will fight back, so it’s a constant struggle, but hopefully a pleasant one :-)
Here's some more information to help you...
Typical plates of food and bowl of hearty soup :-)
Mixed greens with grilled chicken breat
Mixed greens with salmon, avocado, and grape tomatoes
Hearty soup (veggie, bean curd, salmon, sausage)

Here are some books by Dr. Perricone that got me started... in case you want to check it out:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On speaking multiple languages

On the video I spoke the following sentences in the 5 languages -- Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Spanish, and, of course, English: “My name is Naba Barkakati. I can speak in five languages.”
Just to give you a timeline of when I learned these languages... Assamese is my mother tongue, but I never learned it formally. I began speaking Bengali at 9 and all the way through age 22, but I didn’t learn it formally either. I studied Hindi in a language course in high school for 7 years. I learned English since I was 6 or 7, it was the language of instruction in school, spoke and used English in engineering school, and began speaking exclusively in English after I came to the United States, for more than 33 years now.
I started learning Spanish at age 53 and now when I speak in Spanish I am often trying to translate from English, which results in awkward sentences (hopefully, I'll learn to avoid translating with more practice). The strange thing is that for all my other languages, I am not translating thoughts from one language to another - - I just speak what I want to say and also when I hear, I just comprehend.
So, the question is how does the brain work for those languages that I learned when I was younger? Also, do we really think “in a language?' Or, are thoughts something more fundamental and not in any language. I feel like I think in English, but when I switch to languages that I learned in my childhood, I don’t seem to be translating from English. For those languages, it is as if I am able to simply switch my brain from one language to another. Anyway, I don’t have any answers to these questions, but perhaps these would be interesting research topics for someone who studies how people learn and retain languages.
Here's some more information to help you...
Although I don't really know the answers to the questions I posed, I did describe in an earlier video how I am learning Spanish, which you may find helpful for learning a new language:
Also found the following books that document the experiences of several language learners and sound intriguing enough to check out (I am reading Kató Lomb's book now):

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rent an apartment when vacationing in a city

After you have gone on one or two guided tours, explored some cities on your own, you may want to consider renting an apartment and use that as your home base. VRBO or vacation rental by owners is a good place to find a rental apartment for your vacation. We typically found this to be a great option for visiting cities, especially in Europe. We have rented from VRBO in Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, and all have turned out well.

An apartment is better than a hotel room because you typically get a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom - - there is more space than a hotel room and you can have your breakfast in the comfort of the apartment. It’s cheaper too, especially if you are traveling with family.

You can browse the VRBO website for apartments in the city you plan to visit. Look for ones in the area where you want to stay and pick one with a number of good reviews. You have to spend some time selecting the apartment and then you can typically reserve it by paying an advance through Paypal and pay the rest in cash when you arrive. Often owners will send you tips on exploring the city and also arrange for airport pickup.

Apart from the rental apartment, you’ll need to arrange your own airfare and plan an itinerary for what you plan to do during your vacation. You’ll find it helpful to have a guidebook with good maps of the city.

If the sights you want to visit require entrance tickets, you should try to buy the tickets online and save the hassle of standing in line.

You may also want to make reservations at restaurants you plan to visit. Just remember that everything is in your hands and you do what you want to do at your own pace. So you do need to spend some time planning, but typically we have found this to be the best way to explore a city on our own, at our own pace.

In future videos, I’ll give more details for some of the cities, such as Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, that we have already visited.

Until then, I hope you are already planning your upcoming trip :-)
Here's some more information to help you...
An alternative to VRBO is: HomeAway Vacation Rentals, (I think HomeAway, in fact, owns VRBO, but they seem to display different selections, so it's worth checking in both sites - note to myself: we have to do this in the future). And here are two more sites you can check: and Flipkey.

Please see my previous blog post on exploring a city on your own (after booking air and hotel from a tour company). There I provide links to guidebooks for many different cities, including Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome.

If want to graduate from being a renter to owning a vacation property that you can rent out (no, we don't own any such property, but thought you may be curious :-) then check out the following books:


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NBTMV - Turn on 2-step verification on your Google account

In previous videos I have mentioned how important it is to turn on 2-step verification (or 2-factor authentication) on your Google account. In this three-minute video, I’ll walk you through the process because you really ought to do this.
After you turn on 2-step verification, to log into your Google account, you have to first enter your normal password and then you have to enter a verification code that Google sends to your phone. Even if someone steals your password, they’d face the additional step of having to enter the verification code before getting into your account. That;s why you should turn on 2-step verification -- to get the benefit of an extra layer of security.
To set up 2-step verification, first log into your Gmail (or Google+) account and click on your name or your profile photo on the upper right hand corner. You’ll get a Google Accounts overview page showing all the settings. Click the “Edit” link next to “Using 2-step verification”. That will take you to the page where you have to enter your current password and then you'll get the page where you can click a link to turn on 2-step verification. You’ll then go through steps where you enter a phone number to receive the verification code and test that it works. You also need to enter a backup phone number for the verification code, in case your primary phone is not available.
At this point, you should also generate the printable backup codes that you can use when you don’t have your phone or can’t use your phone. Google generates 10 backup verification codes that you should print out and carry in your wallet. In a pinch, you can use these one at a time when you need them.
For accessing Google services such as Gmail on a smartphone or a tablet or when you read Gmail using Microsoft Outlook, you have to generate and use application-specific passwords. There is a link on 2-factor authentication page for application specific passwords. You should pick a descriptive name for the application such as “Gmail on my smartphone” and then click Generate Password. Then enter that long complicated looking password (ignore the spaces) in place of your normal password. You have to enter the password only once for each application and you can always revoke a password and generate a new one.
That, in a nutshell, is how you turn on 2-step verification. If you haven't done so already, I hope you'd turn it on as soon possible.
Here's some more information to help you...
To learn a bit more about 2-step verification, see the Google support page on Getting started with 2-step verification and for more on application-specific passwords, you can:  Watch the video on application-specific passwords 

Monday, November 21, 2011

NBTMV - Book air and hotel, then explore city on your own

After you have taken one or two escorted tours and feel comfortable traveling around, you can start booking just the air and hotel from a travel company and explore the city on your own. In this video, I give you some pointers on doing this yourself.

This approach is usually good for a major city. You’d book the air and hotel from one of the same travel companies that you used for guided tours. Some offer choice of hotels at different locations for different prices, so you’d have to read up a bit and try to pick a hotel at a convenient location or just go with the lowest cost one. After you book, remember to get the visa, if you need one.

You’ll be exploring the city on your own, so you also must take care of the transfers between the airport and the hotel. You should search and see if there is a train, metro, or bus available for the trip from airport to the hotel and take it, if it’s available.

To plan for sightseeing on your own, you should get a guidebook for the city and study it a bit before you depart. If you are unsure about what to see, a good option is to take a half- or full-day city tour and get an overview of the major attractions.

Mastering the local public transportation options is also helpful. We usually take metro or tram as much as possible.

You should develop a rough itinerary as well. I typically divide the day into two halves and just allocate activities to each half-day, along with times for lunch and dinner. Remember not to cram in too much in a day. If possible buy tickets online (before departing on the trip) for any museums or other sights that require tickets. That way, you can avoid any long lines for the tickets and save some time.

We also consult Tripadvisor to find some restaurants that we may like to try. After returning from the trip, you may want to post your own reviews, as we have done in our own reviews on Tripadvisor for any hotels and restaurants we try out.

That’s about it. With a little bit of peparation, you should have a great time exploring the city of your choice on your own.
Here's some more information to help you...
You can use this approach to visit many prominent cities around the world. Here are some candidates: London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid, Budapest, Istanbul, Prague, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and many more. Browse the Independent Vacations in Gate1Travel for more ideas. Another option is to pick a city and then look for Flight+Hotel packages on travel websites such as Expedia and Travelocity.

Pick up a travel guide for the city you plan to visit and study it before the trip. Check out the map to pick a good location for the hotel. Here are some possible travel guides: