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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: