Quotes Random

Origin of the word “Mignon / minion”

Just learned the origin of the word minion (mignon) which I thought was pretty interesting.  

min·ion [min-yuh n] 


a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power.
a favored or highly regarded person.
a minor official.
Printing. a 7-point type.

Definition of minion: at

Although Henry III valued privacy, he liked to surround himself with a select group of intimate friends, mostly men of his own generation who came to be known as mignons. In the first half of the sixteenth century the word simply meant ‘companions’, but during the second half it acquired a pejorative meaning. The king’s mignons were commonly portrayed as effeminate fops whose morals were as loose as their clothes were extravagant. But the mignons, like the king, have been largely misrepresented. They were essentially members of the lesser provincial nobility who, unlike some richer noblemen of ancient lineage, were totally dedicated to serving the king: they shared his pleasures, copied his manners and helped him assert his authority. Letters written by Henry to his mignons are full of expressions of love baffling to a modern reader. He implores them to love him as dearly as he loves them. They, in reply, assure him of their readiness to sacrifice their lives for him. Henry also gave them affectionate nicknames. Too much, however, should not be read into these epistolary flourishes: hyperbole was fashionable at the time. – See more at:


Journal My Best Posts

SPEAK AMERICAN – Fun lesson in language

Speak American – The title was just to get your attention.

I do not plan to get into politics at all with this post, (well maybe a little, I can’t help myself) but rather the VERY INTERESTING revelations I’ve had during my language studies.  These are the enlightenments which really made language learning fun and keeps the passion burning.  I am certain these will be as entertaining for you as they was for me.  The only difference is that it took me 10 years to learn these lessons and I’m going to show you in one blog post.

Further, these are FUN!  I wish my teachers would have pointed these things out from the beginning.  Academics often have a very serious talent for quickly making subjects boring.  🙁

As for speaking Amerikan, how much attention do people pay to their own language?  For most, it is just a bunch of sounds arranged in a certain order to express a thought.  But how were these sounds formed, where do they come from?  Can one language be “better” than another?

I don’t know the answer, I just hope this post will open a few closed minds to the joys of language.

I.  Kanji (The Chinese/Japanese symbols)

I’ll start with Kanji (漢字) as many might find this interesting.  Kanji is a picture symbol which represents an actual idea or physical thing.  Most of us would know what hieroglyphics are and Kanji is like that.  They can be put together to form a language but also have an actual meaning by themselves.

Learning Kanji can seem very difficult.  In fact, basic Kanji is very easy because they are just pictures.  The fact that there are tens of thousands of Kanji and they become very complex is what makes them difficult.  But exploring the basics, let me relate a few examples that are very easy.

a.) 人  –  This means “person.”  It is just a stick figure of a person.

b.) 大 -  This one means “big.”  It is the stick figure with his arms stretched out.

c.) 木 –  This looks similar to the top two but it means “tree.”  The bottom lines are the roots and the top are two branches and a top

d.) 本 – This means “origin.”  We can see the tree but there is a horizontal line at the bottom.  This line asks you to pay attention to a certain area which is the root.  It is drawn across one root and this root came from a seed.  Since a seed is the origin of the tree, this kanji means “origin.”

Now, let’s do my favorite

a.) 大 – You know this one already.

b.) 羊 – This means “sheep.”  How the heck did they get “sheep” out of this?  Well, just draw the outline of a sheeps face around the bottom half and the two pointy things on top are the horns.

c.) 美 – This one means “beautiful.”  The sheep is on top and the kanji for “big” is on the bottom.  Therefore, one would think it means “big sheep,” but no, somewhere along the line someone thought a “big sheep” might be beautiful and so that is what it came to mean.  Perhaps a larger sheep could be sold for more money which is beautiful?  I don’t know, I’m really reaching here.

-On a political side note, Kanji was imported into Japan from China.  Chinese/Japanese relations have been less than friendly for as long as one can remember but from reading “The Tale of Genji” (源氏物語) we see that 1000 years ago the Japanese aristocracy considered Chinese writing was superior to Japanese.  Just don’t point this out to any Japanese today (@.@)  It’s a great read and perhaps the most famous novels in Japan.  Genji was a playboy and got all the girls!

Back to Kanji, now you will never forget any of the above Kanji.  See!!!  Wasn’t that easy?  Now just learn 10,000 more and you’ll be fluent.  🙂

The interesting fact about this is that in Japanese class they would just have us memorize the Kanji as a whole and tell us a certain kanji means a certain thing.  Yet, one day, a Chinese classmate pointed out the origins of the individual pieces which made it really easy!!!  I was amazed to learn that the Japanese cannot do this but the Chinese can.  So, at the bar that night I informed a Japanese friend of mine about this and was making fun of him.

Yet, he promptly turned the tables on me which brings me to my next point

II. Deconstructing English

What my Japanese friend was so kind to point out was that we English speakers cannot do this the English language!  Many English words (especially the difficult ones) are constructed by combining various “parts.”  This really becomes apparent if we understand the Latin root of the word and if one has studied say French or Spanish (or Latin) then even very difficult English words become easy.  Let’s do an example.

1. Con – In Spanish, this means “with,” or “together.”   A variant is “com.”  Now that we know this, anyone can understand the meaning of the following words:

a.) Combine
b.) Construct
c.) Computer
d.) Conglomerate
e.) Congeal
f.) Conflagrate-  This one some people might not know.  Yet, if we understand what “con” means then we can come very close to guessing the meaning
Con – with, together
Fla     —- Flare, Flash, Flame
Ate – A past action (as a suffix)

2. Mal – In Spanish this means “bad.”  So in English we can figure out the following

a.) Malediction
b.) Malfeasance
c.) Malicious

– They all mean something a little different but the basic meaning is something “bad.”

Going off track a bit, what are the origins of “good” and “bad?”  My favorite explanation comes from Nietzsche in his “Genealogy of Morals” He argues that the high ranking people consider “good” simply succeeding or perhaps doing something worthy of God (A connection between Good and God here?) Whereas “Bad” is not achieving, doing something unworthy of “God.”  Here is a quick excerpt:

“On the contrary, it was the “good people” themselves, that is, the noble, powerful, higher-ranking, and higher-thinking people who felt and set themselves and their actions up as good, that is to say, of the first rank, in opposition to everything low, low-minded, common, and vulgar.”

But I do not intend to go down the rabbit hole of philosophy.  So going back to deconstructing words my last example is the following:

3. Mort – In French it means “death.”  This time, instead of trying to understand what each word means, let’s just concentrate on how these words make us feel.

a.) Morticia
b.) Mortgage
c.) Mortuary

Therefore, if you have to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) then instead of just trying to memorize everything, just learn Spanish or French and it is easy as pie.  (metaphors are a whole other ball of wax – pardon the pun)

Finally, once we really get into the origins of the English language we can see the various influences each invading tribe (of England) had on the language.  Saxons, Romans, Germanic tribes all contributed to the English language and therefore made it a complete mess in terms of linguistic purity.

III. Country Names

One of the most fascinating facts I learned is that the origin of country names simply come from the name of the tribe of people who lived there.  Or, in some cases, a symbolical meaning.

1. England –  Eng Land.  The land of the English
2. Germany – In German it is Deutschland.  Deutsch Land – Land of the Deutsch.
3. Pakistan – “Stan” means “land.”  – Land of the Paks
4. Afghanistan – Land of the Afghans
5. Turkmenistan – Land of the Turkmen (and so on with all the other “stans”)

It changes a bit when we get into East Asia.

1. 日本 – Nihon (Nippon
) This is Japan in Japanese.  The English people couldn’t say “Nihon” but they tried and came close.  Over time this it eventually just became “Japan.”

If we look at the Kanji we can see the true meaning:

– (日)  This is just a a drawing of a sun.  It used to be round but was squared off over time then a line was drawn through it
– (本) – Remember this meant “origin?”  Therefore, Japan means “The origin of the Sun” or translated more properly “Land of the Rising Sun.”

It seems to me some translator along the way took some liberties with including “rising” in there but it does sound better

2. 中国 – This means “China” in Chinese.  The meaning is “Middle Kingdom” because since China was so powerful, they considered themselves in the center of the world.  (and still do!)

– 中 – This Kanji means center.  It is a square with a line going right through the center.

– 国 – The square is the land and (玉) means jewel or Jade.  I could be a little off so please correct me if I’m wrong.  I’m guessing if we deconstruct the Kanji for “country” then it would be a jewel in a “land,” if that makes any sense.

3. Vietnam (越南)

This one takes some explanation.  First of all, in ancient times, Vietnam was called “Au Lac.”  It was also known as Lac Viet.”

I have trouble finding out where “Viet” comes from.  My guess is that it was the name of their tribe.  When we look at the Kanji above the first one (越) means “Viet” and the second one (南) is pronounced “nam” and is the character for “South.”

Therefore, my theory is that the Chinese called the country the “Viets in the South.”

IV. Mentality Change

The question is, does language form our thoughts or is it the other way around?  I would argue that our language is what gives structure to our thoughts.  Therefore, when we think in English we also “reason” in English.  In the English language there are biases and limitations to what we are able to conceive.  If we desired to be “rational” it would most likely be beneficial to dispense with any spoken language and just “speak” in mathematics.

When we learn another language, we are also learning a completely new “mentality.”  The way one thinks about things changes along with the language.  It is true that we can “translate” with great accuracy but there are subtle changes to the meaning.

Perhaps a decent example would be something I just saw on Youtube.  This guy downloaded and uploaded a video file 1000 times.  Eventually, you cannot make out anything in the video as it is so distorted.  The same would happen if one tried to translate an idea into another language and then continued on from the second language to others and repeated a number of times.  Eventually, the original meaning would become completely lost.

I’m not sure if I can think of a super great example to demonstrate but I’ll give it a go.  I won’t use English/French/Spanish because they are too close on the linguistic tree.  Instead, let’s do English/Japanese.

–  English – I want to eat spaghetti
The stress of this sentence is on “I.”

– Japanese – Spaghetti tabetai – Spagetti wants to be eaten
The stress is on the Spaghetti

-Of course it is translated “I want to eat spaghetti” but really the focus is taken off the person who wants to eat the spaghetti and put on the spaghetti itself.  And the real kicker is it could mean “Do you want to eat Spaghetti!!”  All you have to do is change the inflection at the end as in a question.

“Spaghetti tabetai?”  – Do YOU want to eat spaghetti!!!!!

In fact, we basically have to guess who it is that wants to eat spaghetti since the pronoun (I, You, He, She, It, We, they) is completely missing.  When I first started learning my mind would beg me “WHO WANTS TO EAT THE SPAGHETTI??? I NEED TO KNOW!!!”  But over time, we learn to infer from the context who it is that wants to eat the Spaghetti.

It just goes to show that the people who invented “English” which just happen to be the English are very self-centered bast…. er, people!!!

The Japanese on the other hand are very sensitive to the feelings of the group.  Therefore, the language revolves around building consensus and it is very rude to say things in a straightforward manner.  (although it can be done).

Why are the Japanese like this you ask?  Well, one theory is that they have very little arable land and therefore cooperation was necessary to ensure the survival of the village.  So, in order to minimize conflict they structured the language to be very polite and get along with each others.  Guess it all makes sense why the English fought so much against themselves and each others.  Maybe if they spoke Japanese they would have fought less? !!!  HA!!

But, I’ve gotten off track.  The point of this, um, er, point, is to simply show that mentality changes in other languages.  Therefore, just because we have reasoned a problem out in “Amerikan” doesn’t mean the rest of the world sees the issue in the same way.

Damn, there I go with politics again.

V.  Language Changes

I have never really gotten along with Grammar Nazis.  In school, they teach us that grammar is static and cannot be changed.  Therefore, if I said, “Spaghetti I want to eat” and argued with the teacher that it is perfectly correct, I would have gotten detention.

Language changes over time and an easy way to understand this is trying to read “The Canterbury Tales,” by Geoffrey Chaucer.  (eow rædan þes?).  I picked it up for a read and it seemed as though it was in a different language.  Here is just one sentence.

“Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne.”

The grammar is not in the order we think it should be and just forget about understanding most of the words.

So, fast forward to today, the language will continue to change and one thing I would like to see is to drop “a” and “the” completely from the English language.  If we think about it are these necessary?  Asian students have a terrible time with them and I do not believe they really add any value to the sentence.  It doesn’t matter to me if you are “going to the store, “or “going to a store.”  In either case, “store will be visited!”

VI. The Sanitizing of English (Well, American English anyway)

I have noticed a trend in the past two decades of using certain phrases to “sanitize” or make less harsh the true meaning of an action or idea simply to make it more acceptable to the masses.  This was started by the politicians and instead of trying to justify the action as it actually is, they just changed the words to make the action more acceptable to the masses.

1. Boots on the Ground –  Increase in soldiers
2. Battle for hearts and minds – No longer war and death but instead something that would seem positive
3. Protecting my freedoms – Now, any military action is supposedly justified by this statement.
4. Loss of Life – Usually murder but just sounds so much better this way
5. Collateral Damage – Again, killing
6. Shock and Awe – Drop a big bomb on someone that kills many

and finally one that is not sanitized but is really active in our lexicon lately.

7. The FIGHT against (input here) – It seems that just about everything needs to be “fought” against nowdays.  From a linguistic perspective, it would appear that we are a very aggressive culture.  I don’t suppose “the collective solution” or “the path towards a peaceful resolution” hold as much power as “FIGHT.” If I were to try and list everything we are su
pposedly fighting against, I wonder if just about everyone and everything would be an enemy?

Well, it is late and I can think of no other things I would like to share.  Therefore, I’ll leave off with a final political point which I simply cannot resist doing.  For those of us who insist on everyone speaking only English, I’m afraid we would have to erase the following words and come up with “English” equivalents.  To show I’m a good sport, I’ll even offer some suggestions

1. Spaghetti – Thin strings in sauce
2. Taco – Meat in a shell
3. California – Land of the weirdos  (ROFLROFL)
4. Sushi – Raw fish on Rice
5. Hamburger – Meat paddy

Ok ok,,, I won’t leave off on a political point but rather a fun one.  And I’ll even stick with the food theme.  Let’s translate from English to Japanese to the Kanji literal meaning

1. Breakfast – Asagohan  – 朝ご飯 – Literally — “Morning Rice”
2. Lunch – Hirugohan – 昼ご飯 – Literally – “Afternoon Rice”
3. Dinner – Yuuhan – 夕飯 – Literally – “Evening Rice”

– AND if we make things even more complicated, Lunch, Dinner and Supper can mean different things in England.  Or is it Britain.  or is it The United Kingdom?  LOLOLOLOLOL

That’s all for now.  Ya es todo, Sayonara

International Journal Việt Nam

Saigon Stories – My fellow students – Irritations in Saigon

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m studying Japanese here in Ho Chi Minh city. All the other students are Vietnamese and it’s really interesting to study along side them. The foreigners here in Saigon usually only interact with the Vietnamese at work, or with those who work in the bars, but rarely get to see the other side of them. By studying Japanese with them, I’m able to communicate in a language other than English and understand that they are going through the same hardships trying to learn another language.

They really are a wonderful people and the way they pronounce Japanese words is really cute. Instead of a crisp “Irrashaimase” as the Japanese do, it comes out “Irrasaimase” They cannot pronounce the “shhhhhhhhh” as the sound we make in English when we want someone to be quiet. Instead it comes out as “Sai” or the sound we make when we say “Site” without the “te” at the end.

I spoke about irritations when one needs a break in the last post. One more irritation today would have been the looks I get going into a school that is all Vietnamese students. Instead of a “hello” and then wondering if I will respond like a monkey to a bananna, it would be a “konbanwa” and astonishment that a white man can speak a language usually reserved for Asians.

Again, life usually isn’t like this, it’s just that I’m way overdue for a vacation.

Ok, one last irritation and then I’m done I promise. Sometimes foreigners get tired of the mistakes other cultures can make when trying to be polite. Really they mean well but it’s just a stupid irritation my stupid brain reacts to negatively. For example, I went into a major international company today and had to wait for the person I was supposed to meet. The receptionist said “I’m sorry, may I have your name?” “I’m sorry, can you please wait?” “I’m sorry, can you take a seat?” I didn’t want to sit down so just acknowledged what she said and remained standing. Then thirty seconds later she repeated “I’m sorry, can you take a seat?”

At that point I just wanted to say “Stop being sorry, and no I don’t want to take a seat!” Sounds stupid huh. It is, and is just proof I need a vacation. The other one is the overuse of “Please” When they want you to do something they will gesture and say “Please, please.” After hearing “Please, please” over and over every single day, it can make you want to bang your head against the wall. Maybe it’s difficult to understand for people who have not experienced a long term overseas stay.

Oh my god!!! At the moment I’m writing this, I’m watching “Everyone loves Raymond” and his mother just went berzerk about Raymonds overuse of “at” as an end of a sentence. She just said “Is this the end of civilization!!!” and then went on to scold Raymond about his education. I guess anyone can get upset about these things and proves that there is a higher power up there who makes these coincidences happen. Weird huh.

International Journal Việt Nam

Saigon Stories – Need a break from Saigon

Living in another country can be and usually is one of the greatest experiences a person can have. But from time to time it is absolutely necessary to take a break when you find yourself being negative and complaining about too many things in the host country. I have reached that point since I haven’t escaped since last Christmas.

After a very frustrating day at work today I couldn’t bring myself to go to Japanese class since I have already skipped a week and know that all the students and teachers will inquire about my absence. The Japanese teachers will always comment on the absence and say in sort of a pouty way (which is normal for female Japanese teachers) “Matto san wa issogashi ne,” “daijoubu?” Which means “You are very busy aren’t you” “Is everything ok?” And I know I just won’t be able to take it today since my batteries are completely drained and I won’t be able to smile back and will probably be bitter.

Concerning the culture, one gets tired of always being the foreigner and having everyone look at you like some strange creature. I cringe on the ride home when I keep hearing constant “hello,” when they just want to see if you will respond. I always muster out a “hello” back to the children though since it will make them smile and I might be their only experience with a foreigner.

With the adults however, it can sometimes be trying since their “hello’s” are more of a “hey, you are a foreigner and if I say hello it’s kind of like you are a monkey who should respond to a banana.” I know it’s terrible to say that but it’s how you can feel sometimes when you haven’t had a break for a while.

So this is the state I am in and prefer to skip class yet again and just order a pizza and watch a DVD at home to forget my frustrations in Saigon for a while.

International Japan - 日本 Journal

A Practical Guide to Learning a Foreign Language


     Learning a foreign language can seem like a daunting if not unachievable task to many of us.  I am here to tell you that learning a new language does not have to be the boring, monotonous travail that we begin to think it is from the outset of our freshman year high school language classes.  Thus, I write to those of you that are absolutely serious about learning another language and I believe I can offer some practical advice to help you not only enjoy the learning experience, but also to ease the pain and suffering that mass memorization of vocabulary and grammar tends to bring about. 

     There are many ways to learn a language.  The easiest, but perhaps most stressful way is complete and total immersion.  This means to simply be thrown into an environment where you must speak, hear and read the foreign language on a constant basis and not be able to use your own native language (at all) to communicate.  Most of us however, are not afforded this luxury.  We have to try and keep ourselves motivated as well as make a conscientious effort to learn the language without much external support other than the routine language class.  This lack of stimulus causes our motivation to wane quite easily after the initial enthusiasm has passed and the task of memorization has become dismal.  The end result being such that our language books end up collecting dust after the semester is over and we are no closer to speaking the language with any fluency than we were previously.  For those who would like a way out of this quandary, I recommend beginning your language learning quest with the right elements.  These key factors will be your support to help keep your eyes on the end goal in times when the challenge becomes tedious or you become discouraged.  

I.                    Incentive

     Incentive is the absolute most important aspect in your quest to learn another language.  The first question you must ask yourself is why you want to learn the language.  If you have a genuine incentive to learn, then it will keep you motivated throughout the duration, especially when the language becomes difficult or you get frustrated.  My incentive to learn Spanish was that I found it rather disheartening when I could not understand people during a trip to Mexico even though I had studied it for 4 years in high school.  Also, the NAFTA agreement was being drafted and I figured if I could learn Spanish along with a Business degree then I might have more favorable job prospects in the future.  These were my incentives from the outset. However, as I progressed I came to find that learning the language, in itself, was rewarding and practical.  People say that learning a little of the language before you travel will take you a long way, but I say that learning to actually speak the language will take you into an entirely new world! Further, you would be surprised to learn how much clearer our own language becomes through the study of a foreign tongue.  (I shall expound upon that point later.) Therefore, I recommend taking a trip to a foreign country where you can see with your own eyes that people actually do speak other languages and use them on a day to day basis. You will learn that language is actually very useful and not just a device they use just to punish us during our school days in the English speaking world.   

II.                 Patience

     Learning a new language does not happen overnight.  Just as a bodybuilder must go to the gym consistently for months to see even a miniscule result, so must the language learner have patience and consider it a lifelong endeavor.  In the beginning, you must memorize loads of vocabulary to build your base.  Once you have the built your base, then you can start building sentences and worrying about conjugations.  Once you have the conjugations, you can begin taking your first feeble steps to actually having a real conversation in another language!  Another important aspect is to realize that you will never speak the foreign language as well as you speak English.  Therefore, don’t get frustrated when you are having a difficult time trying to express a thought or emotion in another language and do not compare it to how well you could have said the same thing in English.  You are a native speaker of English, yet you would know less than a one year old starting a new foreign language.  The magnitude of this difference in levels is gigantic, and a good way to induce frustration and make a beginner want to quit studying the language altogether.  So have patience, don’t compare, and reevaluate if you really have the time and enthusiasm to learn the language.   

      III        Forget English

      In the first few months of learning another language you will undoubtedly be translating your way through simple dialogue in class.  This means you first think of what you want to say in English, and then translate it to the foreign tongue.  Of course this is only natural, but it is also something that you will want to get away from as you progress and actually start to have simple conversations.  As you may or may not know, we actually think in our native language and are able to express our thoughts and ideas using complex sentences with minimal effort.  Unfortunately, we are not able to do this in another language and thus try to translate the English phrase into a foreign one verbatim. This word for word translation does not work and will leave the foreign sentence sounding rather unintelligible and rough.  It is like listening to a radio with bad reception.  You might understand a little bit of what they are saying, but it certainly isn’t very enjoyable experience. 

     Therefore, I propose tackling the problem in this manner.  Imagine that you have two file cabinets in your head, one for English and one for the foreign language.  When you need to express something in the foreign tongue, you should not reach for the English files abounding with numerous colorful English phrases.  Instead, reach for that anorexic foreign file, with only a few sparse phrases and words and form your sentence from there.  It may be a bit tantalizing at first since you might only be able to express only 10% of what you actually want to say.  However, just like a child learns in this way by simply saying “Hungry!” instead of “I’m very hungry could you please take me to McDonalds,” so we too must start from scratch and form our foreign sentences one word, verb or adjective at a time.  This is especially true when you throw in idioms such as “I got his back,” which if translated into most other foreign languages will leave the listener thinking some sort of butchery was performed.       

III.               Make Useful Connections to Real Life

     As I mentioned before, your native language will become clearer through the study of another language and it is a good technique to recognize these connections.  Through these recognitions you might possibly feel smarter which in turn, could increase your motivation.  Here are a few examples:

  1. The two leaders had a tête-à-tête discussion.  Tête equals “head” in French, thus the two leaders had a head to head (or private) discussion.
  2. Las Vegas means “Fertile Valley” in Spanish.  It’s too bad the Catholic Spanish conquerors didn’t have a little more foresight when they named it, as I’m sure they would have called it, “Future site of amusing, yet lewd establishments and moral degradation.” 
  3. Every Japanese name has a literal meaning.  For example, “Aiko” means “Child of Love” and “Suzuki” means “Bell Tree.” 
  4. “Travail” is a word I used in the first paragraph which is both, an English and French word meaning “work,” “task,” or “job” but is usually associated with something
    unpleasant in French. 

In making these connections, the foreign language becomes immediately useful to you in English and not just some abstract academic theory that you are having trouble applying to real life (assuming there are no foreigners with whom you can practice your new language.)  If you are the least bit curious, it will leave you hungering for more and the learning process will actually become amusing.  If you decide to take on a third language, these connections become even more useful in memorizing difficult vocabulary. A good example of this is the word “casa,” which means “house” in Spanish.  “Casa” also means “umbrella” in Japanese.  Taking this technique a bit further would be this example. “El oso” in Spanish means “a bear.”  I think that a bear is terrible, which leads me to the Japanese word “osoroshii” which means “terrible or dreadful!”

IV.              Tips and Tricks

     As I mentioned above, making connections is the easiest way to memorize the vocabulary.  If connections cannot be made, then there are a few other tricks I use to remember the words.  It is also important to keep in mind that you should use any technique that seems to work for you.  If standing on your head shouting out vocabulary until you are blue in the face works for you, then employ that method to the fullest extent.

     A rule I go by is to not try and memorize entire phrases as a beginner in the language.  You should first try and learn what each individual word actually means and then they will make sense when you put them together (omitting the difference in grammatical structures). Learning phrases is useless if you don’t know what the individual words mean because without their meaning you cannot form other complex phrases or may say them out of context.  For example, I have had Japanese businessmen say “Hello, nice to meet you!” upon making eye contact without us having been introduced or even learning each others names.  Just because one learns a phrase doesn’t mean he or she knows how to employ it properly.  

     Another trick is to imagine the foreign word next to a picture of the object in your mind. As mentioned before, we actually think in our native languages.  Thus, when we picture a fish in our heads, the word “fish” automatically appears as well.  Try imagining that you have been mistaken all your life and that the real word for fish is actually “poisson,” which is French.  Repeat the word and hear yourself say it for reinforcement.  Then try saying “I’m going to eat some poisson tonight.”  It sounds ridiculous and it is.  In fact, it’s so absurd that you will probably end up remembering the word.  You could also make a mental connection with this word as well since it looks so close to the word “poison,” which has the same meaning in French as it does in English.  Of course you wouldn’t eat poison for dinner but how about some poisson? 

     Third, take this new word and use it as soon as possible.  Memorizing only places the information in your head temporarily.  However, when you are called upon to actually retrieve and use the information stored is when you reinforce it and make it (almost) permanent.  A good metaphor is that of the librarian and her index cards.  What may take the library patron a few minutes to find, will take only a few seconds for the librarian because he or she has probably accessed it countless times.   

     Finally, you must practice listening to the language.  I know how boring those language tapes are and to be honest I did listen to them very much.  Instead, I listened to foreign songs or radio programs through the Internet.  Again, this is where incentive becomes really important because it would be easier if you already had a genuine interested in the music, news, or culture from that perspective country.  As a beginner, try to pick out some of the vocabulary you just learned.  When you hear it, it will be reinforced in your mind and harder to forget.  You will also be happy that you finally understood something even if it is only one word.  Remember, one word, becomes two words, which become entire phrases until you finally understand what they are saying.

     An old Spanish proverb says, “A person who speaks two languages is worth two people.”  So I encourage all you language learners to find your motivation, determine which memorization techniques work for you and above all, have patience.  If you come to find that your enthusiasm is on the decline, take a quick trip to where they actually speak that language or at least find a native speaker with whom you can practice.  Finally, keep in mind that if you are persistent over a long period of time, almost anything can be accomplished.