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The Soapbox Chronicles: Foreign Languages In The US

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

 – Nelson Mandela

::Steps onto soapbox.:: Ahem. Is this thing on?

In my building, there is this cute old Spanish speaking couple that I have come to love. The woman is kind enough to bring any packages she finds of mine to my door, and the man is so friendly and strikes up conversation with me in Spanish when we pass each other in the hallway. I rarely have the opportunity to practice my Spanish anymore, so I love our talks and also appreciate his patience if I stumble with my grammar. It reminded me of how envious I was of many of my classmates who already had an arsenal of various European languages under their belt. And there I was, perpetuating the stereotype that Americans can’t speak other languages fluently outside of English. Grr-eat.

It’s not that I don’t know any other languages. I studied Spanish for six years throughout high school and college and even did a semester abroad in Madrid where all my classes were in Spanish. That being said, I would prefer to have another immersion or intensive course as a refresher. And I know a lot of other people who would fall into this same category, perhaps because we didn’t have the opportunity to learn foreign languages from a young age like many of our European counterparts. Of course I’m not talking about Americans who have grown up speaking a second language at home. But to put it in perspective, only about 18% of Americans say they speak more than one language, versus 53% of Europeans. Which begs the question, “Why hasn’t the US done more to change this?”

I think there are several factors for this. One recent issue is school budget cuts, where educators are forced to take out entire departments that don’t seem as necessary. As of 2008 only 25% of elementary schools in the US taught foreign languages (I couldn’t find more recent data but would love to hear updated stats.) So that means the best options for children who aren’t learning directly from their parents would be through private school educations or tutoring, or online apps which I will get to at the end of this post. And while the numbers are higher for foreign languages taught in high school and college, think about the greater potential kids have for fluency if only they could start learning from elementary level. And then think about how that could radically change things for the country as a whole. Oh, another reason? Some may say that English is the language of the global economy so there’s not as much of a need to learn other languages. And true, Americans are fortunate to grow up learning English because from what I hear it is a challenging foreign language and you can get around pretty well if you know it. But the economy is always changing, and with developing countries becoming bigger who knows if English really will stay the dominant language. Regardless, with learning another language comes learning about a different country’s lifestyles and getting excited about wanting to see more of the world. It can lead to increased partnerships with entrepreneurs in other countries and more global career opportunities, or even just more confidence to explore and travel more. Undoubtedly it would result in less ignorance towards other cultures, and let’s not forget the pure joy of just being able to order a meal in the local language when you are traveling.

Earlier this month I read an article from Fast Company that mentioned how Washington legislators are trying to push computer programming as a language for high schoolers to meet college requirements. Partially because they feel that the current system of learning a foreign language at a high school level is not as productive, and a good part of their reasoning also supports the idea that language should be taught in elementary school where its more effective. While I am all for pushing computer science in high school, I wouldn’t want kids to opt out of the foreign language requirement either. I can say with certainty that studying Spanish in high school had a snowball effect in my life which resulted in having some amazing international experiences and being passionate about travel and other cultures. Even though the current system is flawed, there should be more emphasis on learning other languages in today’s super connected world.

But I digress…

To be honest, this post was supposed to be about fantastic online (and mostly free!) resources for learning foreign languages as an adult and even as a child. So I’m going to get to it, and also get back to Duolingo to continue practicing what I’m preaching.

::Steps off soapbox::


Online foreign language resources:

1) Duolingo – I use this one so I can vouch for the addictive and fun nature of this app. It’s FREE and the website says that 34 hours on the app is equivalent to time spent taking one university course. And how cute is their mascot??

2) Livemocha – Also free! This website is great because it relies on its community to help each other with their learning. For example, you can post an exercise of you speaking or writing online and native speakers can offer advice. Pretty valuable if you’re looking for some legit feedback.

3) Pimsleur – I also used this to learn some basic Italian before moving to Italy. It’s all audio and A LOT of repetition which is great for long commutes (although you will be repeating phrases out loud so you may want to avoid this on your subway ride home.)

*Bonus – Just heard about its sister app, Little Pim, with videos, books and apps for kids up to age 6. Perfect with what we were just talking about!

4) Babbel – Some people say Babbel is the most effective online app out there. It has similar tools to Duolingo like vocabulary and pronunciation, and a huge community as well. The first lesson in any language is free, and then there’s a monthly fee for unlimited courses.

5) Lingorami – Another free app. I haven’t tried this one yet, but from the reviews it seems like if you’re the type to be addicted to Candy Crush then you will like this as well. Right now it teaches Spanish, French, Portuguese and English and uses addictive games to keep you interested and learning. Considering its ease of use , it may be a good choice if you’re looking for something to help you brush up on your skills when you have sporadic downtime.

6) Memrize – Also free!  Memrize also has rave reviews and a component for teachers to use it in class. Oh, and for all your competitive types out there, it also lets you compete with your friends. Now I’m intrigued.


Parents! Soon to be parents! Aunts, uncles, godparents… you get the idea. I also found this great article that gives language learning app resources for those that want to teach their children new languages.


Currently reading:
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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A good friend of mine recently told me that one of the things she liked most about reading my blog is that I say things as they are and keep it real. So even though I planned to keep some of this to myself (or to a few fortunate friends who get to hear me rant), I figured it would be best to be honest here:

B-school so far is ROUGH. And the school year hasn’t even officially begun!

As someone who doesn’t have a formal background in macro/microeconomics or accounting, I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. However, naturally the stubborn/proud/competitive side of me doesn’t really want to admit this (typical for a business student, right?) Throw in the international aspect of the program of learning a foreign language, and you can see how it easily adds up to be a little overwhelming. But after taking a few deep breaths (after, of course, panicking just a tad) I remembered that the reason I’m in this program is to not only push myself academically and become a stronger candidate for Dream Career ‘13, but to also grow in other ways that I wouldn’t have had I stayed in the States. Which includes adding competency in another language to my resume. And realizing my dream of living in another country for an extended period of time. And feeding myself for a full year in an apartment without a microwave.

So I take another deep breath, and stick my nose into my wonderful macroeconomics textbook to do my best to keep up with my quantitatively-inclined classmates. Because once I get back into the routine of full-time school, then I can start to really enjoy this city. And what a city it is!


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And It Begins

Today was the first day of precourses, and even though it was an easier day I still feel wiped out.

This morning’s events went a little different than expected. Our first order of business for the day was a welcome meeting. Imagine 50 excited, fresh new faces, eagerly waiting to be introduced to our supportive and nurturing staff and directors.  Instead,we were scared out of minds, thanks to the MBA 37 class who played a massive prank on us. I’d love to go into detail on what they did to haze us, but why would I want to ruin the fun for the next class? Let’s just say it was equal parts terrifying and brilliant, and its safe to assume that it took everyone a few hours to get over. I’ll have to save the rest of the details for a more personal convo.

After the shenanigans were over and we made it through our first, four-hour block of quantitative methods, we attended an informal welcome cocktail hour with some current students and staff. The full welcome week and gala isn’t until October when actual classes begin, but it was still motivating to hear some of the experiences from last year’s class. I also spoke with a few people from Career Services who were excited about my interest in both the non-profit and international development sectors. I already have my eye on trying to snag a UN internship in Geneva for next summer (might as well go big), but they also mentioned a few other organizations in Rome or elsewhere that would be equally amazing.

Oh, and somewhere in the midst of all this we were invited to the Rolex MBA Regatta that Bocconi hosts each year for b-schools all over the world. What now? From what I hear, this is going to be quite an intense, albeit fun, year and I’m going to have to do my best to stay on top of things. Which probably means crawling out of bed and finding that quantitative methods exercise book our professor told us to look over tonight.

A better post about life in Milano to follow once my brain doesn’t feel like scrambled eggs.

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Before I get into all the important details of how my move’s been going, I thought I would start with this: I’m going to get so fat here.

It’s day 2 of me being in Milano and all I’ve eaten is bread. Bread with olives, with eggplant, with tomatoes. It kind of almost seemed healthy until I remembered the common factor in each of those meals. And before I got here I was somewhat optimistic of a regular workout routine, I even went crazy and imagined myself finding a Pilates studio. However, once I arrived and realized that between being stuck on campus from 8am – 11pm and well, sleeping, I’m not sure how much of that will actually be possible. Maybe there’s a Lazy Runner’s club on campus. Or perhaps I should start one… ::light bulb::

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Sono Arrivato

I’m sitting in a comfy private car, being whisked away to my classic Milanese studio. It sounds a lot fancier than it really is. The reality is that “my studio” is only mine for this week and if I don’t find an apt by Sat I may be Homeless in Milano. And as for the cab, well little Pri wasn’t sure how well she’d fare with two fifty pound bags, a 30 lb backpack and a disgustingly heavy Longchamp (although I’m quite proud of how I did manage at the airport.)

As I was landing I realized I feel completely unprepared for this moment. This moment that I have been excited for for so many months (and working towards for so many years.) I guess I have somewhat of a game plan, but really I am just winging it. Today I have an apt with a housing rep at my school – first order of business, find the school. Then begins the arduous process of filing paperwork with the post office and the police so that I don’t get booted out of the country earlier than I would like, and a little task of opening a bank account here. I think only after getting that started, and catching up on some sleep, will I be able to start being social and meeting up with my classmates. But I am so excited for that, and as everyone is slowly trickling in this week it does make me feel a little better to know that many of us are in the same boat. I can’t be the only one who feels a little overwhelmed right?

“Omg, I’m in Milan” moment of excitement to follow as soon as the jetlag wears off.

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic

It was September 2004. I was on a flight to Madrid by myself for a study abroad program. It was the first time I’d be away from home for such a long period of time. In the plane I started panicking about being alone and so I stupidly left my cell phone on during the flight so I could feel more connected to my family. Of course, that backfired and my phone was dead by the time I arrived in Spain..

The same panic is slowly creeping up on me now. Sure I’m not 20yrs old anymore, and I have a few more international romps under my belt, but the same nervousness and fear is there. The “was this the right choice” — “I could have just stayed home and been just as happy” — “what am I even going to do when I get there” is all too familiar. And don’t even get me started on the process it was to even get to this point (ok scratch that, I’m totally going to divulge all that madness in a later post.) But that panic and fear is a good thing right? I remember feeling a little unsure about Madrid – I had just had a fantastic summer in DC and started thinking maybe I didn’t want to study in Madrid after all. I guess it’s a little similar to the pangs of sadness I had after having an awesome summer in NYC . But then I remember seriously considering extending my time abroad for another semester once in Madrid. Those few months  ended up being some of the best months I had in college.

So, being older and wiser, clearly I should use this as evidence that all these feelings are a good thing. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself more than anything else. More to follow once I touch down in Italia.

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Isn’t it Ironic

As I’m sitting at my gate at LAX with my trusty ninja turtle backpack, waiting to head east to Milano, it suddenly dawns on me that it was a year ago this day that I headed out for my backpacking adventure. Euro déjà vu, and what a difference a year makes.

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Spoiler Alert

In one week at this time I’ll be touching down in Milan, carrying overstuffed suitcases and a big confused look on my face. Thus begins prep week for Part II of my move (and, unfortunately, more packing.)

But first, up next is a post about a rather delectable visit I just made to Santa Barbara! Stay tuned.

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Let’s Take The Scenic Route Turns 1!

Wow. Has it already been one year?

A year ago I wrote my first post for Let’s Take the Scenic Route. Back then, I wasn’t looking farther than the four month journey ahead and my blog was not much more than a way for my friends and family to keep tabs on me while I was galavanting around the world. I am grateful to have people in my life that encouraged me to continue with my blog and use it as not only a creative outlet but also a platform for some of my other interests. I do apologize for my lack of posts throughout the last two months (yes, my 3 loyal readers, I have received your complaints), but in all fairness I have a pretty sweet excuse for my online silence.

I haven’t officially posted this yet but I am so extremely stoked to write that in a few weeks I’ll be moving to Milan to get my MBA at one of Europe’s top b-schools, SDA Bocconi. These last 3 months have been a whirlwind of emotions from the round of victory shots when I first got word of my acceptance, to the tears of joy when I finally received my Italian visa after a lengthy and slightly-traumatizing experience, to the pouty face I made when I had to say goodbye to some of my dearest friends in New York. Leaving NYC was surprisingly harder than I thought it would be (after all, it was just a year ago that I was dying to get out) but the six years there didn’t leave me too much worse for wear and I wouldn’t be surprised if I came back sooner than expected anyway.

But today we look ahead! And to come full circle, I am also looking forward to seeing how my blog evolves in the next year as I start this new chapter in my life and throw down some semi-perma roots in Milano. Yes, there will be more food posts and possibly a few meltdown rants during my economics semester, but I’m mostly excited about what I’ll take away from being a part of a highly international class with so many different cultural backgrounds. Oh, and don’t worry, there is still plenty more traveling to be done.


I am so blessed by all that I have experienced this past year. To those in my life reading this, thanks for (willingly) joining me on the ride.

Looks like its time for a change of scenery yet again.

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Spain, The Football Dynasty

Sigh. The Euro 2012 Championships has ended. Don’t get me wrong, that was a happy sigh with Spain winning and all. Not every fan is fortunate to have 4 blissful years of straight wins with no tears shed (which I was pretty darn close to doing so both when I found out Villa was out on injury and when the US got knocked out of the ’10 World Cup.) The end of the Euro finals closes 3 weeks of beautiful football which, aside from being marvelous entertainment, was also simply a wonderful distraction (as is evident from the lack of my blog posts, woops.) I love this time of year because the football fans come out in full force – I’m so lucky to be in a city that has so many different places to watch the games. Even back home in LA it was a little bit harder to find good spots to watch some of the last World Cup games. I wish the country as a whole appreciated the sport more, but I hope that’ll change in time. Until then, I may just have to relocate to where the action’s at.

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