Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I've been thinking about language a lot lately, as half my A-100 classmates are studying foreign languages at FSI (and the other half have mostly gotten off language probation already). As I may have mentioned, FSI uses the ILR (interagency language roundtable) scale to rate language users. The scale has 5 levels.

It may interest you to know that we mostly only teach languages to a level 3 - professional fluency. (1 is the beginner level and 2 is intermediate.) So that begs the question, what's higher than 3? Well, 4 and 5 obviously, but more specifically, real fluency - the fluency where you can talk about almost anything with comfort, where the grammar makes sense to you and you use it without thinking. That's approximately what level 4 is all about. Level 4 is for native speakers and really, really hardworking language students. And those occasional obnoxious people who just 'pick up' languages easily. Whatever.

Level 5 is more mysterious. Level 5 is the 'educated native speaker'. You don't have to actually be a native speaker to achieve this, but you have to sound like one. So no mistakes, no accent, no 'quaint' ways of phrasing things. You might assume that you are a level 5 English speaker - I've certainly always assumed that I was one. But the instructor that day said something very shocking (at least to me). Apparently only 2-3% of the population speak English at a level 5. So there you go. Unless I am completely misinterpreting here it sounds like I'm not at all guaranteed a seat at the ultra-exclusive level 5 table. Now some of that is just because not everyone is very well educated. And it's true that it's very hard to lose an accent. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a level 5 and wouldn't be even if he were an excellent orator - he just doesn't sound like a native speaker. But apparently even those of us born and raised in the US, and educated within an inch of our lives don't necessarily cut it.

And once that little doubt crept in I started noticing tiny little things about the English language that actually do cause me to stumble a bit. Is it 'have drank' or 'have drunk'? Gray or grey? Traveller or traveler? How do you pronounce chaise-lounge? Hell, I didn't even know how to pronounce Lagos until a month ago. (It's LAY-gos, not LAH-gos, or at least that's the word on the street.)

I have the sinking suspicion I might not qualify as an educated native speaker after all.

All I can say is that I blame the Twilight movies.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Playlist for the weekend

Here's a link  to the song Yellow Fever, by Fela Kuti a singer from way back when.*
And here is one called Maajo, by King Sunny Ade. (Also pretty old.)*

I've also been listening to a few more modern singers (P-Square was recommended to me) and a Ghanian singer called ET Mensah. I've been exploring some Nigerian literature too, but obviously that's slower going. Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adaobi Nwaubani and several others are on my list so far. I think this is my favorite part of getting ready to move - the part where you dive into something completely unknown and embrace it. A little over a month now - I can't wait!

*My apologies that these aren't just embedded. Having trouble making it happen with the iPad... Hence the nickname I've given it - my imitation computer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's movie season

Doesn't it strike you as strange that for 3/4 of the year there is absolutely nothing to see at the theater, but suddenly they come out with a pile of new movies right at the end of the year? I know it has something to do with holidays and academy awards, but usually somewhere in February or September I'm cursing the person that made that decision.

However, as long as we're in the new-movie-every-five-minutes period I've got to take advantage while I can. It's in that spirit that I went to see the Twilight movie this weekend. I have two words for you. CGI Baby. (Okay, one word and an acronym.) It was seriously the worst decision ever. Listen up Hollywood. CGI characters are an abomination. They are creepy. And worse, they're totally unnecessary. Could they not find a human baby to lie there and babble?

I've actually had a bit of a vendetta going against the misuse of CGI ever since Tom Hanks ruined one of my favorite childhood books (The Polar Express) with creepy and unnecessary CGI. To quote a line from Jurassic Park, they were 'so preoccupied with whether or not they could they didn't stop to think if they should'. So yes, Hollywood. You can make fake people. Now stop it. Seriously.

Twilight has, of course, been a pretty good example of truly atrocious special effects from the get-go (see every scene where someone does things 'super fast' and you'll know what I mean), but this movie took the cake. When the fake baby made its appearance everyone in the theater burst into laughter. (It was not supposed to be a funny scene.) It was all anyone was talking about on the way out of the theater too.


This is the third film I've seen this season (Argo, as I mentioned, was great. The Cloud Atlas was watchable.) I have high hopes for the James Bond movie and for Les Miserables. And, best of all, it appears that there are TWO new zombie movies coming out. :) Merry Christmas to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Running in place...

My preparations for Nigeria are mostly on hold. By day I'm busy learning absolutely everything I ever wanted to know (and a good deal that I could have done without) about nationality and immigration law. By night - well, I haven't gotten a great deal accomplished outside of class, but you know, I'm catching up on my reading. (I unreservedly recommend Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I can't say the same for The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Just to prove my point, I've been working on The Secret Agent for a month now. Never Let Me Go took 3 days.)

ConGen (the consular orientation, just to remind you) is going well. It's crazy to think that in two months I'll be on the ground, doing all this stuff for real. It's also a little crazy to think that in two months I'll be living in AFRICA! Who's up for a rousing game of 'whoever has lived on the most continents wins'? Nobody? Hm...

Not only am I excited to get to live and work somewhere new, but it doesn't hurt that the forecast for Lagos is warm and sunny. And in DC? The high here was 47 today. Ick. Is it time to go yet?

And one more thing. I saw Argo the other day when my parents were in town and I highly recommend it. Well, except if you're one of my grandmothers. For the grandmas I'll just summarize. Argo is all about how going abroad and representing your country is safe, safe, safe. Which is of course why I spent much of the movie gripping the armrest in the theater - even though we all know how the story ends. All kidding aside it's sobering viewing, even with a premise that sounds like comedy.

Next weekend of course I'll be in for even more high-brow viewing when we all go see the Twilight movie together. What can I say? We have to keep up our knowledge of American culture somehow.

Ok, that's it! Happy Thursday!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Leftovers (4)

This edition is just pictures of particularly photogenic Bolivians.The common theme? Bolivians do hats better than anybody.