Tag Archives: languages

Our Ever-Shrinking World

This past month, my family had the wonderful privilege of hosting an exchange student in our house for two weeks. In that all-too-brief stay with us, it became very clear through our interactions with this German teenager at how small our world is getting. Whether it was his very excellent English, choice in cologne or his one site-seeing request of visiting a Wal-Mart, the overwhelming evidence was there that we are indeed living in a global society and thus a shrinking world. But as enjoyable as his visit was, I didn’t need it as vindication for me. As someone who works throughout the city of Pittsburgh, I see this on almost a daily basis.

Pittsburgh has been a magnet for visitors, whether long term or short, for centuries now, and thanks in part to a great mix of travellers who have landed on the shores of our three rivers, we now can boast to be one of the “most…(pick your favorite top-ten list Pittsburgh has made it on recently)…cities” in the world. And as usual, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is right there to help the recent traveler, and those who love them, meld into this ever-present global society.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a variety of language classes and conversation salons throughout the city, including our newest program Let’s Speak English for those whose native language isn’t English and would like to learn through conversation. The conversation salons allow native English speakers to converse with experts of various foreign languages. Just click here to search our events page for language-related programming going on at a neighborhood branch near you.

In addition to these fantastic events happening, there’s also our Mango Languages online learning program. Mango Languages allows you to practice a language of your choice (there are dozens available) in the privacy of your own home, office or wherever you choose to access this resource remotely, not to mention that it’s available on the computers in the libraries throughout the city. And don’t forget about Little Pim, which is a language program specifically geared toward children. The whole family can get in on the action!

foreign language

“Language Laboratory” – A language laboratory at one of Pittsburgh’s public schools, date unknown. Courtesy of the Western PA Historical Society collection.

Whether you want to brush up on your English, German, French or any number of other languages, your local Library is a great place to start your own personal journey through our global society.

-Maria J. (who failed miserably at Latin in high school, but is getting her Pittsburghese dahn pretty well.)



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Can I buy a vowel, habibi?

Can you read the following sentence?

Ds ths mk sns?

Hint: Add some vowels

Does this make sense?

Where did the vowels go? For speakers of other languages a lack of vowels may be normal. I am talking about you, Arabic and Hebrew. Neither of these distant Semitic cousins spell out their vowels in a way English speakers are used to. Diatrical marks are used in both Hebrew and Arabic to denote vowels, but those generally only appear in the Torah or Qur’an.   So without the requisite vocabulary those road signs you see might be leading you to Tal Avov, Israel or in another case perhaps into the country of Jirdon. It’s a bit of a bummer for the casual language student like me.  Thankfully CLP has tons of material to help me satisfy my curiosity about foreign languages or dive in for some serious self-instruction. Thnks  lbrry! By the way, I hear the beaches at Tal Avov are really nice.

I have always wanted to learn Arabic. For starters, the script is simply gorgeous, even when unadorned. The Islamic tendency to avoid pictorial representations created a drive to perform some incredible feats of design and artistry in calligraphy. Unfortunately Arabic is not the easiest language to learn. And by not the easiest language, I mean one of the hardest languages.  The rather intuitive root system lulls you into a false sense of confidence before the myriad cases and combinations knock the wind out of your sails. Anyway, it’s fun to study, once I abandon my fantasies of wowing the native speakers with my fluency.

The library has a great selection of titles on Arabic instruction, books to help you learn the script, the spoken languagegrammar (ugh), etc…

Written Hebrew always has that certain aura of the ancient even if you are just using it to print an ad for a used exercise bike. And Rashi script is quite easy on the eyes as well. The library has this amazing book from artist Adam Rhine, a selection of contemporary illuminations and a treat for anyone interested in design or calligrahpy.

The history of the Hebrew language itself makes for an interesting story, resurrected from the liturgy and turned into a living language. It uses the same sort of root system as Arabic but the grammar is much easier. I had a lot of fun looking through the Teach Yourself edition for Hebrew and this kid’s book helped me with the alphabet. As everybody knows, both Arabic and Hebrew use that CH sound, the “ch” from Bach, which is simply fun to make.  I don’t know why, but it is.

I still have a hard time with my ו and נ and I switch up my ب and ت a lot, but it’s all for fun anyway.  If you are not cramming for school or a business trip, then it is very enjoyable and rewarding to just learn an alphabet or pick up a word or two in whatever language strikes your fancy. Even a long way from fluency you can feel more connected to people.



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Learning Languages the Library Way

A few weeks ago I decided to see if I could revive my long-dormant Spanish skills, using only library resources.  So far, it’s been a wildly successful experiment.

The first thing I did was visit the tools and research page for Languages  on the library’s website.  I started at “Online and Downloadable Language Programs,” because I had heard good things about Mango Languages.  It was easy to register an account and start a course.  I thought one of the coolest features is that Mango keeps track of which languages you’ve studied, and for how long.  I’ve completed 27 minutes of basic  Spanish, and while that particular course is a little too basic for me, there are two more levels I can try.

Then I went back to the library’s Languages page, and browsed the specific section for Spanish.  Towards the bottom I discovered Destinos, an instructional program in the style of a telenovela (Spanish soap opera).  Destinos turned out to be perfectly suited to my needs — I was beyond the basics of “Hello, how are you?” but needed a lot of support from the captions, review sections, and online exercises.  Plus, the perfect blend of melodrama and a nostalgic 80s-90s feel has pretty much made it one of my favorite things ever.

I’ve also investigated the First Floor’s foreign language fiction collection.  I chose La Milla Verde, by Stephen King and translated by María Eugenia Ciocchini, and Apocalipsis Z: Los Días Oscuros by Manel Loureiro.  In English these might be leisurely beach reads, but I’m merely chipping away at them in the same painstaking way I translated The Aeneid in Latin III.  I can still only get the gist of them without Google Translate or a Spanish-English dictionary (I chose this one because it was travel-sized, but I can already tell it’s a bit light for my purposes).

My goal is to get good enough that I can join the Spanish Conversation Club.  I’m not quite ready yet, but I don’t think it will be long.


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Buon giorno!

I decided I would like to be Italian after seeing the movie Moonstruck a number of years ago.  Since then, when the weather turns dark and cold, I blow the dust off my DVD case and subsequently get lost in the love lives of each of the characters, and start to believe in the power of a full moon to draw lovers together.   The film manages to be at turns dramatic and beautiful and hilarious.  My favorite parts:

  • The unforgettable Cher in her Oscar-winning role as Loretta Castorini slaps Nicholas Cage, her fiancé’s brother and tells him to “Snap out of it!” when he declares his love for her.
  • Rose Castorini, played by Olympia Dukakis, tells her father-in-law as he takes his full dinner plate to his bevy of pooches, “Old man! If you give those dogs any more of my food, I’m doing to kick you till you’re dead!”
  • Nicholas Cage gives his histrionic speech in the bottom of his New York City bakery blaming his brother for the loss of his hand while using a meat slicer.  When Cher’s character says that is wasn’t his brother’s fault, Nick replies: “I don’t care! I ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice! I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget?”

While I may not actually ever become Italian,  the library affords me the opportunities to get as close as possible:

  • Beginning in January, the First Floor will host a language club, Italian for Beginners, on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, from 6:30-7:30.  No registration required.
  • The library has countless cookbooks devoted to Italian cookery.
  • Mango Languages can be accessed from the library’s website from your home computer.  Mango is an interactive way to learn over 20 languages of the world, including Italian.
  • We have other Italian language learning materials in a variety of formats.
  • The library has hundreds of items in Italian, including books, magazines, music CDs and  feature film DVDs.



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Ni hao! Konnichiwa! Bonjour! Al Salaam a’ alaykum! Guten Tag!

Do any of these languages ring a bell? The First Floor of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main has myriad opportunities for improving your language skills. We offer a German Conversation Club, a Chinese Language Club, Le Club Francophone, a Japanese Conversation Club (which will resume in September), as well as Arabic Club. Come to these programs to practice the language and to learn more about the cultures from whence they come. Each one free and taught or led by a CLP staff member or volunteer.

Is English your second language? We also offer a program called Let’s Speak English to give non-native speakers an opportunity to discuss a wide variety of topics. People of all levels of English ability are welcome. These happen every Wednesday from 5-6 pm.

Do you like watching movies? The library also offers International Cinema Sunday on the first Sunday of each month at 2 pm. We show a film with refreshments and subtitles! The next one is a comedic Belgian Academy Award nominee called Everybody’s Famous. Can’t get here? Our Film & Audio department offers hundreds of foreign films on DVD.

Our website also has links to downloadable audio language programs and other resources for those interested in language learning, not to mention the hundreds of books and audiobooks we offer. So get to it! Improve thyself!



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