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Scopa

One day some colleagues and I skipped out of the office early for happy hour and a game of Scopa. By the time I’d learned the rules, I was hooked. Scopa is Italian for “broom,” a fitting name for a card game in which the object is to sweep all the cards from the table. It’s traditionally played while keeping up a constant stream of light raillery. What a great way to practice your Italian insults on your friends! You can order a Scopa deck online for less than $7, and get the rules here. Cosa ne pensi?

Foreign Internet Radio

When I was visiting southern France last year, one of my favorite pastimes was driving down to the next village to buy fresh, hot baguettes at the boulangerie. If I didn’t get there early enough, I would have to go without bread that day. But when I did manage to score a loaf, I would tear into it on the drive back while listening to Radio Classique, crumbs snowing onto my lap.

I loved listening to French radio–real French for real French people. I could practice my comprehension skills without having to muster up a response. Listening to foreign radio is a great way to polish your pronunciation, test your mastery, or just keep brushed up.

Back home in the Pacific Northwest, I can still listen to Radio Classique–and to hundreds of other foreign radio stations, thanks to Multilingual Books’ Foreign Internet Radio directory. It’s a cinch to navigate: You can browse by language, with nearly 50 to choose from, including Arabic, Chinese, Icelandic, Portuguese, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Or you can browse by genre–classical, techno, news, rock, pop, top 40, hip hop, jazz, dance, R&B, disco, ambient, sports, public radio, alternative, house, world music, culture, variety, metal, oldies, funk, talk, trance, college radio, religious, kids’ radio, and more.

Find our Foreign Internet Radio Directory here.

Have your own favorite internet radio station? Tell us about it!

Dog Commands in French

The week before last I shared that I was venturing into the body-based grammar of cat language, and while I can’t say that I’ve achieved the fluency of even a blind three-day old kitten, I can say that I’ve had some success. Take this morning. I was doing yoga in a spot of sun when Nandi FluffyPants wandered into the room and tossed herself onto the carpet beside me. When she glanced up, I took the opportunity to blink an adoring “I love you” at her. She responded by flicking just the tip of her tail, which I took to mean “I know.”

Today’s post is for dog lovers. The tenor will be a bit different. Rather than sharing ways to whisper sweet nothings, I’ll be towing a stricter line: commandes pour les chiens.

My friends Di and Mr. Di have a seven-month-old Golden Retriever puppy-monster, Sebastian. Because the Dis are good dog owners, Sebastian is being trained to obey commands, which he sometimes does. And because Sebastian is a Canadian dog, I’ve taken it upon myself to teach him French. Should you, too, wish your dog (or gerbil or guppy) to be bilingual, the following are some handy commands.

No!   Non! (no)

Down.   Couché (coo-shay)

Off.  Degage (deh-gah-zheh)

Leave it.   Laisse-le (lass-aye lay)

Quiet.   Silence (see-lahns)

Sit.   S’assis  (sah-see)

Stay.   Reste (rest)

Okay.   D’accord (dah-core) or D’ac (dak)

Good boy.   Garçon sage (gar-sown sawzh)

Kiss.   Baisé (beh-zay)

Come.   Viens (vee-eh)

Go inside.   Entré (ahn-tray)

Go outside.   Dehors (due-or)

Heel.   Au pied (oh-pee-aye)

Fetch.   Rapporte (a-port)

Jump.   Saute (soot)

E-mail me your favorite commands, and I’ll add them to the list.

Let’s Chat: Platiquemos

One of the many perks of knowing Mr. Multilingual is that I get to try out language products from time to time. It so happens that, in preparation for a trip to the lovely and enchanting Barcelona this fall, I’m playing—errr, working my way through Platiquemos.

I say “working” because Platiquemos is the most hardcore language audio course I’ve ever done, and I’ve done quite a few—Pimsleur, Living Language, PDQ, Rush Hour—most of which I can pop onto my iPod and easily absorb while I drive. Not Platiquemos.

To do Platiquemos properly, I need all of my faculties and the companion text. This is because the phrases and dialogues are spoken at an authentic pace, which some might call “brisk” and others “breakneck.” The idea is to get used to hearing the language as it is naturally spoken. That way, there’s no need to bring your Spanish up to speed after landing in a foreign country; you’ll arrive on tempo.

But before you can drive the speed limit, you start by buckling your seatbelt and slowly and methodically learning proper Spanish pronunciation. Or should I say “overlearning”? The trick, they say, is to master a small portion of the language so well that it takes little effort to use it comfortably and fluently.

Pronunciation is learned by imitating sounds, and Platiquemos is the first audio course I’ve come across that compares and contrasts sounds in English and Spanish. Did you know that “see” and “si” are not homophones? The English “see” is open and expansive, while the Spanish “si” is shorter and somewhat swallowed. With Platiquemos, you learn to clearly distinguish the differences between the two.

I’m only a few weeks into Platiquemos, and I haven’t yet picked up enough speed to feel the wind in my hair, but I’m enjoying the ride, and I think this course is going to be well worth the extra effort. Fluency in Spanish after all these ambling years, here I come!

Note: I’ll check back in as I work my way through the course. In the meantime, I invite you to share your thoughts on Platiquemos—or your favorite audio language course.

How Do You Say “I Love You” in Kittenese?

I’ve been thinking about animal language ever since I learned that scientists and chimps were working together to design computer programs to enable the apes to communicate with us. While I appreciate that monkeys are learning to type, and that humans are now privy to several kinds of animal communication—the dances of bees, the calls of birds, the songs of whales, and the eerie echoings of dolphins—I’m curious to know what conversations people are having with animals.

So I’ve decided to join the ranks of researchers fearlessly forging the frontiers of animal language. After years of meaningless one-sided conversations with my furry little roommate, Nandikins Greyshanks Binks, I’ve decided to start learning Cat. And I thought it would be nice to begin with “I love you.” How do cats communicate that sentiment? I repaired to the study for a bit of research.

In The New Natural Cat, Anitra Frazier suggests that cats rarely communicate by sound (a.k.a. language). Instead, they have “a vast and rich vocabulary of body postures, poses … and actions with which they communicate.” When cats are contented and secure, they slowly blink their eyes. So Frazier suggests that to whisper “sweet nothings” in your cat’s ear, you don’t need to make a sound; all you need to do is catch the cat’s eye across the room and slowly blink. If she’s feeling the love too, chances are she’ll return the sentiment in kind.

So that’s the language learning challenge for May. Try out an animal language this week–and let me know your results.