La Soledad

When I put on a little dinner-making music this evening, after a day spent painting my kitchen cabinets a lovely French grey blue, the first song that came on was Pink Martini’s “La Soledad.”   I swooned. I hit “repeat.” And I swooned again. Then I dusted off my Spanish dictionary and finally began to brush up in earnest for my trip to Barcelona this spring—by translating the lyrics so I can sing along.

La Soledad


Viniste a mí

Como poesía en la canción


Un nuevo mundo de pasión



Sin egoísmo y la razón

Más sin saber

Que era el amor

Yo protegí mi corazón


El sol se fue

Y yo cantando tu canción

La soledad

Se adueña de toda emoción



Si el miedo robó mi ilusión

Viniste a mí

No supe amar

Y sólo queda esta canción





You came to me

Like poetry in a song

Showing me

A new world of passion


Loving me

Selflessly and without reason

But without knowing

What love was

I protected my heart


The sun has gone

And I am singing your song


Takes over all emotion


Forgive me

If fear stole my illusion

You came to me

I didn’t know how to love

And all that’s left is this song

Flash Cards!

A great way to bulk up your foreign vocabulary is to create and carry flash cards of the words you’re learning.

While you’re sitting at the bistro, sipping wine, waiting for your date, you can shuffle through your flash cards, starting with the foreign terms, and then, as that gets too easy, turning the cards over and working your way through them in English. Discard cards as you master them, and add new ones as your vocabulary expands.

I keep a pile of blank cards at hand as I study, and from time to time I even dip into the dictionary, adding terms that I’ve been needing or that simply sound nice. Some of the words I added to my French flash stack this morning:

encourageant (encouraging)

rigolo (funny)

un portable (cell phone)

dedans (inside)

un mot de passe (password)

plaisanter (to joke)

une bise (kiss)

plusiers (several)

un paysage (landscape)

en cachette (on the sly)

hereux, heureuse (happy)

Start with Pimsleur

When I’m starting to learn a new language, my course de choice is Pimsleur. It’s simple, clear, and easy to follow. Listen. Imitate. Repeat. So easy that it’s almost unconscious. Mr. Pimsleur designed it that way; he took great pains so that you don’t have to.

Sneaky great pains, in fact. Let me share a little secret with you: Mr. P designed the cadence of his courses to ensure that you’ll remember what he teaches you. He did this by asking you to repeat words and phrases at greater and greater time intervals, until voila! a French interjection that was initially only a figment of your short-term memory suddenly takes up residence in the long-term suite. Pretty clever, no?

So make it easy on yourself: Start with Pimsleur.

Pimsleur courses are available in Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Ojibwe, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Twi, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

And, this week only, you can get a free Foreign Service Institute download of the level one course in the same language when you order a Pimsleur course from Multilingual Books. Click here for details.

In the Flow

So what do you do when, after the initial flush of excitement over a new endeavor–whether it be learning a foreign language or mastering quantum physics–the fizz fizzles? How do you keep yourself motivated to follow through and achieve your goal?

I have a bit of advice for you, from my favorite positive psychologist and happiness tutor, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. You see, he’s got a theory that people are happiest when when they’re completely absorbed by an activity. In the flow. And the secret to being in the flow is to strike a balance between challenge and skill. If a task is too hard, you’ll get frustrated; if it’s too easy, you’ll get bored.

It takes some trial and error, but you can find your way into that flow. If you tend to take on too much and get overwhelmed, take a slower and gentler approach starting today. If you aren’t making much progress, amp it up. Practice creating a balance between honing your skills and taking on new but manageable challenges, and you’ll find yourself flowing toward mastery of your goals.

Learning in the Loo

I’d like to share a little language-learning secret with you. It’s a great way to sneak a little studying into your day that doesn’t take up any extra time at all. Not a minute. Here it is, if you’ll pardon my French: Keep your lesson book in the loo.

There’s an awful lot you can pick up in the minute it takes to, say, brush your teeth. Although I’ve been studying French for over a year, it wasn’t until a quick little lesson today that I learned that a mute h at the beginning of a French noun elides its definite article, but an aspirate h doesn’t. Who knew?

And, because such lessons will be brief, it’s likely you’ll remember and use them. The other morning, for instance, I acquired a little phrase that I was able to commit to memory by using it repeatedly throughout the day: Donne-moi ce truc qui est sur le machin-chose là (“Give me that thingamajig above that whatchamacallit”).

Give it a try–and let me know what little gems you find.


It’s summer now, and in summer our thoughts turn to…traveling. Where are you taking off to this season? What corner of the globe (figuratively geometrically speaking) will you be exploring?

Wherever you go, share your adventures with us. Multilingual Books just launched a travel site where you can upload photos, blog about your trip, give travel tips, or write about pretty much anything that pleases you. Travel is the main focus, but you’re free to talk about anything–and creativity is encouraged. Check it out:


One great way to stay fluent in a language is to meet regularly with other speakers. Spanish speakers can create a tertulia, a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones. Or, to keep abreast of your German, you can start a Stammtisch, a “regular’s table” or “regular get-together.”

Such groups may already exist in your town. In Seattle there’s a long tradition of Stammtischen that meet weekly to converse in German, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, Czech, and Greek (check here for details).

Or you can create your own tertulia from scratch. It’s easy. I know a couple of my fellow islanders, for instance, who can’t make it to Italy as often as they please. So every now and then I invite them to join me for an afternoon of tea and Italian conversation. It goes something like this:

“Ciao, bella!”

“Ciao, bella! Come stai?”

“Bene, grazie. Vorresti che ci incontriamo per parlare italiano questa settimana?”

“Sì, certo! Quando?”

“Questo giovedì alle due?”

“Va bene. A giovedì! Ciao!”


Then I brush up on my vocabulary, and off I go.

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.