Writing the College Essay

The essay is the college application piece where many students experience the most stress. College admission officers use your essay for evidence that you can write well and support ideas with logical arguments. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the top factors in the college admission decision. However, a majority of schools view the essay with considerable importance in determining which students will attend their college or university. As College Board points out, “when all else is equal between competing applicants, a compelling essay can make the difference. A powerful, well-written essay can also tip the balance for a marginal applicant.”

student

 

To help you through this process, below are some suggestions and guidelines to keep in mind as you write your essay.

 

Types of Essay Prompts

  • Personal statement: “Tell us about yourself.”
  • Your favorite activity: “What’s your passion?”
  • How you fit in our school: “Why [insert school name]?”
  • Intellectual curiosity: “Reflect on an experience that has been important to your intellectual development.”

 

General Tips

  • Make it personal: This essay is about you. This is your chance to show the college or university who you are as a unique candidate.
  • Grab the reader’s attention early: Start out with something catchy. Avoid beginning with background information, long details, or anything else that will delay the interesting part of your essay.
  • Be unique–not big and fancy. Unique.
  • Be yourself. Be authentic. Use your “voice.”
  • Show rather than tell: Don’t say you were nervous; describe the feeling. Don’t say something was fun; show why it was fun.
  • Big words are overrated: You don’t need to impress the reader with your vocabulary. Use your voice.
  • Answer all the questions in the prompt: The questions are there for a reason–address them all. Do what the prompt asks!
  • Be concise, to the point
  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread. Read it outloud to “hear” the errors. Have a friend read it. Ask a teacher to read it.
  • 60% explanation; 40% story: Use a story to answer the prompt, but don’t stop there. Explain and connect the story.

 

What They Really Want to Know

  • Who are you?
  • Will you fit in on our campus?
  • Can you write well enough to be successful?

 

What They Do Not Want

  • Cliches
  • Sounding privileged
  • What you think they want (again, stick to the prompt)
  • Generic, dull, and overdone essays. Be unique.

 

Steps for Writing the Essay

1. Find your defining quality

2. Choose a moment that illustrates that quality (anecdote: a little story that grabs attention and makes a point); create a picture–40% of your essay

3. Explain/respond–60% of your essay

A. How did you handle the situation?

B. What did you learn?

4. Why does what you learned matter? Where have you applied that lesson? Where might you apply this lesson in the future?

 

“Do’s” Regarding Style

  • Vary sentence length and syntax
  • Don’t use 100 words when you could use 10–be concise
  • Use varied transitions
  • Have a conflict
  • Start at the peak of the action in the moment (like the Odyssey…in media res). Save the background for later.
  • If you use dialogue, make it short
  • Know your point

Why Read Fiction?

Reading, Bookworm, Man, Books, Learning, LiteratureDifferent readers have different reasons for reading. Some people cannot go a day without reading. Others only read because their teacher assigned it for class.

After reading through studies, articles, and ideas about reading fiction, I’ve put together a quick list of reasons to read fiction:

 

1. Fictions expands creativity

2. Fiction influences empathy

3. Reading makes you a better writer

4. Fiction shows us different cultures and values

5. Reading reduces stress

6. Reading helps you sleep

7. Reading fiction improves relationships

8. Reading improves memory

 

For more details, you can check out a few of my sources:

“Five Reasons to Read Fiction”

“The Importance of Reading Fiction”

“The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction”

View at Medium.com

ACT Reading Section

The Reading section of the ACT has four passages. You will be asked 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. There are various types of questions that will be asked:

  1. Main Idea questions that ask about the passage as a whole.
  2. Inference and writer’s view questions that ask you to understand something that isn’t directly stated in the passage.
  3. Detail questions that ask about specific parts of the passage.
  4. Vocabulary-in-context questions that ask about a word as it is used in the passage.
  5. Function questions that ask about the purpose of a specific part of the passage.

To tackle all of this, you just need to be quick and methodical. Below are some tips to help you approach this section of the ACT.books-2337525_1920

1. Read the questions first: This sounds counterproductive because you might feel you’re losing time by reading the questions twice. Consider it an investment, though. Reading the questions first will allow you to know what you should be looking for in the passage. Though you will be reading the entire passage, it’s good to know what to focus on.

2. Don’t be scared of unfamiliar subjects: The readings cover four topics—natural science, humanities, social science, and prose fiction. The purpose of this section is to test your reading, not your knowledge of these subjects. The writing will be on your level, so don’t be intimidated if the subject is neuroscience!

3. Always read the full passage: Because you read the questions first, you know what to focus on in the reading. That doesn’t mean you should skim the passage, though. Read all of it.

4. Use process of elimination: You might not be able to eliminate all of the incorrect choices, but there will likely be some answers you can eliminate right away.

5. Read the part the question asks about: You might remember the part of the passage that the question is referring to, but you should still read the part being asked about to be certain you remember it correctly.

6. Choose the best answer: Don’t choose the answer that sounds the smartest; choose the answer that has textual evidence to support it.

7. Know the scoring: You won’t lose points for a wrong answer, so answer every question—even if you just have to guess.

8. Take notes: When you read the passage, write short notes next to each paragraph. These notes can cover the purpose of the passage, mention of different people, and different opinions.

9. Predict the answer: Before you read the answer choices and have the opportunity to be misled by incorrect choices, predict what the answer will be.

Be sure to check out tips for taking the English section of the ACT. For individualized instruction on the ACT Writing section, send an email to LuxWritingCenter@gmail.com.

The ACT English Section

On the ACT, there are three ‘English-related’ sections: English, Reading and Writing. As you prepare for the test, you should keep a few things in mind that will help you get a higher score.library

Let’s look at the English section today. This section involves a lot of passage correction. There are five passages, each accompanied by a sequence of multiple choice questions. You’ll have 45 minutes to address the 75 questions. That means you have to move fast!

The types of questions can be broken down into three categories.

  1. Punctuation: These questions test your knowledge of internal and end punctuation, with focus on the relationship of punctuation to meaning.
  2. Grammar and Usage: These test your understanding of subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and relationships between modifiers and the word modified. They also test your knowledge of verb formation and formation of comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs.
  3. Sentence Structure: These are concerned with relationships between and among clauses, placement of modifiers, and shifts in construction.

With so much ground to cover, where do you begin? Below are ten areas that you can focus on to be prepared for the English section of the ACT.

1. The concise choice is the “best” choice: There are often questions in which multiple options seem correct. If there are no new grammar errors introduced, the shortest answer choice is often the correct choice. Although an answer might not be grammatically incorrect, it might be redundant or wordy. For example, if something is said to be “happy and joyful”, it’s redundant and not the best choice. The writing should be simple and to the point.

2. Semicolons: A semicolon can be used to join two independent clauses when the second clause restates the first or when the two clauses are of equal emphasis.

I don’t know if I studied enough; I should review more.

They can also be used to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, etc.) or a transition (in fact, for example, etc.).

I know I am ready for this test; in fact, I could take it right now!

3. Commas: There are many uses for commas, but let’s just look at the main ones. First, they’re used to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.

We ate pasta, bread, and cheese.

Commas are used to separate two adjectives when the adjectives are interchangeable.

The small, black car is affordable.

Use a comma when starting a sentence with a dependent clause (a clause that cannot stand on its own).

When I arrived, the dinner was ready.

Use commas to set off nonessential parts of the sentence.

The dog, wanting to find his bone, went outside.

4. Subject and object pronouns: When a noun is used in relation to a verb, it can be either a subject or an object. Subjects “do” verbs and objects have verbs “done” to them. For example, “The car hit me.” Who is doing the hitting? The car. So the car is the subject. Who is receiving the hit? Me. So “me” is the object.

When we replace the object or the subject with a pronoun, it’s important to know if it’s a subject or object—this will determine what type of pronoun we use. The below chart tells you which to choose depending on what type of noun is being “replaced” by a pronoun:

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
I

you

he

she

it

we

they

me

you

him

her

it

us

them

One problem is that some of us have been incorrectly told, for example, that “John and I” is correct; we may have been told that we shouldn’t say “John and me.” Of course, this is not true! It depends on the relationship of the nouns to the verb. For example, let’s look at this:

Ella gave the cookies to John and me.

Ella did not give them to “John and I”. After all, we would never say, “Ella gave the cookies to I.” Right? That’s because the pronoun is receiving the action of being given cookies. On the other hand, let’s look at this example:

John and I gave her the cookies.

In this situation, “John and I” are the subjects so it’s “I” instead of “me”. The object is now Ella, so we use the object pronoun “her”. Ella is receiving the action–she is now the object of the verb.

This also applies to the use of “who” and “whom”. When we have a question about the subject, we use “who”:

Who hit me?

amusement-park-1840626_1920The “who” is doing the verb, hitting. Now, let’s say I did the hitting but I don’t know who I hit:

Whom did I hit?

Remember that the “M pronouns”—including “whom”—are objects that receive the action: Me, hiM, theM, whoM. Remember that the pronouns with “M” are objects, and you’ll ace it!

5. Verb tense: There are six basic verb tenses, two for each time period:

Simple Present: They sing.

Present Perfect: They have sung.

Simple Past: They sang.

Past Perfect: They had sung.

Future: They will sing.

Future Perfect: They will have sung.

The choice with the consistent tense use is the correct choice. If we’re talking about the past, stay in the past:

I told him that I had been there before.

If we’re talking about the future, stay in the future:

I will notify them that they will be in that room.

6. Number agreement: The English section often includes long sentences in which the main subject and the verb are separated by lots of words or clauses. If you identify the subject of each sentence and make sure the verb matches it, you will do well.

Nouns and verbs are both parts of speech with number. We write them differently if they refer to just one thing or multiple things. For example, “One cat climbs fast” but “Two cats climb fast.”

cat-1140349_1920

Number agreement simply means that the noun and the verb have the same number (singular or plural). Be on the lookout for modifiers and words in between the subject and the verb that might throw you off:

The writing in those poems is wonderful.

Notice that it’s “is” because the subject is “writing” not “poems”.

7. Logical flow and strategy: The English section will ask you to determine the order and focus of sentences or paragraphs. You will also be asked about adding, revising, or deleting sentences as well as how a sentence aligns with the purpose and focus of a paragraph or the passage as a whole.

8. Commonly confused words:

  • There, their, they’re
  • Through, thorough, threw
  • Have vs. of (could’ve = could have)
  • Accept vs except
  • Affect vs effect
  • Eminent vs imminent
  • Hole vs whole
  • Then, than
  • Already, all ready
  • Beside, besides
  • Further, farther
  • Who, whom, whose, who’s

9. Fragments: A complete sentence needs a subject and a verb in a complete main clause. This is NOT a complete sentence:

Good movie.

This is a complete sentence:

That was a good movie.

If it lacks a verb, it’s a fragment.

10. Parallel structure: In parallel construction, the phrases or items must be in the same form. This can be tested with a few parts of speech: nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.

For example, we should have “I like eating, sleeping, and reading.” It would be incorrect to write, “I like eating, to sleep, and reading.” The “to sleep” is not parallel to the verb format of the other two items.

 

Those ten areas are among the “favorites” for the ACT English section—you’re likely to see them on the test. Now, here are some final tips to leave you with:

  • Everything not underlined is taken as fact. Everything underlined is under question.
  • Don’t worry about looking for errors in the passage; focus on the parts being questioned.
  • Read the questions, and then look over surrounding sentences for context.
  • Ask yourself:
    • Does this sentence contribute to the topic? Is it new information or is it merely rephrasing the same information?
    • Is the style and tone consistent with the rest of the passage?
    • Do the paragraphs transition well and are they consistent with the others?

Stay tuned for tips on the Reading section of the test!

Writing in nature

On a clear day last month, I took a group of young writers outside. With paper and pen in hand, we spread out to write—one went into a small wooded area, a few sat in the grass, another climbed up a large oak, and a couple of them sat at tables under trees. They were tasked to simply describe something they saw. Later, we reconvened to share descriptions of ants, trees, Spanish moss, and cold air. These descriptions later evolved into wonderful creative writings.

The activity proved to be fruitful, and I attribute this to the depth and beauty the natural world offers us. When we, our students, or our children are facing writer’s block, boredom with the usual prompts, or simallgau-63427_1280-1ply a tiredness of being at the desk, outside is a good place to be.

Connecting our lives to the natural world around us is not a new concept. It is for good reason that we plant trees in street medians, spend Saturday afternoons at parks, stare out at the vastness of the ocean, and can’t help but be overwhelmed when we look up at a clear starry night.

It’s an ancient connection that gets to our core of being. I see this connection in the readings I teach—creation stories, the Psalms, Indian animal fables, Jesus’ parables, and poetry from all over the world.

Thomas Merton, a writer and monk who lived in a hermitage in the woods of Kentucky, believed that creation must be experienced and observed. He began many of his journal entries by writing what he was observing in the forest around him. He wrote descriptions
like this one:

Mists of damp heat rise up out of the fields around the sleeping abbey.  The whole valley is flooded with moonlight and I count the southern hills, and almost number the trees of the forest to the north.  Now the huge chorus of living beings rise up out of the world beneath my feet: life singing in the watercourses, throbbing in the creeks and the fields and the trees, choirs of millions of jumping and flying and creeping things.  And far above me the cool sky opens upon the frozen distance of the stars.

He did this as if he had to—as if these things had such an influence on his contemplative life and writing that he had to acknowledge them first.

Nature is a good place for a writer—young or experienced—to begin.  To get you started on your outdoor writing adventure, here are some ideas:

  1. Keep a nature journal.
  2. Sit outside away from people and do nothing. Write anything that comes to mind.
  3. Describe the smallest thing you can see outside. Do it with great detail.pen-1342655_1920
  4. While on a hike, imagine a story that might take place in that setting.
  5. Personify an aspect of nature that you see.
  6. Spend 15 minutes outside observing the world around you. Write about what you notice most.
  7. Go out on a very cold or very hot day. You might be uncomfortable. Try to find the good in what you feel and experience.
  8. When you are outside, which of your senses are you most thankful to have?
  9. If you don’t like to be outside, write while you are outside and tell what you don’t like about it.
  10. Write about the element of nature that speaks to you most.
  11. Write a story or poem about a leaf falling.
  12. Describe what a bird might see.
  13. Read outside. Remember, the key to being good writer is to read.
  14. While inside, read about nature and look at pictures of nature. Let these images and readings inspire your writing. For example, browse through the bird images of Alexander Wilson, American Ornithologist. Tell what you see. Describe how the birds might feel if you touched them. Think of any movement the pictures might suggest.

The options are plentiful and nature is ready for you to experience it—so get outside and write!

 

 

 

WHY WRITING IS IMPORTANT

Writing well is an important skill when your English essay is due. It’s also important if you wish to pursue a career in journalism, editing, or content writing. However, writing well has many benefits, and a list from Marquette University tells us what makes writing so important.

  • Writing is the primary basis upon which your work, your learning, and your intellect will be judged—in college, in the workplace, and in the community.
  • Writing expresses who you are as a person.
  • Writing is portable and permanent. It makes your thinking visible.
  • Writing helps you move easily among facts, inferences, and opinions without getting confused—and without confusing your reader.
  • Writing promotes your ability to pose worthwhile questions.
  • Writing fosters your ability to explain a complex position to readers, and to yourself.
  • Writing helps others give you feedback.
  • Writing helps you refine your ideas when you give others feedback.
  • Writing requires that you anticipate your readers’ needs. Your ability to do so demonstrates your intellectual flexibility and maturity.
  • Writing ideas down preserves them so that you can reflect upon them later.
  • Writing out your ideas permits you to evaluate the adequacy of your argument.
  • Writing stimulates you to extend a line of thought beyond your first impressions or gut responses.
  • Writing helps you understand how truth is established in a given discipline.
  • Writing equips you with the communication and thinking skills you need to participate effectively in democracy.
  • Writing is an essential job skill.

 

[This list was composed and posted by Marquette University]

 

 

 

How an environmental education program is changing a Peruvian community

The community of Huari, Peru is largely made up of farmers, whose lives revolve around the natural environment. The community also relies on the environment for tourism, making their livelihoods doubly dependent on forces both within and beyond their control.

In an effort to care for and protect the environment it so heavily relies on, the municipality of Huari recently created a new position, Director of Environmental Initiatives. It was filled by former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Carlos García.

“The goal of my job,” Carlos says, “is to help a community that is heavily dependent on its environment but don’t understand what or why things are happening around them. One of the projects I have launched in my community is a free education program by way of environmental videos and lectures, where I coordinate the screening of science documentaries.”picture1

Each week there is a guest lecturer speaking speaking in conjunction with the videos, explaining how the subject is important to Huari and to Peru. The line-up of speakers includes scientists from the Smithsonian Museum, NASA, Hudson Riverkeeper, RUNA Foundation, NRDC, Conservation International, National Cave and Karst Research Institute, and past TEDTalk speakers.

“The programs are exciting for Huarinos. For some, it’s a family affair and for others it’s a place to meet up with friends,” says Garcia. “The audience is varied and we have kids from three-years-old to adults in their 70s. One of my main goals in creating this program was to peak people’s interests in the environment and have people start asking questions.”

A major component of the initiative is to help set an example of female leadership in science. “I specifically wanted to reach out to women leaders in science to speak at our series,” Carlos says. He and the community are reaching out to women and girls who have been limited in their science education due to the emphasis of traditional gender roles.

“I wanted to let the women and girls of Huari know that their end goal could be more than being wife or being in traditional ‘women jobs’. They could study sciences and math as well,” Carlos explains. “One of the most rewarding moments in my career and life was last week when a university student came up to me after the video lecture and told me that she realized she could understand ‘tough’ scientific concepts that were explained in the videos and by the lecturers, and it made her decide to change her studies from tourism to environmental engineering. Something that she was always told was a ‘man’s job’ and that she would never understand.”

He added: “By simply showing some videos and hearng amazing professionals talk, we’ve now changed this girl’s future, hopefully for the better. If during my time on this earth I can change just one person’s life for the better, I know I will have left this world a better place than when I came into it. That’s my ultimate goal.”

picCarlos, in fact, has a led a life dedicated to leaving the world a better place. Before serving in the Peace Corps, he worked in New York City for a personal injury law firm, working exclusively with 9/11 victims. He was the litigation science adviser, combining his desire to help others with his love for science.

“The very first time I worked in a science capacity was at the age of 13 when I was awarded an internship at the American Museum of Natural History, Aeronautic and Space division,” he recalls.

Soon after that, in high school, Carlos did humanitarian work in Costa Rica helping locals with solid waste management issues. It was after high school, though, that he realized a deep passion for humanitarian work.

“I would say the biggest life-changing experience I had when I was younger was in between high school and college, when I decided to go to Africa to work,” he said. “I had already traveled all around Europe and I wanted to go somewhere I had never been and help people who really needed it. So, by myself, I lived and worked with locals in Uganda for two months at orphanages and schools in slums, and I did the same in Kenya for three months. I repeatedly got sick and got a bad case of malaria, but it was worth it. Seeing that I could actually make a change had a huge impact on me and changed the course of my studies and future work.”

During his college career, Carlos worked in Barcelona, Spain at a renewable energy consultation firm and the next summer he worked at an environmental NGO in Colorado. The next summer and school year he worked at a law firm in Baltimore. After college he moved to New York to work for the Hudson Riverkeeper.

In Huari, Carlos can now focus his passion on helping people and the environment, incorporating his science background. “When I got to Huari, I knew I wanted to promote environmental education in some way, and after thinking about it, I came to the realization that ‘Why couldn’t the people of Huari have the same level of educational exposure as I had?’”

“The population is mainly made up of farmers,” he says. “Most are under-educated but are motivated to learn, as well as be extremely sincere and welcoming.” Their lives are grounded in traditional beliefs that Carlos hopes to bridge with a more expansive knowledge of their environment.

“Traditional beliefs are passed on generation through generation. Too often, they don’t ask questions or research the topic themselves, they take what they are told as fact. One of the most concerning beliefs that I’ve encountered, which helped spur the program, was that ‘paper comes from plastic bottles’ and that we need to use as much plastic as possible to help create more paper. obviously, some of these beliefs can be damaging to the environment, as well as the population in general.”

“Climate change is one of the most evident things happening around the people of Huari,” Carlos says. “They don’t really understand it. They don’t understand why seasons are changing out of pattern, why animals that used to live near Huari aren’t here anymore, and why their crops are not growing as efficiently as they used to. This week Andrea Becerra of the National Resource Defense Council gave a great introductory lecture on the greenhouse effect and the community was astonished. They had no idea that driving cars attributed to climate change. It’s these kinds of concepts that, when the community learns about them, give them the ability to make informed decisions about how they want their and their community’s future to turn out.”

But the videos and lectures are just the tip of the iceberg, Carlos says.

His current workload consists of a native tree reforestation program, the international lecture and video series, an international exchange program for the schools in the area with the aim of creating environmental initiatives, and creating and redoing all of the municipality’s websites.

The reforestation program, Monti-Muru, is the municipality’s first reforestation program. It focuses on planting native tree species and educating the public on the pros of native species versus the cons of non-native species. The community plans to plant 15,000 trees by March of next year.

“I am a huge on the concept of sustainable development so in creating this program I involved as many local ‘players’ as possible,” Carlos says. “SERNANP, the Government of Peru’s national service of natural areas, the local university, and the municipality are all a part of the program. What I would love is to return a few years after I leave and find that the program is still running and is even more effective than when I left it. Ultimately, I want this to be their program, not mine.”

 

 

FILM ADAPTATIONS OF LITERATURE–Part Two

As I said in Part One of this list, nothing can replace reading a great book. However, watching a good film adaptation might be the next best thing.

We might find that our “books-to-read” list is getting long or our child’s patience with reading is getting short. Reading is essential to a solid education and to becoming a strong writer, but we can give our young readers (and ourselves) a “break” without losing all the benefits of reading a book.

Basic literary elements such as theme, plot, and character can be addressed by watching a film adaptation of a book. Furthermore, writing projects such as a movie review, summary, or in-depth analysis can easily come out of a movie. These projects will promote a deeper interaction with the film and allow for interesting writing pieces.

With that in mind, here is part two of a list of movies adapted from young adult and children’s books. Make some popcorn, get comfortable on the couch, and enjoy the show.

  1. The Jungle Book (2016): Robbie Collin of The Telegraph deemed this film “a sincere and full-hearted adaptation that returns to Kipling for fresh inspiration.” Based on a collection of stories by English author Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy. He is guided by his animal guardians as he sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening tiger, Shere Khan. Rated PG

the_jungle_book_poster_key_art

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, the film tells the story of a young boy who wins a tour through the most magnificent chocolate factory in the world, led by the world’s most unusual candy maker. While some prefer the original with Gene Wilder as Wonka, Tim Burton’s charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory-2-the-kids-of-tim-burton-s-charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory-have-all-grown-up-jpeg-2473482005 remake is said to be slightly more faithful to Dahl’s original story. Why not watch them both? Other popular films based on Roald Dahl’s books are James and the Giant Peach (1996, Rated PG) and BFG (2016, Rated PG). Rated PG

 

  1. Where the Wild Things Are (2009): Maurice Sendak’s book is a classic story about wherechildhood and the places we go to figure out the world in which we live. When rambunctious and sensitive young Max feels misunderstood, he escapes to an island where he meets mysterious creatures, called the Wild Things. He soon finds that their emotions are as wild as their actions. The Wild Things desire a leader to guide them, just as Max longs for a kingdom to rule. As their leader, Max promises to create a place where everyone will be happy, but he soon discovers that ruling his kingdom is far from easy. Rated PG

 

  1. How to Train your Dragon (2010): Loosely based on the children’s book series by dragonCressida Cowell, this film is set in a mythical Viking world where a young Viking teenager named Hiccup aims to follow his tribe’s tradition of becoming a dragon slayer. After finally capturing his first dragon, he finds that he no longer wants to kill it and instead befriends it. Rated PG

 

 

  1. The Lorax (2012): In an adaptation of the book of the same title, the imaginative world of Dr. Seuss comes to film. Twelve-year-old Ted will do anything to find a real live Truffula Tree in order to impress the girl of his dreams. As he embarks on his journey, he discovers the incredible story of the Lorax, a grumpy but charming creature who speaks for the trees. Rated PG

the_lorax

If you haven’t seen the first half of the list, you can see it here: Film Adaptations of Literature. You can add your own film suggestions in the comments below.

I hope you and your child will find these films both enjoyable and great tools for education.

Tips for traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language

School breaks are a wonderful time to take your children abroad where they can learn about different countries, languages, foods, and sites. And homeschooling allows for an even greater flexibility to travel. My wife, son, and I had the opportunity to live in South America for two years. This was an experience that I feel was fundamental to my child’srunning view of the world.

However, not knowing the language of a country that you’re visiting is not unusual. Many people love to be in new countries and experience new cultures, and traveling is an invaluable addition to one’s education—but we can’t simply pick up a language in a few weeks or even months. We shouldn’t let these language barriers prevent us from exploring the world around us, though.

So, what should you do when you don’t speak the language of the land? Below are a few tips I came up with while living abroad.

Learn the basics. At least learn how to say hello, please, thank you, excuse me, and goodbye. In Ecuador, for example, you don’t just walk into a store, look around, and leave. You should say “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes” (depending on the time of day) when you enter a store. If not, you’re rude. Furthermore, when you leave a small store, it’s important to say, “Gracias,” even if you didn’t buy anything.

As a safety precaution, learn how to say a few distress phrases. Even if you don’t end up needing them, you’ll feel more at ease having words like “help,” “emergency” and “police” in your vocabulary.

I also recommend you learn to ask for bathrooms, food, and drink. These can be important.

Use hand gestures and sounds. Nodding, pointing, and even making movements that represent what you’re saying can be very successful. Of course, gesturing for a bathroom might not be a good idea. So, like I said in number one, learn how to say it.

market

Bring a notepad. Drawing pictures is a great way to get your point across without having to play Guess-what-I’m-saying-based-on-my-gestures. Also, in Spanish-speaking countries, you could sometimes get away with writing the word in English, first. If you need a hospital, for example, you could communicate by writing the word. When a local sees the word in writing, they’ll know what you need because it’s the same in Spanish. If you say it in English, though, they might not understand you since the pronunciation is different.

Take notes. In that notepad, write down some important words and phrases that you think you might need but haven’t been able to learn. If it’s a short list and you know what’s in it, you’ll be able to find it fast. As a plus, you might learn those important words and phrases just from writing, saying, and repeating them.

Also, in the notepad, you could put the street address where you’re staying. If you get lost or don’t have a ride, you could show a taxi driver the address, with the nearest cross street–even if you don’t know how to pronounce it.

Be patient, stand back and observe. Many questions can be answered without speaking. Before asking, you might see a sign that indicates public bathrooms or a street name that looks familiar.

Use your smartphone. I recommend you use it as you would a pocket dictionary. You can also use a smartphone to translate text in photos, like street signs or menus.

Using a smartphone in some areas might prove to be a bit dangerous, depending on where you’re traveling. In that case, you might consider the old-fashioned method: a paper dictionary.

boatsThen, there’s the ever-frustrating suggestion: Take classes, meet a local, start a conversation. People traveling and living abroad have heard this over and over again. These are great ways to learn the language. However, for those who have tried this approach, you know it’s easier said than done. You don’t just learn it by being in a new country. Learning a new language is hard work and it’s frustrating. But be strong, have patience, learn the essentials, and enjoy the country you’re in.

If you decide you want to learn a new language, you will be taking on a worthy task. You can read more about the benefits of learning a foreign language in an earlier  post: Improve your English Grammar by Learning a Foreign Language.

Improve your English grammar by learning a foreign language

A couple of weeks ago, a high school History teacher told me, “I learned most of my
English grammar by studying Latin.” I can relate to and agree with this through my study of Spanish.latin

I started studying Spanish two decades ago. The first word I learned was from the mother of a friend from Mexico. She spoke no English. One afternoon I went to his house and he wasn’t home. His mother told me something in Spanish and it was clear from the look on my face that I had no idea what she had said. She then continued to repeat “Biblioteca, biblioteca” as she pointed up the hill toward the library. When I arrived at the library, I found my friend and I realized I had learned my first Spanish word.

From that day, I decided to make it a point to learn Spanish. I took Spanish through high school and college. I studied Spanish in Guatemala for three months, working one-on-one with a Guatemalan teacher, five days a week, eight hours a day.

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After Guatemala, I volunteered at a maternity home where many of the clients were Spanish speakers. I tutored students in Spanish at a college. Over morning coffee, I spoke Spanish with a friend of Puerto Rican descent. Then, throughout my English graduate studies, I sat-in on as many Spanish college courses as I could.

I never planned to be a Spanish teacher or permanently live in a Spanish-speaking country. I wanted to learn a new language because I was aware of the well-known benefits of doing so: a greater ability to complete analytical tasks, an worldbooksresizeintroduction to a new culture, a competitive edge in the job market, and so on.

When I completed my MA in English, my family and I moved to Ecuador. There I took Spanish classes, but most of my time was dedicated to teaching English. As a new teacher in a classroom, I found that teaching the English language was not much different than learning the Spanish language. I discovered that all my years of studying Spanish helped me to better understand the English language.

Anne Merritt points out in “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism” that learning a foreign language draws our focus to the mechanics of language: grammar, conjugations, idioms, and sentence structure. Merritt says, “This makes you more aware of language, and the ways it can be structured and manipulated. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer.”

If we want a better hold of English and we want to improve our reading and writing skills, we should remember the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”

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