Live Virtual Group Session: 2pm EST April 25th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we had 52 participants joining from across the United States and many from overseas, including Portugal, Bahrain, Bristol, India, Canada, France, Italy, and Morocco.

Our text was an excerpt from “The House of Broken Angels,” by Luis Alberto Urrea, posted below. We read the excerpt once and discussed how language helps us assimilate and the emotional and intellectual labor involved with assimilation, how culture is an integral part of language, and the many ways that language recreates us.

Our prompt was: “Write about a time language re-created your reality.” The responses were in the shadow of the text, with many sharing their experiences of learning a new language and how difficult that could be, the places one recreates language, and even dreaming in the foreign language one is learning (Français was the predominant second language of the day). The words used were colorful and poignant and reminded us of how powerful language can be.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Monday, April 27th at 6pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Excerpt from The House of the Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

He was temporarily out of words. He, who had taught himself English by memorizing the dictionary. Competing with his estranged father to see who learned newer, stranger, more American words. His father, once a monument of a man, later small and gray and watery-eyed, charming and brutal as ever, but whittled down. Sleeping in Big Angel’s back bedroom for a season—Big Angel ascending to patriarch. Nobody could imagine such things. No Mexicano or gringo.

No way of knowing how language re-created a family. His own children didn’t want to learn Spanish, when he had given everything to learn English. The two men at the kitchen table with cigarettes and coffee and used dictionaries. They captured new words and pinned them like butterflies of every hue. “Aardvark,” “bramble,” “challenge,” “defiance.” One called out a word: “Incompatible.” The other had to define it in less than three minutes. Five points per word. Scores tallied on three-by-five-inch index cards. At the end of each month, a carton of Pall Malls was at stake. If the caller’s accent was too hard to understand, he lost three points. And so, with verbs and nouns, they built their bridge to California.

English exams, followed by paperbacks bought at the liquor store. His favorite gringo phrase at work, which he seldom used at home, was “By golly.” He learned that a mighty lover, in James Bond books, was known as a “swordsman.” He learned from a John Whitlatch action novel that a man with a prostitute for a wife was an “easy rider.” Americans in the ’60s said “easy ice” to bartenders when ordering a cocktail, thus sounding very current and ensuring a bit more liquor in the glass. Big Angel maintained a mental data bank of American secret spells and incantations. Hard-on. Johnny Law. What can I do you for?

Why was he thinking about work? About the past? It was over. It was all over. He was never going to work again. “This second,” his father liked to tell him, “just became the past. As soon as you noticed it, it was already gone. Too bad for you, Son. It’s lost forever.”

(Muy filosófico.)

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (March 6, 2018)

29 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 2pm EST April 25th 2020

  1. Swati Joshi

    A Real Dream:

    They say dreams are a way to build your reality, and I have certainly experienced that. After three consecutive months of rigorous training in French in the conscious real world, I found the reality of my dreams being transformed linguistically. Yes, I had started dreaming in French. My conscious real world was changing the reality of my dream, or rather my dream was becoming more real to me, more conscious to me. And I discovered this with the help of one of my nocturnal experiments. I decided to audio record my sleep one night. And when I played it the next morning, the first thing I heard was, “Je ne veux pas manger la sandwich, maman.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

      I love your lovely trial to record your dream! You are literally jumping into the different layor of reality, with the new language as a clue. How pure and joyful! It is like a children’s attempt to catch Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. And your last sentence made me imagine a child speaking half asleep. (I cannot speak or read French!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • examiner2019

        Thank you Kana. I really appreciate your comment. It was indeed like Holding an unplanned meeting with Santa.


    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      I like the idea of the power of the dream ,as it takes a leap of faith and belief to learn a new language. I also love the payfulness of the act of recording your dreams. What I want to know is where you suprised by your nocturnal musings?

      Liked by 1 person

      • examiner2019

        Thank you Dr Okuleye for your wonderful comment. To be honest, I was not surprised because my language even in my conscious reality had been changing. Whenever I would get angry, I would switch to French, quite unconsciously.


  2. I’m an old but not too old to learn to speak Spanish. This learning opens my eyes to what I do not see – opens my mind to places and people who are strangers with lives I do not know – lives I would like to know. As I learn, I becomes small and smaller. My life is but one in a billion. I am a star in a universe of planets and galaxies, which have been invisible to me,

    The learning is not easy, I expect the new language to conform to my native tongue, but it doesn’t and it shouldn’t. I am clumsy and lost among strangers who speak the new language; a child watching others walk through their world as adults. I am humbled in all the right ways,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia D.

    Claude laughed as we traipsed through the French Alps. He insisted that we practice “gymnastiques de la bouche.” Rolling r’s was almost impossible for my English-dominated mouth. CROIX rouge – he emphasized the ROIX with a growl in his throat.Finally, I did it! He kissed my lips. As we hiked Claude pointed and said “montagne”; then he taught me colours: bleu for the sky, jaune for the petals of meadow flowers and rouge for coquelicots. Now that’s my favorite memory of being in love at 19 years old.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

      I love the beginning, “Claude laughed…” It’s like a beginning of novels. I don’t know who he is at all, but this beginning opens up a deep dimention with a lot of possibilities, perhaps coupled with the extensive view of Alps. And I received a sense of intimacy and comfort in this beginning, which was gradually onfirmed through your story telling.


    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      I felt the energy of life and language in the alps.What a great testimony to love and learning. I felt like I was watching an intimate moment in a movie. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.


  4. Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

    I cannot speak English well.
    My tongue. My life.
    English is not something I can produce,
    but something I receive.

    I love writing in English.
    It anchors me into this time and space,
    giving me opportunities to deepen my ideas and my discoveries.
    It is my freedom and my place for my creativity.
    It is my proof of my own path.

    Sometimes it hurts me.
    It leaves me in the room of solitude.
    I become a tiny, powerless creature in this world.

    But still,
    I am living happily with my words and my sentences in English.
    It is my charm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the part “English is not something I can produce,
      but something I receive.” Really reflects how we feel about a language that isn’t our first language . I loved how even if it hurts still you live happily with it .
      Thank you for sharing .

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      Wow. So love the ebb and flow and the weaving of life and language here. You expressed a humility and respect for a language which you associate with your freedom and creativity. I like the idea that you do not see yourself as a producer but a receiver, which opens up so many possibilities for you. I agree with Rajae as I found your pain and joy a bittersweet observation.


      • Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

        Thank you very much, Rajae and Dr Yewande. Receiving your comments, I felt as if the ice deep in my heart was broken 🙂 When I feel discouraged, I’d love to remember your words!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. michele348

    My grandfather migrated to this country from his native Italy with a prayer and a heartful of hope but unable to speak a word of English. His children, all born and raised here, did their best to communicate with him and most times it seemed to work. There were copious amounts of hand waving and raised voices which seemed to help with the understanding problem.
    I recall being in my grandfather’s presence as a young child. I so much would have liked to have had him put me on his lap and read me a story book or tell me stories of his native Italy. But that didn’t happen. And so for a period of time he remained only an outline of the grandfather I longed to have.
    One day I decided to take things into my own hands. I knew he liked listening to music, so I decided to put on a musical show just for him. I memorized the words to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”, grabbed my toy guitar and decided to give it my best shot.
    There I was shaking and strumming my guitar, as I was belting out the lyrics to the song. While I was singing, I looked over at my grandfather and he had a big smile and was tapping his feet to the beat of the song.
    Without a single word being spoken, I finally felt the love my grandfather had for me. Sometimes music surpasses the spoken word.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    The space between seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven languages – Rastafari

    Yéwándé, drips from the tongue. Glowing honey, the queen bee flutters back to the hearth, to nourish, guide and protect.
    My mother tongue praises compassion, courage and wisdom. I am, Yéwándé.
    The space between the teeth and tongue, is well.

    The space between the teeth and tongue, is very well, because the mother tongue, will always find its way back to our hearts. The space between the teeth and tongue, is perfect, because it carries sacred memories of floral sunshine, flaming forests, radiant oceans and succulent stars.

    Not so, for my brother, Ras Green. The space, between the teeth and tongue, was not well. Sunshine turned to bitter ice, as empty words became weighty words. Clamorous sentences and clammy memories congealed his larynx. Langue morte. Circling the square, a new breath, birthed Rastafari. The body, invigorated by the belly roar – Jah Rastafari. The space, between the teeth and tongue, is now well.

    Now that, Haile Selassie is venerated as King.
    Now that, oppress is articulated as downpress.
    Now that, you, celebrate your melanin.
    Now that, your, pineal gland, is super activated.
    Now that, you, are emancipated from mental slavery.
    Now that, you overstand, the shadow of language.
    Now that, you replaced I, we, and them, with I and I.
    Now that you inhale and exhale amber honey and chant Jah Rastafari, with no apology.
    The space between the teeth and tongue, will always be the perfect language, for you.

    Yéwándé salutes you, Ras Green.
    My son, with whom, I am well pleased.
    Give thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. “language recreating reality” happens many times, every day as I witness my children grapple with their multiple languages, mix them up like playdoh and amuse me with the original, technicolour results! I love to witness how their maturity expands with every new word mastered; watching the news each evening, they try to mouth complex words ‘confinement’, ‘virology’, ‘pandemic’ and look to me for explanations. I’ve now become an expert at explaining current newspeak with four to five simple words–I’m the great, distillation machine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Yewande Okuleye

      This sounds like fun to observe. this generation are going to have a better understanding about science and medicine, then previous generations.Let’s hope the experience will inspire a generation of scientists in public office.


  8. Sakinah

    I did not know
    how privileged I would be as
    a white English speaker

    After colonization
    minds were still colonized
    The British Raj had not died…

    Should, could, would I play this card?

    I was not different in the reality of myself
    Nothing more

    Hard to adjust to that re-created reality

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Anne C.

    Thank you Sakinah for this view into being a stranger in a strange land though privileged by virtue of the language you speak. I love the idea of “minds were still colonized”. I think it is an identity of being colonized that must take along time to unlearn. And for the narrator reality and re-created reality are much the same experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anne C.

    Listening through smiles.
    Speaking through eyes.
    We were family brought together,
    cultures that overlapped.
    By way of shared humanity
    warmth, acceptance,
    laughter, happiness.
    There was really nothing missing.
    Connection was beyond language.

    Liked by 1 person

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