Missed my Thursday post…

Yep, I sure did.

In my defense, however, I did just start a new job last Monday; so, my mind was elsewhere.

That said, I was going to talk about iTranslate, which is my primary app for translation (http://itranslateapp.com/).

I’ve been using iTranslate since I first got my iPhone back in 2012, and I have found it to be one of the most useful tools in my language learning arsenal. There’s a free version and a paid version. In most instances, the free version is totally sufficient.  The paid version gets you voice pronunciation, which is useful, as well as longer text strings. The free version gets words and phrases. While I use it primarily for Spanish, it does a whole ton of languages. I’ve used it for both French and Portuguese.

Unfortunately, you do find a word that it does not know every so often. In which case, I will shift to the Oxford Spanish-English dictionary on my Kindle (I review that another time). Or, I’ll google the translation. I would say, though, that iTranslate gets about 90% of the words/phrases.

iTranslate is available on every platform about which I know, including as a Windows 10 app.  I have used it on my iPhone, my Kindle, and on my laptop (Win-10). Seriously, this is an app you should have.




What I have used…so far…part 1

Although I have been learning Spanish off and on for most of my life, I decided to get serious about it at the first of 2016. As I stated before, my goal is to carry on a 30-minute, general interest conversation, by the end of the December 2016 in nothing but Spanish.

I am using a lot of tools, resources, and approaches to get where I want to go.

From a tools perspective, I am making use of a variety. Duolingo is the foundation and  provides me  with a reliable source of learning vocabulary. While some of the vocabulary likely will not be part of my end-of-the-year conversation, I’d say a good 80% of it will be. I relish learning new words; but, just as importantly, I review previous lessons on a regular basis. Duolingo makes this easy by providing end of lesson review exercises. So, you click on that option, and you can review an entire section in one exercise. Occasionally, I will redo all of the exercises in a section. This helps to reinforce the lessons and vocabulary, which can slip away into the ether without such review.

Immersion is another method I am using to reinforce the language.  The purpose with this method is to acquaint my ear with the cadence and sound of spoken Spanish. So, I watch a couple of Spanish language broadcast channels. Often, they are on in the background, and I really am not paying a lot of attention. Just hearing the words and the music of the language. Oh, and I do listen to Spanish music, too. The styles and genres of Spanish music are numerous. So, it is pretty easy to find something you can tolerate, if not outright like. I like a lot of it. Last night, I watched the first episode of a Spanish language series on HBO. I didn’t catch it all; however, between what I do know, and the few words I did look up, I was able to follow the story and plot.  I plan to repeat it until I do get it all. Luckily, it comes with Spanish subtitles, which is a help right now.

I also translate stories from local Latino periodicals – available for free at most of the local taquerias. Since, as a native of the Southwest,  I consider Mexican food to be my native cuisine (along with chicken fried steak), I am able to pick several different papers up on a regular basis .  Most newspapers are written at an eighth grade level; so, it’s perfect for exposure to a level of communication the general population is expected to know. It’s interesting to see words actually used to communicate complex ideas. I find that I am beginning to recognize conjugated verbs when I read them. That is gratifying.

That’s it for this post, but I have a LOT more to share. On Thursday, I am going to discuss a couple of translation tools I use. Next Sunday, I’ll discuss more with regard to my general approach thus far.

¡Hasta pronto!


Language Learning Tool #1

Let’s get started with a discussion of some of the various language learning tools available for use. Most of the ones I go review will be of the free variety, at least to start. Budget is always a concern for most folks. Free does not always mean bad either. Some of the free resources compete rather well with their paid counterparts. Some free resources are only free for a few levels of tutelage, then charge you a fee to continue with the program. By then, you’ll know if that resource works for you. This is important because not all approaches work for everyone. You have to find what works for you. If you are an older learner, you may find that the gamification approach doesn’t work well for you, while reading does. Of course, that can be true of younger learners, too. My point? We all learn differently, and what I like may not be what you like. Or, it may be dead on.

So, let’s get started on my first tool review of:


A lot of language learning bloggers turn their noses up at Duolingo, the number one most popular language learning app on the market. They see it as childish, simplistic, and without any real lasting effect toward creating fluency in the chosen language.  There’s truth to those criticisms, but they ring hollow in light of the fact that Duolingo is one of the best places to start that is available on the market.

And, that is just the point – it’s a place to start. One of the key problems with learning to do anything is getting started. This is especially true of adults who love to say, “I’m too busy.” Duolingo takes those excuses away.

  1. Duolingo is free.
  2. Duolingo is available on all major platforms, so you can take it with you anywhere.
  3. One lesson takes less than five minutes.
  4. You can configure it so that you succeed.
  5. Gamification makes it fun and provides you with immediate feedback.

Speaking specifically to #4, you can configure it so that you only have to do one lesson per day in order to get credit toward a streak.  Or, you can configure so that you challenge yourself and are required to complete five lessons per day to earn your continued streak.  I split the middle and require myself to complete three lessons to keep my streak going.

The interface is quite simple and cartoonish, hence the childish criticism. But, one of the key tools used by competitive memory pros is absurdity.  They encourage you to associate what is to be remembered with something that is sort of crazy.  So, it’s not really that weird an idea to make you associate a language word with an odd image. The application uses spaced repetition to build up your cognizance of words and phrases. That is…you learn something…you learn something else…you go back to the first thing…you learn something else…you go back to the first two things…et cetera. This is a proven learning technique.

There are forums for discussion of stickier points of grammar and questions, as well as the ability to translate online articles, which can then be critiqued by other students. You can immerse yourself as deeply into this as you want.

They cannot make it any easier to begin to learn a new language.  And – they have a ton of languages available.  Esperanto, Spanish, Irish, French, German, English, Welsh, Russian, Italian  – just to name a few – and they are working on more (which they let you put into your queue for when they go live). Will it make you fluent? No, but it will give you some basics and let you have a leg up when you begin to explore more rigorous resources. And – this is big – you WILL learn something. You will not come away empty handed. You will be able to say something in your chosen language.

It’s a place to start. That’s always the most difficult place to find.

¡Buena suerte!

(Available in the various platform stores for download, or you can simply go to www.duolingo.com.)


How I Plan to Approach This Blog

I plan to post new posts on Sundays and Thursdays. Real life may get in my way, but this is my goal.

On Sunday, I plan to keep it personal – talking about how I am approaching my own language learning journey. These posts will reflect my personal roadmap, as well as explain why I am doing this or that. The whats. The whys. The wherefores.

On Thursdays, I’ll review tools and resources. These posts will provide you with practical items that may aid you with your own personal language learning journey. There will be a mix of objective and subjective; but, I’ll always try to be honest. And, I will always advise you on where and how to acquire access to the tool or resource.

I welcome comments. Due to spam, comments currently must be approved by me. So, if there is a delay in seeing your comment, that is why. Hopefully, I can ferret out a more efficient method of accomplishing this task. Abusive comments will be ignored.

Just a note about advertising – Right now, I am using the free plan WordPress offers. So, they toss a few ads on each page to help pay for my use of their product. I say this because I have zero control over what ads appear. Their appearance is NOT an endorsement by me. Whenever I upgrade my account and begin to commercialize my blog, I will tell you specifically.

I hope you learn something new today.

Brainscrubber Lives!

Reviving The Blog

It’s been years since I added anything to my very well received blog. After leaving Saudi Arabia, I found myself disinterested in maintaining regular posts; so, it kind of died off. It was not that I had nothing interesting to say, but I just did not have the energy for it.

That’s changed, now. I have several new interests, chief of which is language learning – particularly from the perspective of an older learner. So, I’ve decided to chronicle my language learning experience here in this blog.

A New Direction

One of the most commonly cited reasons for why someone cannot learn a new language is that they are too old. Language learning is for kids and young adults. Kids pick it up faster, and the brains of young adults are quicker and retain more than do those of older adults.

While those assertions have a certain degree of truth to them, I am going to call bullshit. I am fifty-six-years-old at the time of this writing. I’ve reached the point where I have to search for a word that is just out of reach a whole lot more often than I used to have to do. But, I am still a very intelligent person. I still can analyze a situation and come up with a solution. And, I have a lot of life experiences in the old databases with which I can create comparisons to current challenges and map out a path to where I want to go. I have met very few older people who are not able to say the same thing.

So, I have decided there is no better time than now for me to learn a new language. Language learning results in newly created neural connections – the powerful data highways that allow us to function in life. This aids us as we grow older, helping us not only to sharpen our memories, but also to help fight off dementia. But, just as importantly, we gain a greater insight and understanding of another culture, which enriches our lives. I like that part.

Where To Start

I have begun with learning Spanish.

This is a rather natural choice for me. I was born and grew up in the southwest United States, and I have been exposed to the Spanish language for as long as I can remember. I learned Spanglish (street-level English/Spanish blend) by osmosis as a kid. I learned greetings. I learned profanity (most of us used Spanish cuss words more often than we used English cuss words). And, I learned how to ask simple questions. It is a language about which I have always wanted a deeper understanding.

So, I set a simple goal: to be conversationally fluent enough to hold a thirty-minute general interest conversation, solely in Spanish, by the end of 2016. I started way back in January, and I have made a tremendous amount of progress in only three months. I am inviting you to join the rest of my journey. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll decide there is a language out there that beckons you to give it a try.

I will review tools, techniques, and other resources. While I will emphasize how older folks can use these, the information is broadly applicable to anyone at any age. So, come along. Let’s learn something new together.




Vegetarian Variety

Today is the 73rd day of my grand experiment to see if I can go 366 days without eating flesh.  So far, it’s not been much of an issue.  I like vegetables and fruit.  There are very few that I don’t like, and I am willing to experiment; so, I have had a great deal of variety in my menus. 

There are so many fruits and vegetables available to people that it amazes me so many folks limit themselves to green beans, potatoes, corn, green peas, and iceberg lettuce.  Seriously folks, the self-imposed finickiness of eaters is stunning.  “I won’t eat that because it’s green.”  “I won’t eat that because it’s orange.”  “I won’t eat that because it’s red.”

I mean I get that texture can be off-putting.  We were given a large quantity of chard the other day.  The fact that it’s an unfamiliar green to many people is enough to prevent some people from not trying it.  This can be amplified by the fact that it wilts as it cooks up; although, it wilts far less that most greens.  The thing is, though, it is a nutrition powerhouse, and it really tastes good – especially when cooked with caramelized onions and garlic.  Yummmm!

Unfortunately, most people eat with their eyes, an evolutionary protection that has kept us from poisoning our species since we first began to gather berries.  The thing is we have millions of years of experience behind us, and the food knowledge compiled over the last ten thousand years is truly staggering.  This allows us to get past the rancid smell of fermenting grapes and enjoy a glass of wine.  It lets us know that not every member of the nightshade family is completely poisonous and provides us with a great accompaniment to pasta.  We are able to know escarole is one of the most flexible greens around – suitable for salads and soups and stir-fry.  Food allergies aside, there are not a lot of risks for the modern day eater when eating properly prepared foods.

The point is – Stop being a fraidy cat when it comes to food.  Try this experiment for the next three months:  Each week, select a fruit or a vegetable you have never, or rarely, ever eaten. It’s getting to be Spring, and the grocery stores will offer a lot more selection.  Google your new found friend for recipes (e.g., “escarole recipes”).  Then fix one of those recipes for one of your meals.  You may find that you truly hate something; but, more often than not, you’re going to find something you like.  And, your culinary experience will be enriched. 

As Julia Child would say, “Bon appetit!”

So…if you’re a vegetarian…what do you get to eat?


There’s probably no more annoying question to a vegetarian than perhaps, “Not even fish?”

I usually respond with a very glib, “Food.”

Seriously, the better question is, “What sort of new foods have you discovered?”

In general, people eat a very narrow range of food items.  For some, it is an issue of their comfort range.  For others, it is a lack of imagination or experience.  When I was a kid, if my dad cooked, we got a pork chop fried to shoe leather, some instant mashed potatoes, and a piece of bread.  Maybe a hamburger patty instead.  My mother was an imaginative cook who could make nothing into something.  This proved to be a problem when she returned to work in my early teens.  My brother and I actually liked vegetables; so, we taught ourselves how to cook and made some pretty darned good meals – purely out of self defense. We liked to experiment.  Most of the time experiments worked.  😉

I am the primary cook in our house, and I try to bring that same imagination to what I cook now.  And, with vegetables, there are so many options.  Kale is a good one.  So very, very healthy, it’s a sturdy green that can be used as a salad green or as part of a stir fry or in a soup.  Cabbage – there are so many different types of cabbage: green, red, Napa, bok choy, to name a few – as well as many different applications – not just corned beef or coleslaw!  There are a jillion types of beans, each with a different texture, a different flavor, loaded with protein and other nutrients. 

And, there’s more to life than just pasta or rice.  Couscous! Quinoa! Falafel!  There is so much you can do with these items.  Salads, soups, risottos.  It really is limited only by your imagination.

A word about meat substitutes and tofu.  If you don’t like them, don’t eat them.  I have worked hard to figure out how to prepare them for meals, and I think they turn out pretty well. My vegetarian chili is a big hit with most everyone who eats it.  Once, I even got accused by two hardcore carnivores of lying about the fact there was no meat in it. 🙂  Tofu is not the favorite of lots of folks, too bland for them.  But, again, it’s how you use it.  It’s great for blending in to baked dishes, and my favorite way to use it is to cube it and fry it in olive oil, garlic, and onion until it turns dark brown.  So delicious.  But, it’s not for everyone.

Eating should not be limited by fear or a bad experience.  It should be liberated by the imagination.