Can we translate from German?

There’s something I used to do in my classes. An early version of my vocabulary review was making up little strips of paper that had a sentence in German on it, using one of the words we’d covered in class.

The sentences were things like this (the underlined words are examples of the vocabulary):

  • The person on my left makes several questionable statements.
  • When I saw the person across from me today, I felt joy.

The result was not only that people got very good at vocabulary such as ‘on my left’ and ‘across from,’ but that it was often surprising (to me) which phrases were difficult for my students to translate.

(Fun aside: for other reasons, I’ve missed these activities and am working on adding them to the worksheet generator.)

Why translate from L1?

In spite of the fact that I was taught to do all English, all the time in the classroom, I realized that I wasn’t serving my students well. I began to understand students who said to me “I do fine in the lesson, but when I have to talk to a customer I draw a blank.”

My students were hitting walls when they hit a spot in a conversation where in spite of being able to say what they want to say in English, they are stuck at a fixed phrase. These are things like “in Anbetracht der Tatsache…” which translates to “considering the fact,” but, while we covered ‘to consider’ in class nobody thought to connect it to that particular phrase.

Maybe this whole thing is about how I failed my students.

The point I want to make, however, is not that I failed. It’s that translating from German gave them the skills to start working around these roadblocks. (And, in the example above, it was generally fun to accuse the person next to you of being questionable.)

How I do it now.

The question that became the title of this blog came in a lesson where we’d used an emailing worksheet I made (it will eventually be available with my other business worksheets) and had to translate a ‘typical’ business email from German into English.

The whole goal of the exercise (really, of all the emailing worksheets) is to try and identify as many of the phrases my students use often in their emails and to help them find English formulations for them.

Then, the next week (yesterday’s lesson, in this case), a student came in and asked “could we translate from German more? That was much harder than translating from English.”

And, I realized, I need to get more of that back in the lesson.

Some of my classes (more elementary classes) get worksheets that include translation from German as one of the ‘steps’ that vocabulary goes through. But, there’s a limit to how much work a group can get, so not everyone gets it.

When I get some time for coding again (I’m working hard to get there!) I want to make review translations one of the review options provided. I’d like to have the option of occasionally making that homework, or cutting the sentences up into strips to play the same game again.

Until then, I’m really glad in retrospect that I opted to use emails in German in my worksheets.

 

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Some Frustrations with OpenOffice

I am an OpenOffice fan. Not because I hate Microsoft. I’ve outgrown that. Not even only because it’s free, though that helps. I like OpenOffice because it feels like the word processing programs I’ve grown up with. And I’m comfortable in it.

I like that the keyboard shortcuts that work everywhere ([CTL]+[B] for bold) work in it, instead of Microsoft Office’s weird [S’HIFT]+[CTR]+[F] for bold, even if fett is the German word for bold.

But, polishing up the New Spork City worksheets, I wanted to add footnotes to text in a textbox. And it’s not possible. And I don’t see why that should be. (To be fair, I just checked and it doesn’t seem to be possible in Microsoft Office, either.)

Come on, world, it’s 2018, get your act together!

Iterate

I enjoyed this chapter of The Obstacle is the Way more than the last one. It didn’t seem to be as cliché, and it talked about iterating, which is something I’d already believed in.

The first concept introduced is the idea of the “Minimum Viable Product.” It’s something you’ll hear about if you follow startups much, the idea that you make the smallest possible version of your product and see what people say. (Rather than, as I seem to have done, making a full-featured product and then releasing it to the world.)

The idea is that, people will tell you what’s great, what needs to change, and your product can grow into greatness, rather than you needing to brainstorm that greatness locked away in solitude.

Or, on the other hand, if nobody likes what you’ve made, you move on to the next thing having lost as little as possible.

I like the idea.

Ryan Holiday goes on to say this:

In a world where we increasingly work for ourselves, are responsible for ourselves, it makes sense to view ourselves like a start-up — a start-up of one.

And that means changing our relationship with failure.

Maybe it’s because I enlisted back when “an Army of one” was a thing, but I loved that. And, I loved that he went on to say:

Our capacity to try, try, try is inextricably linked to our ability to fail, fail, fail.

It’s true.

The chapter is a good one, but that’s the core of it right there. (The only historical anecdotes are back to Rommel in the desert again.) but there is one more thing I wanted to quote, beginning with a question that the reader is hypothetically asking him or herself:

Well, why would I want to fail? It hurts.

I would never claim it doesn’t. But can we acknowledge that anticipated, temporary failure certainly hurts less than catastrophic, permanent failurE? Like an good school, learning from failure isn’t free. the tuition is paid in discomfort or loss and having to start over.

I think that’s all true and, on that note, I’m off to start paying my tuition.

(As an aside, the Work Life Podcast has a great episode about embracing negative feedback, but I can’t see how to link to individual episodes.)

On Twitter Wars

So, there’s something that occurred to me while driving recently. I should point out that I’m not living in fear of an impending war, but it does seem more likely that a (new, American) war will happen in the next three years, compared to in the Obama administration. (I’m basing this on things like the adjustment to the doomsday clock.)

And the thing is, if the Trump administration does, in fact, get involved in a destructive war, it will be the first time (to my knowledge) that Twitter may have been one of the root causes of a war. (Assuming you accept the premise that Twitter was a tool used by the Russians to interfere in the election. If you don’t think that, I’d love to hear why.)

Here’s the thing: Twitter’s users aren’t served by it being populated by up to 15% with ‘fake users’ (from the article below). And Twitter, itself, probably isn’t earning money on them. (I can’t imagine the bots clicking on ads, or, if they are, the advertisers certainly aren’t getting value for money.)

The reason the bots are still on Twitter? Money. Twitter is locked into a broken business model, and unable to kick the bots off.

This is from a Bloomberg article:

And cracking down on bots puts Twitter in a vulnerable position with Wall Street. Investors have penalized the company for failing to get more users. The more that Twitter cracks down on fake accounts and bots, the lower the monthly active user base, the metric most closely watched by Wall Street.

“I think there’s a business reason why Twitter doesn’t want to be good at it. If you have fake accounts and you’re valued around active users, the valuation will be adjusted,” said Scott Tranter, partner at Optimus, a data and technology consultancy.

Which just means that there’s one more reason why, as I wrote before, more of the Internet needs to cost money.

 

Living in a man’s body

The Internet is full of motivational messages saying things like “we’re all just pretending to be adult” and I have that feeling pretty often. In my case, I have the added complication of people telling me that they were intimidated by me when they first met me.

Intimidated? By me?

It always surprises me, in spite of my hearing it often. I’m such a big goofball.

But, I’m huge and bearded and look obviously like a man approaching forty. (Some would say I look older, but they’d only say it once!) And I forget that. In fact, get me on school grounds and I have to remind myself that I’m one of the adults, not one of the kids. (Ha! Teachers have to speak to me as an equal! In theory, anyway…)

Recently, though, I’ve had moments where I realized that I’m living in a man’s body. I can’t explain what exactly triggers it, but it’s generally at times when I’m in motion and I feel somehow… manlier? Not stronger, not even fitter. But whatever it is, it’s closer to ‘strong’ and ‘fit’ than it is to ‘old’ or ‘creaky.’ I’m not talking about feeling like an old man. (That I had more often when my back was giving me trouble.)

My best guess is that the plank workouts and all the burpees are giving me a degree of core strength that I didn’t have as a kid, or, apparently, in my early thirties. So, maybe it is fitness.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just developmentally slow in this as I am in so many other things and whatever this feeling is, it’s what made jocks walk around the school what that particular gait of theirs all those years ago. If I am slower, does that mean I get to die later?

And, if it is a question of fitness, I wonder if I’ll eventually find a broader link between my (hopefully) increasing fitness and the way I behave.

Think Differently

Here’s a little thing you don’t know about me: I’m tired of hearing about Steve Jobs. I don’t know why, because I like stories from Elon Musk and his drive, but felt like the takeaway I got from the Steve Jobs biography was that people took it as permission to treat others poorly.

I say all that, because Steve Job is the focus of this chapter of The Obstacle is the Way. Better than Steve Jobs, though, is this quote that opens the chapter:

Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There is no other definition of it.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I think that’s true. It’s what motivates me in my learning: finding the ability to make real (in some sense) the things I’ve only experienced in my mind.

The Steve Jobs part of the story can be summed up in these two paragraphs:

Steve Jobs was famous for what observers called his “reality distortion field.” Part motivational tactic, part sheer drive and ambition, this field made him notoriously dismissive of phrases such as “it can’t be done” or “we need more time.”

Having learned early in life that reality was falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that people had been taught as children, Jobs had a much more aggressive idea of what was or wasn’t possible. To him, when you factored in vision and work ethic, much of life was malleable.

That seems to be the gist of the whole chapter: that a lot of our limitations are based on us having learned from an early age to be moderate in our expectations of ourselves and others. The lesson seems to be that we need to re-evaluate what we’re capable of and what we can expect from others.

Perhaps this will be the post that prevents me from ever being hired by “the next Facebook,” because I am not enamored of the “work seventy hours per week” startup lifestyle, and I believe in pushing yourself… but not in abusing yourself.

There is a story in the chapter about Steve Jobs telling his engineers that they couldn’t have an extra week to get something done… and the engineers eventually getting the project done within the initial time frame. And it’s framed as this great thing that Steve Jobs did.

However, I hear that and I think “those poor people’s families.” How much time at home did they miss? What are the chances that they were able to maintain whatever habits they had to keep their health and wellness up? What are the odds that any of them were the primary caregivers for their children? When their older, will they look back and think that moving a product a week earlier was worth the sacrifices they had to make?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I have a strong intuition…

So, in closing, this is from the next-to-last paragraph of the chapter, the same lesson stripped of the glorification of self-sacrifice:

An entrepreneur is someone with faith in their ability to make something where there was nothing before. To them, the idea that no one has ever done this or that is a good thing.

Burpees

Yesterday, I did something that I’ve been talking (to myself) about doing for a while: I added exercises to my run. Six times in my usual 7km run, I stopped and did 5 burpees.

burpees1

I don’t know why I picked them over any other exercise, except that they have the reputation of being super hard, and I was ready to have my butt kicked. Even more, I was ready to push myself into being seen being different. And they’re certainly different.

How was it?

First, let me say that I might have forgotten about them, except that I certainly feel the workout still. And I kinda like that.

Next, in addition to the fact that, although I felt self-conscious for the last set, my shyness decreased with each set, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty. It’s a funny thing to say, but for such a (self-perceived) nature-loving, Earth embracing hippy, I don’t get dirty very often. And, doing the burpees, I had to… and I liked it.

The last thing I wanted to mention as I reflect on them is that it was a fun change to start seeing the run as the ‘recovery’ part of the workout. I mean, after just five of them, I was so out of breath that I was glad to be running again. And that’s not how I usually thing about running.

When will I do them again?

My new short-term goal is to add a fourth, short run to my running week and to try and get the thirty burpees in just four sets…

If I do or don’t, I have to say that I’m feeling more active now, and I’m enjoying that level of activity.