Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fun Resources for Learning Italian!

Winter is a great time for learning, and another activity I've been indulging in is improving my Italian. As time goes on, there are more and more fun ways to learn Italian, regardless of the learning level you desire. And there's no need to be in Italy to learn it!

My all time favorite way to learn Italian is talking with Italian friends on Skype. I've been doing this since 2006 through a language exchange website called My Language Exchange. The site matches you up with native speakers who want to learn your language. I've made many friends this way, and talk with 4-6 of them on Skype every week, for an hour each time. Over the years of our sharing, we've become good friends, and I visit them when I'm in Italy. I have Italian friends in Trento, Padova, Bologna, Modena, Grottammare, Parma, Rome and Salerno that have become like my extended family.

There are so many advantages to having a language exchange, not the least of which is learning the language. My friends teach me about their language, but also share information and news about their culture, politics, food, traditions, history: so much more than I could every learn from a class or a book. And since my Italian friends live in different regions, I get the benefit of hearing different accents and idioms. I've heard of other language exchange websites, but I recommend this one:

Lately, I've come across several new FREE language learning websites that I've been enjoying, and each has something fun and interesting to offer.

Two that I've become addicted to, with their quizzes and challenges are Memrise and Duolingo:

Memrise - Learning, powered by imagination  (also has an app)
Memrise is an online learning tool with courses for many languages. Memrise uses flashcards augmented with mnemonics and the spacing effect to boost the speed and ease of learning.  Memrise was founded by Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory, and Greg Detre, a Princeton neuroscientist specializing in the science of memory and forgetting. (from Wikipedia)
Duolingo  (also has an app that can check your pronunciation)
Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. The service is designed so that, as users progress through the lessons, they simultaneously help to translate websites and other documents. (from Wikipedia)

Another GREAT site is LearnItalianPod, which has hundreds of free podcasts by native Italians.  (The podcasts are great, but you have to subscribe to use their scripts and other tools.) 

LingQ, which has conversations and scripts so you can read as well as listen
(Lots of free stuff, but they want you to subscribe to use some of their tools.)
LingQ is a Vancouver-based language learning website that focuses on language learning through structured reading, rather than grammar instruction. (from Wikipedia)

Some other resources
Italy Magazine, which has a section of dual language articles, in both English and Italian

La Bella Lingua - a website that explains Italian words and phrases in English

And just for fun, my friend Massimo told me about:  
YouTube videos of the David Letterman show, with Italian subtitles:

So, settle in and check some of these sites out. You'll have fun while you're learning!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Big Snow, Big Chill

The big news here in Kansas is that it's a ccccoooooooooooold winter. Earlier this week Winter Storm Nika hurtled through the Midwest, and within 24 hours dropped 14 inches (@36 centimeters) of snow on us. Actually, it was a lovely storm, though it brought with it sub-zero temperatures, which has not been so lovely. Currently it's 6 degrees F (-14 C) and it got down to - 9 F (- 23 C) last night. The city  basically closed down for two days, and schools are still closed today, while city crews are trying to get all the roads cleared.

After the storm, the sun shines.
Fortunately for me, I don't have to worry about driving to work in the snow, since I work online in the comfort of my home. And I can walk to the supermarket down the street, if need be. But there's still the need to clear the sidewalks, and since I live on a corner, I have a lot of sidewalk to clear. The city gives us 48 hours after the end of the snowfall to clear a path for pedestrians: after that, property owners are subject to getting a fine if the sidewalks have not been cleared.

One side of the long sidewalk around the house.
Another saving grace: my neighbor has a large snowblower, and he routinely clears my sidewalk after a large snow. He cleared a path after the first eight inches, which saved me a lot of work. My son also helped out that first night. But during the night, another six inches fell, and I've been working on clearing the sidewalks and driveway for the past several days.

Mike with his snowblower. He's a treasure!
For some reason, perhaps due to the roundabout at the end of our block, our street was one of the last to be cleared. We have a good amount of traffic through here, and many cars got stuck trying to maneuver through the piles of snow that had been churned up.

Uncleared streets two days after the storm.

In contrast, my friends in Italy tell me that their winter has been warmer and wetter than usual, and flooding has occurred in many regions. For my part, I prefer the cold and snow. At least the sun shines most days! I have orchids and an aloe blooming in my house, and lots of sunshine. And if I need some exercise, I can always shovel more snow!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Woman's Courage: Time4Life reaches out to Syrian refugees

I met Elisa at a wedding in Rome, and we shared a taxi back to our hotels in the early hours of the morning. As the taxi hurtled across town through the nearly empty streets, Elisa told me her story. Given the fact that it had been a long day, and it was nearing 2 a.m., I don't remember all the details of that conversation. But I clearly remember the passion and commitment that Elisa embodied, and her story has haunted me ever since. I've pieced together information from several sources to share that story here.

Elisa carrying supplies to children in Syria
"A week ago, a child of two months died in my arms. He had a temperature of 94 degrees. He was drenched: his hair and feet were soaked with water." Elisa Fangareggi coughs and tells the story of an ordinary death in the refugee camp in Syria Azzaz. During her last visit to bring medicine and milk powder to the displaced, she contracted pneumonia. But in the words of this 32-year-old attorney from Modena, there is no trace of heroism. Only the concern and indignation of a mother of three girls, determined not to surrender to the horrors of a war that is stealing games, family and the lives of thousands of young Syrians."  Franca Roiatti  (translated from the Italian by blog author)

Elisa with Syrian children helped by Time4Life
At first glance, you would not guess that Elisa would be the type to frequently undertake dangerous missions to deliver medical supplies to children in Syria, victims of the war that is being waged around them. After becoming aware of the situation and the need, Elisa took a leave of absence from her job as a civil lawyer and with the support of her husband (also a lawyer) and three young daughters, she founded a volunteer organization, Time4Life, that is devoted to helping these children. She told me that her role as a mother compelled her to DO something, to be active in  making a difference. She now makes twice-monthly trips to Syria, to deliver in person the medical supplies and food that are necessary for survival.

Elisa surrounded by donated medical supplies.
David Bianchini, a writer for Modena Online, wrote this about Elisa's work: "A courageous mother returned to Modena after delivering 400 pounds of milk powder and medicines to 200 Syrian children in the refugee camps on the border with Turkey. It is a dangerous experience in the midst of civil war, and it comes with death threats, but also many thanks from the population. Elisa Fangareggi, civil lawyer and mother of three children, is not afraid. Together the friends and activists of the association Time4Life continues its good work." (translated from the Italian by blog author) 
The Time4Life mission:
"There are 4 million displaced people in Syria because of the civil war. One cannot count the victims of hunger and poor sanitation in camps where they are lacking food, medicine, clothing, and health care. Those most at risk, as always, are the children. We organize periodic mailings, staff and aid in refugee camps in Syria, delivering directly into the hands of Syrian families powdered milk, medicines and money donated to our collection centers throughout Italy. With the support of specialized volunteers, in addition, we set up medical clinics and dental clinics in the camps to provide assistance to children and their families." (translated from the Italian by blog author)

The Time4Life website is in Italian, but donations can be made internationally on the site through Paypal. I urge you to consider supporting this mission, and make a difference, as Elisa and her fellow volunteers continue to do every day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Museo Ferragamo : The Amazing Shoemaker

One of my favorite fun museums in Florence is Museo Ferragamo, home of the famous shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo. I ventured into the museum for the first time in 2010, and have made numerous trips since then to view the creative and interesting exhibits they have. Last year they had an exhibit on Marilyn Monroe on the 50th anniversary of her death that was absolutely fabulous. I spent several hours in the museum viewing shoes, journals, film clips and videos of her life. That exhibit has now moved on to Prague.

This year the focus is on the theme of shoemakers in fairy tales. I picked up a free audio guide at the entrance, and entered a world of fantasy that could have gone on for the entire afternoon, but I only had ninety minutes to spare, as I was meeting a friend for lunch that day.

Entrance to the museo, then down the stairs.
I wasn't allowed to take photos of the exhibit, though I saw many others doing so! To get a glimpse and learn more, here's a review, with many great photos:

Salvatore Ferragamo Presents ‘The Amazing Shoemaker

And here's the link to the Museo:

Museo Ferragamo

The exhibit will be open until March 31, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Study Roman Architecture online for free!

Coliseum, Rome
I've recently started an online course on Roman Architecture that is being offered by Yale University through Coursera. I've explained Coursera and MOOCs in a previous post. The course is free and lasts for 15 weeks. Each week there are a variety of videos to view, along with quizzes and written assignments for those who wish to receive a certificate of completion. Forum discussions are available for those who wish to participate. Since the course is free and open to anyone, students from all over the world participate.

From the Coursera site:
"This course is an introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting. While architectural developments in Rome, Pompeii, and Central Italy are highlighted, the course also provides a survey of sites and structures in what are now North Italy, Sicily, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and North Africa." 

For anyone who is interested in Roman architecture, I'd highly recommend this class!
Pantheon, Rome
I'm particularly excited about this course because it covers many places and ruins I've seen in Italy, including those I've visited recently in Rome, Tivoli, Ostia Antica, Ercolano and Pompeii. Since my travels to these places are still fresh in my mind, I'm excited about this opportunity to learn more about them. I'll also be learning more about the Pantheon, one of my all time favorite places to visit in Rome.  Since I'm also enrolled in several other Coursera classes, I'm mainly interested in learning what I can from the videos.

For more information, check out this link:

What's more, this course is compiled from a more complete online course, also free, that is offered by the Open Yale Course site, which can be accessed at any time from this link: