Spanish Short Stories

Hellooo, I’m baaack!

It has been a whirlwind around here:

We’ve been sick in the house (again). This time around it was Natanael, and then hubby, the two who had escaped the flu two weeks ago… As usual, the kid was back on his feet in a couple of days, the adult was coughing his lungs out for a couple of WEEKS. I am re-learning to be more Canadian and I try very hard not to hug or kiss my kids when they are sick (it’s very hard, but I had to tell them it’s for our own good). In Brazil the concept of germs is very theoretical, and people hug everyone right and left, sick or not… Over here most people are less touchy, and will actually THANK YOU if you explain that you don’t want to shake hands because there is the flu in your house! (As a contrast, Brazilian people get very offended if you don’t want to hug them for whatever reason!)

And now, during Advent season, I’ve been hunting the thrift stores to find white shirts and black pants for the boys’ Christmas concert at school (plus 3 Christmas hats from the dollar store) and a winter coat for myself. One of the great advantages of living in a First World country among the over-consumerism of others is that I find a lot of very cheap clothes that are in very good shape or sometimes new! (with the tags on and everything). I can’t tell my mom that I buy clothes at the thrift store though, she is horrified, but for me it’s 1. budget friendly 2. earth friendly (hey, it’s recycling!) 3. totally worth it because the kids just destroy their clothes anyway, might as well let them roll in the mud in their 99 cents pants if they want to. I don’t want to care about it.

I’ve been busy with work. My current project is French Dialogues, from the same editor/author of the French Short Stories. I like to work for that person because he wants me to be the last beta reader, and let him know about the typos/errors if I find them. The two other authors/editors that I worked with did not ask me to do that, but I did it anyway.  I always find some errors when I read, specially now as a narrator, because I actually have to read over the same passages many times (when I record AND when I edit). In answer, what I like to hear from the author/editor after I signal a mistake or send the whole list at the end of the project is, “That’s great!” or “Good catch!”. Because it means that he will correct whatever needs to be corrected, and the final product will be of greater quality. I like a job well done. How disappointed was I when I received emails such as “Well, thanks but whatever, we can’t make any changes now, no work is ever perfect…” (I am not looking for perfection, but better is a start, no? How frustrating…)

Also, *drumroll* my Spanish Short Stories book is out! Yay! No reviews yet, so if you reside in the US or UK, and want a free download code for the audio book, just let me know… I would love to send one to you in exchange for a (hopefully) good review! 😉




About accents and languages

Just a quick note to inform you that since last time, I finished my very first audio book project. I am quite proud of the French Short Stories for beginners :

I was anxiously scanning the reviews everyday for some feedback on my work, and today, bingo!, someone wrote:

“(N) is a fabulous French narrator because she does not have a strong regional accent – she is as neutral as one could wish. Her speaking in English is not as strong and she mispronounced several words. Not a big deal and certainly not enough to detract from the book.”

… First, let us focus on the word “fabulous” of the review for a minute! 😉

OK. That pretty good, right?!  After all, having a French accent when speaking English, in a book about learning French, is not a bad thing, right? I obviously have an accent in English, it is not my native language, however I would be curious to know which words I mispronounced because, you know, I like to learn and improve. Was she actually speaking about “mispronouncing” words, or simply having a foreign accent in English?

This is what I am wondering, rationally.

Emotionally is another matter. Will I ever be good in English? I mean, better than just good enough? Most days I think I speak six languages, and I am proud of it, but am I actually as fluent as I think I am? Self-doubt can be crippling.

Comments about my language skills have varied widely between:

  • being mistaken by a native (while speaking German in Germany -decades ago-, in Italy by Italians -again decades ago-, by Venezuelans in Montreal when chatting in Spanish with them, even by Brazilians thinking I was gaúcha from the South),
  • wide eyed admiration (my language students in Brazil)
  • envy (“Can you imagine speaking five languages?”, asked me a new co-worker once, before realizing that it was me she had heard about.)
  • to the skeptics who cannot place my accent and say things like “but where do you come from?”, or “that’s not how we say it, but I understood”, “you don’t really speak English, do you?” (even if we have be having a conversation in the said language), “Você fala Portugues tambem?” (“Do you speak Portuguese too?”… Again, we were having a conversation in that language.)  🙄

So yeah, whatever level of fluency you think you have, there will always be room for improvement.

Exciting or depressing? Depends on the day.

And now, my next project is Spanish Short stories! I will probably have comments about my French accent in Argentinian Spanish, and weird accent in my Canadian English. *sigh*

The magic school bus

Our first concern when we arrived in Canada in November was to enroll the kids to school as soon as possible. While the school year in Brazil is from February to December, the following school year which is from September to June had already started here! The twins were only finishing their first year of primary school in Brazil, but they had missed the first months of their second year (Gr.2) here in Canada! And Uriel had missed his first months of primary school (Gr.1)… I was afraid that their reading skills would be behind from the rest of their peers.

Another concern was the language. They had started to read and write in Portuguese and had  adjusted rather well to the Portuguese language. I was completing their education with some French lessons at home and French is also the language we speak at home. However, they’d had little to no contact with the English language before coming here. What would happen now?

In Southern Ontario we discovered that there are four publicly funded school boards, English public, English catholic, French public and French Catholic. Free education of good quality (and free school buses!) was after all one of the main reason we came back. I’m loving it! 🙂

The choice was hard for us. On the most practical side, there is an English public school two blocks from our house. The other option was to send them to a French catholic school a little further away, but with free school bus service. Should we drop them in the English language and see what happens (we know how kids learn fast, right?), or ease the transition and look into a French school (their oral skills are obviously good, but the writing and reading in French in not as… intuitive).

We ended up deciding to send them to a French school for now. The idea is that they will hopefully learn to read and write the harder language first, be exposed to the French Canadian accent (which is not a bad thing in my opinion — they are French and Canadian after all!), then pick up English along the way (most of the kids in school speak English at home and behind the teacher’s back!).

Another fun fact: taking the yellow bus to school is a (very exciting) daily adventure! Their first thought was probably that they would step into the fantastic world of one of their favorite series. In truth, the ride that would take only 10 minutes if I would drive them directly to school takes them around 30 to 40 minutes… (not that they have anything else to do anyway, ha ha)

Magic school bus



Shortly after my parents visit, the boys started their school year. First year of primary school for the twins and last year of kindergarten for Uriel. It is their first time going to different schools so I was a little apprehensive, but once again I can’t see why because they all went off joyfully to school. No cries, no stress, nothing. Pretty cool. Luckily both schools are a few streets away from home (in different directions), so we all get a healthy walk (or run) before and after school (double for me). Why pay a monthly fee for a gym when you can simply walk your kids to school? 🙂

After I left off, last time I wrote, the language school called me back asking if, in addition to the French classes, I could also teach German (!!!)  “Yes, of course” I replied, while thinking that I certainly didn’t see that one coming. Seeing that I speak six languages apparently greatly impressed them, and in their logic I can certainly teach them all. They seem not to understand, though, that teaching French for one hour immediately followed by an hour of German is not a great idea. In the first 10 minutes of German, my brain does not compute and it seems to have wires crossed… All the Portuguese, French and German files want to say “hello”, stumble all out of my mouth at the same time, and I get funny looks from my students. Luckily they are aware of my hexalingual status and are too amazed themselves to complain about it. So we all have a good laugh and go on with our lesson! Ha ha.

I am obviously enjoying the teaching job greatly. The school provides the teacher with the teaching program (thus reduced preparation time), facilities (classroom and white board), and students (the secretaries take care of the payments), but in return the teacher gets paid only a little fraction of what the students are paying for lessons. I would definitely earn more if I were giving private lessons. At the same time, most adult students are only interested in evening classes, so that greatly reduces the possibilities of more hours. I only teach from 7PM to 9PM, from Monday to Thursday. I told them that they could give me younger students at earlier hours, but I think that they reserve the English groups for all the rest of the teachers (there is a much greater interest in English, and consequently more English teachers — I am their only French and German teacher for both schools). It is also a great motivation for me to freshen up my German skills (lesen, reden und schreiben — reading, speaking, listening). I review the grammar and try to understand it in such a way that is easy to explain. Easier said than done, especially for me who has as very intuitive way of learning languages, but definitely interesting.

This is all the fun stuff.

Then there is the other side of the coin that makes hubby and I constantly wonder if we haven’t made a huge and expensive mistake moving from Canada to Brazil. There is too much I would like to say about this, it will probably be for another post. It saddens me and exhausts me too. I don’t want to move again so soon.

Our spiritual  and financial struggles are weighing down on us.

Papi et abuela

The car we use at the moment is not ours. A friend from church as lend it to us for as long as we need until we can afford something, or an arrangement has been found by the church. Usually the Lutheran churches (from our domination) (in Brazil), own a car to be used by the pastor, and a house for his family. But not the church here. They are renting the house where we live now, and don’t know what to do about the matter of the car. So, meanwhile, we use this car, an old car, which is ok for small errands in town, but we don’t feel super safe in it to go on long trips.

So when papi and abuela (my dad and mom) arrived on my birthday (Dec. 28th), I had a driver pick me up to go welcome them at the Guarulhos airport and drop them off at the hotel where they are staying (our house is only big enough for our family of five). I felt like a very important person, with my very own chauffeur in a big black car! 😉

My dad arrived from France (via Portugal) and my mom from Argentina with only one hour difference between the flights. That was rather well planed. It gave us the time to hug, chat and walk across the terminals. I had not seen my dad since last time he visited us in Canada. The twins were toddlers and my youngest only a baby. Five years ago. My mom, of course, I had just seen in August, for my grandmother’s funeral. But as for both my mom and dad together it had not happened since before I was married. Fifteen years ago?! Yeah, all these numbers give me a headache too. Let’s just say that I’m happy to see them, and glad that the kids finally get to meet their grandparents in person.

Sadly, the weather has not cooperated. We’ve had rain, after rain, and more rain after that. The locals tell me that summer storms are normal in this season, generally at the end of the day, but so much rain every day, morning day and night, is uncharacteristic. To me it is very much like the rainy seasons we had in Rondônia. A pain to hang dry the clothes.

The first few days were leisurely spent at the hotel  the side of the pool from the hotel. The boys had never been in a real pool before. So many things that I thought would be a given when coming to live in a tropical have simply not happened where we used to live!

The days are exhausting. We all want to enjoy the precious time as much as possible, so they come pick us up (the kids and I — D is not on vacation) late morning before lunch and we come back after supper around 9PM (everyday except Sunday — to my great chagrin my parents don’t go to church). After the first day with the boys, my parents both looked at me in wonder asking how do I do it. Ha! Well, when at home I don’t usually spend all my waking hours playing with them. Just looking at them play is exhausting! Especially Natanael who has so much energy he could climb the walls! No joke, I’m seriously thinking of finding a rock climbing club for him.

Thankfully, once the kids were familiar with their grandparents, I let them spend days together without me. When my body gets very tired doing unscheduled activities, I tend to sprain my ankle. Last time it happened was years ago, so that’s not really a regular thing, but it happened TWICE in the last weeks. No big deal. Just a sign for me to slow down.

In the mean time, I sent my resume to all the language schools in our neighborhood. When I didn’t receive any feedback (they were probably closed on vacation), I also sent it to the one school that is right around the corner from the hotel (farther from home). Luckily, it just happened that they were looking for a French teacher! It’s a big franchise of language schools in Brazil of which they have three branches here in SJC. So I will be teaching two classes in the school close to the hotel and one class here, closer from home. It’s not much, only six hours per week, but it’s a start. They know that I’m willing to teach English too, so we’ll see. The pay is not the greatest either, but it will make a notable difference in our family’s budget. Plus, hopefully, it will be an interesting job to get out of the house for.


Mi lernas esperanton

Most of my days are punctuated as follow: wake up time, school drop-off and pick-up times (during school year – it’s summer vacation now), lunch (noon), goûter (the kids’ afternoon snack, usually around 4PM), supper (7PM), and the kids’ bedtime (around 8:30PM). At which point, I exhale loudly and announce that my shift is over! haha. As you can see, I am at the service of my children, hubby being quite self sufficient. Thank you, darling. Around these landmarks of my days, I sometimes manage to do some cleaning around the house, I cook and bake when I feel inspired, and these days I do a lot of gardening (there is a small piece of dirt at the back of the house which I dream of transforming into a piece of tropical paradise)… But, I have found that I feel the most satisfied the days that I manage to spend  time on my personal projects:

Practice my languages. I have started using Duolingo daily to refresh or improve some of my Portuguese, German, Spanish, Italian or, lately… learn Esperanto (!). Yes, I know, there must be something wrong with me. Despite being the most popular constructed language in the world, it only counts one or two thousand native speakers, and maybe 2 million learners of the language worldwide. When am I ever going to use that??? But I suppose I am indeed addicted to learning languages!

Practice the piano. When we were living in Rondônia and Goiás, D had to lead most services without any sort of musical support. Our voices are strong, but singing a capella gets tiring very quickly, especially if the congregation cannot hold a note. Unfortunately I had not practiced the piano in years, so I have slowly started to train again, to be able to accompany the liturgy someday when needed. In our new church, we are very lucky to have a couple of good musicians. That’s great, but I still want to be able to help. Plus, music is therapeutic. I always feel happy after a good practice session! 🙂

Do some physical exercise. I rotate between 30-40min of aerobics/dancing, or 30-40min of elliptical, biking around the neighborhood, and/or walking back and forth to school or to one of the parks with the kids.

Getting ahead on some sewing or crochet project. I have been planing on opening my own little Etsy shop for some time (like every crafter out there, it seems), maybe I will finally get to it soon.

When I do manage to fit two or three of these things in my day, I feel like I won the jackpot; I am in a better mood and I sleep better!



Aulas de inglês!

I’m teaching again! Yay!

Months ago, as soon as we moved in, a couple of our new friends showed me around as the prized foreigner in this small town. They were telling me that I should teach English, French or whatever else I wanted to. Seeing that I was willing, I was promptly introduced to two other young women of about my age (I will call us young as long as I can get away with it! — I now learned that one indeed my age and the other 10 years younger, ha!), the director of the local high school and her friend, a teacher as well. Unfortunately the position for an English teacher at the high school had already been filled, but they were telling me that it was badly paid anyway. Why would I want to slave away all week in that school, like themselves, when I could teach privately with much more flexibility in the schedule, teaching program, and eventually (if there were enough students) a better pay? They had a point, but how was I to organize such a venture in a country where I had never worked before?

“Teach here!”, they told me, “You can use the empty classrooms in the evening at no cost”. More importantly, they were both interested in having classes themselves, so that was already two students for my first group…

“It would still be better to have a small group of about 4 to 6 students”, I said.

“Let us speak around us and we’ll get back to you”, they replied.

I gave them my contact info and left it at that.

In the meantime, in one of the very few furniture store in town, the vendor heard that I was a foreigner and started chatting with me. He asked if I spoke English or French and if I could teach him. I explained that I was looking into it. We exchanged our contact info and parted ways on a friendly, “Let’s keep in touch!”. Surely this was A Sign From the Universe, right?!

An entire month came and went, but still no word…

I finally passed by the school one day to see what was up. Neither of the girls were there.

I thought then that what I had seen that very first day was yet again some fake Brazilian enthusiasm; a lot of fluff, but not necessarily having true premises. I told myself to forget the matter.

Then out of the blue, the store clerk remembered my name and contacted me on FB about those blasted language lessons. What’s up with the universe?! Was I supposed to do something about this or let it go?

So I went back to the school once again to inquire about the matter. Luckily the director was there that day. She seemed as happy to see me as the first time and assured me that she and her friend were still interested in learning English. So we agreed then and there on a day and time to start. I thought that even if we started with a small group of 3 students, I would do it anyway. Obviously not for the money (because with only 3 students that will be very little indeed), but because I simply love to teach! I like to spend hours planning a lesson, trying to find podcasts, songs or videos that will be interesting and build up my students’ vocabulary, hear their accents in English, recognize the difficulties, identify with them because I used to be them, and give suggestions to make some progress. Ah, it’s so fun!

The first lesson was yesterday evening. Ironically the boy who gave me the final incentive didn’t show up (hopefully he just missed the starting line?). It was only me and the two girls, but it went very well. I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the first lesson without knowing their level. They are not entirely beginners, because they’ve had some lessons a long time ago, but looked lost when it came to listening/understanding/speaking. They seemed genuinely eager to learn though, so that’s half the battle!

Let’s hope that the famous grapevine works in my favor. I wouldn’t mind earning a bit more than pocket money…

J’enseigne à nouveau! Youpie!

Il y a des mois, quand nous venions d’arriver, quelques uns de nos nouveaux amis me disaient qu’avec toutes les langues que je parle je devais vraiment considérer enseigner l’anglais, le français ou autre. Après tout, une étrangère dans cette petite ville ça n’arrive pas tous les jours, il faut en profiter! Comme ma réponse était positive, on m’a tout de suite présentée à deux jeunes femmes d’à peu près mon âge au collège fédéral. L’une d’elles est la directrice et son amie est aussi une prof. Malheureusement le poste de prof d’anglais avait déjà été comblé, mais elles m’ont assuré que de toutes manières c’était mal payé. Pourquoi travailler du matin au soir dans cette école pour un salaire de misère, comme elles, si je pouvais donner des cours privés avec une plus grande flexibilité dans le programme, l’horaire et éventuellement un meilleur salaire? Bien sûr elles avaient raison, mais comment organiser tout ça dans un pays où je n’avais jamais travaillé avant?

“Travaille ici!”, elles se sont exclamées. “Tu peux utiliser les locaux vides gratuitement le soir”. En plus, elles étaient toute les deux intéressées à suivre des cours elles-mêmes, donc c’était déjà deux élèves dans mon premier groupe…

“Ça serait quand même mieux d’avoir un petit groupe de 4 à 6 élèves”, j’ai dit.

“Nous allons parler autour de nous et on te rappelle” était leur réponse.

Je leur ai donné mes coordonnées et nous avons laissé ça comme ça.

Pendant ce temps, dans l’un des rares magasin de meubles de la ville, un vendeur a entendu que j’étais étrangère et ma tapé la causette. Il voulait savoir si je parlais français ou anglais et si je pouvais l’enseigner. Je lui ai expliqué que j’y songeais. Nous avons donc échangé nos info et nous sommes quittés avec un amical “restons en contact!”. C’était sûrement Un Signe De l’Univers, non?

Un mois entier est passé sans aucun signe de vie…

Finalement, un jour, je suis passée par l’école pour avoir des nouvelles. Aucune des deux filles étaient là.

J’ai commencé à penser que ce que j’avais vu ce premier jour était encore l’enthousiasme brésilien qui n’a aucune promesse. Je me suis dis d’oublier cette histoire.

Puis, quand je ne m’y attendais plus, le jeune vendeur s’est souvenu de moi et m’a contacté sur FB à propos de ces cours de langues. Vraiment?! Mais c’est quoi cette histoire? Étais-je supposée de faire quelque chose pour ça ou laisser faire?

Alors je suis retournée au collège une fois de plus, dernière tentative pour voir si ça sert à quelque chose. Par chance, la directrice était là. Elle semblait contente de me voir, tout aussi enthousiaste à propos du cours d’anglais et m’a assurée que son amie l’était tout autant. Donc nous nous sommes mises d’accord sur un jour et une heure pour le premier cours. Je me suis dise que même si il n’y avait que trois élèves dans la classe, je le ferais quand même. Même si c’était pour très peu d’argent (parce qu’avec seulement 3 élèves, ça serait vraiment très peu), mais simplement parce que j’adore enseigner! J’aime passer des heures à plannifier des leçons, chercher et écouter des podcasts, des chansons et des vidéos qui semble intéressants et susceptible d’enrichir le vocabulaire de mes élèves. J’aime écouter l’accent brésilien en anglais (héhé), reconnaitre les difficultés de la langue, m’identifier avec eux parce qu’il y a des années j’étais à leur place, et leur donner des suggestions pour s’améliorer. Ah, c’est tellement cool!

La première leçon était hier soir. Ironiquement le jeune qui m’a donné la motivation finale n’était pas là… J’espère qu’il n’a fait que rater la ligne de départ, mais qui sait? Il n’y avait que moi et les deux filles, mais ça a bien été. Je n’étais pas sûre comment préparer cette première lesson sans connaître leur niveau. Elles ne sont pas entièrement débutantes parce qu’elles ont eu quelques cours il y a des années, mais elles avaient quand même l’air perdues quand il sagissait d’écouter, comprendre et parler. Elles semblaient quand même sincèrement motivées, donc c’est la moitié de la bataille!

Espérons que le téléphone arabe/ brésilien va fonctionner en ma faveur. Ça serait quand même bien de gagner un peu plus que de l’argent de poche…