Category Archives: Philosophy

English should be America’s national and official language.

By Richard K. Munro, MA

Ilan Stavans wrote in a recent WSJ article “How We the People Built American English (March 3, 2023) that Theodore Roosevelt was on his deathbed when he “announced there was only one language for Americans and that was the English language.”  Stavans  gives the impression that TR was an “English-only” monoglot when in fact TR though an American nationalist was a multilingual cosmopolitan thinker.   TR was fluent in German and French and could get by in Portuguese and Spanish.  But TR was aware of the dangers of a chaotic polyglot society and for that reason, he felt English should be America’s national and official language.     In his book, The People’s Tongue on which his essay was based Stavans asserts that Proposition 227 was passed in 1998 “eliminating the teaching of students in any language other than English.”   This assertion, which has been made many times by opponents of Official English is false.  Prop 227 had no effect on the teaching of Foreign Languages (a requirement in California high schools) or Dual Immersion k-6 schools with parental permission.  A well-known example is the Sherman Academy in San Diego.     Official English is not English-only and allows for flexibility on the federal, state and local level.

TR was aware of the constitutional implications of a romantic bilingualism or multilingualism that could lead to separatism, inter-ethnic violence even civil war.   E. D. Hirsch has noted “multilingualism enormously increases cultural fragmentation, civil antagonism, illiteracy, and economic-technological ineffectualness.”    Some bilingual societies have been successful or reasonably successful. We have the example of the Roman Empire, the Vatican,  Finland and the Aland Islands,   Switzerland , Canada,  Belgium, Malta, Philippines, India, South Africa and Spain. The European Union has 24 official languages.   English remains an official EU language despite the fact the UK has left the EU.   The EU embraces official multilingualism and therefore has no one official language for its laws or constitution.   This is a critical problem for  EU because there is no  universal agreement on translations and interpretations. The Vatican has Italian and Latin as official languages but the Church produces liturgical texts in Latin, which provide a single clear point of reference for translations into all other languages.  Less successful bilingual/multilingual states over time include the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Sri Lanka, Ruanda, Lebanon, Cyprus,  Kenya and the Ukraine. 

Diane Ravitch wrote of America as “a society that is racially diverse requires…a conscious effort to build shared values and ideals among its citizenry.”  This should include the recognition that English is and should be our official national language.    These shared values of America’s Union will be forged by our public and quasi-public institutions, which include our military, our sports, our houses of God, our press and media, voluntary organizations. our jury box and courthouse as well as our schools. The language of the rule books, Federal courts and juries must be in English (though of course interpreters can be used when necessary).  In addition, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, contracts, official documents, our laws and constitutions must be in English (though translations can be provided).    

So “official English” does not mean “English only.”  States may use other languages or translations for public safety.   States, even states with official English, may offer DMV tests in multiple languages if they choose.  The states and federal government can allow and encourage dual immersion schools and the teaching of foreign languages.   Denny’s can offer (voluntarily) menus in as many languages as it likes so as to welcome tourists and others.  

However, we as a society must be aware of the costs of official bilingualism/multilingualism both monetary and political. We dare not take our freedom, our prosperity, and our national unity for granted. America’s democratic pluralist experiment continues but it may yet be defeated if we do not exercise care.   Even Stavans says  “to create a nation, you need a language. “ The USA is an English-speaking nation and we should enshrine this fact nationwide in law.     This is why Pro English supports making English our official national language.

Richard K. Munro, MA

Teacher of  Spanish, English and history

Member of the Board of Pro English.


20 F Street NW 7th Floor

Washington, DC 20001


By RIchard K. Munro

More Notes on Latins, culture, and Language

I never grew up with Mexican jokes; growing up in the New York metropolitan area there were , then, very few Mexicans and Mexican Americans.   I remember Tio Pepe was one of the few well-known restaurants which served any Mexican fare at all.   Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Italian, and Cuban (Criollo) restaurants were much more common. I only made it through college by .99 cent and 1.99 cent plates of Arroz a la Cubana.   There was a strong Latin presence which included French-Canadians, Haitians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians, and Central and South Americans.  And of course these groups were mixed with Greeks (born in Panama) Portuguese (Born in Africa), Irish (born in South Africa), Jews born everywhere. I knew many Spanish-speaking Jews in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Some were from Argentina,, some from Cuba, some from Costa Rica. Some were of Greek/Jewish/Ladino origin. I knew a teacher born in Cuba whose family had been Ladino-speaking Jews in Salonika and Constantinople prior to 1914. Can anyone deny the world is one big bubbling melting pot?

There was still a fashion of ethnic jokes however and I noted many anti-Catholic stories in which the Irish priests were always drunk and turning up with choir boys in their beds who had been frogs. I noted that the Cubans and Brazilians were really the only fully integrated groups; almost all the African American friends and acquaintances I had were Latin (Latino). In New York, in the 1970s there was almost no nativist feeling and the concept of what was “Latin” was broader.  It’s possible that there was some anti-Gay feeling but I have no memory of that because no one ever talked about it. We were normal young people. The boys liked shapely young girls and vice-versa. Living in Greenwich Village one had some contact with the Gay Community. I had some friends who might have been Gay but they never talked about it or acted out in any way. I considered that to be someone’s personal business.

Many Spanish-speaking persons of color considered themselves Latinos and not Black. Among the common people, the terms used by people were Boricua, or Latin or in Spanish “Hispano o Latino”. Spanish-speaking people did not naturally use the term “Hispanic” however and of course, no one had ever heard of LATINX (sic)

It seems to me Cubans and Puerto Ricans were much more likely to call themselves “Hispano” . Cubans and Puerto Ricans usually have much closer ties to Spain being officially Spanish as recently as 1898. ‘

Hispanic is a relatively modern word -I only heard “Spanish” as a youth- is still rare beyond government and census documents.

Hispanic is still an artificial government term essentially invented circa 1970. . Spanish-speaking people did not naturally use the term “Hispanic” however and of course, no one had ever heard of LATINX (sic)

People, it seems to me, prefer to call themselves by their name of national origin which is natural.

It doesn’t bother me if people call me Irish (I am part Irish) but my people were Islanders and considered themselves Gaels or called themselves by their tribal or clan name. Clans were legally independent kingdoms or regions until 1746. There was much loyal to the Chief and a strong remembrance of the Stewarts.

My people did not consider themselves Europeans or British either. Europe was “Roinn-Eorpa” the mainland. British people to them were Welsh people and of course the Saxon was English. 

Anglo was never a word that meant anything to me but English and sometimes protestant as in the term Anglo-Irish. Anglo-American meant a person of English descent.

I must admit even to this day I prefer “English-speaking” to Anglo because I am not an Anglo-Saxon. But I am proudly an Anglophile as I am Hispanófilo.  My children are Latins or Hispanic Americans but I have never claimed to be what I am not.  The Anglo-Saxons were the traditional enemy of the Gael. Calling a Gael an Anglo-Saxon is like calling a Pole a Russian or an Alsatian a German. The Irish word for Irishman or Highlander is “Gael”(Gaidheal in “Erse”). 

 Even most “Germans” did not originate in “Germany” but other places such as Russia, Romania, Poland, Switzerland and Austria. 

But even Mexican Americans are a divided people. They are severely divided by class.  Mexico itself is as divided by class as England  or Spain today, perhaps more so as England is more egalitarian today.   

I see discrimination against those Mexicans who are, obviously, of African origin. I see discrimination against Mixtecos who do not speak Spanish well (they speak an indigenous language of Mexico). I see discrimination against Latins who do not Speak Spanish well.  

I remember a young girl in my class -a huerita (fair-skinned girl) who was 100% of Mexican ancestry was taunted at not being Mexican by MEXICAN BORN students because she spoke so little Spanish (her parents and grandparents speak Spanish, but she and her brothers and sisters so far removed from Mexico did not speak Spanish.) They called her “pocha.” “Pocha” is somewhat derogatory for someone who is a “faded” Mexican that is someone very Americanized (anglicized).

But her skin color had nothing to do with her language: I know many darker Hispanics who don’t speak a single word of Spanish and have completely distanced themselves from their Catholic heritage believing it is not an important part of their heritage.  

Once again, as a Gael, I find this strange because my identification as a Christian is the single most important and ancient part of my heritage.  My surname, like many Gaelic surnames, is a Christian surname with a specific meaning and is a direct allusion to the early days of the Saints and Scholars of my people.  

I could not imagine being a Christian in the Roman Catholic tradition without acknowledging my debt to the martyrs and saints who preserved and protected Western Civilization and the word itself.  So for me, my Catholic heritage is something indestructible and essential even more so than my national origin, citizenship or “race”.   As a young man I dated young women of many races and backgrounds but most were Christian and most were Roman Catholic. I never found the Catholic church to be segreated place quite the contrary. “Here come the Catholics” said Joyce , “here comes everybody.

I still have difficulty with the American idea that race is a color and not a culture or nationality.  Exactly what do you call the grandchildren of a woman of Spanish, American and Filipino origin whose grandchildren are -brace yourselves- of Mexican, Irish, German,  Polish, and Lithuanian origin?  

It should of no surprise to anyone that this woman is multilingual -she grew up in the Philippines and is a native Spanish speaker as well as a Tagalog (Filipino) speaker that none of her grandchildren speak anything but English.  

What do you call them except Americans?  

When my grandfather spoke of the French race or the English race or the German race or the Turkish race or the Spanish race -I am quite sure he never used the word “Latin” or “Hispanic” his entire life he was speaking of cultures, languages and nationalities not what Americans call “race.”  

I still laugh when I recall him speaking of the “Gallachers” as a “treacherous race.”  By that, he meant they were not “leal n’ true men” from the North but a people apart -urban deracinated Irishmen who no longer had the traditional Gaelic values.

To a “Teuchter” like him they were “soupers” or “pochos.”  Similarly, ladies who were highly anglicized were “South o’ the Dyke” Lassies in other words more English than the English themselves.  The men were “toffs” Every community has its terms to identify “the other”. Every community has it words of self-identification. And at different times people try to pass into one culture or another. Cultural diffusion and assimilation happen over time and over the generation.

CASABLANCA movie notes by MR MUNRO


classroom teacher of history, Spanish, English and ESL from 1987-2021



CASABLANCA…MOVIE NOTES for Mr. Munro’s Seniors










Humphrey Bogart

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman AS ILSA LUND

Paul Henreid


Claude Rains


1)    Casablanca appeals to such a wide audience because it is a skilled mix of many genres:

a)     It is a romantic film (one of the great romantic films of all time)

b)    It is a war film that clearly highlights “why we fight” (the Allied Cause vs. Axis)

c)     It is a drama of intrigue and spies involving terror, murder and flight.

d)    It is a drama of D.P’s (Displaced Persons or immigrants) trying to get visas

e)     It is a character study centering on Rick Blaine (Bogart)

f)    It is about seduction

and sexual abuse: characters are

coerced into sexual activity they don’t want to do.

g)    It is also a musical journey into popular and national music of the time making the film almost a musical.

h)     It is full of ironic lines and comedy relief (the pickpocket; the elderly couple trying to speak “perfect English” like an American; Captain Renault undecided how Urgarte died).

What part of Casablanca appeals to YOU the most?


2)    Diegetic sound is the sound that you might logically expect to hear in a film scene such as the dialogue, the singing, the clinking of glasses, the sound of a gunshot.  Non-diegetic sound is clearly dubbed or added artificially to a film –the characters can’t hear it. This includes the music score. The leitmotif

[1] of “As Time Goes By” is very powerful. So is the scene with the dueling nationalistic songs the Die Wacht Am Rhein [2](Nazi song) and the Marseilles (song of the French Revolution).  Consider the role of music within the film (diegetic and non-diegetic).

What effect does music have on our understanding of key scenes?  




a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation. “As Time Goes By” is a leitmotif in



Dear fatherland {VATERLAND}, put your mind at rest,–dear fatherland, put your mind at rest,–Firm stands, and true, the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!––Firm stands, and true, the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!

Much, as your waters without end, Have we our heroes’ blood to spend…

…the German youth, pious, and strong


the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

 Everyone is in need of redemption. Our natural condition was characterized by guilt: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23

). See also

Psalm 130:7-8

Luke 2:38

; and

Acts 20:28


  Catharsis: release, liberation , purification

3) One of the things that make Casablanca great is that it speaks to that place in each of us that seeks some kind of inspiration or redemption

[3]. On some level, every character in the story receives the same kind of catharsis[4]

and their lives are irrevocably changed. Rick’s change is the most obvious in that he learns to live again, instead of hiding from a lost love. He is reminded that there are things in the world more noble and important than he (such as freedom; the Allied cause) and he wants to do his part.  Symbolically he represents isolationist America which is turning like FDR (after the Atlantic Charter) to Britain, Churchill, De Gaulle and the Allied Cause.

a)     . Louis (Captain Renault), the womanizer and opportunistic scoundrel gets his redemption by seeing the sacrifice Rick makes and is inspired to choose a side, where he had maintained careful neutrality so as to save his own skin (and profit from the situation).

b)     The stoic  Resistance leader Victor Lazlo gets his redemption by being shown that while thousands may need him to be a hero, there is someone he can rely upon when he needs inspiration in the form of his wife, who was ready to sacrifice her happiness for the chance that he might survive the Nazi terror.

c)      Ferrari, the local organized crime leader gets a measure of redemption by pointing Ilsa and Lazlo to Rick as a source of escape even though there is nothing in it, materially, for him.  We cannot but think that his heart is touched by the beauty and tender love of Ilsa.

d)     Ilsa herself has a bad conscience; she has kept her sin (her adultery, her temptation) from her husband and realizes she can overcome this if she accepts her husband’s forgiveness. Rick may be sexier than the older Lazlo but Lazlo has fame and money and will probably offer a better life than Rick.  She won’t stay 26 forever!

e)     Then there is the beautiful young Bulgarian refugee; she is considering cheating on her husband with Captain Renault to get the exit VISA. We have to think she is also offering herself to Rick as well.  Rick is so moved by her suffering that he lets her husband win at roulette (this may be symbolic of American generosity in Lend Lease for the Allies).

Is redemption important for young people?  Can a former Nazi find redemption? (Think Schlindler)  Can the bad student today or the drug abuser of today or the greedy businessman (think Scrooge) really change their lives?  What about you?



Casablanca shows a number of competing motivations through Character positions. Think about what motivates each character (money, power, sex, friendship, patriotism)and how some of them are actively repressing desires and the costs and benefits(opportunity costs) of these courses of action. How do the characters give a modern audience a deeper insight as to the suffering of the DP’s (Displaced Persons or Refugees without papers) and what it must have been like during WWII?


In Concert: The Maria Schneider Orchestra Looks Up – and Soars

The Maria Schneider Orchestra presented by The Gilmore Festival, Chenery Auditorium, Kalamazoo, Michigan, March 12, 2023.

On the final date of a tour celebrating both a Pulitzer-Prize nominated album (2020’s masterful Data Lords) and 30 years together, composer Maria Schneider and her 18-piece jazz orchestra got down to business with aplomb and obvious delight. Launching “Look Up” (featuring supple, soaring trombone from Marshall Gilkes and Gary Versace’s lyrical piano), the MSO quickly gathered itself and swung hard, from a hushed opening through yearning, full-bodied ensemble passages into the charming reggae-tinged coda. It proved an inspired invitation into Data Lords’ contrasting aural portraits of disc 1’s grim “The Digital World” and disc 2’s expansive “Our Natural World”, and the Gilmore Festival audience, at this outlying event from an organization usually devoted to keyboard music of all genres, ate it up.

Pivoting to the dark side with the sardonic, Google-themed “Don’t Be Evil” (“and they can’t even live up to that low bar,” Schneider commented) bassist Jay Anderson set up the mocking tango pulse, Ben Monder spun out a fiercely rocking web of guitar, trombonist Ryan Keberle peeled off growl after growl, and Versace took the mood from pensive meditation to harried protest as the orchestra built menacing riffs behind them all. In the title role of “Sputnik,” baritone saxophonist Scott Robinson ran through an astonishing gamut of melodies, textures and sounds, feeling his way into orbit through the barbed obstacle course of his bandmates’ hypnotic, obsessively repeated laments. Throughout the afternoon, Schneider’s compositions proved gripping and brilliantly tailored to her players, while her conducting brought the music’s sure-footed rhythms and the group’s precision-tooled backgrounds into pin-sharp focus.

Flipping back to the natural world, soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson conversed with Johnathan Blake’s percussion (including wood-fired pottery?!?) and Julien Labro’s accordion on the pointillist “Stone Song”, with Schneider cueing gleefully off-kilter orchestral hits. Halfway between the two domains, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin (best known, along with Monder, for his playing on David Bowie’s Blackstar) attempted contact in the tense, Morse code-based “CQ CQ Is Anybody There?” — only to be answered by the dissonant howls of Greg Gisbert’s distorted trumpet, wickedly role-playing as artificial intelligence. During these works, the orchestra and Schneider listened hard to each soloist, visibly reacting to particularly special moments of improvisation, and shaping their support to match the fleeting moods.

Release followed tension quickly, via the throwback chart “Gumba Blue” from the MSO’s debut album Evanescence (with features from Gisbert, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and Versace). Then the highlight of the afternoon: Schneider’s setting of the Ted Kooser poem The Sun Waited for Me” (originally written for soprano Dawn Upshaw and classical orchestra) translated stunningly into the big band idiom, with Gilkes and Labro “singing” the now-wordless melody while McCaslin pirouetted above, below and around lush ensemble backings that mutated from classical chorale to gospel groove. A ravishing experience!

But then, Schneider took the mike: “Can you handle this? This is about the annihilation of humanity at the hands of artificial intelligence . . . Sometimes it feels good just to face these things head on!” Cue the jittery, pulsating title track of Data Lords, with trumpeter Mike Rodriguez and alto saxophonist Dave Pietro raging against the dying of the light, and Schneider stoking the Orchestra’s encroaching singularity to a fever pitch in a shuddering apocalypse of a climax! Good thing we wanted an encore; Schneider decided to leave us with “something peaceful”: “Sanzenin”, a final vista from the natural world, with Labro fluttering over the Orchestra’s muted portrayal of a Japanese garden.

In sum, the overall impact of the MSO was overwhelming. Schneider’s thoughtfully crafted tone poems, her intense focus and leadership, her orchestra’s breathtaking ensemble playing and consistently creative, exciting solo work made for a musical experience that was visceral, invigorating, moving and beautiful in the highest sense of that word. Only the Bach Collegium Japan’s 2003 Saint Matthew Passion and King Crimson in Chicago in 2017 have been more powerful live shows for me. If you want to experience this one for yourself, I heartily encourage you to pay what you want and livestream the concert between now and April 12th!

— Rick Krueger

US Progressive Rock group Ascher release debut album ‘Beginnings’ Video for “What the World Can’t Give” out now

New US progressive rock group, Ascher, release their debut album ‘Beginnings’ today, March 16th. The album, containing five instrumental pieces and four songs, clocks in at fifty-seven minutes. From the opening instrumental title track to the bonus track closer, “The Instrumental Divide,” the album flows seamlessly through a sonic landscape of guitar-driven rock, vintage keyboard wizardry, and a lofty hook-laden ballad. The instrumental pieces power through enough time signature and meter changes to keep the die-hard prog fan happy while the thought provoking songs reveal a more grounded down to earth feel. 

The band features Doug Bowers (Guitars/Keys/Bass/Vocals),  Blake Dickeson (Rhythm Guitars), Rob Perez (Lead Guitar), and Kyle Graves (Lead Vocals).

 Beginnings will be available via the band’s Bandcamp page as well as all digital music retailers and streaming sites. Lyrics are also available on Ascher’s Bandcamp page.
To coincide with the release of the album, Ascher has released video for the track, “What the World Can’t Give,” which you can see here:

The band released their first single, “The Great Divide,” in February accompanied by a video.
Tracklisting:1. Beginnings (6:03)
2. In the Clear Distance (5:07)3. The Great Divide (7:44)
4. Ransom For the Righteous (6:19)
5. De Profundis (7:58)
6. Nail Soup (5:27)
7. What the World Can’t Give (6:03)
8. Wheels Turning Now (4:12) Bowers (Ad Astra, KDB3, Vertical Alignment) and Rob Perez (Visual Cliff, Bluesyndrome) have been collaborating on one another’s projects for years. A short-lived band formed in 2021 and disbanded in early 2022 yielded many co-written instrumental pieces that never saw the light of day. Toward the end of 2022, Doug began collaborating with guitarist, Blake Dickeson, fleshing out some musical ideas that Blake had developed over the years, Rob was brought in to add tasty lead guitar to the effort. When Rob suggested that the trio revisit some of the unfinished instrumental pieces, it was decided that a band might be the best expression of their growing repertoire. Thus Ascher was born. It quickly became apparent that Doug was not up to singing the melodies he was writing for his lyrics and the search for a proper singer was soon underway. Rob suggested a singer that he had recently encountered. Kyle Graves was writing lyrics for an upcoming album for Rob and Rob felt he would be a perfect fit for Ascher. Rob was right and the band was complete.
Ascher (picture above L-R):
Blake Dickeson
Doug Bowers
Rob Perez
Kyle GravesAscher online:



March 2023

PAUL JOHNSON OFTEN WROTE FOR COMMENTARY in fact I believe the first time I heard of him my father shared his copy of COMMENTARY and recommended Paul Johnson to me circa late 1960s early 1970s


Dear Sir/Madam:

Andrew Robert’s valedictory for his late friend Paul Johnson captured the essence of the soul and great humanity of the man.

We all know Johnson as world-class author who wrote many times for COMMENTARY and who published highly readable and important books such as THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS, THE INTELLECTUALS, A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN and a personal favorite I have read many times THE QUEST FOR GOD.     His books sold millions and were translated into over 20 languages.

Some years ago, I was working with Andrew Roberts doing research and helping him with the galleys of his book CHURCHILL: Walking with Destiny.    Paul Johnson happened to come up and I mentioned to Andrew that years prior I had written a letter to Paul Johnson concerning A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.  

I had noted some mistakes in chronology and made some suggestions on how Johnson could make a good book even better.   To my surprise  Paul Johnson had honored me with a signed personal letter.    He thanked me for my suggestions and references to sources he had not known.   Johnson said he would try to incorporate them in a future edition of his work and that he really appreciated my loyal readership and my attention to detail.

Andrew Roberts said to me “that is just like Paul.  Always kind and generous with others.”    

I am nobody, a retired rural schoolmaster. I am not a scholar of high degree.  

But I will never forget how PAUL JOHNSON treated me with respect as a serious person.  I will cherish his letter to me.

PAUL JOHNSON was a great man who was willing to learn not only from books but also from the man in the street, from old and young, from fellow parishioners, from Jewish scholars and rabbis and from citizens all over the world of many faith traditions and languages in the Republic of Letters.   

Paul Johnson is gone from us.  But his pleasant voice, deep learning and joie de vivre endure in his books and taped interviews for instruction and as an example for us today and for future generations.   He shall not wholly die.


William (Johnson) Cory. 1823–1892
759. Heraclitus
THEY told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, 
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed. 
I wept as I remember’d how often you and I 
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky. 
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,         5
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest, 
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake; 
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, four-part poem by Federico García Lorca, written in Spanish as “Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías” (“Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías”) and published in 1935. Each part of the poem is written in a different poetic meter, and each addresses a different aspect of the goring and death of a bullfighter who had been Lorca’s friend. A haunting and powerful elegy, it is Lorca’s greatest poem. It contains the famous insistent refrain “A las cinco de la tarde” (“At five in the afternoon”). THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MODERN ELEGIES


Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías – Federico García Lorca

4. Alma ausente

No te conoce el toro ni la higuera,

ni caballos ni hormigas de tu casa.

No te conoce el niño ni la tarde

porque te has muerto para siempre.

No te conoce el lomo de la piedra,

ni el raso negro donde te destrozas.

No te conoce tu recuerdo mudo

porque te has muerto para siempre.

El otoño vendrá con caracolas,

uva de niebla y montes agrupados,

pero nadie querrá mirar tus ojos

porque te has muerto para siempre.

Porque te has muerto para siempre,

como todos los muertos de la Tierra,

como todos los muertos que se olvidan

en un montón de perros apagados.

No te conoce nadie. No. Pero yo te canto.

Yo canto para luego tu perfil y tu gracia.

La madurez insigne de tu conocimiento.

Tu apetencia de muerte y el gusto de su boca.

La tristeza que tuvo tu valiente alegría.

Tardará mucho tiempo en nacer, si es que nace,

un andaluz tan claro, tan rico de aventura.

Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen

y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos.



(please note this version has only a fraction of the lyricism and emotion of the original).

Absent Soul

The bull knows you not, nor the fig tree,
nor the horses, nor even the ants in thine own house.
The child and the afternoon know thee not
because thou hath died now and forever.

The back of the stone knows thee not
nor the black silk,

where thou wert smashed into pieces

Thy mute memory does not know thee
because thou hath died now and forever

The autumn will come again with snails,
juicy grapes and clustered hills,
but no one would want to look into thine eyes
because thou hath died now and forever.

Because thou hath died now and forever,
like all the dead of the earth,
like all the dead who are now neglected

Just like a pile of dogs! snuffed out dead dogs!.

Nobody knows thee. No. But I shall sing of thee!

I will sing of thy style and grace
Of the great maturity of thy intelligence
Of thine appetite for death despite its taste in thy mouth.
The sadness within thy happy courage!

Many years will pass – if ever-before there might be born
an Andalusian so distinctly individual, so rich in adventure!
I sing of his elegance with words that groan,
and I remember a breeze so sad across the olive groves.

Riverside … on Riverside (Drive, that is)

Riverside at Come and Take It Live, Austin, TX, February 22, 2023

Members of the band helpfully direct concertgoers to the venue

Sometime in the mid-to-late 00’s, I was surfing the internet looking for new music.  I happened upon this Polish band named Riverside who was creating a lot of buzz in the prog community.  I ended up purchasing their second album, and have been a fan ever since.  Unfortunately, the chance to see them never seemed to materialize, as what little touring they did in the U.S. never seemed to be near my home.  That almost changed in February 2022, when Riverside had a show scheduled here in Austin.  But almost as quickly as it was scheduled, it was canceled for some reason.  They promised on Facebook they would make it on the next tour, and I crossed my fingers.  And almost a year to the date after their originally scheduled show, they delivered on that promise.

Appearing at a venue with one of the most Texas names ever, Come and Take It Live (which, serendipitously, is located on East Riverside Drive in Austin), the band put on a two hour show that was just about flawless.  The setlist was quite interesting, and if there is such a thing as a concept album, I suppose this show could have been called a concept concert.  The band performed six of the seven songs off of their latest album, ID. Entity (I’m Done With You being the lone exception).  A number of other songs dovetailed nicely with the theme of ID. Entity.  These songs included the show opener #Addicted (from Love, Fear, and the Time Machine), Left Out and Egoist Hedonist (from Anno Domini High Definition), and We Got Used to Us (from Shrine of New Generation Slaves). Outside of that, the only two songs that didn’t really fit in thematically with the rest of the set were O2 Panic Room (from Rapid Eye Movement) and Conceiving You (from Second Life Syndrome). 

The performances were as excellent as one would expect from this group of musicians, delivered with high energy and intensity.  Delivery of Egoist Hedonist and Left Out were especially powerful, both including jams that extended their respective durations over their studio counterparts.  Mariusz Duda, in addition to being a great player, was engaging with the audience, and proved to be every bit the cool guy I had the good fortune of interviewing three times during my days at Progarchy.  The Duda indeed abides. 

The other musicians were in top form as well.  I continue to be impressed with Maciej Meller’s ability to play the parts of Piotr Grudziński with the right balance between faithfulness to the original and his own individual style.  Michał Łapaj was in the zone all show long, playing to the high standards prog fans expect of their keyboard heroes.  And Piotr Kozieradzki did not disappoint on drums.

In addition to enjoying the show myself, I managed to introduce Riverside to a friend and co-worker I brought along, one who is as much of a prog-head as I.  He left impressed, and was enticed by the lyrics of ID. Entity enough to spend $100 on a special edition of the album that included the main disk, the bonus disk, a 5.1 surround sound disk, vinyl-sized artwork, and booklet.  That’s a pretty nice way to start a journey of discovery of the Riverside catalog.  I’m kind of envious that he’s going to get to hear all their music for the first time.

It’s a few days after the show as I write this, but I’m still buzzing.  Their performance was so good, so tight, so energetic, and just so much fun.  There are a few other Riverside fans that contribute to this site, and a few more that read it.  So if their tour manages to stop close by, I highly recommend you go see them.  You will not be disappointed.


By Richard K. Munro, MA

Richard K. Munro with star students!

Richard K. Munro with a star Chinese student. She went from 0-to 100 in three years!
The author second from the left at age 17 in SORIA Spain with the University of Northern Iowa Summer in Spain
You could say this movie started it all! DISTANT DRUMS the first movie I ever saw in Spanish.
Examples of Scots dialect

I have studied foreign languages for most of my life. I have also taught AP Spanish, Spanish for Native Speakers, and English as a Second Language to learners from many backgrounds. I began to learn Spanish when I was eight years old. My father would read to me the Spanish language ads on the New York City Subway. I would repeat after him and after a while, through repetition, I memorized a series of simple phrases. ¡ Cuidado! la vía del tren es peligrosa! (BE CAREFUL! The train track is perilous or dangerous! )  So began my early language learning experiences.  They have continued, essentially all of my life and I continue to learn new languages while reviewing the old ones I have learned.

My father taught me how to count in Spanish (and Tagalog). My father had studied Latin, French and German in high school and college so he taught himself the basics of Spanish and Tagalog while serving in Puerto Rico and the Philippines.  He served in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps and almost all of his cargadores (laborers) were native Filipinos who had a little Spanish but virtually no English.   His foremen were  Malaking Tony (Big Tony) and Maliit Tony (Little Tony).    The numbers of Spanish and Tagalog are the same phonetically except that orthography was changed to make up for letters that are not part of the Tagalog or Filipino alphabet. For example, “cuatro” (4) is written in Tagalog as “kuwatro” “cinco” (5)as “singko,” “seis” (6) as “sais,” “ocho” (8) as “otso,” “nueve” (9) as “nuwebe,”  and “diez” (10) as “diyes” and so forth.    His men all called him Mbuti Teniente (the Good Lieutenant).    He was one of the few American officers who learned the local language; he attended weddings and baptisms and was very close to the local community which had a Spanish priest and an Irish priest.    He was there on July 4, 1946 when the Philippines voted for independence.    Malaking Tony and Maliit Tony were very unhappy at the result even ashamed.    They told my father -with tears in their eyes- “Teniente if all Americanos like you we put another star on the flag!”  There is no question that my father felt that he owed his life to the loyalty and courage of such men.   The philia love they achieved as comrades was made possible by communicating in common languages Spanish and Tagalog.   My father always said knowing another language could save your life. 

My father used to say to me (frequently) “Halika rito, Ricardo! (come here, Ricky) or in Spanish Ven aquí   !   Kamusta ka (How are you!)  or ¿Cómo está? Bilisan mo (hurry up) or de prisa!  Bakit hindi ka nagtatrabaho (why aren’t you working!) ¿ por qué no trabajas?   mabuti ! Good!  Bueno!

My father’s business dealing took him to Puerto Rico and other Spanish-speaking countries and I had to good fortune to accompany him.  I got to hear him ask for directions (todo derecho STRAIGHT AHEAD the man pointed NOT TO THE RIGHT) order in restaurants and we went to baseball games (la pelota) at Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.  We saw Roberto Clemente play in Winter Ball and I called out to him in Spanish, and he smiled and waved back. Back in New York, we listened to baseball (and soccer games) on the radio in Spanish.   In those years all the Yankee games and the World Series were broadcast in Spanish, and we would listen to the World Series simultaneously in English and Spanish. Buck Canel (the baseball and sports announcer) was thus one of my early Spanish teachers. First came the names and the numbers and then the baseball and soccer jargon.  Of course, at the stadium, I found it useful to use Spanish to talk to Spanish-speaking players like Felipe Alou and Rico Carty and so obtain their autographs.  Better than any autograph was the friendly interaction with a baseball hero.   A language is truly a bond that unites men (humanity).   If one speaks another’s native language one has obtained a shortcut to that person’s heart and sympathy.  Mar an teanga tá an croí the Irish say: “as the tongue so is the heart!”

While visiting Spain father took me to an adventure film at the old Rex theater on the Gran Via. It was dubbed in Spanish.  The film was DISTANT DRUMS (Tambores Lejanos). It was the first time I had seen Gary Cooper in the movies and a big screen technicolor western. It was the first movie I had ever seen in Spanish.  It was a revelation.  I only understood it in part, but I was able to follow the story and even picked up some more Spanish words. The theater had a beautiful painted marquee in Spanish.  The marquee my father read it out loud to me said I still remember La mejor creación  de GARY COOPER (Gary Cooper’s greatest creation).  My father told the ticket taker in Spanish  “Uno Sólo  el peligro fue la mejor. “(High Noon) who responded Vd. Lleva la razon pero esta es muy buena!  High Noon  was probably Coop’s best but this Florida adventure was great fun as it featured Seminole Indians, pirates, alligators, and wild fauna of all types.   Sort of a Mogambo goes to the Everglades.  Yes, I began to learn the animal names in Spanish!  The film featured the famous Castillo San Marcos!

Later in New York we occasionally went to foreign language movies and later we saw DVDs that were dubbed or VO with English or Spanish subtitles.  Even today I often see movies in foreign languages just to practice and expose myself to new languages.  Recently I saw a good WW2 movie  on Netflix (with English subtitles) called  Narvik (Norwegian: Kampen om Narvik lit. ’The Battle for Narvik’)   The languages used in the film were German, Norwegian and English.  The main character (Kristine Hartgen) spoke all three.  It worked as a patriotic adventure film but also was a rare example of a film that demonstrated the usefulness of being multilingual.  I know a little German and have never studied Norwegian but found myself picking up words and phrases. I have seen some films like THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI in five languages.    Netflix is an excellent resource and has many languages.   I recommend watching in the VO (original version) with English subtitles then a dubbed version also with closed captions or subtitles in English or the target language.  

So I cannot remember a time when I did not speak or understand at least a little of other languages.     My mother could speak (and sing) in several languages).   My father was a great lover of opera, so I heard, as a boy many operas and art songs in Russian, Italian, French, German, and some in Spanish.   My uncles, both graduates of Columbia University and WW2 veterans were fluent in German and often visited.  Our next door neighbor Frank David, also a WW2 veteran was a German Jew and naturally a native German speaker.   He personally witnessed Kristallnacht  or the Night of Broken Glass.  I was fascinated to witness them speak about their German experiences which included the liberation of Nazi concentration camps.    Speaking German my uncle probably saved the lives of young German boys press-ganged into the SS in the final days of the war.   He and his men refused to take them POWS and returned them to their mothers.   Frank David served in the US Army as an interpreter.  His family escaped because of his father’s international business dealings and savings invested in Switzerland.   But it was a close thing.  The Nazis confiscated their car, their house, and German savings.   Once again, a multilingual family was able to maneuver and adapt and so survived.  Frank’s brother (Albert) became a professor of English at an American university specializing in Chaucer and Old English.  

My father had a vast personal library of foreign language books.  I inherited the Spanish, Latin, and Greek books my sister inherited the German and French books.   He also had LP’s of poetry such as Moses Hades reading in Latin, some ancient Greek, German, French,  Garcia Lorca in Spanish, plus complete Linguaphone Spanish and Portuguese sets (Books with 50 recorded lessons each on 45s).   So my father was an amateur linguist who could read, write and speak (in order of his fluency)

  1. French  (He read Zola,  Martin Du Gard, Victor Hugo, Moliere, Flaubert, Proust)
  2. German (He read Goethe, Mann,  Hesse, Heine, Schiller, Rilke)
  3. Latin   (Caesar, Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Catullus Ovid Seneca)
  4. Ancient Greek (some Modern Greek) New Testament, Homer, Euripides,  Sappho, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles , Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius , Xenophon, Thucydides, Callimachus
  5. Italian (he read Dante in the original)
  6. Spanish (He read Cervantes, Machado, Garcia Lorca in the original)
  7. Russian (He read Pushkin and Tolstoy in the original)
  8. Tagalog

Greek and Russian were the most difficult because of the alphabets.  But of course, the Russian alphabet is derived from Greek so knowing Greek is an advantage in learning Russian. Like my grandfather (who served in the British Army) my father knew a little spoken Yiddish, Arabic, Hindi, and Punjabi.  My father was a little ashamed that he knew so little Gaelic the language of his grandparents, but in his time, Gaelic was not studied in schools.  Gaelic has a reputation (underserved) as being a “hard language”.   But it is phonetic along its own lines and has only ten irregular verbs.  Late in life, my father took an interest in Gaelic place names, slogans, and Gaelic words in the Scots dialect (which he knew quite well).  He enjoyed it when I read and interpreted Gaelic poetry and songs for him.   He very much enjoyed the SONGS OF THE HEBRIDES.   However, my father felt studying Gaelic or Latin was interesting but not “Big Languages” like Spanish or English to be studied formally with university degrees.  The primary law of economics is scarcity.  One had scarce money and limited time so one should be credentialed in “Big Languages” and not spend too much time and money on “small languages.”    So, my early language learning years were dedicated principally to English, Spanish, and Latin then German and Portuguese but I always maintained an interest in Scottish Gaelic and studied it on the side.  Of course, it was with some regret I abandoned the classics in college (Greek and Latin) but for someone like me who had no money and a need to earn his daily bread, English and Spanish were much more practical.   There are for example over 60,000 Spanish teachers in the USA alone. There are about 1,000,000 ESL teachers plus over 1,250,000 English teachers.    I have taught in all three areas.   I found there was a great demand for certified English teachers who were trained as foreign language teachers and bilingual in Spanish.

So rather than forbidding Gaelic, my father encouraged me to study Gaelic as a hobby.     He bought me my first Gaelic book TEACH YOURSELF GAELIC and Dwelly’s Gaelic-English Dictionary at Rizzoli’s bookstore in New York.  But the language he encouraged the most was Spanish a language that was spoken every day in New York and many places in the USA and the Americas.

My father was very fond of the series TEACH YOURSELF BOOKS.   They are widely available and affordable.  I think they are a great supplement to any language study.     My father had the TY (I still have these original volumes) in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Italian, German, Scottish Gaelic, Irish (Gaelic), Spanish and Latin.   Many come with recordings, but I use them primarily for reading practice and grammar explanations.   I highly recommend the Teach Yourself Books (and dictionaries).

I learned from my father and the many wonderful foreign language teachers I had in the USA and Spain that:

  1. Learning languages is fun.  Language learning can be a very absorbing pastime. And of course, it is always useful to communicate with others when one travels. Yes, it can be hard work but believe me there are a lot of laughs along the way.  I think it was Woody Allen who joked that being bisexual immediately doubles your chances for a date on a Saturday night!  Similarly, being bilingual or multilingual makes it far easier to meet and date, and do business with a wide variety of individuals.   People, customers, and business associates are usually favorably impressed by your kindness and seriousness of purpose in understanding their culture and dealing with them.    The maître d’s ,aunts and prospective mothers-in-law genuinely liked me, trusted me more and eagerly fed and entertained me because I made valiant attempts to speak their native tongue.  Speaking another language made dating, business dealings and diplomacy much smoother.  I have struck up friendships with musicians and artists by writing to them in their native languages (never using English).
  2. Knowing a foreign language (especially a “Big Language” like English or Spanish) is practical and a credential just like certification in computers, typing or a degree in accounting or chemistry.  It’s worth something on your resume. In my own life, I have worked for major banks, coached immigrant youth, served in the military worked for ETS and worked in schools and colleges.  One skill that gave me an edge was my skill in language. I could work the phones in Spanish or English.  I could work in customer service or interpret.  I could work as a Tour Guide.  I have been to Toledo and the Prado Museum, for example, dozens of times.
  3. The earlier one is introduced to a language the better.   The way a child learns its first (or second language) is a very good method.  A child learns grammar and vocabulary unconsciously by listening to and interacting with speakers of a language.  The younger a child is the more likely they can assimilate the accent of a native speaker.   Unfortunately, that is not possible for most of us!  But there is no shame whatsoever in having a slight foreign accent.  In fact, if one speaks clearly, I think a slight foreign accent can be charming even exotic.   I had a former student who studied engineering at Cal Poly. He had been an English learner and in the 9th grade hardly knew a word of English.  He concentrated, persevered, and studied hard.  He became fluent in English.  In fact, while at college a professor asked him what part of Canada he was from and then what private academy he had studied at.  His English was so good he didn’t think he was Hispanic!   Things that work with children also work with adults.  We can learn a lot by listening to and interacting with native speakers.  And we adults have advantages, however, that children do not have which helps us learn multiple languages.  We can read and study more easily.   Also, adults can understand grammar and the relationship between languages more easily.   We know that every language builds complex words from the simple basic roots of a language.    I know that English helps one learn German languages and the relationship of Romance languages with English and each other.  Some language teachers place little or no emphasis on accentuation or grammar. This is a mistake if carried to an extreme. It is not necessary for the average learner to be as expert in a language as a teacher or professional translator. My old Spanish teacher told me that “accents were but the shine on the car but verbs were the motor!”  But grammar and orthography are important.   Knowing a standard language and correct grammar is not so much to create elegant speech as it is to make clear what the relationship is among words. Grammar and diction link words together and give them precise meanings.  Therefore, we must understand grammar to a greater or lesser extent.   I never understood grammar until I studied Latin and Spanish.  But it began to be clear to me when I studied foreign languages and began learning moods, tenses, and parts of speech.  When one learns a foreign language, one learns more about one’s native language.
  • 4) Learning languages requires more than anything else steady attention and effort.   To become competent in a foreign language one must make a serious almost daily commitment over a long period of time -usually years.   You must like the language you are studying and maintain a positive attitude.  As the Gaels say  “beag is beag is fhearr an ceum mor.”  Little by little every day -ten or fifteen minutes is better than one big step once a week or once a month. There is no such thing as “instant Spanish” or “instant English.”  When I study a new language, I keep daily notes books of new vocabulary and make study cards.    I don’t always take notes, however.  In the early morning or at night in bed, I do some review listening and speaking exercises and don’t worry about taking notes. However, during my daily language sessions at my desk, I have a cup of sharpened pencils and colored pencils plus my Teach Yourself grammars and Collins dictionaries at hand.  I often interrupt my Duolingo sessions to look up words in the dictionary to learn (and write out) related words and additional nuances or translations.   In Linguaphone, the text was illustrated, and the pictures helped make the meaning of the sentences clear.  Using pictures and color coding is a very good help to language learning.  A wonderful resource for language learning is the colorful series My First Thousand Words series by Usborne.  It is an excellent (and humorous) supplement.   One can buy it new or find used versions on ABE books.   It is available in major languages such as Spanish, English, and French but also in Latin, Hebrew, and Irish (Gaelic).  I have several and use color coding to put in translations of other languages. For example, in my Irish book, I have written in the Scottish Gaelic equivalents in red ink (the two languages are closely related). In my Spanish book, I have written the Italian equivalents.
  • 5) If one wants to gain a high level of fluency sooner or later, one must immerse oneself in the target language.   I was a good high school student (I studied Latin and five years of Spanish) But what really helped me was spending one entire summer -almost every day-   listening to all 50 lessons of my father’s Linguaphone course in Spanish.  The following fall I was enrolled in Spanish III and everyone including my teacher noticed my improved Spanish vocabulary and accent. My high school AP Spanish teacher, a native Cuban Mr. Eli Gorelick encouraged me to seek advanced studies in Spain.   Then I spent another summer studying in Spain for ten weeks via the University of Northern Iowa’s summer program in Spain.  In that ten-week time, I was totally immersed in Spanish.   I later studied three more summers in Spain gaining my MA in Spanish. Later I lived and worked in Madrid for almost two years.  I used to go months at a time without speaking or hearing any English at all (I read newspapers, and books and corresponded in English however). Living in a Spanish-speaking country where Spanish was a prestige language was a great experience.  I became an adjunct professor for a local Junior College and also for ETS in Spanish and for many summers graded recordings of students and student essays. Since that time, I have heard or spoken or read Spanish every day of my life. 

My father used recordings to help him with his language learning. But primarily he read newspapers, periodicals and literature. He was interested in what Gilbert Highet called “culture languages”.  He rarely wrote or read anything in Tagalog or Chavacano (the Spanish creople language her hear in Manila in the 1940s. His interest in those languages was strictly utilitarian while he was on active service overseas.  But he enjoyed meeting speakers in those languages during his lifetime.   

Whatever system you use it is good to do listening, speaking, reading, and writing practice regularly.   I presently use or have used DUOLINGO in Latin, Modern Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic, and Italian. Other online programs are very good also and some people recommend Babbel.  I didn’t choose Babbel because they didn’t offer Latin and Scottish Gaelic, but Duolingo did. You can try Duolingo for free (I did for about six months) but eventually I subscribed to avoid ads and have more features.  I am a big fan of Duolingo but I supplement it with Teach Yourself books.  Be aware that some languages are more developed than others in Duolingo. Spanish, English, and Italian have more activities (Stories, dialogues, and readings) than Modern Greek or Scottish Gaelic.  Teach Yourself has wonderful resources and some (like New Testament Greek) are free to download.  Here are some links:

Teach Yourself

Duolingo – The world’s best way to learn a language

Babbel Live Exclusive Offer

Learn Languages with Pimsleur on the App Store (

For English Learners and for English literacy I used materials from

LANGUAGE! – Comprehensive Literacy Curriculum (Grades 4-12) (

Vocabulary Morphology Curriculum – Suffixes, Prefixes & Roots (

6) Learning a foreign language can benefit your health!  I think I was rather shy and withdrawn as a young boy. But learning a new language gave me the confidence to overcome shyness and psychological barriers and helped me to get to know people. When you are studying and using a new language you are exercising your brain. So, your brain becomes stronger.  Studying languages can even help one recover from a brain injury.   When my father was 63 he suffered a massive stroke and lost the ability to read and speak. It was devastating to him.  But he made an almost full recovery. I strongly believe my father’s dedication to language study may have helped him recover from his massive stroke.   Most of his nurses happened to be Filipino and they spoke Tagalog among themselves, and my father listened to them.   One morning after weeks of total silence he responded to them by speaking in Tagalog.  They were astonished! That was the first language he used after his stroke.  Then he began to speak the Scottish dialect (his boyhood tongue).   At first, he couldn’t speak American English -I remember he couldn’t remember to say “The boy bounces the ball” he said “the illie (lad) was a-stotin’ the ba’’ (Scots dialect).  Then gradually he began to understand and speak and read and write in American English. We all broke out laughing when we visited him one day and he said, a la Humphrey Bogart: “Si-down, pal and listen to the music.”   Gradually, he returned to studying and reading the languages he had studied. The doctor said it was a remarkable recovery and it was possible that my father’s white matter and language portion of his brain were very highly developed, so it might have helped his mind reconnect.    This theory has also been supported by studies at the University of Edinburgh.    In any case, studying a foreign language hinders not and can have many positive benefits.

The researchers found that when the brain is challenged when people say more than one language, and this experience will inspire cognitive reserve, which would enhance the brain’s ability to deal with damage caused by a stroke and other diseases. Bilingual people can switch between two languages, when they stop using one, it is necessary to activate another language to communicate,” Thomas Bak, one of the study authors at the University of Edinburgh, said, “This switch allows the brain to continuously evolving, thus becoming factors in helping stroke patients to have rehabilitation. Apart from showing better recovery on brain function after a stroke, bilinguals who are able to speak more than one language also perform better in stroke sequelae tests, including tests of attention, gather and organize information.

See also  How Learning a New Language Can Benefit Your Health (

Learning second language ‘slows brain ageing’ – BBC News

When one studies a foreign language the first thing you hear if you decide to study   English, Persian, Greek, Korean,  Turkish, Russian or Chinese people will say that language is “hard” or “easy”.      In realty one CAN make generalizations about languages but it is difficult to be accurate.     The most important factor determining whether a language is “hard” or “difficult” is not the foreign language itself but WHERE one is coming from.  Spanish is not hard if one already speaks Italian or Ladino.  Hebrew is not that difficult if you already speak a related language like Arabic.  Russian is easier if you speak Polish or Ukrainian.       German is easier if you speak English (especially Scots English).  Languages that are closely related to our own tend to be easier both in alphabet, in grammar and vocabulary.    Modern Greek is not that much harder than Italian or Spanish BUT learning a new alphabet is a strong affective filter.    I take twice as much time to study Modern Greek than Italian and feel compelled to take many more notes.   But Greek has the added benefit of teaching roots words that have entered many modern languages: chorus, poly-, bio-, hypnotic, myth, Bible, school, academy, idol, poet, poetry, rhetoric, aesthetic, music, rhythm,  hygienic, alphabet,  sympathetic, irenic, hubris, emphasis, antithesis, hypothesis, cosmos, onyx, copper (Cyprus), colon, delta, chaos, diploma, fantasy, phantom, thermos, ethos, dogma, stole, pneumonia, asthma, kudos, crisis, character, scene, pathos, zone, psyche, genesis, diagnosis, criterion, orchestra, idea, pragmatic, cinema, coma, thorax, dyspepsia, nectar, aphasia, echo, nemesis, hero, catastrophe, tyrant.   Even though Greek and Latin are not as commonly spoken or taught as previously they remain very powerful “culture languages” and therefore are of immense intrinsic interest.

The Spanish Alphabet

            When one learns a language the first thing one should do is determine what language family the language belongs to.    Most European languages come from a common linguistic heritage that language group called Indo-European.    Some of the oldest written languages in that language family are Sanskrit (from India),  Greek and Latin.   Indo-European languages subdivide into these families ROMANCE, GERMANIC, SLAVIC, INDIC, IRANIAN, CELTIC, HELLENIC (Greek) and ALBANIAN.  Let’s look more closely at some of the biggest sub-families and languages.   Romance languages include:

            French    Catalán       Spanish     Italian   Portuguese  Romanian

All of these languages derive from Latin and use a Latin alphabet.  In all of these countries, Latin remained an important culture language until relatively modern times.  If one speaks Spanish then Italian is relatively easy to speak, read and understand because the languages are so closely related.  The grammars of Romance languages are similar but most importantly a high proportion of words will be recognizable to speakers of another Romance language.  These words are called cognates.  More of this later. 

        One might ask if one is an English speaker, how does this help me?  English isn’t a Romance language it is a Germanic language.  But only about 40% of everyday words in English are Germanic.  About 60% of English words are of Greco-Latin origin.

Here are the Germanic languages:

German                          Afrikaans

Dutch                              Swedish

Icelandic                        English



 Another big language group is the Slavic which includes

Russian                          Serbian

Croatian                         Czech

Slovak                            Bulgarian

Ukrainian                        Polish

Other big Indo-European language families are Indic languages spoken in India and Pakistan such as Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.   These languages do not use a Latin alphabet, but the spoken versions of these languages are relatively closely related to Spanish, English and yes, Gaelic.     I remember stories of the Highland soldiers in World War One speaking a Gaelic/Hindi/English patois with the Indian soldiers and being able to communicate on a basic level.    More recently I have had Punjabi speakers in my Spanish classes and many of them became top students.  For one thing, most were multilingual to start with (speaking English and Indian languages). If one speaks two or three languages it is easier to learn another!  Then they quickly realized how many Spanish words were similar to Hindi or Punjabi.   Later they invested in local gas stations, sandwich shops and retail stores and work in farming and many are completely fluent not only in English but in Spanish.

Linguaphone books come with a bilingual glossary to help teach the words of the lessons and readings.   There on online dictionaries also but I myself don’t want to open and close windows when I am listening to audible books or doing Duolingo. There is no question if one studies a foreign language, one needs access to a good dictionary. I think for beginners a small pocket dictionary is just fine (such as Collins Gem).   I occasionally use online dictionaries and even GOOGLE TRANSLATE but when I study, I am usually completely focused on the language I am studying.   I keep notebooks of vocabulary and write down new vocabulary.  I do this with a pencil.   I also use colored pencils to underline or star verb endings or grammar points or misspellings I make.   If a word is more difficult or completely new to me, I usually write it out three times (in pencil) then highlight or circle it in red pencil and add asterisks.    I also make little drawings (in color) of objects and animals such as FOUR RED CHAIRS , the  BLACK CHAINS,  THE YELLOW PENCILS,  GRAY SHARK or BLACK CAT, the ORANGES, the Green Book to help me.  I also use antonyms or synonyms or similar words to reinforce learning.  I use a forward slash to indicate opposite words such as EASY/DIFFICULT.  I use the equal symbol = to indicate translation or synonyms such as Problema=problem (also trouble).  I use (≠)The not equal sign (also called the inequality sign) to indicate a false cognate or a translation problem.  The Greek words  Αντιπαθητικός (antipathitikós/unlikeable)and συμπονετικόςd (symponetikós / likable)are antonyms but also are close cognates to English (simpatico /nice; sympathetic) and Spanish related words (simpático/antipático) .

When studying vocabulary cognate study is vital. I have many Spanish and English bilingual dictionaries on word usage and cognates that go “beyond” any basic dictionary.  According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of a cognate is “a word that has the same origin as another word, or is related in some way to another word.”   Three categories of cognate exist:

  1. Perfect cognates (cognados perfectos)  5-10%
  2. True cognates     (cognados verdaderos) 85-90%
  3. False cognates    (Cognados falsos) 5-10%

When the meaning, spelling, and sound is identical, as in animal and (elanimal,  we call them perfect cognates. The only difference is in pronunciation.

 A true cognate is a word that is “either spelled the same or similar and often sounds alike in both languages.” In other words, it’s similar but not identical.   Example include “action” in English and acción in Spanish.  Both words have similar sound and spelling and they (generally) have the same meaning (acción does mean “action,” but it can also mean “stock” or “share” in financial terms). 

Here are some other cognates:

Fiction ficción
PecadilloPecado (sin)
Colaborationla colaboración  

Usually, the more sophisticated the word it the more likely it is a true cognate or perfect cognate.  Common everyday words are more likes to be false cognates or partially false cognates.

 When one studies Dutch and German or Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese one pitfall is the problem of false friends or false cognates.   False cognates are deceptive for appearing to be the same, but have unexpected different meanings.  These words can be totally different in meaning or partially false.  Here are some examples from Spanish:

  • Sin in Spanish means without and has no relationship whatsoever with the English noun “Sin”. 
  • Once (1) and once (11)
  • Library is not librería(bookstore). A library is a biblioteca
  • Grocery (food store) is not grosería rudeness or coarseness
  • Pan (skillet/ sartén is not pan (bread)
  • To rest is not “restar” which means to subtract and to deduct.
  • Red (color) is not “red” (net)
  • Out of control does not mean autocontrol (self control)
  • Embarrassed is not embarazda (pregnant)
  • Gracious is courteous but not gracioso (funny)

When in doubt assume the cognate is or could be a similar word or exactly the same. Some of these words represent direct borrowings from Latin or Greek like radio (la radio Sp. or ραδιόφωνο GR “radiophone”) and teléfono(Sp.) τηλέφωνο GR (tiléfono/telephone.  Of course, some slang English words used in German or Spanish or Modern Greek may not be standard words.   Time will tell.   I used to tell my students who often used the word “raite” (“ride”) that if someone wrote a Nobel Prize winning work called the “Último Raite de Arvin” (the Last Ride from Arvin then they could probably use it on the AP Spanish test but until then it was best to avoid that word however useful and stick to standard Spanish and say “paseo”  or simply “llevar en carro” or even medio de transporte.

Each language has its own special challenges or problems. Do you believe that English is easy or hard? Most would say English  is a very difficult language. It is like learning two languages at the same time.  Nabokov, who learned English as an adult said famously, “learning English was like moving from one darkened house to another on a starless night during a strike of candlemakers and torchbearers.” I think Nabokov captured exactly the fear and confusion of persons trying to learn English from scratch. Yet, Nabokov following another ESL student Joseph Conrad survived and became one of the great English language authors. Yes, English can be weird(peculiar). It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though! (yes, that is correct English!) Can anyone think that English is (facile) easy, that is to say it can be learned by a little effort or effortlessly? No. The truth is this: some things about English are easy and others are, to put it mildly, devilishly difficult. The grammar of English is relatively simple. The word order (syntax) of English is regular. However, spelling English words and pronouncing English words can be a challenge as compared to Spanish or German or Italian languages which are almost entirely phonetic. The expanse of English vocabulary and the variety of its dialects is daunting. Spanish has regional dialects but none is so far removed as English or American dialects. But English is not a remote or exotic language but a language firmly in the mainstream of European/Western languages.  Therefore, if we use an etymological or “historical” approach to vocabulary development it will help the English speaker learn Spanish or French words but, furthermore, since many common Spanish or French words have cognates in academic English. Similarly, a Spanish or French speaker can also better (ameliorate) his or her English vocabulary the same way.

Of course, English has an enormous vocabulary. It takes much reading and study to understand and acquire these words and learn to PRONOUNCE them clearly. But, compared to other languages its grammar is relatively simple. On the other hand, though English words may be easy to recognize and interpret, you have four jobs with every English word:

1)to understand the basic sense or meaning of a word (denotation)

2)to know how to pronounce it correctly; its diction (orthoepy)

3)To know how to spell the word (orthography)

 4) To understand additional senses of meanings of a word (connotations) or words that sound alike (homophones and homonyms!)

Number one and two are the most critical. Many people have difficulty with English spelling (#3) their entire lives. Spelling is just a matter of practice and simple memorization. Spanish is like a disciplined Roman Army organized, regular with very few silent letters.  English is more like a chaos of tribes or charismatic church revival by the river or clandestine poker game in a speakeasy. No one would ever say English was uniform or behaved like an Anglican tea or church service! English is more like a rodeo! Or New York baseball fans crying in unison, “BUM! BUM! BUM!” when the umpire made a bad call. Number four –connotations- is very important and comes from regular reading, study, and analysis of words. Besides learning the connotations of words the learner must learn many idioms (or expressions) plus attain a certain level of cultural literacy so as to understand references and allusions found in stories, articles, and books.

English has an extraordinary richness (or wealth) of vocabulary, idioms, and expressions. It is not unusual for a word to have many synonyms that mean the same or NEARLY the same thing but each word may have a different nuance or shade of meaning that gives that word a special tone or a positive or negative connotation. A house is a basic need or shelter, as is a residence or a habitation but a shack, hovel, shanty, cabin, tenement, wickiup, wigwam, teepee and Motel 6 do not evoke the same meaning as palace, mansion, palazzo, villa, country house, chateau, townhouse, penthouse apartment or Hilton Hotel. It should be obvious to anyone that the first group represents very humble habitations while the second group represents domiciles of varying degrees of luxury.

Reading English is not that difficult but understanding spoken English and speaking English clearly are difficult problems.    I will present shortly another essay specifically on HOW TO LEARN ENGLISH, to PRONOUNCE IT and TO SPELL IT.