MaFLA Visit and Free Book Friday winners

Visiting with Boston Public’s Director of World Language, Dr. Yu-Lan Lin, at MaFLA.

I spent Friday at the annual conference of MaFLA, the foreign language teachers association of Massachusetts. Less commonly taught languages are especially strong in Massachusetts, with many thanks owed to the dynamic leadership of Yu-Lan Lin, World Languages Program Director for Boston Public Schools. Here’s a photo of Dr. Lin and me when she visited the Tuttle booth. During the day, I got some tips about Chinese tones (when two 3rd tones come together, the first one becomes 2nd tone and the second one becomes a half-third tone… thank you, Elizabeth Hammett of the Brookwood School!) and aspirated Hindi consonsants (thanks, Maggie Cummings).

Japanese Proverbs

Japanese Proverbs, by David Galef

The response to Friday’s free book was huge. Thank you to everyone who entered the raffle for a copy of Japanese Proverbs. So many people entered that I really wanted to give away more than one copy. I asked around the office and got two additional copies, so congratulations to Christie, Anthea, and Anita, who all won a copy of Galef’s book.

Just got word here that we’re shutting down the power and closing our office here in North Clarendon, VT in advance of Sandy. I’ll be back when the lights come back on!


Free Book Friday: Japanese Proverbs

Japanese Proverbs

Japanese Proverbs, by David Galef

“It need not surprise us, though it should interest us, that the same proverbs are to be found in very different cultures. That not all the proverbs of one culture are to be found in another need not surprise us either, and it should interest us very much. It demonstrates that the concerns of the two are not identical. It ought to shake us a little from our parochialism.”

—from the preface by Edward Seidensticker

And for such a complicated world, we can be parochial indeed. This week’s free book is David Galef’s new Japanese Proverbs. A fresh edition that combines his previous two collections: Even Monkeys Fall from Trees (1987) and Even a Stone Buddha Can Talk (2000), this single volume includes 200 Japanese kotowaza (諺), sumi-e style illustrations by Jun Hashimoto, a new introduction by the author, and the original preface (excerpted above) to Even Monkeys Fall from Trees by renowned scholar and translator Edward Seidensticker.

My own observation of Japanese proverbs is that the one about the nail sticking up getting hammered down (which is in this collection) has been repeated so often in Western ears that it has created a somewhat lopsided view of Japan as relentlessly conformist. Japanese culture is, of course, as nuanced and multifaceted as any on earth, and in this book the Japanese heart is on full display.

In 月夜に米の飯 (A meal of rice under the evening moon), we see the Japanese appreciation for simplicity. The phrase一寸の虫にも五文の魂 (Even a one-inch insect has a half-inch soul) captures both the wry humor of Japan and something of its traditional Buddhist regard for life. In the one phrase 失敗は成功の母 (Failure is the mother of success), we read both Japan’s perseverance as well as its commitment to learning. Japan’s surprisingly earthy sensibility is captured in 善き分別は雪隠で出る (Wise judgment comes when on the toilet). One apt for all of us here perhaps (adults learning foreign languages) is 八十の手習い (Calligraphy practice at 80); i.e., the idea that you’re never too old to learn. (See my post on 10/18 on why language learning is like calisthenics for the brain as we age.)

All of the proverbs in this book are presented three ways: in the original kanji and kana form, in romaji, and in English so that you can enjoy them at any level of Japanese knowledge. For a chance to win this book, just write me a note at and put “Free Book Friday” in the subject line!

Free Book Friday Winner

Congratulations to Nathan Hopson of the Dept of Chinese and Japanese at Grinnell College who won last week’s free book Basic Spoken Chinese by Cornelius Kubler! Thanks for entering, Nathan. We’ll raffle off another free book this Friday so don’t forget to visit again or sign-up to have the blog delivered to you automatically on Friday morning.

Conference Season

MaFLA logo

The Massachusetts Foreign Language Association

It’s academic conference season, and on Friday I’m driving down to Sturbridge, MA for MaFLA, the annual conference and exhibit of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association. Many states have a language teachers’ conference in the fall, and it’s inspiring to spend a few hours in a room full of a 1,000 people speaking different languages. Check out your local state or regional foreign language teachers organization to find out when your local show takes place and if it’s open to the public.

Elementary Hindi

Elementary Hindi by Richard Delacy (presenting at MaFLA) and Sudha Joshi

When you visit the exhibit hall, especially if it’s in one of those lonely hours when all the teachers are in training sessions, you’ll find publishers who’re eager to share new books with you. And most things are on sale for a big discount. This year, Richard Delacy, author of our Elementary Hindi and Hindi in a Flash is co-presenting a workshop titled Methods for Teaching Non-Latin Script Languages.

On Wednesday, I’m traveling down to Manhattan to visit the foreign-language buyer at Barnes & Noble. Not all bookstores actually have a language specialist who selects what goes on their shelves. Barnes & Noble does, which is why they have a very intelligent selection of language books. On the way, I’m hoping to have time to stop in at Idlewild Books one of the few independent foreign language bookstores. When you’re in Manhattan, make sure it’s on your itinerary.