A La Recherche Du Wifi Perdu

It’s gotten nice-n-real, other than a few technical glitches, including a little misunderstanding concerning WiFi, and another one concerning whether Visa ought to let me add more data to my locally-acquired cell phone.  (The better to real you with, my dear.)

In the interest of speed-blogging from my very temporary office here at McDonald’s (I know), and given that Google Photos isn’t letting my PC see all the photos my phone can see, quick tour of the first couple days of sites.

1. Haut Koenigsbourg.  Kaiser Wilhelm decided to restore a castle as an expression of his imperial ambitions.  Mostly that didn’t work out (the empire), but the castle tour is pretty good.  It turns out I have a minor obsession with building techniques.  Lots of photos of castle walls.

Three walls of Haut Koenigsbourg castle meet.  Detail on the variation on construction techniques in the stone masonry.

2. The Unterlinden Museum.  I never really did get much past the  medieval art — but you knew that about me.  The number of different versions of the Blessed Mother and Angel Gabriel getting real with each other is pretty amusing.  Just exactly how did she take that news?  Artists’ opinions vary.

The Annunciation, detail from a wood carving by Albrect Durer.

In addition to the collection, the Unterlinden wins points for letting you out for lunch and not charging you to get back in later in the day.  We wandered around Colmar and found lunch at the restaurant on the right (photo below), overlooking the canal, though it was cool enough outside that children asked to eat indoors.  Where the stone walls were pretty nifty, so that worked for me.
View of a canal in Colmar, France, with half-timbered houses.

So the above shows you Colmar being picturesque, but after having accidentally toured the entire Alsatian countryside in the search of our rental house, honestly the kids weren’t as excited about Urban Picturesque, because every.single.village is overwhelmingly charming.  L. had been in-country less than twelve hours when she made the decision to move here.  Because yes, it really is the best place in the world, thanks, as any local will tell you.

Also, the ice cream for the kids’ menu came in these little plastic cows:
Plastic toy cow that opens to hold a scoop of ice cream.

Nearly covered over the sin of one of my children ordering chicken nuggets.

Since then – Obernai, castles, castles, castles, the Ecomusee, a Trappist guitar Mass, and also castles.

Packing Medium

Three kids and I depart tomorrow today for the big trip.  I am not a person who packs light.  I was pretty pleased that two girls and I were able to get more or less all our stuff, carry-on excepted, into one (large) suitcase.  My big packing question is: Would I be annoyed that I had to buy this in France?

For some things I prefer not to pack our own.  Most of our toiletries we’ll purchase on arrival, because I do not need some child’s shampoo saturating everything we own.  That’ll be fine on the return trip, but I am hoping to not see the inside of a French laundromat for a good week or so.  They can bring home the dregs of a bottle of shampoo for a souvenir.

What is killing us on luggage is that the boy is going to camp.  He wanted to see Alps.  After doing all the investigating — and I was this close to taking up learning German — the best option for giving him Maximum Alpine Experience was to send to him to a week of summer camp down in Chamonix.  Everything about that choice is good except the packing list.  The camp people want the kids to bring clothes and spare clothes and more clothes for every day.  Of course they do — who wants to be liable for a dozen freezing-naked underpacked children?

Also, I would be mildly irritated to have to buy a fresh set of camping gear in Europe, and I’m very not interested in having a gear crisis the day camp begins.  Unfortunately, my imagination does not look at a tiny-font packing list and accurately gauge how many cubic feet that will all turn into.  Thus we have a mountain of luggage despite my extremely uncharacteristic efforts to go semi-minimalist otherwise.

Large suitcase with rabbit pillow pet on top.

Two hippos and a rabbit have wormed their way onto the passenger list.

Weirdest thing about this trip: I am having a hard time believing it is real.  That’s odd because I don’t just know lots of people who travel all the time, but also I’ve done this before.  I’ve lived in France twice.  I’m not going someplace exotic to me.  I think it’s that I’ve been so firmly planted in the stay-at-home life for the past two decades, and also that doing this was so completely impossible until so recently; until it actually happens, I don’t think my brain can be fully persuaded that it can happen.

Last night we had a mini bon voyage party, which involved getting bitten by all the mosquitos and then coming home from the river to find my friend surprising me with an icon of St. Raphael.  She didn’t have time to get it blessed on her local orthodox altar, so she proposed that I might want to get it blessed in France.  That would be a serious stretch outside my comfort zone, giving me a double-hit on areas of maximal shyness, but friends do that to you.

Orthodox icon of St. Raphael, who looks like he's surfing on the back of a giant fish.

St. Raphael is the ignored angel in my life (Gabriel and Michael get all the attention, and Gabriel would tell you he’s the overlooked tag-along in that pair), but here’s what my friend pointed out: St. Raphael is the patron of both wayfarers and of healing.

Apt enough, and then if you add in the part about how I need to cram all that luggage into our otherwise right-sized too-small rental car, there’s this: He’s particularly the patron of I Can’t Believe This Is Happening To Me, and also of people launching into big adventures with a terrifying stack of baggage.  At least for once he’s being invoked for good crises and not bad ones.

Catholics Talking About Sex This Week

This week I’m in Orlando, Florida (on vacation), and everywhere you turn, there’s some kind of rainbow-themed promotion of this or that deadly sin.

Pride is the one being touted most.  The stores chiefly profit from envy and avarice, but why should those two get all the limelight?  Gluttony reigns in the food courts; given all the theme parks and tourist attractions vying for attention, around here sloth gets short shift.  Wrath is virtually ignored by comparison to the others, and lust, curiously, continues to fixate on the bodies of scantily-clad thirteen-year-old girls — you might celebrate attraction to every body and its brother, but advertisers play it conservative with consumer tastes.

Three good articles (one of them mine) that are variations on the theme:

As Father Longenecker observes, the whole question of Catholics vs. Gay People is dreadfully simple:

Therefore when we consider those people who are attracted to people of the same sex, the church teaches that they too are to be celibate.

What else is there to discuss?  Further discussion on this particular point is an attempt to wiggle out of the Church’s tough expectations.

The only other thing we have to discuss is how to minister to all the people in our care who, for whatever reason, are not able to enjoy sexual intimacy with another person. How to live chastely and how to deal with celibacy is the challenge–not just for homosexual people, but for anyone who is unmarried.

Vincent Weaver, who sometimes blogs here, writes at The Register about authentic kindness towards people struggling with gender-dysphoria:

This honesty shouldn’t be reserved for those with GID or same-sex attraction, though. Cohabitation, contraception, and pre-marital sex among heterosexual couples all have significant, damaging side effects. We should study these and be familiar with them so we can fully love those who are considering or are in the midst of such lifestyles.

To fail to love someone in any of these situations is failing in kindness. But, to say nothing or to not be honest with people is false kindness.  In some cases, we may literally be killing them with kindness of this sort. Jesus told us not to judge (people). But, he also obligated us to address harmful behaviors and told us that “The Truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Let’s practice a religion of kindness that is the real deal. Gentle. Caring. Helpful.

Also at the Register, here’s some early NFP-awareness from me: Please Don’t Ask Me About My Sex Life.

The goal of contraception is to separate sex from fertility. It’s a goal so thoroughly achieved that people get shocked and offended if you suggest that pregnancy is the normal, predicted, even desirable outcome of sexual intercourse.

We now of course separate fertility from sex as well, thanks to IVF, artificial insemination, and surrogacy.

The result has been a traffic in children fueled by a newly-acquired conviction that offspring are something you order off a menu – and send back to the kitchen if the dish doesn’t appeal after all. Even for pro-life, Christian couples, the idea of not using contraception is radical and foreign.  “Family planning” is so ingrained in our mentality that we consider it irresponsible or simply unthinkable that one would plunge into parenthood with no particular strategy other than to welcome the children God sends.

Why wait for the last week of July, when you have the marital privilege of being NFP-aware all year long?

nfp

2017 NFP Awareness poster courtesy of the USCCB, where you can find lots of useful information for your awareness purposes.  The models were chosen based on their ability to best communicate the theme of “Hahaha we have no idea what we’re getting into!  But we can’t help ourselves!  What? There’s a class we’re supposed to take that will hopefully sober us up long enough to seriously consider what it is we’re about to commit to for the rest of our lives?  Hahahaha have a drink, okay?”

Pain Bleg Update –> How’s It Going, Jen?

So if you post something like last month’s Name This Pain bleg, it’s a good idea to update sooner, rather than later, when you rejoin the happy world of healthy-type people.  Otherwise, every time you turn up some friend will peer at you with concern and ask gravely, “How are you?”

If you are me, it’ll take you a minute to wonder why they are asking this way, because I’m somewhat forgetful in this regard.

(My description of a particularly difficult bout of unmedicated childbirth:  “It took me several days to be willing to do that again.”  Whether this level of forgetfulness is good for the overall survival of the species depends on which sort of calculations you favor.)

So first of all, many thanks to those who replied to me.  The most interesting response was that many people wrote in to say it sounded like their own experience with Restless Legs Syndrome.  This was curious, since it means that a number of physicians have ditched the “urge to move” component of the diagnostic criteria for that disorder.

More interesting: Two readers with RLS and one reader who did not mention RLS said that their symptoms (identical to what I described) were caused by medications.  The three medications mentioned were: Antihistamines, ibuprofen, and migraine medication (Imitrex, I think?)

Whether any of these are a factor for me, I do not know.  I ran some experiments which were inconclusive.

Here is something I do know: God hears the cry of the migraine sufferer.

That’s not me.  That’s my poor friend and colleague from whom I really needed some information, and even when she explained that she was standing in the dark because she had a migraine, did I leave her in peace?  No I did not.    Even though I KNEW that I was being a horrible person and begging for divine retribution, I persisted in asking my questions anyway — which she answered quite helpfully, just as I’d hoped.

So then when I came down with a couple days of non-migraine-but-still-deeply-irritating headache shortly thereafter, the explanation was obvious.

I don’t know that I wouldn’t risk it again, honestly.

***

Anyhow, I am doing wonderfully this month.  Perfectly perfect, other than when I’m courting wrath.  You who have been praying, I am immensely grateful.

Me with Larry Peterson

Here’s me looking as happy as I am, after lunch with Larry Peterson today.   I am really enjoying this thing where I just go around places having a good time, done.

 

Remember When They Used to Have Eucharistic Processions?

Words from an otherwise perfectly nice Corpus Christi homily, spoken by an elderly priest to a Florida congregation with a hefty presence of retirees: “Some of you may remember way back when the Church used to have ‘Eucharistic Processions’ . . .”

Used to, Father?

Youngsters around the world remember it like it was yesterday . . .

File:Corpus Christi solemnity in Wroclaw 2017 P01.jpg

Corpus Christi solemnity 2017, St. Albert Church, Wrocław via Wikimedia [CC 4.0].  

Is the Catholic Writers Guild Worth Your Time?

In the next few months the Catholic Writers Guild has some super good events coming up.  In July there’s the annual Catholic Writers’ Conference, meeting in Chicago this year (it moves around), held in conjunction with the giant annual trade show for Catholic bookstores.  In October is the Catholic Writers’ Retreat, held at a beautifully gardened retreat center outside of Lansing, Michigan.  All year long, members of the CWG confer online (and sometimes in person), helping each other in the quest to get our work into readers’ hands.

It might be a good organization for you.  Here’s the inside scoop, coming from a former VP of the CWG and now not-very-active member who has basically nothing to gain, at all, from your decision to participate or not.

Who Would Benefit from Membership in the Catholic Writers’ Guild?

Some people join the CWG and quickly realize it’s not a good fit for them.  If CWG membership isn’t for you, you might still enjoy our public events, more on that below.  Assuming you are a faithful-to-the-magisterium Catholic who is interested in some aspect of publishing (writing, editing, illustrating, graphic design, running a publishing company, etc.), here are the other things that seem to be most important in determining whether you’ll benefit from belonging to the CWG:

#1 You’re serious about your decision to write or publish.

Some people join the CWG for a year or two while they explore the possibilities, and that’s fine.  But the goal of the Catholic Writers Guild is to cultivate strong Catholic writers and other publishing professionals, in order to bring good literature to the world.  Our members are involved in every aspect of the business and every genre and venue, but we all have one thing in common: We are actually doing the thing.

You can be a rank beginner (indeed, that’s a great place to start). You can be uncertain what your future publishing career looks like.  You can be someone mostly interested in writing for a private audience.  But you won’t really be satisfied with belonging to the guild unless you are eager to keep moving forward in your craft.

#2 You are ready to take an active part in making the mission of the Guild happen.

The CWG is 100% member-run.  We aren’t one of these prestigious press associations with crazy-expensive dues and a staff to field phone calls all day.  We are a network of writers and other professionals helping each other with career advice, honest evaluations, contacts in the industry, moral support, and feedback on all the weird things that come into your head when you’re a Catholic writer.  You won’t benefit from CWG membership if you are planning to sit back and have other people infuse career help into your life.  You will find your support team and get the help you need through the process of engaging with other members and volunteering for projects that put you in the place you need to be.

#3 You are looking for help.

Some people don’t need this.  If you already know your craft, already have a strong support team, and already have the professional connections you need in order to get your work to your readers, then you should probably be focusing on getting your next project finished, or feeding the poor, or spending another hour at Adoration.  People who aren’t looking for some kind of help or social support in their publishing efforts usually only enjoy membership in the guild if they derive particular pleasure from helping others.   Many non-members satisfy the itch to mentor other Catholic writers by volunteering to give presentations at the CWG’s in-person and online conferences, or quietly providing other kinds of assistance to growing writers.

The Catholic Writers Guild is above all a way for Catholic writers to help each other learn how to improve their craft and get their work in front of readers.  If that is the kind of help you’re looking for, check out the CWG.

For everyone else?  Even if membership isn’t for you, the upcoming events might still be of interest.

The Catholic Writers’ Conference

The CWG’s annual conference is a chance to spend time with other writers, attend classes, meet editors and publishers, and find out what’s going on in Catholic publishing.  If you like books and Catholic stuff, walking the floor of the CMN’s trade show is Catholic fairyland.  The whole event is friendly and exciting and more or less one long festival of all things Catholic writing geek.

I try to go when I can, though honestly?  I come away with so many ideas for projects that in the years that I can’t go, it’s probably just as well.  If you like to be with people, and you get energized by seeing what others are doing and by spending time with people who are passionate about the things you care about, this is the place.

Registration is still open for July 2017, so take a look if Chicago is within striking distance for you.

The Catholic Writers’ Retreat

This is a picture of my perfect weekend:

Easy chair with computer keyboard by sunny window with a view.

I took my daughter to the coast, and while she played ball and then went out to the beach with her friends, I spent a whole day with a gorgeous view and a computer and knocked out a bunch of writing.

The writer’s retreat is a combination of that — quiet time to get writing done in a beautiful location — and a comfortable amount of time with other Catholic writers.  It’s organized by Margaret Rose Realy and this year’s speaker is Elizabeth Scalia, two fabulous Catholics who are definitely more retreat-personality than conference-personality.  If quiet time is something you need, these women know deep in their bones the ache that you feel when you say that.  I will you tell you very frankly that Margaret doesn’t skimp where prayer is concerned, and Elizabeth (no slouch on the Catholic herself) will tell it like it is when she has something to say.  You’ll be in good hands.

Both of these events are open to non-members.  If either one (or both) sounds like your happy place, take a look at what the  Catholic Writers Guild is up to this year.

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The Holy Trinity Unexplained

I think my favorite day of the year might be Trinity Sunday.

It’s not obvious, except that every year it makes me gasp and be happy.  I probably like it better than other feasts because there’s never any obligatory feasting involved, thank goodness for that.

I don’t have anything to say about the Trinity.  The Catechism does have some things to say, and those will keep you busy for a while.

Meanwhile, here are some icons of the Holy Trinity.
File:Torki Holy Trinity.jpg

Photos taken just after dinner, I guess.

File:Unknown painter - The Holy Trinity - WGA23507.jpg

 

You get pictures like this to explain the unfathomable if you’re from the mystic eastern lung of the Church; in the west, we prefer bad analogies, of course.  It’s good of the Church to call this Trinity Sunday and not Struggling With Theology Sunday.

But you can have a pretty good feast day if you pick one known true thing about the Holy Trinity and for a few minutes let it sit in your brain unfixed.  This is the thing with mysteries: They are meant to be worked at.  They are meant to be announced and examined and slowly revealed, bit by bit, until in the fullness of time our thirst for understanding is satisfied.

 

Icons via Wikimedia, public domain.

How to Get a Long Penance

Over at Mother of Mercy, my preferred venue for confessions, I wrapped up a list of weightier sins with,  “. . . and losing patience with other people’s shortcomings, which I know is ridiculous, but there it is.”

Fr. A* was still thinking after the act of contrition.  “For your penance, um . . .”  when he does this, you know you’re in trouble, because it’s the sound he makes when he’s fitting the punishment to the crime, “. . . pray for anyone you may have lost your patience with–”

–maybe I can work with this–

“–in thought or in . . .”

Oh for crying out loud, Father!  Even if I kept my mouth shut?! Really??

So did I pray for you?  If you take a long time in the confessional, or you give evidence that you are unclear on why your car’s gas pedal is also called the “accelerator”?  Then yes, I definitely prayed for you.

 

File:Postcard of Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy.jpg

Postcard of the Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy, via Wikimedia (public domain).

*A is for Anonymous.  I have no idea who’s behind the screen.  That’s what I like about the place.

French Culture – Marriage, Family Life, and Sexuality – Interesting Links

My latest at the National Catholic Register touches on some interesting bits of French culture where marriage is concerned.   I didn’t have room in a short essay to create an annotated bibliography, and anyway I stumbled on more interesting stuff than I’ll ever write about.  Here’s a list of assorted links of potential interest to select readers, with a few comments at the bottom related to my essay topic.

In talking about cultural contrasts, here’s an article on France’s military-run brothel system, dating from World War I.  Here’s a short history of the United States’ approach to the problem of venereal diseases during the same period.  The differences are striking.

This Google preview of Fathers, Families, and the State in France, 1914-1945  has some history of the role of paternity during that time period.

 

All kinds of interesting parental-rights cases from the European Court of Human Rights are summarized here (in English).

On the question of legitmacy: Children Born Outside Marriage in France and their Parents. Recognitions and Legitimations since 1965.  Text is in English, and loaded with statistics concerning changes in practice over time.

Here’s a research paper exploring the range of issues in how biological versus social paternity is handled across Europe.  It is useful as an introduction to the kinds of issues that are in play, and how different countries have dealt with them.

Some Wikimedia articles that highlight the way French law handles questions of maternity and paternity:

A more academic discussion of the question of genetic testing legislation in Europe is here.  The European Journal of Human Genetics discusses the legal situation in Western Europe here.

Wikimedia’s English-language summary of the history of posthumous marriage is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posthumous_marriage. Note there is a slight error, it is Article 171 that gives us the pertinent law.  The related topic of proxy-marriage is discussed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_marriage.

There’s a bit on the case law concerning posthumous marriage in Europe if you scroll down to paragragh 247 of Le Couple et la Convention Européenne des Droits de l’Homme .  Google translate struggles a bit on this one.  The French Code Civil (in French) is here.

On the topic of posthumous marriage, the only Church document, at all, which I could find was this: http://www.radiovaticana.va/Afr_bulletin/14_05_14.html.  The relevant part is here, boldface mine:

D. AUX CHEFS DE FAMILLE
24 – Chers chefs de famille, votre place n’est plus à démontrer, et votre responsabilité est capitale. L’impact de votre action peut être positif ou négatif, selon que vous agissez conformément ou non à la volonté de Dieu. Il vous donne de prendre soin des personnes qu’il vous confie. Votre mission est à la fois honorable et complexe. C’est sur vous que repose la cohésion de la famille, en matière de dot, de gestion d’héritage et de conflits, de traitement des veuves, des veufs et des orphelins. Dans cet ordre d’idées, à la lumière de la tradition et de l’Evangile, nous dénonçons la pratique illégale qui consiste à demander une dot trop élevée. Respectez ce que prévoit le code de la famille (art. 140). Nous condamnons la pratique du mariage posthume (versement de la dot lors du décès de la conjointe). Appliquez-vous avec courage, avec toute votre force, à accomplir dignement votre mission de chef de famille.

Nous vous assurons, de notre soutien, de notre proximité, de notre prière et de notre bénédiction.

The context is not (at all whatsoever) the French civil law on posthumous marriage.  Rather, the bishops are condemning the practice of asking too high of a dowry, and therefore also the practice of “posthumous marriage” as a vehicle for receiving the payment of the dowry when the bride has died.

By way of comparison on the topic of the French civil code’s practice of posthumous marriage, here’s the Code of Canon Law on the topic of “radical sanation,” which is something completely different.  It’s of interest because it shares the concept of “going back in time and fixing things” where marriage is concerned.  And that’s it — no other connection between the two.

 

File:Zingende boerenfamilie Rijksmuseum SK-A-376.jpeg "Singing Peasant Family"

I searched on “French Family” and the results came up Dutch.  Thanks Wikimedia!

How to Turn On Your Foreign-Language Reading Brain

When I first showed up in France as an exchange student in high school, my host sister asked me, in English, “When you speak French, do you think in English first and then translate, or do the words just come?”

At the time I’d had two years of high school French — just enough to make French people want to try out their English, that was not something French people of that era were too excited about doing.

I wasn’t sure.  I was somewhere in between, after a couple weeks in-country, and a lot of hours spent passing notes in bad French to my friend in geometry class the year before.

Brendan at DarwinCatholic writes about the challenge of being stuck in translation-mode as a student of German.

He is almost certainly paying the price that comes with being analytical and diligent.  I am neither (not to the degree he is, anyhow), and so I strongly favor a different approach to learning languages that will leave you with horrible holes in your grammar, but significantly better reading fluency than a slacker like me could ever deserve.

Here is what I told Brendan to do, and if you are in his shoes, it might help you, too.

#1. Relax.

This is not personal advice, it is mechanically necessary for reading fluency.

There are different parts of your brain that carry out different tasks.

If you are deep in analytical thought, the part of your brain that lets words flow effortlessly gets put on the back burner. Even though my French is fluent (not perfect, just fluent), if I’m nervous or distracted by contrary thoughts, it’ll bog down.  Here’s a real thing that happened to me once which made this clear:

For about five minutes back in the ’90’s, I studied Italian.  That’s like an actual five minutes, not a metaphorical five minutes — my husband had some Italian books I was putting away.  I run into Italian here and there on the internet because I’m Catholic and I read Amy Welborn, and since I’ve studied other romance languages, it’s something that kinda sorta makes sense.   So I can sometimes read easy Italian pretty well, if it’s a topic that I’m familiar with, heavy on the cognates.

Thus one day I was reading this magazine article in Italian, no big, hey, who doesn’t read magazine articles in Italian?  Totally rocking it.

It was religion or something, or else I got to thinking about religion or something, and I put the article down and set my brain to articulating a series of arguments on a tricky topic.  When I went back to the article with my analytical-brain in high gear?  It was all gibberish.  I literally went from reading fluently to having to painfully pick apart word by word — and the latter is not a good technique in a language you’ve never formally studied.

So anyway, I learned from then on that totally relaxing is the key.  Pour yourself a drink.  Think about picturesque villages and parts of the world where decent coffee is a birthright, and then amble on in like you don’t really care.  Makes a big difference.

#2. Gorge on the spoken word.

Part of developing fluency is getting the rhythm of the language into your head.  When you learned to speak your native language, you began by spending a year and some just listening to people around you say things you mostly didn’t understand.  The first part of it you were listening underwater, for goodness sake.

True story: My eldest came into this world crying like a normal newborn does.  Newborns have a distinctive just-fell-off-the-turnip-truck amateur quality to the way they cry.  #2 gestated in an environment flooded with her older brother’s loud and emphatic toddler tantrums echoing into the womb.  She thus entered this world not crying like some neophyte, but with all the intonation and rhetorical sophistication of a veteran whiner.   Woken in the middle of the night by some child carrying on, I could not know without looking whether it was the toddler being himself, or the newborn sounding eighteen months older than she was.

To get the rhythm of a language into your head, you have to swim in it, bathe in it, and guzzle it down with supper every night.  Understanding all the words is not the important thing at first.

–> The inner fluency you gain from hearing language more sophisticated than you have personally mastered is part of why read-alouds are so important to helping young children learn to read.

#3. Practice saying the patterns.

Brendan writes about the grammatical construction in German that’s giving him a hard time.  To get over the hump, what you have to do is use that construction.  Except that whoa, he’s only a couple years into this.  So what you do is learn some phrases and sentences of daily usefulness that incorporate the tricky grammar.

He has some children on whom he can inflict his practice sentences, if only he chooses commonly used expressions, such as whoever changes the baby’s diaper doesn’t have to take out the trash.  Or whatever else might be applicable.

Languages are collections of patterns.  Once you have a basic pattern into your head, subbing out a noun for a noun or a verb for a verb is pretty easy.

–> This is part of why building words with magnet-letters, building sentences with flashcards, and playing word games where parts of words or sentences are interchanged are so helpful to learning to read.

Edited to add: Erin at Bearing Blog has a superb technique for working odd language patterns.  I do this a lot in my head, but she’s methodical and diligent like Brendan is, so she does it for serious.

#4. Read lots and lots of easy stuff

When I say easy, I mean ridiculously easy.  Pick topics that are heavy on cognates of vocabulary you already know, and covering topics you already understand. (I recommended economics, history, politics, and religion for Brendan.)  Read these things in short sessions.  By short I mean: About the size of a paragraph in a church bulletin, or an article in a tourist brochure, or R.R. Reno’s paragraph-sized observations at the back of the print edition of First Things.

Edited to add: Reader Bill Hauk points out that children’s books are excellent for this.  I couldn’t agree more.

Be warned that micro-messages, such as billboard advertisements, are usually not that helpful.  They tend to require lots of inside cultural knowledge and grammatical sophistication.  You want a big enough chunk of text that you can miss a few words here and there and still know pretty much what was being said.

These are not a complete method for learning a language.

Brendan’s already got the grammar side of things under control, and I bet he pays attention to spelling too. For building technical translation skills, the sorts of training I’ve described here will basically ruin you.  You’ll absorb the language straight through the skin, and if you are reading anything produced by a half-decent writer, the thought of exchanging something said so perfectly into some pale imitation will become anathema.  No translator will quite get it right again, ever, as far as you’re concerned.

But you’ll be able to read, so that’s good.

FR_Colmar_20080828_005.jpg (2550×2025)

La petite Venise, Colmar, France.  By HNH (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.