February 2021

The Pleasure of Findings Things Out

Many years ago, when I was a little girl, my grandfather gave me a gift. As it was very common in our family – it was a book. The book had a smiling man with unruly curly hair on its cover. It was a translation of a book written by an American physicist – Richard Feynman. The book was called “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out“. I read it in a few days. It was a difficult book to put down. I knew why my grandpa gave it to me – not only because he was a physicist and he had a great sense of humour, but because he wanted me to appreciate how amazing it is to figure things out to yourself… Luckily I was able to keep it with me for my entire life. I hope it comes across in my teaching as well. However, it is not something I only remember when I teach, I hope I live by it. This pleasure of finding things out for myself – be it learning of a new language, learning science, or learning to bake a new kind of bread is something that is a big part of my life.

I have been learning languages forever and I love to use Duolingo to help me with it. Originally, I thought to start with Farsi to be able to communicate better with my friends and family, but when I saw the intricacies of its alphabet, I got a little scared. The writing in Farsi looks very complicated. So I kept postponing it… However, recently I realized that my nephew in Israel has to learn Arabic, so to experience this learning with him I began learning Arabic. As I speak Hebrew, I thought it would be super easy. However, I was surprised to find out that while both Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages they are not as similar as I had hoped.

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The letters in Arabic look very different from Hebrew letters and the languages do not sound very similar. But I decided to give it a try with Duolingo (BTW, Duolingo still doesn’t have Farsi, which is a real shame). So I have been learning for about a month or so and I can say that I probably can recognize 15 or so letters (and they change depending on their position in a word). One thing I know with languages that you have to be patient and give yourself time to get used to the sounds of the language and not to be upset if you do not see results right away. I have to say that my results have been very modest… Yet about a week ago I walked into a Persia Foods store. It is one of my favourite stores in Vancouver and I stopped by the entrance to put on the mask. I was standing by a big box of avocados and without realizing, I read what was written there: آووکادو. Obviously, it was also written in English, but I read the Arabic letters. It puzzled me. Why would they write in Arabic in a Persian Food store? I ran into the store and asked them and they were very surprised as it was written in Persian (Farsi) and not in Arabic. But I clearly recognized the same letters… آووکادو – Farsi and أفوكادو – Arabic. Of course some small wiggles above the letters were slightly different (at that time I haven’t learned about them yet), but I could recognize the letters… This was so exciting to me that I started walking around the store trying to recognize the letters I knew in all other fruits and vegetables. I am sure the Farsi speaking staff in the store thought I was positively crazy being so excited about being able to read some words… However, the feeling of finding things out for yourself are very empowering and I was just so happy about it.

Later at home, I read about the connection of the Farsi and Arabic alphabets and I was very happy to see that when I will eventually start learning Farsi, I will have some background. I also spoke to my daughter in law who taught me how to write my own name in Farsi and I could read it: مارینا. In addition, I read a little bit about learning Arabic: and about how Arabic and Hebrew are related:

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However, the point is that I was able to figure it out for myself. And it doesn’t matter if it is about the language or Newton’s laws, it is something that I FOUND OUT FOR MYSELF. Maybe the fact that my first Farsi or Arabic words were avocado sounds stupid or funny, but to me it is meaningful. There is nothing like the feeling of learning something new and after long period of trying and failing starting to see meaning behind it. Only a month ago all these Arabic letters looked like strange wiggles that I would never be able to understand. Not anymore. This is very-very special and this is something I would like to give my students an opportunity to experience – the pleasure of finding things out. Why? Because it is priceless. Because when you know how exciting and empowering it is to learn something new, you start seeing the world differently. I can only compare it with somebody who could hear the sounds for the first time in her life. An entire new world opens to her. Of course one can live their life without hearing, but how much richer and more interesting the life is when you CAN here. This is how I felt in the store and this is what I think my grandfather wanted to teach me with the help of Richard Feynman.

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