English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!

English Corner – Creating a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter? Why is it important for an English learner to know about it and also how to create a good one? Well, a good cover letter can make the difference between landing that dream job or hitting refresh on the search results again to find the next job opportunity. Your experience and your professional background need to be succinct and summed up in a well-written way and the cover letter is your best way of doing that. It is an excellent way in which for you to improve your English writing skills and to prove that you can handle your future job’s writing components which there is likely to be many of them since you are a worker during an age of e-mails, 24 hour communications, and instant messaging services.

A cover letter is an opportunity for you to go into more detail about yourself and your experience(s) and background, both professionally and personally. However, your cover letter should focus on the job you are applying for as well as why you are interested in the particular company that you intend to work for. Your cover letter should be a balance of who you are as a professional, what you can offer for the job you’re applying to, and what your interest in the company is. It’s a balancing act between these two objectives and you should remember to personalize your cover letter depending on where you are applying to.

You may be asking yourself as you read this blog post: Why do I need a cover letter and what benefit(s) do I get from creating a worthwhile one? Well, there are a number of reasons for it which I will list below but be sure to note that it’s more than just a chance to land a good job but it’s a chance for yourself to become a better writer and know how to sell your abilities and skills.

Your cover letter is different from the resume in that it allows you to go more in-depth about yourself and why you’re a good fit for the job. Instead of short bullet points, you can highlight your experiences in broader detail. Employers will also expect why you would like to work for their company and how your skills line up with their requirements. It’s a chance to tell your story to them while interweaving how their company or organization aligns with your professional goals. In addition, you have the ability to showcase how good of a writer you are because the cover letter is more grammatically, and vocabulary focused than your resume.

Action words will make up a large component of your cover letter’s sentences so please be sure to put these verbs to good use. Here below are just a sampling of them listed below but remember that there are hundreds that can be used within the context of a regular cover letter. Try not to repeat yourself too much and to keep your usage of action words fresh and consistent throughout the letter.

Sample Action Words

  • Activate
  • Compose
  • Communicate
  • Develop
  • Direct
  • Manage
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Systemize
  • Test
  • Verify
  • Value

Note: Remember to add –d or –ed to the end of the action verb if using it for the past tense.

In addition, you have to be able to choose and use some phrases and sentences that will come in handy either at the beginning or end of the cover letter so that you will come off as being both professional and serious. You do not have to use all of them but there are a number of them that are cordial in nature that a potential employer will expect from you to see when they read it during their evaluation.

Here are some key useful phrases/sentences that you can use for your average cover letter:

  • Dear Sir or Madam…
  • I am applying for this ________________ opening with _______________ for the purpose of __________________________________.
  • This job appeals to me because ________________________.
  • Your company / organization / firm is my top choice because ____________________________________.
  • I believe that I offer a lot to this position based on my skills and qualifications.
  • For example, last year, I was tasked with ____________________________________ and I was able to help by ______________________________________.
  • Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or comments about my application.
  • Thank you for your consideration of my application for this _________________ position with ________________ and I look forward to hearing from someone soon.
  • Sincerely, __________________ (Your Name).

To give you reading at home a better idea of what the content and the structure of a cover letter looks like, I have included two sample cover letter excerpts that will show you how it can be written and what to write about potentially if you are still struggling for ideas as to how the cover letter should be shaping up.

Sample Cover Letter Excerpts

  • “I have over five years of management experience and led my team of software developers to develop a successful mobile application. This mobile application was instrumental in connecting doctors with patients in an online booking system that took out the middle man from participating in this previously onerous process.”
  • “I believe your company, Syntax Inc., has been successful in implementing various infrastructure projects related to bridges and tunnels throughout the Middle East. These kind of projects are related to what I hope to do with my career and I think that this work is very important to the future.”

Remember that you should know who your audience is and tailor your phrases to reflect who you are writing the cover letter for. Always use formal language such as sir, madam, sincerely, respectfully, please, thank you, etc. Go into detail about the job you are applying for and give different reasons on what you bring to the table for the position opening. Structure the cover letter into multiple paragraphs with an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion. The cover letter is a formal piece of writing so it should be structured as a formal letter whereas a resume is less substantive and more general.

In the introduction of the cover letter, remember to always put your full name, your current mailing address, your cell phone number, and your e-mail address at the header of the cover letter. The date at which you are sending out the cover letter should go next in the left hand part of the cover letter below your header. Then, you should begin the cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam..” or “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Mr. or Mrs. ________” if you know who specifically the cover letter should be addressed to. The introduction should be a paragraph or two focusing on what position you are applying to, the company associated with the position, and for which reasons you are applying for this specific position. You can also add the person or place that referred you to this job application especially if the person works for the company you’re applying to.

The body paragraph(s) of the cover letter should be a few paragraphs in total length but not be too lengthy or repetitive. Each paragraph should cover a different part of your professional or educational background and highlight what these experiences meant to you and what skills you developed. You should give a few examples of where you showed leadership, where you completed a successful project, and what you took from the experience. Do remember to not discuss every professional experience or educational program you’ve gone to but instead highlight the relevant ones related to the job application in question. Always use complete sentences for this part of the cover letter and check it over for grammatical coherence and correct vocabulary usage.

When it comes to a cover letter’s conclusion, you’ll want to re-state again why you are applying to this particular position and company. Discuss which characteristics, skills, and personal traits you have that will make you stand out as a job candidate. The conclusion of your cover letter should indicate gratitude and thankfulness for being able to apply and that you hope to hear back soon from the employer. Sign off with a salutation such as Sincerely, Best regards, Warm regards, Best wishes, Cordially, etc. and re-state your full name at the end of the cover letter. Don’t be too presumptuous that you will land the position but let your experiences, skills, and qualifications speak for themselves.

Your cover letter is what you make of it really and if you want the job bad enough, it will come through in your writing and in your sincerity. The point of becoming a better English learner is to put yourself to the test and to make the most of your abilities in this language and developing a good cover letter is a great way to do that. If you follow this advice, practice until there are few if no mistakes at all, and revise multiple times what you have written, you will be well on your way to having better success in your professional career in the English-speaking world.

Thursday Night Lights

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Morumbi; São Paulo, Brazil

‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (A Video Retrospective)

It’s hard to really love most music videos today which tend to be shallow and lacking in any original thought. During past decades leading up to the 2000’s, it seems like actual effort and work was put into music videos of songs in order to get on MTV but also to highlight the themes of the song as well as the entire album. There are a number of my favorite artists who produce great music videos including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

However, MTV and official music videos are not what they used to be. In an age of instant gratification and live concerts being streamed of the songs you love, it’s hard to appreciate music videos as being part of an increasingly crowded creative marketplace. While official music videos may be dying, creative videos and covers of songs from our favorite artists seem to be on the rise. Considering that music videos are usually for hit singles of certain songs and not for entire albums, there has started to be a movement towards producing independent music videos for songs that never received the official ‘music video’ song treatment.

The rise of YouTube and other video platforms has allowed creative people who are fans of good music to produce their own music videos. While they started out as being kind of cliché or very amateur, they are now becoming very professional and also very related to the lyrics of the song in question. I saw a particular music video of a favorite song of mine featured on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The song is ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ by Radiohead and it is an excellent song by my favorite band but the one thing that this song never had was its own brilliant music video to go with it.

Because of YouTube, the creative skills of a fan named ‘Capitao Ahab’, which is a pretty fun name in its own right, although I believe the original video creator’s name is Joschka Laukeninks who created it and titled it ‘BACKSTORY.’ It is a now an unofficial music video on the popular video platform that is really well done and professionally shot that has received almost two million views. A video like this would not have existed ten years ago but luckily it does. Part of the reason why this music video is so impactful is that it works so well with the content of this particular Radiohead song.

‘Everything in Its Right Place’ like many of Radiohead’s songs are open to interpretation but it is soothing with its use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated voices, and haunting electronic sounds that sound comforting when you have your headphones on at full blast. The lyric itself of ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ focuses on how to maintain your composure and your levelheadedness as you go through life. The fan music video’s storyline of a baby becoming a boy, a man, and then an elderly man highlights the ups and downs of life and how there are ‘two colors in my head.’

The ‘two colors’ could be interpreted as the good and the bad that you will go through as you go through life’s uncertain and mysterious waters. In particular, the song begins with the oft-repeated lyric of ‘Kid A’, the title of Radiohead’s 2000 album and expresses the experiences of a ‘boy’ as he is born, grows up, matures, and eventually dies. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking on a lemon.” Is also a lyric up to the fan’s interpretation but it implies that life can be sour as well as sweet and that you will have to taste and swallow the bitterness of life if you want to enjoy the sweet part of the fruit.

The music video begins on a hopeful note as a baby boy gains his first steps as he walks through his parents’ house. The sweetness of his childhood is referenced with meeting animals for the first time, having his 6th birthday, going to the beach, and experiencing pure joy at that age. Childhood innocence does not last forever so the boy ends up experiencing his first pains in life including the accidental burning down of his house, fights between his mother and his father, the divorce and exit of his mother from his life, pressures from his father to succeed as he ages into being a teenager.

Learning in school, riding his bicycle, summer days at the swimming pool are some of the joys of teenage life including his first experiences with girls as well with drugs and late nights with friends. Still though, the joys of discovery and youth are balanced out by his struggles with partying too much, getting into rights, being angry at the world and dealing with bad breakups. In one part of the video, the teenager emerges from the pool as a young man ready to take on the world in his 20’s. He thinks his partying days and life as a Bachelor will last forever until he stares at the woman of his dreams on New Year’s Eve and she stares back signaling a new relationship that will change his life.

They date, travel, live together, and the young man eventually proposes to the woman of his dreams. As the video speeds up, so does the aging and life of the man as he gets married, celebrates the birth of his child, and gets ready for middle-aged challenges and prospects. Moving into a house as newlyweds, getting a better job, moving up the corporate ladder, using his new car, traveling for work, going to important meetings, and shuffling along while growing a beard signifies how fast life speeds up the older you become. Sometimes, you’re running so fast that you can’t keep track of who or what you are. In the video, the man still remembers the little blissful moments of carrying his child with his beloved wife, family dinners, and trying to balance work and family until tragedy suddenly strikes.

The hardest part of life is unforeseen tragedies and we hope and pray to never experience any to happen, but this man has the tragic occurrence of seeing his wife and child running towards him across the street only to be hit by a bus and to be taken off life support. The song’s crescendo builds up as the man struggles through grief, longing, and how to move on when he knows he can’t but has to anyway. After the tragedy, what once was promising is now dull and at once he was fast to move through the world, he staggers slowly through it wondering what it is all worth and why keep going? How can one fill the void in their own heart when it was taken out of them and cannot be put back?

We see the man continue with his work, entertaining clients, meeting a new woman and getting married again but there is the lingering sense that it is not what he envisioned his life to be. He can have a child with her, but it won’t be the same as his first true love or bring back his first child. Trying to fill the void with an extramarital affair, fighting with his new wife, jogging and running to keep moving forward to futilely escape from one’s own pre-destined aging are all ways of coping both unhealthily and healthily as you go through middle age to becoming elderly in your later life.

Maybe if he stops running or walking or jogging, he will have to face his own eventual demise and departure from this world or face his memories of losing loved ones or losing his mother. The aged man with gray hairs continues to work, to exercise, to keep up his health by going to the doctor and trying to save his marriage. Some of these battles he will win, and some he will lose although we will never know from such a short video. Eventually, the man is elderly and looking back on his life from his bed and looks to be alone in the world.

However, he does not remember the tragedies that befell him as we all must endure in life sometimes. Instead, he remembers the first time he went to dance at a club, the way he looked at his firstborn child, hugging his beloved first wife, and how she stared at him lovingly on New Year’s Eve and how she stared at him at their wedding and when she gave birth to their child. He remembers the tragedy too but remembers those special moments that made his life truly worth living. You are left wondering after watching this four-minute video of a complicated, yet powerful life filled with tragedy and joy whether it was all worth it for the man. Would he do it again if he knew what was to happen in the future?

If we all knew what was to happen in the future until the end of our days, would we all do it again from the beginning? Would it be worth it even if there is pain, tragedy, and death? Would it be worth the love, joy, and pleasure that we experience as human beings as well? It really is out of our control, but this music video does an excellent job of pondering life’s deepest questions in only four minutes and only with the wistful yet dreamy lyrics of Thom Yorke from Radiohead creating a powerful combination of a great song and a great video. It may not be an original music video from Radiohead but whoever created it did a great job of getting a powerful message across to this 2-million strong audience on life, love, and loss.

If you would like to watch the music video on ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, you can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnfPaaMR6Qc

‘BACKSTORY’ Full Video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/245687147

Expectations vs. Reality

An important part of maturing and becoming a fully functional adult is to keep your expectations in check and to manage them as to not conflict with what the reality of the situation is. Keeping your expectations in check is difficult to do but it is necessary in order to not let an oversized ego, or arrogance, or selfishness keep you from becoming the person you should be. One has to always be prepared for reality to not line up with our initial expectations. You can never really be fully certain of how things in life are going to shape up to be. A true sign of maturity is wishing for the best but understanding that you could be in for disappointment and setbacks even when you think that everything can turn out fine.

The word ‘expectations’ can be synonymous with being ‘unrealistic’ because you are hoping for things to be better than average and to be better than you hoped they could be. Often times, things are about the same as you would expect or can even be worse if you set your expectations too high. Keeping your expectations in check will also to help keep both your emotions and feelings in check as well. There are a number of things one can do in order to measure expectations enough to keep them in line with reality. They include focusing on the present, cultivating patience, and taking the good with the bad. These three keys alone will help anybody’s reality win out over their expectations. While having expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, having too many expectations that are unrealistic or impede your ongoing hard work and efforts will make the reality of that situation worse. Keeping your expectations realistic is something we all must do as adults.

Focusing on the Present: Controlling what we can and not worrying about the things outside of our control goes a long way towards keeping our reality in line with what our expectations should be. Doting too much on the future without having a plan for today is a recipe for disaster in terms of not being able to meet your expectations. It is good to set goals and to set your sights high, but the efforts and the work must be there as well. If you are not working on your goals in the present, you can expect your reality to look differently in the future if you were not actively working towards achieving them in the here and now.

Day-to-day expectations that are measurable and quantifiable are more easily met rather than those that are months or even years away. You cannot be worried or distracted about what could happen three months from now, but you should rather focus on what you are doing now to increase your happiness and satisfaction. You can only control your actions and your behaviors, which will save you a lot of angst and anxiety when you focus on what can be controlled and to focus less on what is out of your control especially for what is still away on the horizon of your life for which you are totally unsure of what is to come. The older I get, the more I realize it is good to plan for the long-term, but to expect things to change the further away from your current present reality are. Focusing on things on a day-to-day basis is part of a recipe for fulfilled expectations and kept promises.

Cultivating Patience and Perspective: Being able to understand that life has both its good and bad events, and you never know how things are really going to shake out is a true sign of keeping your expectations in check. We tend to think a new city, a new job, a new house, more money will fulfill us but sometimes, our expectations can fall short because we set them so high. We sometimes do the opposite in terms of cooking a meal for family members, volunteering at a homeless shelter, cleaning the house, or buying a gym membership in that we think it will not be as fun or fulfilling in reality but those kind of activities end up fulfilling us more than the former. Obviously, we set our expectations high or low based on our personal histories, personal biases, and our own desires and goals.

However, regardless of what we think will be awesome or what we think will be crummy can balance out more if we are able to cultivate patience regarding how any of our life events will shape out. You may not be satisfied with something on day one but then really love it by day 100. When it comes to expectations vs. reality, you have to show patience regarding both because what you expect to be good can end up being bad and what you expect to be bad can really end up being good.

Having perspective on what is going on with our lives can help us as well because our reality may not be what we expect but we can express gratitude for what good things we have to balance out what disappointments or ills that have befallen us previously. If you can count your personal blessings each day, you will be happier with your reality and you can better measure your expectations. Knowing that your perspective on life is totally unique compared to everyone else’s is comforting because your reality is going to be different in many ways from your fellow family members, friends, or work colleagues.

What you are going through cannot be adequately compared to other people because their reality and their expectations are never going to be the same. You can only be patient, be grateful, and realize that you should put your life in perspective as much as you can to remember that life has its ups and downs, and you should never get too low or too high because of it. Everyone has their good days and their bad days, and you never really know what people are going through because everyone has a different reality and different expectations of who they are, what they expect, and who they hope to be.

Taking the Good with the Bad: As I mentioned earlier, reality can bite sometimes especially when your expectations were sky high so anything in life is not going to be as rosy as you first imagined it. Even if something awesome happens in your life and you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine, you can be sure that there will be some small annoyances that come with it. Nothing is ever 100% good, and nothing is ever 100% bad. Similar to walking on ‘Cloud Nine’, you could be ‘down in the dumps’, but realize that your pain is temporary, and nothing lasts forever. The highest high and lowest low will pass and most of life is somewhere in the middle for which you make the best of and strive to meet expectations that only you can hold yourself accountable to. You can’t hold others accountable for standards that they can’t reach as much as you want them to for your own peace of mind. The world does not work that way. You have to hold yourself accountable and be that positive example for others.

You are always in a constant battle of Reality vs. Expectations but in this case, there is not going to be a clear winner. Sometimes, life will exceed expectations, other times, life will fall short of your expectations. The key thing to keep in mind is how do you react to both successes and setbacks in a mature and clearheaded way. You can get discouraged or be ecstatic, but you have to remember that life is about having patience, keeping it all in perspective, taking the good with the bad, and always focusing on the present and the here and now over the past and the future. If you can do these things, regardless of when reality wins or when expectations win out, you will be the winner as well because you will have cultivated the emotions, habits, and overall maturity needed to make it through both life’s ups and its downs.

Saudade

There is a fact that you eventually have to come to terms with as a language learner such as myself: there are going to be certain words in foreign languages that have no direct translation to the English language. The art of translation is an imperfect one, which means that you need to be comfortable doing your best to come up with an adequate description of a foreign word even if there is no direct translation available.

The beauty of studying a foreign language is being able to use one word that is able to sum up a number of different emotions and feelings that are tied together. While there are singular phrases and/or words in the English language that have no equivalent in other languages, the same could be said for the Portuguese word of ‘Saudade.’

According to Dictionary.com, Saudade means “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.” As you can see from the English definition that I have written about above, there are a great number of different words in English that you could use to describe saudade in Portuguese. While there are multiple words in the English language that could be translated to have the same meaning as saudade, however, in its’ culture and in the overall context, there is only one saudade in its’ original language of Portuguese.

While I have never been to Brazil or to Portugal, I have recently begun to study the Portuguese language in earnest. I now believe that is a really powerful language in terms of communicating both emotions and feelings. Portuguese is a romance language like Spanish, and I have found that the way I communicate in either of these two romance languages is much different than how I communicate in my mother tongue of English. I think that there is a huge variety of ways for which you can express your emotions and feelings in romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, and you can be more expressive in those ways when compared to the English language.

I first learned about saudade not from my Portuguese language studies but rather from when I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, when he is visiting Porto, Portugal. There’s a beautiful scene in that episode where Mr. Bourdain is listening to an older woman singing a melodic song in Portuguese about how she has experienced saudade in her past, and how she mourns for a lost lover.

It goes to show you how any human being can relate to that exact feeling even if each individual language has a different way of stating what that feeling is. If you think about saudade in English when it comes to musical expression, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘blues.’ You can say that someone has the ‘blues’ and is feeling upset or bummed out about life. However, the ‘blues’ is also a form of expressive music in English similar to how singers and musicians can express saudade in Portuguese musical styles.

I have come to love the word, saudade, because regardless of the fact that it comes from a different language, everyone around the world can relate to it in terms of what it means. Everyone experiences saudade whether they realize it or not. Saudade is longing for someone or something that you’re nostalgic for from your past but which you’re unable to have with you in the present. It’s a deep yearning to go back in time to experience those positive, happy moments that put a smile on our face. It’s a very human thing to want to dive back into your memories and make them real again because one day, that’s all that we’re truly left with.

Whether it’s a long lost lover, a memorable trip, or a fun night out with your close friends, saudade can represent any one of those unique, happy memories. The older a person gets, the more they’re likely to experience saudade because it’s only natural to want the people or things back in your life that were once present and real. While our memories can be happy and joyous, they can also be painful and sad. If you’re yearning for a family member who passed away or a lover who you parted ways with, you’re going to be having saudade. In order to go through saudade, you need to experience life in all of its’ ups and downs. You need to feel things, have experiences, go off to new places, be part of events, etc. in order to make those memories happen whether they end up being beautiful or ugly. That is saudade at its’ core.

Millions of love poems and songs have been written about saudade, whether these feelings and emotions were described in the original Portuguese or other languages such as English, Spanish, etc. While we are happy to have had those experiences, met those people, and done those things, we are also sad because we know those occurrences are in the past and may never come to us again in our lives. Saudade is a very strong emotion and one that we all experience at least once.

When it comes to saudade, it’s important to remember that it’s still necessary to move on emotionally to focus on the present and the future. While it’s nice to reminisce about past memories and experiences, you don’t want to do it so often that you’re handicapping yourself from thinking about what’s next to come in your life, and what your future holds. Like many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck between the past, the present, and the future. Saudade is a powerful and potent feeling but you should not let it consume you.

If you decide to learn more about what saudade is, you should invest in studying the Portuguese language. When it comes to using ‘saudade’ in European Portuguese, it would look something like, “Tenho saudades tuas.” A sentence with ‘saudade’ in Brazilian Portuguese would look a little bit different but very similar to the European structure and form. “Tenho saudades de você”, which translates in English literally as “I have saudade of you” or if you are using the better, more figurative translation of this sentence; Either “I miss you” or “I have feelings for you” would work best in this context.

When it comes to other countries’ languages, there are words that come close to describing what saudade is. Whether its’ the ‘blues’ in America, ‘Sehnsucht’ in Germany, or ‘Tizita’ in Ethiopia, many cultures around the world have their own form of saudade in their respective languages. Saudade seems to be a cultural centerpiece in both Brazil and Portugal with there even being a specific day devoted to the word in Brazil that takes places every year on January 30th.

The fact that this word ‘saudade’ can have figurative translations to other similar words in different languages, and cultures in other parts of the world should show us how interconnected the world really is. There is universality in the human experience that transcends language, culture, and national boundaries. We all feel joy, pain, sorrow, anger, and happiness.

Considering that many languages across the world have a word such as the Portuguese ‘saudade’ to represent the ups and downs of life is a testament to how there is more that should unite us than divide us as human beings. Whether it’s a young Portuguese sailor missing his homeland on the initial journey to the new world, or an elderly man thinking about a lifetime of memories in the local park while feeding the birds as time passes by, saudade is saudade.

 

Being Sentimental

Is it worth it for a person to be sentimental? Is it healthy or unhealthy to hold on to certain items, memories, or keepsakes for the long-term? Like most things in life, there is a balance that has to be struck when it comes to sentimentality. Some folks are not sentimental at all and don’t have much care for old family photos or for holding on to gifts beyond their initial utility. Other people are much more sentimental and hold on to personal keepsakes for years on end allowing their living spaces and their memories to become cluttered as time goes by.

As you get older, your memories will inevitably start to fade away so certain items, keepsakes, and important people in your life can help you to remember certain moments of your past that you’ll want to preserve due to their importance to you. Not everything and not everyone from your past will live on in your memories so you have to be responsible enough to choose what really matters to you and which memories mean the most to you going forward. Being able to balance your sentimentality will help you to become a more mature and emotionally healthier adult.

In my possessions, I have a duffel bag, which has some sentimental value to me. I tend to be a more sentimental person than most people and I try to collect photographs and hold on to personal keepsakes as long as I can. One of the items that is particularly sentimental to me is my duffel bag. There’s nothing particularly notable about this duffel bag based on its’ design, style or purpose. Its’ similar to most other duffel bags on the market and can be used for multiple purposes including trips to other places, which is something that I have done a lot of the past couple of years.

The one thing that visually stands out about this duffel bag is its’ logo. Its’ a black duffel bag with a logo of a purple dragon and the name ‘Saprissa’ embroidered in the same logo. ‘Saprissa’ is short for ‘Deportivo Saprissa’, which is a popular Costa Rican football club based out of San Jose, the capital of the country. The duffel bag’s significance to me isn’t based out of its’ usability, color, or design but rather its’ importance lies in where I bought the item and what I have done with it since then.

The reason why this particular duffel bag is sentimental to me, and why I have continuously used it for almost a decade now is because it brings back a lot of memories for me. Ever since I bought the Saprissa duffel bag back in 2008 when I was studying the Spanish language in Costa Rica, I’ve held on to it and have brought it around the world with me.

From short trips to Jordan and the Czech Republic to my long-stays in Turkey and Colombia, this duffel bag has been to almost as many foreign countries as I have. What the bag lacks in style or design, it makes up for it in terms of substance and reliability. For over eight years, my duffel bag has weathered mud, dirt, snow, rain, wind, and other natural elements that I’ve traveled in along with the dozens of taxi, train, plane, and bus rides I’ve been on. It’s never failed me and it has concurrently led to me becoming more and more attached to using it for each of my trips to distant places.

After almost nine years of using this duffel bag, like all things, its’ starting to show physical wear and tear. Most likely, I should have stopped using it after two or three years but the memories always seem to flow back to me when I see the bag lying there in my room or when I pack it up for another trip. The bag itself is linked to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the meals I’ve had, and the experiences that were tied into the adventures I’ve gone through with the help of this simple, black duffel bag which I carried along with me.

The bag handle is starting to fray, the zippers are exhausted, and the strap material is starting to rupture, and I think it may be time for a new duffel bag. It will be difficult for me to stop using the Saprissa bag that I’ve grown so accustomed to over the years. You simply can’t transfer those powerful memories to another bag quite so easily. The best you can do is mentally let your attachment dissolve, get rid of the bag, and transfer those special memories over to those other keepsakes and photographs that will remind you similarly of your past adventures.

Everything and everyone in your past will fade away to some degree. The important thing is to have one or two things left in your possession that you can fall back on so those items can also trigger those past memories for you to remember and recollect, whether they were joyous, happy, sad, or challenging. Being sentimental about all the things from your past can lead to a cluttered memory and a lack of set priorities. However, having one or two items from a trip or event can be enough to give you all the memories and remembrance you need in order to feel connected to your past.

Finding that particular balance of healthy sentimentality is a lifelong struggle but it helps to pave the way for a complete and fulfilling life. The key is to not the let the remembrance of your past keep you from living in the present and from creating your future. Your sentimentality should not prevent you from making new memories, creating new friendships, and forming new bonds with keepsakes.

Like my duffel bag, certain objects will fade away so it may be best to sustain your past with personal photographs, writings, or even paintings so that your memories can feel more permanent and can even be enjoyed by your friends and family members long after the day when you’re no longer around. Where you can let go of your sentimentality is when you realize that some things will be taken away from you whether you like it or not sometimes and it’s not productive to fight against this fact of life.

The best you can do is to place your memories into different items whether it be a journal or a photo album, which are much more sturdy and reliable than my trusty yet fading duffel bag. Above all else, Sentimentality is about caring. As an adult, you have to find out what’s truly worth caring about. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to replace what’s been lost and hold on to the memories that are special to you. You have to be ready to let go one day because nothing lasts forever.

Cable Car Ride and Parque Arvi

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

LocationParque Arvi; Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

El Desfile de Los Carros Antiguos

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CameraiPod Touch, 6th Generation

Location: El Desfile de Los Carros Antiguos (Antique Car Parade), La Feria de Las Flores; Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

 

Colombian Fruits and Juices

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“So many choices to choose from, so little time.”

One of the joys of living here in Colombia is the diverse and plentiful selection of fruits to choose from. The choices are quite abundant and it is an integral part of the culture to imbibe in a cold and tasty fruit juice at the end of a long day.

As I mentioned before in my blog post titled, ‘The Heat Is On’, one of the best ways to deal with the heat and humidity is to cool down with a delicious fruit juice. It is also much healthier and refreshing than having soda or coffee instead. Over the past two months, I have done a great job of sampling the different choices of fruit juices and which ones I have a preference for. I’ve listed below the common fruit juices available here on the Atlantic coast and have also highlighted my personal favorites. The one juice that I have not tried thus far is the ‘Zanahoria’ or Carrot juice but I’m willing to give it a shot during the rest of my time here.

I hope that for those of you who plan on traveling to Colombia in the future will consider this ‘fruit juice’ list as a helpful guide to you. It can be a very hard choice to make when you’re at the ‘Fruteria’ and there are ten choices available but you’re not sure which one will be most refreshing.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices detailed below. Colombian fruit juices are freshly blended together rather than squeezed as is the case in the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition, the fruits are mixed with water or milk (smoothies) and topped off with a little bit of sugar. What results is a very fresh and tasty drink to keep you cool during those hot days and humid nights. The Colombian people take their fruit juices seriously and so do I.

  • Lulo: Orange on the outside with green and yellow pulp on the inside, Lulo has a citrus flavor that is very sour to eat. However, jugo de lulo, mixed with some sugar, is perhaps the most popular juice here on the Atlantic coast. Also known as Naranjilla in other parts of Latin America, the fruit is related to the tomatillo and some people would describe its flavor as somewhere between green apple, and lime. It’s up there with being one of my favorite juices here.
  • Guanabana: Another one of Colombia’s most popular fruit juices. Its’ thorny green skin is filled with white filling and black seeds, similar in appearance to the fruit known as the cherimoya. Its juice has a creamy flavor with hints of strawberry and pineapple, and goes well with water, milk, and sugar.
  • Tomate de Arbol: The ‘tomato of the tree’ in English is an egg-shaped fruit with a yellow filling that is distinct from the typical red tomato that you would find in the supermarket. It has one of the most unique flavors I’ve ever tasted, and is similar to a mix of passion fruit and tomato, and supposedly has many health benefits. I enjoy its unique flavor and its refreshing qualities.
  • Granadilla: This fruit is a close relative of the well-known passion fruit. On the outside, it looks like a small orange or mandarina, but when it is cracked open, it contains a gelatinous pulp filled with black seeds. The flavor is similar to that of the passion fruit, but sweeter, and the seeds are easily disposable by spitting them out amidst the delicious juices. When turned into a fruit juice, it’s pulpy yet satisfying on a hot and humid day.
  • Mamoncillo: On the outside, this fruit looks like a lime, but when cracked open, it reveals a pinky-orange flesh similar to that of a lychee. The flavor is a mix of the tartness of a lime with the mild sweetness of the lychee. When blended into a juice, it looks like an iced tea and has a light orange/beige color.
  • Maracuya: Another part of the passion fruit family along with the Granadilla. It has an oval-shape, can look a bit wrinkly, and makes for a delicious juice or ice cream flavor as well. Maracuya is a great source of Vitamin C and is also known to be a natural sedative too. It also is known to aid digestion of food in the stomach. Extremely similar to the look of orange juice, Maracuya has a yellow-orange color when turned into a juice.
  • Gulupa: A cousin of the aforementioned Maracuya and another passion fruit. It has a dark purple skin that becomes wrinkled when it is ripe for eating or drinking. Along with Maracuya, it has plenty of Vitamin C and can help ease stress and tension in the body. When blended into a juice, it has a yellow color and looks very similar to orange juice.
  • Zapote: One of Colombia’s toughest and most durable fruits. It can grow very fast and is resistant to heavy wind and drought conditions. Zapote is full of minerals and antioxidants and can help with ailments ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to gastritis. It is very high in fiber so be careful not to eat too many as it does act as a natural laxative. Like other fruits here, it goes well with sugar and has a pink-orange color in juice/smoothie form.
  • Borojo: Known to be a ‘Love Juice’, and possessing some aphrodisiac qualities, this juice has been well-known for centuries and can act like a natural Viagra if you’re in the mood. Nutritionists have claimed that ‘Borojo’ is one of the most nutrient-rich fruits in the world can help combat malnutrition. When mixed and blended into a fruit juice, it gives off a dark to light brown color.
  • Mora: Known as ‘Blackberry’ in English, this is my favorite juice to have here in Colombia. Rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, and nutrients, it is the most refreshing drink I’ve encountered thus far. I also enjoy the dark red color of the juice and enjoy it after a long day outside. While not an exotic fruit or drink, it gets the job done and I enjoy the simplicity yet refreshing qualities of the juice itself.

While I only listed ten fruits / fruit juices to indulge in, there are over dozens of unique fruits here in Colombia to try out. Some of the most exotic and sought-after fruits reside here in Colombia and you usually can’t find them anywhere else. A lot of the fruits I mentioned in this post have great health benefits and are packed with nutrients. Different than the apple, banana, and grape, these ‘superfruits’ can cure ailments, keep you well, and give you more energy. If you decide to ever visit Colombia, eat the fruits and try the fruit juices. I promise you won’t regret it.