One of the interesting experiences about learning is a new language is the new world that opens up to one who can read books written in that new language and listening to videos narrated by speakers of that language.  Translations are important, but there really is a difference when one reads a book written in the original language.

Reading several German books has nearly doubled my vocabulary in the past six months, for while I can understand the meaning of a book, it is essential to look up specific words I do not know.  This flies in the face of some advice, to learn words in context, but when I took my PSAT exam years ago, my contextual definitions were often wrong.  From that day forward, if I am uncertain what a word means, I look it up.  I have multiple different lists, and I memorize….daily.

I am not going to use all those words, but if I am to understand German–.and now Spanish, too, for I am learning that — I need to know what those other words mean, for while I may not say them, others will.  I am continually amazed by words I thought I would never need to know that were said a few days later.  I learned “die Libelle,” dragonfly, and wondered when I would ever to use it.  A week later, on German radio, there was a description of research done about die Libelle, and I immediately thought “wow, something is going on about dragonflies”.  The something was how they caught die Stubenfliege, fly.  Every word that I can understand gives me more pieces of the puzzle that is called conversation.

My experience with German is one person’s.  I am mostly self-taught, because there have been few with whom I have been able to speak or write on a regular basis.  Good grammar books are not common.

German videos have shown me all parts of the world.  Many are from Germany itself, so I have seen the large cities and the northern coast–North and East Seas–separated by the Danish peninsula.  I have seen parts of Bayern–Bavaria–that I did not have time to see when I was in München.

Still other videos have shown me, narrated in German, apricot harvests in Turkey;  nomads in the high arctic of Russia, dealing with the “gas rush”; salt mining in Bolivia; tree houses for research in Costa Rica; research on the Andean Condor in the Argentinian Patagonia; a women’s co-op in Yemen and water filtration in Peru.  One was about Portland, Oregon, describing the lifestyle.  Another in the US showed homeless eking out a living in the California desert, living in conjunction with snowbirds.  A third showed Detroit beginning to turn into a farming city, using empty neighborhoods to grow crops.  I miss some meaning, but I don’t miss much.  A lot of the translations are slow, and I know enough Spanish and French to know when there is not a full translation into German.  That is a lot of fun to recognize.

A recent video was about harvesting pearls in the Philippines, off the coast of Palawan, the long island at the western end of the Archipelago.  I never saw Palawan, but I have spent a lot of time in the Philippines.  I was struck by not only the way pearls were harvested, but the science being used to run genetic crossing of the mussels, trying to produce the most valuable golden pearls.

There are other problems, too, that I hear about.  Virtually every video that discusses the environment comments on climate change, viewed from the local perspective. On these videos, I have not heard one word saying that climate change is a hoax.  Perhaps the videos are biased; perhaps not.  Coral reefs are bleaching, which is not news.  The northern end of Palawan is too warm (32 C., or nearly 90 F.) for growing mussels.  The oceans are getting warmer.  This is a fact, not fiction, not a hoax.  They are also growing more acidic, which is also a fact, due to carbon dioxide.  For those who say that man is not changing the environment, ocean acidification is the smoking gun that says we are.  This has made the news in the last several months; I knew about acidification in 2006.

Water vapor is, of course, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.  As air warms, there can be more water vapor present, because warming makes gas molecules move faster, keeping them from condensing.  Air at 31 C, all else equal, may contain 2 grams more water per cubic meter than air at 30 C.  The amount of air over the tropical ocean would best be measured in millions of cubic kilometers.  Does it prove anything?  Perhaps not, but there is a lot of circumstantial and non-circumstantial evidence to suggest we have a problem.  Water expands with heat, with a coefficient of expansion of about 0.0002/degree C.  Warm water 1 degree C. and the worldwide 110 million square kilometers of ocean surface plus a significant depth expand a lot, when multiplied by 0.0002/C.  Add glacial melt, and we get ocean rise, which is well documented to the tenth of a millimeter per year.  This rise will be at least 70 cm this century, but some think maybe a meter, and can easily flood a coastline where there is a shallow angle from sea to land.  In addition, salt can easily contaminate the water table.   If you live in Kansas, that is no big deal, unless we prove that the drought of 2012 was due to climate change.  It may not be.  Or, it may be.  The question goes back to Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry”:  “How lucky do you feel?”

What continues to interest me is how nearly every place these videos are shot has an environmental overtone.  Water in Peru is a problem because of the receding glaciers.    Drought in Yemen is the cause of decreasing biodiversity, which is important both for the planet, and for humans, because many of our ideas for new medications or molecules come from natural compounds.  There are just too many of us, and the planet is showing signs of big signs of wear.  I haven’t heard much about this in English, but I sure am hearing about it in German.


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