September Featured Guest: Fabiana Elisa Martinez

1.) Multilinguism is a treasured gift. How old were you when you discovered your passion for the “world of foreign languages”? Did that passion influence your studies?  

From a very young age, I was fascinated by languages. I grew up in a bilingual family, Spanish at home and Galician at my grandparents’ house. Nevertheless, I wasn’t conscious of that fact until I was around six years old. I started learning English in kindergarten. I cannot remember a day in which I didn’t try to understand the world through words and eventually literature. Apparently, I did not ask “why?” all the time but “how do you say this and that in other languages?” I was doing crossword puzzles before I knew how to write, just filling the squares with doodles to create words. I was fortunate to follow my passion in college. Even though they advised me to consider a degree in Math, I could not resist the beauty of the program that included classic languages, reading without rest, and deep grammar theory, so I got a degree in Linguistics and World Literature.

2.) You also have a degree in Ancient Greek and Latin. What motivated you to study those “dead languages”? What are some benefits of knowing them?  

My university offered a fixed course for Linguistics and World Literature with an emphasis on Classical Languages. Latin and Ancient Greek were core elements of the 5-year plan of studies. I had never experienced the magic of “dead languages” before but fell in love with them the moment I had my first class. As an anecdote, more than 50 people started the course, after the first Greek exam that number became probably half. Only nine of us graduated five years later, 7 of us with honors.

3.) Most people want to learn English, however, you chose to teach Spanish as a second language. What motivated you to make that shift? What were some of the learning curve challenges of improving your teaching method?  

After I graduated, one of my Ancient Greek professors invited me to join the staff of a language school she was founding. Who could think that translating Homer and Plato would lead me to become a language teacher for the ex-pats that were coming to a booming economy in Argentina in the 90s? That is how I met my first international students and started working with them, first as their Spanish teacher and, later, as a friend. I had to develop my own teaching method based on the urgent needs of my students, high-rank professionals who needed to do business and interact in a foreign country successfully. All those hours spent in college understanding the difficulties and the immense beauty of Latin and Greek helped me immensely to create grammar materials and strategies that lasted in time.

4.) Now let us talk about your podcast, “Spanish 360 with Fabiana.” Who are the co-hosts? How do you choose the topic and the guest? Could you please share with our readers your do you manage blooper?  

“Spanish 360 with Fabiana” was created in 2011 with my students Byron Cryer and Chris Hendrix. They were taking a class together and we were having so much fun that decided to record podcasts replicating the atmosphere of our classes. The podcast is aimed at intermediate and advanced students who are looking for quality explanations of grammar issues but are also curious about cultural themes, vocabulary, and the nuances of the Spanish language spoken in so many countries over the world. We cover a huge repertoire of subjects, from how to choose the right verbal tense to what is the favorite pastry in Honduras. Unfortunately, since I am not in charge of editing the recordings, I do not have any bloopers to share. But they are generally related to us laughing too much or some hilarious misunderstandings about who needs to talk next or which word we cannot pronounce properly. All our podcasts are free and can be found on most podcast and music platforms. They are also available at www.spanish360withfabiana.com

5.) As a companion to the Podcast, you published a book, “SPANISH 360 WITH FABIANA” – VOLUMES I AND II – Transcripts and Exercises – Podcasts 1 to 25 – and Podcasts 26 to 50 -The Companion to the Acclaimed Podcast Series. What are the benefits of this book?  

The books are the perfect complement for the podcasts. Each chapter offers the verbatim transcript of each podcast, including any mistakes Byron, Chris, and I might have made. This way, the listener can follow the audio while reading and understand the smallest details. At the end of each chapter, the books include grammar and vocabulary exercises related to the subject of each podcast with their answers. Also, and possibly the most important aspect of the books, they include more than 2,000 footnotes about grammar, vocabulary, and culture, not always related to the chapter’s subject. Sometimes a note may explain and correct a mistake made during our conversation. We have very generous listeners, but our readers cannot emphasize more that Spanish 360 with Fabiana” becomes a much richer experience when you also read along and practice with the books.

6.) Now let us talk about it with the author. Although you are multilingual: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Italian, you chose to write mostly in English. Why?  

I am not sure I have a good answer, not at a conscious level at least. The practical truth is that I started writing my short stories for a literary group of English writers. I think writing literature in a second language constrains and liberates at the same time. I feel restricted by grammar structures that are not totally transparent to me, but at the same time, I am free to say what might be too painful in my first language. Writing in English allows me to shield my subjects as I work with new precious stones, with new words. I wonder if it is also a matter of what I want to write about. But at least for the last decade, it seems that all I want to write about has to be thought, processed, and created in English.

7.) Before you published your fictional book, you wrote short stories. Does your experience as a short story author prepare you to write the book? Which one is more difficult to write and why?  

“12 Random Words” is a collection of the first stories I wrote in English. I had not written fiction before, except for some exercises in college. I was generously invited to a virtual literary group in which members receive one random word each month. The condition to remain in the group is to write something, fiction or nonfiction, inspired by that word. I did not believe I could write fiction, or at least quality fiction, in English. However, the other members of the group encouraged me to continue writing. Eventually, the first stories I wrote for the group became my first book.

8.) Your first bilingual fictional book, “12 Random Words / 12 Palabras al Azar,” has a catchy title. Is the title related to the story? Please share with us a brief description of the book.  

In 2014, invited by a friend who believed in me more than I did, I accepted to join a virtual writing group, I wasn’t sure that I could write fiction in English, or at least quality fiction. Reading is easier. I can read in five languages, and always try not to read two books in the same language consecutively, But I tried, and every month I wrote a short story based on a random word the organizer of the group sent.

Magically, some of those stories became a book, my first book, called “12 Random Words.” Each story is based on the word I received over that year: Door, Quitting, Puzzles, Darkness, etc. It was published in 2016 and it has been one of the best experiences in my life. From the fiction of those stories came an immense number of really beautiful events that enriched my life even more. The book won nine awards, and two of its stories were read at the Dallas Museum of Art by actress Constance Parry at an Arts and Letters Live Event recognizing Texan writers. Not only my words, forged at home in silence with my cat on my chair, were now in the voice of a talented actress, but I was also considered a Texan writer! To promote the book, I worked with the talented movie director Quin Mathews, to create four one-minute trailers in New York. The videos and the amazing journey of the book can be witnessed at www.12randomwords.com

Since then, new short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and were featured in literary podcasts all over the world. I can say that I have been published on five continents so far. My literature has taken me to New York, Paris, and England among other magical places, either to present 12 Random Words” or to attend a literary event where some story of mine was presented. Dreams can create reality.

9.) You also published it in other languages. Since something is always lost in the translation, did you translate it yourself? If yes, how did each language affect the storyline?  

“12 Random Words” has three bilingual versions, English/Spanish, English/French, and English/Portuguese. I translated the stories into Spanish, something I am not sure I would do again. A translator needs a certain distance from the original text and, in many instances, the process was quite painful. For the French and Portuguese versions, I worked side by side with two amazing translators, Martine Prieto in French and Adriana Prado in Portuguese. Working with them was an enormous learning experience for me. I admire their work very much. The new languages did not affect the storyline of the text, but they surely brought us some interesting semantic conundrums to solve.

10.) Where can our readers buy your books?  

All my books, the three versions of 12 Random Words,” the two volumes of “Spanish 360 with Fabiana,” and the e-book version of my story Stupidity, can be found on Amazon.com and can also be ordered at any bookstore in the world. If a generous reader is interested in my short stories published afterward, they can access many of them on the “Other Publications” page at www.12randomwords.com

11.) Do you offer translating services for your clients? If yes, how can our readers contact you?

My language company, Talk-Active LLC (https://www.linkedin.com/company/talkactive-llc/), offers language classes and quality translation and interpretation work for companies and core cultural institutions in Dallas and the country. We are very proud of having helped many museums and art venues when they need to offer bilingual materials to their visitors, from the DMA to the Holocaust Museum. We also offer consultation and linguistic advice for companies willing to expand their businesses into other countries in other languages. At this moment, the epitome of my professional life as an interpreter has been assisting President George W. Bush and Laura Bush during the first years of the Bush Center. I became the interpreter of the man who was the President when I arrived in Dallas with my three suitcases, no money, and a dream. This is why I love this country and every person who helped me get to where I am.

12.) A word of advice for those passionate about foreign languages but who don’t know how to maneuver this journey

Just follow those words whispered by your heart and echoed in your brain. Look at the examples in literature: think about the journey of Eliza Doolittle, who became independent, free, and even more beautiful because she learned (and suffered) the rules of proper English. Languages liberate, each one of them is a new passport to new worlds. You can talk with people whom you might never encounter if it weren’t for the fact that you share their words. You can also read books or newspapers in their original version, without the bias or veils of translation. If you love words, follow them. But also share them. And offer people what they may not know they need, either through art, literature, or a business service they will appreciate. Languages enrich lives. Don’t hesitate.

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