I love a good spy novel. In my mind, spy novels are a sub-genre (or at a related genre) of thrillers, another type of book I love. I also love Russia and anything Russia-related. So, as you can imagine, a spy/thriller involving Russia just about makes me swoon with delight. What makes it even more amazing is the occasional Russian word or phrase inserted here and there, but don’t worry, this certainly isn’t required.
However, one thing that really, really cuts into my enjoyment of a good solid spy novel is factual inaccuracies. I specifically speak of those relating to Russia. One factual inaccuracy I often encounter is reference to the KGB in a modern (that is, post 1990s) context. Continue reading →
Wondering what Ramzan Kadyrov said on Instagram about the terrorist attack in Boston? Wonder no more, because I, your faithful correspondent, have translated his statement.
“Tragic events took place in Boston. People died as a result of a terrorist attack. Earlier, we expressed condolences to the residents of the city and the people of America. Today, the media reports that a certain Tsarnaev was killed in an attempted arrest. It would have been logical if he had been arrested and an investigation conducted to explain all the circumstances and degree of his guilt. We see that the security services needed results at any cost to appease the public. Any attempts to make a connection between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, are in vain. They grew up in the United States; their views and convictions were formed there. It is necessary to search for roots of evil in America. The whole world needs to fight terrorism. This is something we know better than anyone. We wish a recovery to all the injured and share the Americans’ feelings of sorrow. #terror attack #Boston #investigation/result/consequence”
It’s important to note that his last hashtag (следствие) can be translated in multiple ways and it’s not completely clear what he meant (though I am inclined to go with the “consequence” translation, as in this attack is a consequence of America’s actions).
I translated this article in response to a piece on Quartz that did not fully understand what Kadyrov said. Unfortunately, at this point many people are relying on Google Translate for the statement, and we all know Google Translate isn’t always accurate. Feel free to use my translation (but please credit me!).
I’ve written about Bidzina Ivanishvili, the prime minister of Georgia, before (specifically, here and here). Back when I first found out about him and was following the Georgian elections (that his party won), I looked on YouTube for some interviews with the man. The only ones I could find were originally in Georgian, then dubbed into Russian or English.
Ivanishvili once said that he did not know Russian until he went to do a degree in Moscow. I was surprised to learn this, as I was always taught that everyone in the Soviet Union was forced to learn Russian, whether they liked it or not.
Imagine my surprise when I found this video, posted on January 17 of this year.
That is some beautiful Russian Bidzina speaks. My theory is that he played down his Russian ability before the election, since Georgia has sought to distance itself from Russia. But now that he’s been elected, he has nothing to lose by giving these interviews.
Or maybe Russian was simply the only common language he had with that interviewer (who I think is Armenian).
And now I have a random fantasy of going to Georgia, running into Ivanishvili, and speaking Russian with him.
Where is Russian spoken? Official language (dark blue) and unofficial (light blue)
I’ve encountered the idea occasionally that learning Russian is a useless endeavor because it is a “dying language”. Proponents of this thesis allege that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian has been in decline because no one outside of Russia is forced to learn it anymore.
And then there are the cases of other post-Soviet countries, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. In both of these countries, Russian remains an official language. (In fact, in Belarus, the majority of the population speaks Russian in their daily lives.) In Ukraine, Russian is not an official language, but it is very, very widely used and understood. Continue reading →
I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while but finally decided to write about it when I stumbled across a post on Alex Rawlings’ blog. Alex, who is studying German and Russian at Oxford, was named most multilingual student in Britain in a contest. In the aforementioned post, Alex asks whether he and a friend acted differently when they spoke three different languages (Russian, Hebrew, and English) in a video he recorded for the post.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a different person when I speak Russian. I talk more in Russian than I do in English – or rather, I talk more with random people in Russian that I do in English. When I’m speaking Russian, I have no qualms about going up to random Russian speakers and saying hello. To be honest, I don’t often talk to random people when I’m speaking English. (I actually wish I were the sort of person who did this!) In Russian, though, I randomly ask people if they speak Russian and if they do, then a whole conversation ensues. Luckily Russian people really seem to like meeting random Americans who speak their language, so I’ve never had any bad experiences that resulted from talking to random people. Continue reading →
I don’t like Ukrainian quite as much as Russian, but it’s a close second.
Corinne McKay, a translator whose blog I’ve been reading for a while, has a post on which language is “the best” to learn. She approaches it from a translation perspective (no surprises there, since she works as a translator), but the entire post got me thinking about the question from a more general perspective.
There are definite advantages to studying what I call world languages – those that are spoken by such a large number of people are widely studied throughout the world. Examples would be Spanish, French, and German. To a lesser extent, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese qualify, too. I know from personal experience that the first three are very commonly taught in the United States and the latter three commonly taught in other parts of the world (or so I’ve heard). These world languages have a wealth of learning materials available and one can often meet speakers of these languages around the world. (Of course, English qualifies as world language, too. But since I’m an English speaker, I wasn’t really thinking of learning English when writing this article.) Continue reading →
This song has been stuck in my head for almost twenty-four hours now. I suppose I shouldn’t complain: if I have to have a song stuck in my head, I’d much prefer a Russian one to some annoying (and bad) English-language stuff. (Not that all English-language music is annoying, but most modern music in this country is pretty bad. Just saying.)
The song is called “My Address is the Soviet Union” [Мой адрес Советский Союз] and it was very, very popular back in the day (circa 1972).
I feel such nostalgia with this song, which is ridiculous on so many levels. I don’t even like the Soviet Union. Trust me, I’ve studied Soviet history extensively and it was a horrible place to live (at least compared to the United States – it was much better than modern North Korea, but then again, pretty much any place is preferable to North Korea). I never lived in the Soviet Union. It fell shortly after I was born, so there was no time in my life when I consciously existed and was aware of the country known as the Soviet Union.
Well, it wasn’t for nothing that my second reader for my undergraduate thesis said that I was able to paint a remarkably accurate portrait of life in the Soviet Union, especially considering I never lived there.
Yesterday, I was reading Aaron G. Myers’ excellent book Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners (I talked more about this book here but please note the book is no longer free) and one thing in particular stood out for me. On page 37, Aaron writes that the most common reason we reach a plateau in language learning is we get comfortable.
In more detail:
I believe there is a truism in language learning that you reach where you need to reach in the language. If you need to be at a low intermediate level of proficiency, you will get to that level and perhaps a bit past that level. But pushing forward toward the summit requires extra effort and that effort requires more than most of us want to give.
I needed to reach a certain level of Russian because I had to take an advanced conversation and grammar class at my university. Russian language & literature was one of my areas of study at university and I had to take a certain amount of classes and reach a certain level.
However, since graduation, I feel that I have stagnated a bit in my learning. For a little while I even felt like I had regressed in my knowledge, but now I just feel like I’ve hit a plateau. I can read just about any news article, I can have conversations, I can listen to radio programs and understand just about everything. But I feel like I haven’t learned any truly new vocabulary in a while. (To be honest, I know pretty much everything there is to know about Russian grammar, thanks to my dear professor M at my university.)
So my question is: what does one do when one hits a plateau? So far, Aaron hasn’t really touched on this in his book (though I have not finished reading it yet, so perhaps he does later). I have a few ideas for getting out this plateau.
Find some new books to read. More books means more reading, and more reading means more vocabulary acquisition.
Learn specialized vocabulary in a genre you’re interested in but don’t know. For example, I’m interested in business, economics, and finance, but I do not know the vocabulary related to these topics in Russian. As if asset-backed securities aren’t hard enough already – now I’m going to study them in Russian too!
Do a 1000-word challenge. I saw this on the internet – regrettably, I do not remember where – and it means learning 1000 new vocabulary words in a month (about thirty words a day).
Keep in mind I’ve never actually tried these tips before. I am looking for suggestions to get away from this plateau, so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below!
So, I read an absolutely fascinating article about modern Russia. I wanted to talk to my mom about it and discuss it with readers here… but then I realized that I cannot, as it is in Russian. (And I’m pretty sure most of my readers don’t speak Russian.) File this under #BilingualProblems…
(I’m working on translating the article so that we can read it and discuss it. But I’m a slow translator, especially when I’m busy with other stuff.)
(Does this post make me look obnoxious? Like, in a “I know a foreign language that you don’t” sort of way? Because Jon Huntsman always came across that way in the Republican primary debates and I really don’t want to be like that!)
Okay people, I just have to share this with you: I just found a YouTube channel devoted entirely to Russian pop music. This is embarrassing, but I’ll say it anyway. I unabashedly love Russian pop. Actually, I love Eastern European music in general. I wish I could find a radio station in the United States that played nothing but Eastern European pop. (This may exist, but not in my town!)
Anyway, the channel is called ELLO and has an impressive number of views, according to YouTube. I’m listening to a Банд’Эрос [Band Eros] song right now.
Yes, I know this is a bit late, but I was too busy earlier today. I am reading the strangest book ever. It’s called Cloak by James Gough and I downloaded it free on Kindle (it is no longer free). It is literally the weirdest book I’ve ever read, as it involves a boy who sees people with animal characteristics. He thinks he’s crazy, but it turns out he’s not.
Anyway, moving on to this week’s reading.
The Wall Street Journal has a massive feature about a Russian letter: ё (pronounced ‘yo’). I was so happy that a mainstream paper in this country covered such a random, obscure topic. And the Wall Street Journal wasn’t the only paper to do so: the Washington Post did too! My favorite fact from all of this is that Stalin promoted the use of ё. I’m an amateur Stalin scholar and I didn’t know that!