Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tver Statues

As Terry never got around to doing anything with his own photos from Tver, I thought I'd post a few of mine. For a small city, there's a lot of sculpture in the various parks. Some of my favorites ...

This guy is part of an entire walkway strewn with statues. It's just a couple of blocks from the Institute where I studied.
 This threesome is just past the bridge I crossed every day, on the side of the river where my host family lived.
Kalinin is EVERYWHERE. It was fun when I went to the Academy Theatre with my host mother and she showed me the frescoes on the wall of the great hall (where people hung out during intermission) and there he was, with the farmers, the workers, the students, the construction workers building the Theatre, etc etc
Blue skies for Lenin!
 This is a monument in honor of victims of repression.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Liquidators Monument

It seemed random enough, in Tver there is a monument to the liquidators of the Chernobyl disaster. Then I went to see it, and it turns out more than 2500 people from Tver went to Chernobyl to help with the cleanup. Hence, the monument.

On the way to the monument I saw a strikingly colored building that i first thought was a church and then realized was the mosque. It was pretty so I took some photos. 

The little park the Liquidators monument is in is right next to the mosque.

As I walked toward the monument I could see an older man sitting on a bench right in front of it but didn't think much of it. I read the notice about the monument - handily in English and Russian, and I took some photos. The man started speaking to me. He asked if it was interesting to me and if I understood what it was for. I said yes, and then he told me he had been one of the liquidators. He said lots of other stuff I didn't understand. I asked about his health after being there and he said it was ok then something about his friends so I imagine some of them didn't come out of it so well. he then showed me something, it was clearly an official document, had his name and photo and it was in a case like we would use for ID or Russians use for their passports but it was just the 2 cards/pieces of paper, one on each side. When I got to an internet place and looked up Liquidators of Chernobyl, Wikipedia helpfully explained that special certificates were given to 600,000 workers who helped with the cleanup, so I imagine this is what he showed me.

 The gentleman then offered for me to take a photo of him with the monument so I did.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More on learning Russian

As mentioned before, I went to Tver to learn Russian. I had 2 reasons to leave my family for 2 weeks and take this trip: 1) to push me over the 1+* hump I have been riding on for too long and 2) strengthen my political Russian vocabulary and idiom for the purpose of passing the Russian language test that lies between me and becoming an FSO.

The format of the program was this: I had two sessions each day, of two hours each, one on one with an instructor. Class was 6 days each week. They gave homework. In 12 days I went to 2 plays, 2 museum tours, and one Philharmonic performance. In each case I was accompanied by a Russian speaker, whether a teacher or my host mother.

Wow, did I learn a lot. Both literally and conceptually. Some important takeaways:
- For me, learning a word or phrase and then putting it into immediate use is key to retention.
- My two teachers were both wonderful. The one I'd say helped me a bit more did a great job of speaking Russian the entire time, and in absolutely desperation would open the dictionary to show me a word but did not herself use English.
- The above point is important because the more I spoke English - whether it was phone calls home, spending time with a fellow American or using it in class - the harder the Russian seemed to be.
- Four hours of class time does not sound like much. However, it translated to an additional minimum of 2 hours,often 3 of review, homework, and cleaning up my notes. For the purpose of comprehension I also would take my notes from each day's theme and craft a 1 page summary/presentation that I went through the next day with my teacher. I also napped every day and am not in the least ashamed to admit that. It was exhausting.
- I know as much Russian grammar as I need to know until I start reaching for a much higher level than I have or plan to attain at any time prior to a 4-6 month stint at FSI. More than any other thing, I need to speak Russian. Just speak. Right now my biggest pitfall is the "deer in headlights" reaction. I really flubbed some level 0 conversation by overthinking the reply or just panicking.
- After 2 weeks away my language skills really have improved. The time just doesn't sound significant enough to have the impact that it did, but that is the joy of immersion. I spent entire days without speaking or hearing a single word of English until evening, when I'd call home.

* 1+ is the way my prior-to-Tver language ability would be scored by the system used by various language testing/rating organizations, most relevantly FSI. The score I need is a 2. Doesn't sound far apart, but the truth is it's probably 200-300 hours of learning between the two levels ... or something like that. Don't quote me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


A few weeks ago Terry left me alone with sick kids and went gallvanting in Tver. Or something like that :)  Now it's my turn.

For some background, Tver is a small city about 2h my train outside Moscow (4h or so by car, there's a lot of traffic in and around Moscow). State has a relationship with a language school here and we, both employees and spouses, can come for 1-2 weeks for language immersion. If you choose a host family, as Terry and I both did (ended up being the same family!) it is a near total immersion.

The one downside is there's no internet @ "home" so I'm not online as much. Maybe that isn't actually a downside ...

Anyway, more to come!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Amazing Brain

I'm learning a bit about learning these days. Recently I read an article about sleep and how our brains use sleepy-time to (among other things) organize the stuff we learned during the day, which is part of why we sometimes have very odd dreams.

I had a very specific example of this just yesterday/today. In our conversation group yesterday, I was introduced to the word for "teenager" (подросток). I used it a dozen times in our conversation and every darned time I had to ask for it to be repeated because my brain just wasn't hanging on to it. It was annoying at the time, but as it obviously isn't a word I need in my normal vocabulary - having just been introduced to it for the first time yesterday - I didn't worry too much about it.

This morning as I'm waking up and my mind is wandering around, what comes to me unhesitatingly?  подросток.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Russian: a step back, then a step forward

Today, I thought I ordered a mushroom blini. The woman was confused when I first spoke, then seemed to know exactly what I was saying after I repeated myself. She then presented me with a salmon blini.

This made me sad and frustrated.

I was ordering a blini for lunch because I was attending a Russian Conversation Group meeting at that cafe. So, I swallowed my hopelessness and proceeded to converse with 3 other ladies about life, children, moving, living abroad etc for two hours almost entirely in Russian. I understood everything everyone else said, and I was able to participate about as hesitantly as simply (vocab-wise) as any of the other non-native speakers. The lady who organizes the meetings corrected my frequent errors, but they were mostly in using the wrong case, not using the wrong word or outlandish grammar. [btw - why is it when my brain knows EXACTLY how to say a word, what case it should be in and even remembers what the ending is for that case/gender/etc I still blurt out the wrong thing?]

The lady who organizes the meeting also explained what happened with my order. No, грибы (mushrooms) doesn't sound anything like лосось (salmon) but sure sounds a lot like рыбы (fish) especially when I inappropriately stressed the first syllable instead of the second. Whew!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Date Certain

I have a date for the Russian language exam: December 10. Now I really need to buckle down and study rather than freak out and how soon that is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our global nomad

Our daughter has lived in Russia for all of her conscious memory - 3 years out of 4.5. So when we were in the airport in the USA getting our luggage so we could leave the terminal and go to Grammy's, and we heard the announcements being made in English, she whispered into Terry's ear: "Most people here won't understand what the man just said."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mnemonic Devices

I'm looking at December and it's getting bigger and bigger on the horizon. I think I really need to step up my Russian studies ... which is a bit crazy as there are only so many hours, I do have this job thing they want me to do to get my paycheck, and the whole reason I've given for quitting my job upon our departure to the USA for R&R is so I can study Russian full time upon our return. So basically I'm freaking out even though I have a logical plan in place that should get me where I need to go by the time I need to be there ... it just requires me to WAIT to be able to turn full steam ahead.

That went longer than I thought. The point to this is I started looking up better methods to make vocabulary stick in my mind. Enter the mneumonic device. I started with a few words I'd been getting mixed up, such as "to memorize" (запомнить) and "to remind" (напомнить). Memorize and запомнить both have "Z" in them. напомнить is like NA[g]-remember, which is of course remind. So far so good.

Then in my homework I saw the word for "noteworthy" (достопримечательный). My neumonic for this is "Do stop, make a sandwich and tell me". Yes, my 9 syllable sentence is 2 longer than the 7 syllable word.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Exactly what we've been hoping for

We had hoped to give the children the gift of a second language during our extended tenure in Russia and our very likely return to Russian speaking posts. We're even choosing a place in the DC area to live based on the true Russian detsky sad in the neighborhood. But, as our Russian is still poor and the kids mostly speak English with us, we don't have a good sense of their skills. Enter: this week.

The Russian school year is September 1 - end of May. The preschool is still open June and July, but so sparse that all the grade levels are together in one class and the teachers rotate who's there watching them. Yesterday, a teacher I had never seen before June asked me if I didn't speak any Russian. I said only a little. She asked where Alex learned to speak Russian so well. I said "here." She still looked puzzled, like it wasn't possible.

Today, another teacher told me that Alex's "best friend" today was a little girl from the younger class. She said they were chatting all day (I was excited because I had just learned the word for "chat" yesterday in class!). This little girl has a Russian mom and British dad and I know he speaks to her in English. Naturally, I asked the teacher which language the girls used today ... you guessed it, Russian.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fabulous resource for studying Russian

I'm kind of a dork, and I'm OK with that. I study Russian not only because it's my only hope for ever having gainful, continuous employment but because the language has completely sunk its nails into me (why didn't it do this 10 years ago when my brain actually wanted to hold things like genative case and perfective verbs?). Anyhoo ...

This site was recommended by someone on the chat group for FSO hopefuls:

It totally rocks my world. It gives super short (a couple of minutes) broadcasts of current events in Russian spoken slowly and clearly. It has a glossary to go with each broadcast. It has listening comprehension exercises at the end. These broadcasts have been going on since 2004. There are about 100 of them. By the time I finish them all I should be able to listen to news on TV or radio.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Small victories

Russian is a difficult language to master. The more I learn the more I realize I don't know. I'm pained when I hear an FSO with a 3/3 or 4/4 tell me that they don't feel comfortable with the language or don't know how to say something simple (of course, at FSI there is a very different focus on what vocabulary is taught, but still ... a "high school graduate level speaker" should be able to buy curtains!)

Terry and I were lucky to get into the 8 week language program before heading to Russia, we learned useful basics such as how to ask directions or buy 2 kilos of apples at the market. As importantly, we learned what likely responses would be to such questions. Once hitting the ground we got into the 2h/week language class and practiced reading billboards and signs. All in all, not much instruction. I probably only got to class half the time between the whole newborn-who-doesn't-sleep thing and later the job-gets-in-the-way-of-personal-activities thing.

Then I passed the FSOA. I need those language points now! Upon my return to Russia last summer I became more diligent in class attendance, asked my teacher to give me supplemental homework, and basically kicked it into high gear. Of course, the rest of life still marched on and I still didn't get much more than 1h/day of Russian study.

I've been studying Russian with varying intensity for 3 years now.

Two weeks ago, I made a restaurant reservation without once slipping into English. This week, I reserved tickets to a performance over the phone ("Sleeping Beauty" Ballet on Ice, I hope Alex enjoys it and gets motivated to go back to skating!) also entirely in Russian. This one was more complex as I was asking for specific seats and also needed to figure out where to obtain the physical tickets. I picked up the tickets yesterday and they are exactly the seats I thought I ordered and cost the exact price I thought they should!

If I put as much effort into learning Spanish as I have in learning Russian, I'd be pretty darn fluent by now. But my small victories are sustaining me in my quest for basic literacy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ingenuity and creativity

Alex attends a Russian preschool. Her teachers don't speak English (well, their English is even worse than my Russian so I just go about as though they don't speak any). When they post notices I take a picture on my phone and then look up the vocabulary if I'm feeling adventuresome, or I just ask someone to translate otherwise.

There was a notice on Thursday but I only got around to translating it today. I got as far as: We need to urgently inoculate Alex against something that isn't in the dictionary. Google Translate to the rescue!

p.s. - it was measles. She's has her MMR. We're all cool. Maybe next time I'll be sure to translate the same day though!