The Opening Ceremony Alphabet

I think it goes without saying that I am LOVING the Olympics being in Sochi! I can’t get enough of them and it’s sparked a fresh motivation to update my blog and brush up on my russki.

I had a great time on Friday watching the opening ceremony with some Russian-speaking friends. I was excited that it started off with a quick lesson on the Cyrillic alphabet. But I think the Russians might have underestimated the amount of explanation needed.

If you missed it, it showed a girl wandering through a dreamland, encountering letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. For each letter, the girl pronounced the letter, and a Russian word that has the letter in it. the Cyrillic letter was shown, along with the English and French translations of the word.

The alphabet video was beautiful, but there were a couple elements that left room for confusion.

  • Not all of the example words started with the letter being shown. (For example the last letter in the presentation, я, is the last letter in Россия, Russia)
  • I think it would have been helpful to see the word written out in Russian, next to an English transliteration as well, so you could see where the letter appeared in the word.

Well, now I have granted my own wishes. It wasn’t easy and I can see why they didn’t want to include all that information in the show. After a few days of hard work, I am excited to share a project I’ve been working on that will help answer questions like my friend’s: “Can you please explain the opening ceremony to me? I didn’t get the alphabet part.”

Watch the alphabet video, and the full opening ceremony here.

Festival Season is Upon Us!

It’s hard to believe August is about over and the summer is winding down. One of the things that makes this sad time a little easier on me is the fact that the fall DC-area Russian (and Ukrainian) festivals are coming up! I’ve gone on and on about festivals on this blog, so this post will serve simply as a reminder not to miss what are some of my all-time favorite events!

The schedule for the DC area is:

* September 8th & 9th: Ukrainian Festival, Baltimore Ukrainian Festival Committee (Baltimore, MD)

* September 14th & 15th: Ukrainian Festival, St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral (Silver Spring, MD)

* October 5th & 6th: Russian Bazaar, The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (DC)

* October 5th & 6th: Multicultural Festival, The Orthodox Church of St Matthew (Columbia, MD)

* October 12th & 13th: Fall Bazaar, St. Nicholas Cathedral (DC)

* October 18th, 19th, & 20th: Russian Festival, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church (Baltimore, MD)

And if you’re not in the DC area, check out my list of all the Russian festivals I could find in the US. Please let me know if I’ve missed any!

Head’s up, Redmond, WA and Goshen, IN, you’re up next with festivals on September 14th!

Enjoy!

3 Chrome Extensions for Foreign Language Study

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This is going to make me sound really old, but I sure wish we had technology when I started learning Russian! Okay, that might be an exaggeration - I believe the Internet had been invented at that point, but things weren’t as easy as they are today. I just get so excited when I discover tools that make it easier to improve my Russian!

My most recent discovery is Chrome Extensions. Here are my 3 favorites so far:

1. Google Dictionary

When I first started studying Russian as a 9th grader, if we came across a word we didn’t know, we had to stop and look it up in a physical dictionary (so painstaking!). Years later, I was excited to be able to read online, and copy and paste words into an online dictionary. Now, with Google Dictionary, you can get the definition without even leaving the page!

How to use it:

  • Install the extension
  • Under extension options, select your native language
  • Double click on a word you don’t know to see a pop-up with a definition in your language
  • Use the toolbar dictionary for a complete definition

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2. Language Immersion for Chrome

When I first started using this tool, I actually thought my computer was going berzerk. (You might remember this post if you follow me on Facebook.) I was trying out a bunch of extensions at once and didn’t know what was what. As I read an article (in English) I noticed every few words started to appear in Russian. As it turns out, that’s exactly the point of the extension. You select what language you’re studying and the extension automatically changes every few words into that language.

How to use it:

  • Install the extension
  • Select the language you’re studying (64 languages available)
  • Choose your skill level (ranges from novice to fluent)
  • Turn on or off without leaving the page

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3. Google Input tools

For the last several years, I’ve been using a website called Translit.ru, which allows you to type a Russian word how it sounds using the Latin alphabet, and it will appear on the screen in Cyrillic. Normally, I would copy and paste the Cyrillic into whatever I’m working on. For me, this is easier than messing around with Cyrillic keyboard software. Now, you can accomplish the same task using Google Input Tools, only without leaving the website you’re on.

How to use it:

  • Install the extension
  • Under extension options choose the alphabets you’d like to be able to type in (70 languages available)
  • When you’re ready to type in a different alphabet, choose it from the list you created by clicking on the icon in your address bar
  • Turn it off when you’re done without leaving the page

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Notes about Chrome extensions

  • You can only use Chrome extensions if you use Google Chrome as your browser.
  • You can find these and other extensions by going to the Chrome Web Store. (But don’t be confused - these 3 extensions are free.)
  • Once you install an extension, an icon will appear in the address bar. Click on the icon to change your settings.
  • Click here for more about using Chrome Extensions.

Let me know if you try these out - I hope you enjoy them! What other tools are you using to make language studying easier?

 
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
I first heard of documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, when I watched Grizzly Man, a film about a man who left society for months at a time to live with grizzly bears in Alaska. I was so touched by the film, that when I heard about Happy People: A Year in the Taiga I knew I had to watch it.
“Happy People” is a documentary about the life of indigenous people living in the heart of the Siberian Taiga.”The ‘Happy People’ in the story are hunters who leave their remote villages behind to live in even more remote, isolated areas over the winter to hunt and trap in order to to sustain life for themselves and their families.
Herzog’s film style is to let the images do most of the talking. He uses few words and speaks slowly in his German accent, which I enjoy listening to, and recently learned that Муж can imitate pretty well. I found the film at times to be a little slow, but still very interesting. I’ve always been fascinated by life in rural Russia, and had hoped to see more about the villagers’ lives, but this focused more on the hunters.
Overall, I enjoyed it. If you are very interested in Russia, and especially Russian village life, I would recommend this film. (You can watch it on Netflix.) If you get bored without much action, you might want to wait for the next Bekmambetov movie.
What Russian movies would you recommend?

 

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

I first heard of documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, when I watched Grizzly Man, a film about a man who left society for months at a time to live with grizzly bears in Alaska. I was so touched by the film, that when I heard about Happy People: A Year in the Taiga I knew I had to watch it.

“Happy People” is a documentary about the life of indigenous people living in the heart of the Siberian Taiga.”The ‘Happy People’ in the story are hunters who leave their remote villages behind to live in even more remote, isolated areas over the winter to hunt and trap in order to to sustain life for themselves and their families.

Herzog’s film style is to let the images do most of the talking. He uses few words and speaks slowly in his German accent, which I enjoy listening to, and recently learned that Муж can imitate pretty well. I found the film at times to be a little slow, but still very interesting. I’ve always been fascinated by life in rural Russia, and had hoped to see more about the villagers’ lives, but this focused more on the hunters.

Overall, I enjoyed it. If you are very interested in Russia, and especially Russian village life, I would recommend this film. (You can watch it on Netflix.) If you get bored without much action, you might want to wait for the next Bekmambetov movie.

What Russian movies would you recommend?

Interview with Eric Thompson, Creator of Yazh

Last week, I posted a review of Yazh, an app that helps Russian students with their case endings. If you haven’t downloaded the app, yet, I hope you’ll give it a try. Eric Thompson, who created the app, is in my Russian Meetup group, and I think we Russophiles should support each others’ endeavors! (So consider getting the paid version for only $1.50.)

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I interviewed Eric about his Russian studies and how he created the app. Here’s what he had to say:

What sparked your interest in learning Russian?

One of the reasons I wanted to learn a second language was that I was curious about how plastic the human mind is and, since we think in languages, how would thinking in a completely different language affect our thought process. It’s something of an experiment on myself. Russian seemed like a good fit because it’s so different from English. English speakers tend to think Russian is a chaotic mess, and I’ve met Russian speakers who say the same about English. I’ve also always been curious about Russia as it’s been portrayed as America’s doppelganger.

How long have you been studying Russian?

I’ve been studying for two years now. I would say that I’m at the late-beginner level. I still need to mentally translate to understand most of what I come across, and unfortunately, when people speak, it’s faster than I can translate. But week by week it gets better and that’s encouraging. I like to tell myself that in  a year from now, I will be intermediate, which would be very satisfying for me.

What methods are you using to study the language?

I’ve been teaching myself outside of any classroom and without tutoring software. There are many websites online that describe the grammar and provide good starting vocabulary. I also bought a couple of used textbooks for the cheap online which have been invaluable. Textbooks bring an order to the chaos of any topic and provide lots of interesting tidbits that you might not learn independently. And, of course, my app! If it weren’t for my Yazh app, I would have virtually no grasp on the cases.

What is the hardest thing about learning Russian?

At the moment, I would say the irregular nouns and verbs. English and all other languages have them, of course, but because words change so much in Russian, learning one irregular noun or verb can be a little overwhelming.

Why did you decide to create Yazh?

The topic just seemed to lend itself as an app. The only way to really learn the cases is to practice over and over, with instant feedback, on many different words of all types. Yazh provides this. Not to mention, when you live in a city like Washington and so much time is spent waiting for and on the metro, its just the perfect way to squeeze a little more studying in.

Is this the first app you’ve created?

It was! And it was a heck of a learning experience.

How were you able to create a language-learning app without being an expert in Russian?

A LOT of help! I scoured the internet for resources, double checking everything whenever I could. I would also ask my Russian friends. A big thanks to Katja!

What was most challenging about creating the app?

I had experience programming in Java, but not in the Android environment. Naturally, Android needs to set a lot of rules for its programmers to follows, and until you figure out these rules, there will be a lot of stumbling around in the dark… or at least the dimly lit.

What do you consider the best feature of Yazh?

The app actually learns what cases, genders, spellings, etc. you have the most trouble with and will test you on those more often. Some cases, such as instrumental-plural, were really easy for me, but myaki znak-ending female words in the dative were difficult. The app sees that over time and challenges you appropriately. But don’t worry. this information never leaves your phone.

Who do you think will find it most useful?

I think it’s useful for anyone learning Russian, and even people who have become near fluent. Even if you don’t use it to study, having the tables on your phone is incredible convenient.

Where did you come up with the name, Yazh?

I wanted something that looked very Russian to a non-native speaker. I think most Americans, like myself, when we picture the Russian alphabet, we picture the backwards ‘R’ and what looks like an obese, square, slumping ‘A’ which is the Russian ‘D’ (an affectionate description, I promise!) So originally, I was going to call it Yad, or Dya, but then I realized that I could make a cool logo with the ‘Ya’ and ‘Zh’. I made an effort to make sure it doesn’t mean anything to a native speaker. The closest sounding word is “yozh”, which means hedgehog.

I considered a hedgehog mascot, but it didn’t fit the aesthetics.

Do you have any plans for enhancements to the app?

I have ideas for many little improvements, such as looking up words or audio, but for the moment I’m focusing on learning the language.

Any plans to design another app?

Ha, it’s funny, after you make an app, people come out of the woodwork with ideas. Usually they’re pretty far fetched, like an app that can drive your car for you. But, no, for the time being, no more apps.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about yourself or about Yazh?

No, an iPhone version is not coming out. The app was also a one person effort, by a language learner for language learners.

My thanks to Eric for creating this app and taking the time to talk with me. Again, if you haven’t checked out Yazh yet, please do!

Do you have an app or a project you’d like me to feature on this blog, please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you!

Case Endings: There’s an app for that!

Quick poll to all you Russian students out there: list the top 3 most challenging aspects of learning Russian. Was one of your answers case endings (aka declensions)? Then read on. (If one of your answers was not case endings, please contact me immediately so I can figure out what your secret is!)

I think most Russian language students agree that case endings are one of the hardest concepts to master. I used to think I’d never get them down. Even as someone who has gotten pretty comfortable with them, when I tried out the app, ‘Yazh’, I was reminded that you’re never too good to brush up :)

Here’s my review of Yazh:

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What is it? Yazh gives you a word (with the definition), and asks you to supply the appropriate declension. For example. What is the instrumental singular of the word ‘ручка’ ?

What’s great about it? I love that Yazh ‘learn’s what your problem areas area and quizzes you more often on them. I also love that you can customize what you’re working on: choose nouns, or adjectives, masculine, feminine, irregular, choose between multiple choice and fill-in for an extra challenge. Also, the stresses are marked, which is always appreciated!

What could make it better? Really, there’s not much missing from Yazh. If anything, just more words. Because there are always more words to master.

Who is it most useful for? Yazh is probably most useful for people studying Russian at the beginning to intermediate level. But it’s also a great review for advanced speakers.

Android or iPhone? Available on Android only.

Is there a FREE version? Yes

Is there a paid version? Yes: $1.50

What’s the difference between free and paid versions? Paid version includes pronouns and has no ads.

My Rating: 5 stars = must have! 

Summary

Yazh is the only one of it’s kind and is a must have for anyone studying Russian. Even a couple minutes a day will strengthen your command of Russian case endings, boost your vocabulary, and help you become a more confident speaker!

You can get Yazh or Yazh Free at the Google Play Store.

Full disclosure: the creator of this app is a member of the Meetup Group I organize,  but I would not give out an undeserved glowing review. The fact that I know him, just makes me that much more proud to endorse this friend’s work. Check back next week for an interview with the app’s creator.

What other Russian Language Learning apps do you love? Please share in the comments!

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Book Review: “What Every Russian Knows (And You Don’t)”
I was recently contacted by Olga Fedina, who asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her new book, “What Every Russian Knows (And You Don’t)”. I was honored!
In her book, Fedina chooses 12 artists or works of art that are extremely popular in Russia. For each chapter, she provides a summary (without spoiling anything!) and a succinct overview of historical events that relate to the topic. For someone like me who is not a history buff, I found the historical background very helpful.
But more importantly, she explains how events in Russia impact a Russian person’s interpretation of the piece and why it is important to Russian people. She gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be Russian during the times she talks about.
I really enjoyed this book. The topics ranged from pieces I had never heard of (The Prostokvashino Three), to artists I was somewhat familiar with (Vladimir Vysotsky), to movies I have seen several times (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears). Even for the movies I had seen several times, she provides much more insight than I’d gathered on my own. (And I will now need to re-watch.)
On top of the 12 main works that are covered in detail, Fedina references many other topics, essentially giving me a ‘to do’ list that will keep me busy for months.
In addition to the excellent content and insight, I loved the ‘Language Notes’ section that ended each chapter, providing the most noteworthy quotes from each work in both Russian and English. As a language student, knowing lines like these, and where they come from really helps take your fluency to the next level.
Overall this is a quick, enjoyable read with a lot of information. A great reference for anyone who enjoys Russian culture. Intermediate or advanced Russian students will especially enjoy the language references.  I also recommend the book’s website, WhatEveryRussianKnows.com, where you can purchase the book or individual chapters, and get links to related material.
Thank you to Olga Fedina for writing this. I look forward to exploring these topics further with your book as my guide, and hope you write another one soon.
Would you like to have your book reviewed on this blog? Please contact me via this form.

Book Review: “What Every Russian Knows (And You Don’t)”

I was recently contacted by Olga Fedina, who asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her new book, “What Every Russian Knows (And You Don’t)”. I was honored!

In her book, Fedina chooses 12 artists or works of art that are extremely popular in Russia. For each chapter, she provides a summary (without spoiling anything!) and a succinct overview of historical events that relate to the topic. For someone like me who is not a history buff, I found the historical background very helpful.

But more importantly, she explains how events in Russia impact a Russian person’s interpretation of the piece and why it is important to Russian people. She gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be Russian during the times she talks about.

I really enjoyed this book. The topics ranged from pieces I had never heard of (The Prostokvashino Three), to artists I was somewhat familiar with (Vladimir Vysotsky), to movies I have seen several times (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears). Even for the movies I had seen several times, she provides much more insight than I’d gathered on my own. (And I will now need to re-watch.)

On top of the 12 main works that are covered in detail, Fedina references many other topics, essentially giving me a ‘to do’ list that will keep me busy for months.

In addition to the excellent content and insight, I loved the ‘Language Notes’ section that ended each chapter, providing the most noteworthy quotes from each work in both Russian and English. As a language student, knowing lines like these, and where they come from really helps take your fluency to the next level.

Overall this is a quick, enjoyable read with a lot of information. A great reference for anyone who enjoys Russian culture. Intermediate or advanced Russian students will especially enjoy the language references.  I also recommend the book’s website, WhatEveryRussianKnows.com, where you can purchase the book or individual chapters, and get links to related material.

Thank you to Olga Fedina for writing this. I look forward to exploring these topics further with your book as my guide, and hope you write another one soon.

Would you like to have your book reviewed on this blog? Please contact me via this form.

Tags: books

Russian-a-day: 5 ways to practice your Russian
You know that commercial for teeth whitening that says ‘if you’re not whitening, you’re yellowing’? I think that’s a good way to think about foreign languages - if you’re not improving, you’re…uh deproving.
I go through periods of being really good about practicing and then I have my lulls. A friend once advised me, ‘if you read for 30 minutes every day, you will eventually be fluent.’ I sometimes think about how those minutes would have added up if I would have followed that advice over the last 10 years. Even if I would have just learned 1 new word every single day…over 20 years - that adds up! But you can’t look back, right?
So here’s my latest plan on the road to becoming fluent: do something every single day. If it’s learning only one new word, or spending only five minutes practicing, that’s something. And usually if you sit down to learn 1 word, or read for 5 minutes it will turn into more - especially if you’re a language lover. Sometimes the hard part is just taking the initiative to get started. The other thing I like about this  strategy is that it keeps Russian on the brain - doesn’t let you forget about your goals, since you’re thinking about it every day.
Here are some things I’ve been doing for my ‘Russian-a-day’s’:
1. Learn 1 new word. Seriously, 1 word a day adds up. There are plenty of ‘word-of-the-day’ sites/apps/widgets you can use. But I think a better idea is to read an article or paragraph and look up a few words, and make those your words-of-the-day for the next few days. That way you’ll see them in context and they’ll all be related. Make it an article on something you talk about or like so that you have the chance to use the words. You can use Google Phrasebook to keep track of your words.
 2. Read the news. I use BBC Russian. Sometimes I just try to scan the headlines and make sure I understand all of them. Helps you stay on top of Russian current events as well.
3. Practice speaking. I recommend finding a conversation group on a site like Meetup.com. But if you can’t find a group or meeting in person, find an online language partner on a site like italki.com or livemocha.com.
4. Attend an event. For events in DC, check my calendar. For other areas, check with cultural/community centers, Russian churches or just google Russian events. (This might not provide language practice specifically, but I think area knowledge and networking are also important.)
5. Watch movies/TV. Options for this could be a whole separate post: Netflix, rutube, Mosfilms on youtube…
As an added motivator, you can track on a calendar or list what you do each day. It’s fun to look back and see your accomplishments, or see where you would like to improve. (Maybe this is too OCD for some people.)
What are your language goals? And what kinds of things are you doing to make sure you’re improving and not deproving? Let me know in the comments!

Russian-a-day: 5 ways to practice your Russian

You know that commercial for teeth whitening that says ‘if you’re not whitening, you’re yellowing’? I think that’s a good way to think about foreign languages - if you’re not improving, you’re…uh deproving.

I go through periods of being really good about practicing and then I have my lulls. A friend once advised me, ‘if you read for 30 minutes every day, you will eventually be fluent.’ I sometimes think about how those minutes would have added up if I would have followed that advice over the last 10 years. Even if I would have just learned 1 new word every single day…over 20 years - that adds up! But you can’t look back, right?

So here’s my latest plan on the road to becoming fluent: do something every single day. If it’s learning only one new word, or spending only five minutes practicing, that’s something. And usually if you sit down to learn 1 word, or read for 5 minutes it will turn into more - especially if you’re a language lover. Sometimes the hard part is just taking the initiative to get started. The other thing I like about this  strategy is that it keeps Russian on the brain - doesn’t let you forget about your goals, since you’re thinking about it every day.

Here are some things I’ve been doing for my ‘Russian-a-day’s’:

1. Learn 1 new word. Seriously, 1 word a day adds up. There are plenty of ‘word-of-the-day’ sites/apps/widgets you can use. But I think a better idea is to read an article or paragraph and look up a few words, and make those your words-of-the-day for the next few days. That way you’ll see them in context and they’ll all be related. Make it an article on something you talk about or like so that you have the chance to use the words. You can use Google Phrasebook to keep track of your words.

 2. Read the news. I use BBC Russian. Sometimes I just try to scan the headlines and make sure I understand all of them. Helps you stay on top of Russian current events as well.

3. Practice speaking. I recommend finding a conversation group on a site like Meetup.com. But if you can’t find a group or meeting in person, find an online language partner on a site like italki.com or livemocha.com.

4. Attend an event. For events in DC, check my calendar. For other areas, check with cultural/community centers, Russian churches or just google Russian events. (This might not provide language practice specifically, but I think area knowledge and networking are also important.)

5. Watch movies/TV. Options for this could be a whole separate post: Netflix, rutube, Mosfilms on youtube

As an added motivator, you can track on a calendar or list what you do each day. It’s fun to look back and see your accomplishments, or see where you would like to improve. (Maybe this is too OCD for some people.)


What are your language goals? And what kinds of things are you doing to make sure you’re improving and not deproving? Let me know in the comments!

Tags: study tips

Are you fluent?
 
Shortly after graduating from college, I applied as a linguist with a government agency. I was flown to DC for language testing and interviews, but ended up not being accepted. During the application event, a group of applicants were discussing our language backgrounds and one person asked another, ‘are you fluent in Russian?’ and his answer was ‘that depends what you mean by ‘fluent’’. Which I took as a ‘no’. (File under ‘if you have to ask…’)
 
Sometimes people tell me that I am fluent in Russian - which is flattering, thank you, but I’m not. (Sometimes those people don’t even speak Russian, so I could be fluent in gibberish for all they know.) Other times I’ve heard people declare themselves fluent, when I disagree.
 

It seems the word fluent is somewhat subjective - to some people. To me, it’s pretty straightforward. In Russian, the word is свободно, which means ‘freely’. The English word comes from the Latin word for ‘flowing’. So wouldn’t it be obvious whether you speak (and understand) freely or in a flowing manner? 
 
Thinking about this makes me wonder what will happen when I become fluent. (That’s my goal!) Will something happen to make me realize that I’m fluent? Will it correspond with a certain score on a proficiency test? Or will I just wake up one day and decide I’ve progressed enough and I will start calling myself fluent? Maybe I will succumb to the pressure and start calling myself fluent before I feel I’ve earned it and grow into it.
 
To those of you who consider yourself fluent in a language, do you happen to remember when you started referring to yourself this way? Let me know in the comments!

Are you fluent?

 

Shortly after graduating from college, I applied as a linguist with a government agency. I was flown to DC for language testing and interviews, but ended up not being accepted. During the application event, a group of applicants were discussing our language backgrounds and one person asked another, ‘are you fluent in Russian?’ and his answer was ‘that depends what you mean by ‘fluent’’. Which I took as a ‘no’. (File under ‘if you have to ask…’)

 

Sometimes people tell me that I am fluent in Russian - which is flattering, thank you, but I’m not. (Sometimes those people don’t even speak Russian, so I could be fluent in gibberish for all they know.) Other times I’ve heard people declare themselves fluent, when I disagree.

 

It seems the word fluent is somewhat subjective - to some people. To me, it’s pretty straightforward. In Russian, the word is свободно, which means ‘freely’. The English word comes from the Latin word for ‘flowing’. So wouldn’t it be obvious whether you speak (and understand) freely or in a flowing manner?

 

Thinking about this makes me wonder what will happen when I become fluent. (That’s my goal!) Will something happen to make me realize that I’m fluent? Will it correspond with a certain score on a proficiency test? Or will I just wake up one day and decide I’ve progressed enough and I will start calling myself fluent? Maybe I will succumb to the pressure and start calling myself fluent before I feel I’ve earned it and grow into it.

 

To those of you who consider yourself fluent in a language, do you happen to remember when you started referring to yourself this way? Let me know in the comments!

Тотальный Диктант

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I recently participated in Tотальный Диктант. At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It was described in part as ‘kind of a flash mob’, which wasn’t exactly accurate, but did pique my interest and get me to participate. In the end I learned it was basically a mass Russian grammar test - for native Russian speakers.

Even though I’m not a native speaker, I decided I wanted to see what it was all about and give it a try. As I suspected, I ended up being the only non-Russian in our group of about 20 people taking the test. Like the little girl in this picture, I did not exactly fit in, but I tried not to let that intimidate me. 

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The idea was that a text would be read to the participants, who would try to hand-write it with as few mistakes as possible. First we reviewed some common pitfalls of Russian spelling, grammar, and punctuation using this guide. Then, we watched a video recording of the author, Dina Rubina, reading her text.

After that we got to work. The text was read aloud by someone in the room, and to my surprise, he repeated things as many times as requested. As the other participants scurried to try to make sure everything was spelled correctly, and every comma was in place, I scurried to have something written on my page representing each word I heard. Bonus if it was the correct word, even better if it was spelled correctly, and as for punctuation - let’s just say that was not my top concern.

In the end, I was proud of myself for participating. It was a good reminder of why I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and why I should do it more often. This year’s Tотальный Диктант took place in 35 countries with 32,280 participants. 2,564 participated from outside of Russia. (I am curious to know how many of those were non-native speakers.)

Here is a picture of my group, as featured in Вырастай-ка magazine. (That’s me in the Smurfs sweatshirt.)

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Did any of you happen to participate? What did you think?

Tags: events

Google Phrasebook
 Have you guys heard about Google Translate’s Phrasebook? I discovered it recently and am very excited!
What is it? 
The phrasebook gives you the option to save a list of any words or phrases you look up, allowing you to review your personal vocab list in the future. For me, the phrasebook is the difference between hopefully remembering a word or phrase when I hear it again, and being able to incorporate it into my active vocabulary. I had been keeping a list of words in an Excel doc, but that’s more work, and I haven’t really been keeping up with it. 
How does it work?
Once you enter a word for translation, all you need to do is click the star that shows up in the translation box and the word is magically saved to your phrasebook. Click on the phrasebook icon to show or hide your list.
My favorite features
Enter word by copy/paste, recording with your voice, or typing it in phonetically. (For example, you can type da, and when you hit space, it becomes да. This is extremely helpful.)
Save words in multiple languages and sort by language.
Export your Phrasebook into an excel document to share or manipulate.
Choose which of multiple give definitions you’d like to save. (You can even ‘vote’ for the best definition or change it to your own and vote for that.)
See examples of the word in use.
Hear pronunciations.
My wish list - as much as I love the Phrasebook, there are a couple things I wish I could change
The phrase book can only sort by one language, or by date. I wish you could sort the words by Russian or English 
The phrasebook automatically saves the word according to what language you originally enter. For example if you look up a Russian word, Russian is saved on the left, with the English definition on the right. But if you enter an English word for the Russian definition, then English is on the left and Russian is on the right. I wish there were a way to set up a standard ‘save as’ method.
So, Google, if you are reading this - those are my wishes!
What method do you guys use to make sure you remember words you look up?

Google Phrasebook

 Have you guys heard about Google Translate’s Phrasebook? I discovered it recently and am very excited!

What is it? 

The phrasebook gives you the option to save a list of any words or phrases you look up, allowing you to review your personal vocab list in the future. For me, the phrasebook is the difference between hopefully remembering a word or phrase when I hear it again, and being able to incorporate it into my active vocabulary. I had been keeping a list of words in an Excel doc, but that’s more work, and I haven’t really been keeping up with it.

How does it work?

Once you enter a word for translation, all you need to do is click the star that shows up in the translation box and the word is magically saved to your phrasebook. Click on the phrasebook icon to show or hide your list.

My favorite features

  • Enter word by copy/paste, recording with your voice, or typing it in phonetically. (For example, you can type da, and when you hit space, it becomes да. This is extremely helpful.)
  • Save words in multiple languages and sort by language.
  • Export your Phrasebook into an excel document to share or manipulate.
  • Choose which of multiple give definitions you’d like to save. (You can even ‘vote’ for the best definition or change it to your own and vote for that.)
  • See examples of the word in use.
  • Hear pronunciations.

My wish list - as much as I love the Phrasebook, there are a couple things I wish I could change

  • The phrase book can only sort by one language, or by date. I wish you could sort the words by Russian or English
  • The phrasebook automatically saves the word according to what language you originally enter. For example if you look up a Russian word, Russian is saved on the left, with the English definition on the right. But if you enter an English word for the Russian definition, then English is on the left and Russian is on the right. I wish there were a way to set up a standard ‘save as’ method.

So, Google, if you are reading this - those are my wishes!


What method do you guys use to make sure you remember words you look up?

Tags: tools Google

The Americans

With the news of a US diplomat being accused of spying against the Russians, I thought this would be a good time to mention how much I’m enjoying the show, The Americans.

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I started watching with little expectation that it would be any good, because I don’t like the typical cop shows, but I am surprisingly hooked. It has a good mix of Russian, drama, suspense, romance, and period disguises. There’s not tons of Russian language in it, but of what little there is, I’m impressed that the actors seem to be native speakers, or at least trained in Russian. (As opposed to just actors who memorized a few words with butchered pronunciations.) 

If you haven’t gotten on board yet, you can watch for free at Hulu.com - would make a great weekend marathon. Are you guys watching it? What do you think?

Tags: TV

Discount Code for Russian Play, ‘Oxygen’

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Good news! I’ve been contacted by DC’s Taffety Punk Theatre, and they’ve offered a 50% discount to anyone with a ‘Passion For Russian’ who would like to see the Russian play, ‘Oxygen’.

Purchase tickets here and use discount code “i need oxygen”.

But hurry! The show is likely to sell out as this is the last week it’s playing. The last showing will be next Friday, April 26th.

Lecture: Former People

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A few weeks ago I went to Politics and Prose to hear Doug Smith talk about his new book: ‘Former People’. 

Smith, a historian and former State Department USSR analyst, draws his title from the Soviet term for the Russian nobility. Focusing his narrative on three generations of two dynasties, Smith traces the fall of the upper class from its pre-1917 wealth and privilege to the punishing treatment—ranging from impoverishment to execution—meted out to class enemies.

In his remarks Smith noted he’s gotten some curious comments and looks from both Russians and Americans for writing about what many consider to be an unpopular subject: What it was like for ‘the other side’ (the losing side) following the Revolution. To me, it doesn’t seem that strange. Did people deserve to be imprisoned, or even killed simply because they were born into a certain social status? Maybe the division of wealth wasn’t (isn’t) fair, but like Smith said, any time a an entire class of people are sought out and killed, that’s wrong.

The book follows events surrounding two noble families:the Shermetevs and the Golitsyns. Smith says by the end of the book, you feel like you get to know them. Sounds like an entertaining way to work your way through some serious Russian history. I, for one, look forward to reading ‘Former People’, as well as the three other books he’s written.

If you’re in DC, keep an eye on Politics and Prose for future interesting events. Or even better, just subscribe to my DC Russian Events Calendar, and I’ll let you know when something related to Russia is coming up!

Another Ukrainian Festival

(Author’s note: I’m getting this post up a little late, but please enjoy the pictures of the lovely weather we were enjoying a couple months ago..)

This year, I decided to try a new festival - the Ukrainian Festival in Silver Spring. And I have to say, this one’s going to give the Baltimore festival a run for it’s money as far as my favorite DC Ukrainian festival - although both of them are great.

This festival felt a little bit more like a huge church picnic that was open to the public (and served alcohol). I loved the park setting right next to the church. And the fact that it’s about a half an hour drive from where we live in DC (instead of an hour to get to Baltimore) didn’t hurt one bit.

Here’s me enjoying a Bile, next to this Ukrainian guy.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of this future miss Ukriane. I loved how she interacted with these off-duty dancers.

I have heard of this dance group, Carpathia a little while ago and had been waiting for my chance to see them in action. I missed them in Baltimore because I got scared off by a storm the day they performed. I finally got to see them at this festival and they were great - a lot of fun!

Did you go to any festivals this Festivus? How were they?