From Learning to Coaching

It was a square, well lit room suited to comfortably sit about thirty people, with four rows of chairs in front of a large while screen and an advertisement board in a corner with large white letters ITEA on scarlet background.

The room was full and, having looked around, I noted with surprise that there were at least two other people in the room who more or less belonged to my age category. The audience was mainly silent — just sitting and waiting for the training to begin; only a few of them communicated in short, quiet phrases. I couldn’t help thinking that majority of them were young — a lot younger than me, not kids anymore, but– well, a lot younger than me, damn it!

The meeting started right on time. The organizers — there were three of them fussing around here and there — had done their best to arrange everything at the upper level of their ability. As I sat watching how a young, beautiful office manager, wearing golden four-inch pin-heeled summer shoes tortured herself by running around the room with advertisement leaflets in her hands, I remembered myself a few years before, as I’d done the same job when I set up an occupational school for hospitality and tourism industry for my city. Yeah, the same stuff, only almost a dozen of years ago.

Then I thought that, in fact, this was the first time in decades that I was sitting in the classroom audience… I mean, not teaching, but listening and watching. For sure, I thought, I’d feel more comfortable on that side of the classroom, against that wall with the screen, as a teacher or a coach, with a pointer in my hand.

Then, the meeting started, and from the very first minute of it to the end, I could not help thinking that I have no right to be sitting in the classroom when I have to be there, on that end of the room — as a coach, or a tutor, or a manager to these wonderful, smart, talented people, who still have so much life ahead of them, and who still have a lot to learn.

I really liked the fact that these modern schools of professional education are run by very young people. I could sense their energy in the room. Even when their speech was a bit undeveloped or funny; or when they couldn’t overcome nervousness, or when they did not know what to do with their body while speaking in front of the audience… Yes, this was the most precious thing: at all times I could sense their energy in the room. Inspiration: this is the word. Yes, inspiration: it is the answer to doing successful trainings and presentations for young IT professionals. I found it in ITEA, and I am thankful to them for this. I am going to display more of it in my own coaching work now.

Effective Communication and Us

This post opens a series of articles on effective communication, which I am going to publish in this blog in 2019. I’d like to survey the reasons why so many people lack skills of effective communication. Then, I am going to discuss some techniques of effective communication and methods of developing this skill.


This article is an introduction into the topic, so here we will only touch a few fundamental “rules” of behavior during conversation, which everyone should use to communicate effectively at all times.

It is a well-known fact that your success in a job interview, as well as your general success in life, largely depends on your ability to communicate effectively in all possible situations. Communication is a skill that develops through years of living in human society, and as so, the skill can be learned, improved, or upgraded, or… well, whatever you call it, the skill can be used in your favor!

Knowing how to communicate effectively is the key to any relationship, be it business, or family life, or friendship, or just a casual meeting with someone you have never met before. Whether you’re giving a masterclass at work, working out a difficult situation with your group mates, trying to resolve a misunderstanding with your spouse, or just chatting with a friend, you should know how to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions in order to achieve the desired result. Each of us, modern people, spends hours each day talking to other people, and still, only few can confidently call themselves effective communicators. At times, reaching our communication goals is a surprisingly challenging task. This time, we will take a look at a few basic tips that reflect a good communicator’s strategy in convertsaion.

1. Have a goal. Knowing your subject matter always puts you into a strong position in every conversation. But even more important it is to have a goal and lead the talk to a certain solution, then the whole process of communication becomes meaningful and beneficial to all participants of the conversation. When you know what kind of agreement (or decision) you would like to reach, you inevitably tend to lead the whole conversation to the anticipated result.

2. Learn to lead conversations. Changing the subject in a conversation and directing it to the topic we like is a kind of art that only few people have mastered. Sometimes, it requires finding a topic somewhere in between the one you are discussing and the one you would like to have, so the verbal bridge you build can move you smoothly to the desired destination.

3. Find certain conversational tactics in every particular situation. Effective communication is about setting a goal and pursuing it during the process of communication. Whether you’re giving a lecture or telling your friend a funny story, it’s important to figure out how to frame it to make it interesting and engaging.

4. Never forget to listen. This sounds almost ridiculous, but very few of us, people, are good at listening to others. Most of us are capable of hearing, but the ability to hear does not guarantee the ability to listen. At the same time, effective listening is the basis of good communication. Whenever you become a party of a dialogue, you should focus on your partner’s words, understand them and ‘process’ them in your mind in order to come up with a timely, relevant and meaningful answer.

5. Do not underestimate body language. Besides the actual speech, your conversation partners use another powerful tool of communication: body language. Every change on their faces, their body movements, as well as physiological reactions like yawning, laughing or frowning, have meanings. The one who knows the ‘morphology and syntax’ of body language, can communicate a lot more effectively than others.

6. Use context to uncover real meanings of words. Quite often, what we say in a conversation is not equivalent to what we really mean or think. It is very important to understand your communication partner very well. Te context – verbal and non-verbal – can help you understand the real meaning of your communication partner’s speech.

7. Not saying anything is a way of communication, too. In some situations, silence is more meaningful than words. The one who knows when the moment is right to make a pause in conversation, is usually a very effective communicator.

8. Learn to look and sound confident, no matter what. If you have done this once, you will want to do this again and again. Try to avoid hemming and hawing and do not slow down your speech even is you aren’t sure about what to say. No matter where the conversation goes, try to look calm and confident.

9. Get familiar wit the art of asking questions. Asking clarifying questions, for example, is a well-known tool of confident communicators: it is not only a method of showing your partner that you are paying attention. A well-worded, timely question helps you take leadership in dialogue; it also helps you understand what your conversation partner is saying, and gives you a few extra seconds of time to think over your response.

10. Find common interest(s) or opinion(s) with your conversation partner. This is a good little ‘rule’ to follow at all times. Every conversation partner wants to be well understood. So, as soon as you find common grounds, the whole process of communication will become a lot more enjoyable for both of you, even if a minute ago you were facing misunderstanding.


A Talk About Languages: An Interview with SinDe Barnwell

SinDeBarnwellSinDe Barnwell, a retired physicist, devoted decades of her life to science. An American by birth, she lived for a while in the UK, where she got acquainted with the British version of English. During her life, SinDe used to travel a lot and got familiar with a number of foreign languages and cultures. Now, SinDe lives in Tennessee, USA, and enjoys painting, writing fiction and interviewing creative people for her blog. To read more about SinDe, please scroll down to her bio passage below the interview.

Rina: It is not a secret to anyone that many of the world’s best communicators are the people of science (remember Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, Bill Nye and many others). Scientists are very observant, and so, they often notice the things that ordinary people  take for granted and simply pass by. My questions today will be mainly about human communication; more precisely, about the ways people behave when they have to speak foreign languages in order to understand each other. In this connection, my first question to you will be about the importance of knowing the language of a country which you are visiting. Let me begin with an example. An American once told me in a private talk that he truly believed that all immigrants arriving to the USA without knowing English were fools.

SinDe: OUCH! That hurts!

Rina: Yes, this is true. He believed that, being unable to speak the state language of a country, one is unable to find a decent job and therefore, unable to set up normal life.

SinDe: Of course, each of us needs to expand our knowledge of languages. As Americans it is our obligation to the world to learn a few languages and not be so arrogant.

I once turned in a physics paper written in English to a German lab. The gentleman explained to me that the English language may be accepted everywhere else, just not in his German lab. From that day forward, I have turned in work in both English and the native language, not so much because it was expected (most often it wasn’t), but as a courtesy and to show respect for the people I worked with.

Rina: How often do you hear English spoken by foreigners? What is your first reaction to the mistakes they make?

SinDe: I quite often hear English spoken by foreigners. My first reaction is to try to understand what they are meaning to say. Often I will repeat to them what I am hearing and what I think they are meaning to say.

Often my reaction depends on my relationship with the person. If it is a friend, I often correct their error in speech and then explain what they originally said means to Americans. Occasionally, we laugh at our errors (going both ways) when we realize what we have actually said versus what we intended to convey.

Rina: If you note that a native speaker of English makes a mistake, what is your first reaction? Is it similar to that of the one you have when foreigners make mistakes?

SinDe: My reaction to a native speaker of English depends on the person and the situation. If it is a young child, I will usually correct his wording, particularly as it relates to verb tense or pronunciation of a new vocabulary word.

If I hear a teenager using incorrect grammar, depending on the familiarity with the teen, I may or may not correct the grammar. If I hear an older person using a word incorrectly, especially verb tense, I ordinarily bite my tongue, shudder, and accept it. With older adults I often consider they have been using a word or saying a word incorrectly all their lives and suggesting an alternative word or the correct verb tense will offend them. In daily life, I let it go. If it relates to business or matters of importance I may ask them to clarify what they have said.

Rina: You mentioned once that you’d had some experience of living in Great Britain. Can you share about your most exciting experiences related to the differences between the US and British accents? Can you remember any funny, exciting or a bit embarrassing stories?

SinDe: A story of my first day in England which I shared on my website comes to mind first:

It all happened in 1978 on my first trip abroad and hence, my first trip to the UK… My employer had several positions available in Europe, I chose England. My reasoning was sound… I speak English… , there would be no language barrier in the workplace.

I hopped a plane, flew across the ocean, and landed at Gatwick Airport… My soon to be employer sent a driver, Colin, to retrieve us from Gatwick Airport and deliver us to the Savoy Hotel.

Colin was tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, and about my age. To top it off, he had one of those sexy British accents that could charm the pants off almost any American girl… He checked us in at the Savoy and saw us to our rooms.

My employer had planned a “meet and greet” dinner for 7:00 p.m., so when Colin was about to leave, he announced, “Get some rest if you can. The dinner is at seven so to ensure we have plenty of time, I will knock you up at six.”

I can smile now, but I have to say, in that instant I looked like the naive, untraveled southern girl that I was. And, that’s when I learned English really is my second language.

Getting “knocked up” in England is having someone “knock on your door.” In America, if someone knocks one up, he gets you pregnant.

Here is another example. At a dinner in England, I once asked a server to please get me a napkin. Mine had slipped from my lap onto the floor. He was absolutely shocked. In UK, a napkin is a sanitary “napkin” or Kotex used by a woman during her menstrual cycle. In the US, a napkin is a “serviette” or a thin paper with which one wipes her mouth while eating.

And one more story: Once I was attending a formal dance in England, enjoying all the people doing all sorts of dances when I asked my escort for the night if he “shagged” only to be totally embarrassed. Along the southeastern coast of the U.S. “the shag” is a dance. In England, shagging is having sexual intercourse.

(Learn about American shag dance)

I could go on and on with my errors in speech, but these are a few that stand out in my mind.

Rina: What do you think about the fact that very few Americans can speak foreign languages? What do you think about the role of learning (or knowing) a foreign language in a life of a person?

SinDe: I am absolutely embarrassed at and horrified by our American arrogance when it comes to learning languages. I am fluent in speaking none but can stumble my way through a few of the social amenities. I can read several languages sufficiently to understand what I am reading with clarity, but have had little opportunity to learn speech.

I make it a practice to learn to say a proper greeting in the language of foreign persons with whom I come in contact, just as I make it a practice to learn and remember names. A name is special recognition of a person, giving him an identity unique to himself. Learning a few words of greeting in another’s native language shows respect and caring for that person. As such I attempt to learn a few words of greeting. Saying “hello” and “it’s nice to meet you” or “How are you?” in the person’s native language is easy enough to learn and often brings a smile.

Rina: Can you remember any situations of misunderstanding that happened because someone (or you) misused some words or phrases? Something that was funny or unusual and made you learn something new about the English language or communication in general?

SinDe: My husband once asked our Spanish speaking housekeeper for “gateau” meaning cake in French. (We were practicing our French lessons.) She stared at him in disbelief. She heard “gato” meaning cat and we already had six.

Rina: What aspect of English seemed most difficult to you when you studied it at school?

SinDe: English is a most difficult language, I think, unless you are a native speaker. Grammar and spelling rules abound, but there are so many exceptions that sometimes it seems overwhelming.

My parents were very strict about grammar and education, in general. My mother had no hesitation when it came to “correcting” my grammar, and particularly my pronunciation. As a southerner in the U.S., our use of grammar and our pronunciations are very regional. For example, if you are attempting to say “you all” to include everyone. (i.e. “You all are welcomed to come to our party” in the south would sound like “y’all are welcomed…” and is pronounced “yawl” which is a sailboat.) In the northeast, especially the New Jersey area, one would hear “you guys” instead of “you all.” It is pronounced “use guys.”

Written words often have difficult spellings and occasionally are not read phonetically.

Most of my problems in understanding English are due to regional dialects. The U.S. is a large country and our pronunciations vary by region, often making it more difficult for a non-native speaker. For example, in the southeast a Pepsi-Cola or a Coca-Cola is referred to as a “soda” while in the middle of the country it may be referred to as a “pop” and in other parts of the country as a “drink.” In the southeast, if someone asks if one would like a drink, he is probably referring to an alcoholic beverage rather than a Coke or Pepsi.

While American English is far different from British English, the diversity of language and usage is just a varied within the U.S.

Rina: What in your opinion can help learners of English improve their speaking skills?

SinDe: Immersion in the language. When I attempted to learn a few words of Italian, I moved in with an Italian family for a week. No one was allowed even one word of English. After a week, I could get around in Italy, ask a few questions and understand the answers sufficiently to be comfortable and not too confused.

I would suggest that immersion helps avoid translation, which I find to be a hindrance to understanding the language and the intention of the spoken word. Words do not translate as precisely as we may like. Often, in conversation one may say the exact translated words but miss the intention or meaning.

In our high schools (last four years of school before university) we are “taught” conversational languages. I learned a few words that helped in my life after university, but mostly I learned to ask questions like “where is the train station?” Unfortunately, when a native French speaker gave me instructions to the train station, I didn’t understand a single word.

I would also suggest that reading and writing, and speaking are two separate activities. As you know, I could learn a few words of Russian in the spoken language, but not be able to read a single word (in this case due to different alphabet)

Given enough time, watching foreign movies with subtitles in the foreign language can be helpful. One can hear the words, as naturally spoken with accent, and see the written words in the same language. However one chooses to learn a language, I believe it is best to listen to the cadence and rhythm of the native speakers to learn the phrases and intonation. Situational learning rather than trying to learn words in translation seems to be the quicker method for me. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Correct them. And, keep trying.

Rina: What is the relationship between being intelligent (reading a lot) and being able to speak foreign languages? Can regular reading help one to speak a language better?

SinDe: Yes and no. I am reminded of my mother who always said, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Personally, I have had my best successes tackling the spoken language first. For example. My neighbor’s last name is “Tucci.”

As a native English American speaker, many (probably most) Americans would pronounce her last name as “to-see.” But, having heard so much Italian spoken I had learned that “cci” or “ci” is pronounced “chee.” Hence, “to-chee”.

Reading her name would not have helped with the pronunciation. Having heard the words first, I was able to recognize the written words. And with that base knowledge of “ci” I could use it to help with other pronunciations.

That said, once a spoken base is established, reading only enhances the vocabulary and usage. Recently, I read Madame Bovary in French. My spoken French has withered, but my reading skills have not. It was a most enjoyable read. So, yes, reading can help enhance one’s understanding of a language and build vocabulary, form and usage, but I firmly believe a base level of speech (and hearing) is necessary.

I also subscribe to several European magazines in the native languages. With pictures and words I can usually get a pretty good idea of the content. I also have quite a few friends who are non-native English speakers. I do not hesitate to ask for help and instruction.

Rina: If it was in your power to set a rule for all people of the world to speak one and the same language, which language would you select as a common language for all mankind? Why?

SinDe: Based on my limited knowledge of world languages, I would probably choose French or another romance language. I like the French rules of grammar. Of course, they seem so simple after having been brought up as a native English speaker. And, far more consistent.

French has a softer sound than English, German, Russian. Occasionally, I think the sounds play so much into our interpretations of intent. The guttural languages sound harsher.

While it will forever be impossible for the world to speak a single language, in my opinion, it would be my wish that every person on Earth learn his or her language proficiently and then learn a second language, and maybe a third.

Rina: What would you recommend to all learners of English who intend to come to your country for a long term of stay (study, work, marriage, etc.) as a way to adapt to the US lifestyle?

SinDe: Learn the basics of speech and learn as many idioms as possible. Americans talk in idioms that have stood the test of time, not necessarily slang.

Watch movies in English with subtitles, over and over again. One can pick up much from hearing and seeing simultaneously, as well as gain an overview of American life. (But, choose the movies carefully.)

Find a mentor or a teacher and be open to learning. Learn to laugh at the mistakes. They will happen. Do not be offended if corrected. Use corrections as learning experiences. When in doubt ask a trusted person how to say a new phrase. And, with a solid base, read, read, read.


SinDe Barnwell about herself:

Education: I have a Ph.D. in physics, emphasis on particle physics, worked in labs in the US and UK, and have traveled extensively lecturing (in English) and participating in seminars and research.

Background: My parents were not university educated. In fact, my father did not graduate from high school but he was one of the smartest people I have ever known. He understood people and taught me to respect every human being as a special person of great worth. He encouraged me to pursue the sciences and maths when it was not readily acceptable for “girls.” To balance my “nerd” tendencies, he often took me to community kitchens or to the less desirable neighborhoods to help those who may have been less fortunate. I have written a couple of essays on my website about a few of my experiences with my father. He always told me that all men (and women) can teach you something and to never overlook or look down upon any person. From my father I learned humility and empathy.

I volunteered in Liberia during my summer holidays working with AIDS patients. That was a life changing experience that I have never forgotten. Today, as a retired senior citizen (age 70) I try to volunteer locally as much as possible.

I make jewelry and dabble with writing and painting as hobbies. Perhaps, as I get older I most enjoy interviewing artists and authors in an effort to learn from them. There is always something to learn.

English for Your Job Interview is available on Amazon now

Dear Friends and Visitors,

I am happy to share with you that English for Your Job Interview, a guide to an excelent self-presentation in a job interview, is now available on Amazon. It is not a fiction book, so it was released under my real name, Iryna Tymchenko.

The book is a complete interview preparation guide for those who are seeking employment at the start of their careers. It is indispensable for international learners of English whose level is Intermediate or higher. If you are about to face a job interview soon, read the book with special attention: it will protect you against making upsetting mistakes and teach you how to answer the trickiest interviewers’ questions in a business-like, professional way.

English for Your Job Interview has 51 units, which cover the most frequently asked interview questions and offer useful tips to ensure your effective communication with hiring managers. Every unit of the book contains examples of succesful interview presentations, which are followed by multiple language training exercises designed to help you memorize dozens of useful English words and phrases.

English for Your Job Interview

Most importantly, the book is going to show you a way how to act and communicate confidently in English. This book has already helped dozens of young professionals find their dream jobs. Our most successful readers did a unit a day and say that the exercises contained in the book helped them upgrade their English and prepare for successful self-presentations in job interviews.

My Author Page on Amazon

This is a short post, just to share the fact that, as of now, I am another slave in the galley of mighty Amazon. This is my author page there:

If you are also an Amazon author, you are welcome to share the link to your author page with me, so we can connect there and follow each other.

Alright, I am off to my galley now. Time to write more books…

There I am, behind the last oar, see? 😉

Learn English with Love!

Dear Friends,

just in case if someone of you is interested…The Romantic English Phrase Book, a perfect little gift to send to your romantic Russian-speaking friend, is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon:

Learn English with Love!
Изучайте английский с любовью!

The phrase book was designed specifically to assist Russian-speaking women who are taking their first steps in learning English. It is a perfect communication tool for international couples in the moments when there is no interpreter at hand. Consider making this gift for your charming Russian-speaking friend and the phrase book will help you to establish your unique, common language of romance and togetherness.

The book has already helped dozens of couples. You are welcome to try it, too!

Kindle version:

Speed Thinking? Hmm, Maybe…

Due to the nature of my job, reading ‘eats up’ at least two thirds of my time every day, it has always been so. The rest of the time goes on writing and living my human life, but this kind of lifestyle leaves me little to no time for thinking– I mean, the efficient, productive thinking that normally leads us to something new.

As a teacher, I read through lots of student materials daily; I have to learn a lot, because otherwise I will have nothing to teach them. As a translator/interpreter, I have to know a lot and this makes me read endlessly about so many diferent things. As an author… well, I don’t even have to begin explaining it: reading is critical.

This is why whenever I read an article, a coursebook text, or a piece of fiction, I catch myself on thinking: “Eww, too many words! Too many words! Guys, please!” I want to finish every piece as quickly as possible, because my ‘to read’ list is itself as long as a novel.

man scrolling old book pages at the table fast

I am sure I am not alone in this. Many people regret having to waste their time even when they are reading a fiction book with no practical reason, for pure pleasure. Time is becoming our strictest warder; we simply can’t afford to spend days on reading a book anymore.

I thought I found an answer by starting to listen to audiobooks when I am in gym or while cooking and doing stuff with my hands. It helped, not for a long time, though. My ‘to read’ list is still growing fast, and my time is still slipping away.

Some colleagues suggest that it’s good to study speed reading. I am sure it is, but is this going to solve the problem? Just a little, but– no, I’m afraid. I believe that we are going to end up inventing a way of speed thinking soon. But isn’t thinking in a hurry the most dangerous business of all?

I think the best answer for readers would be to ‘brush up’ their ‘to read’ lists and start reading more selectively, while writers will have to accept the approach of condensed writing — when everything is put in the most precise and well-structured way, so that the reader can easily grasp the idea of every passage and quickly move on.

In fact, the process is taking place already, even for the fiction books. I just analyzed a dozen of bestsellers published in 2018 and compared them to a dozen of fiction bestsellers which were first published between 2000 and 2005. The results are very interesting: on the total, the more recent novels have become more ‘visual’ and imaginative (the descriptions are built to create fast images in the reader’s mind); the passages in novels have become shorter; there are more dialogs, in which sentences are becoming shorter, too, and it is not unusual to see chapters of the cize of a page anymore. As far as I know, this was not a usual thing in the literature published in the 20-th century.

So, condensed writing is taking over little by little. I think I need to study and compare more texts — who knows, maybe a deeper research is going to reveal more tendencies which I have not noticed yet?

Definitely Maybe… (a book review)

It feels a bit funny to see the cover of this book with English words on it, because I know its original Russian version so well. The book is really, truly Soviet, if I may say so. I mean to say that in it, the characters, their moral/ethical positions, the setting, the events, and everything else up to the last line is filled with the worldview of the Soviet people. Well, this makes the book even more interesting for us today, when the Soviet Union is only history.

Still, the problems raised in the book are global, or I’d rather say, universal. The novel is amazing in its ability to live and remain ‘fresh’ through time: today, half of a century later, it reads as if it was written just yesterday by someone who always looks into the future.

I am sure, the authors did.

Definitely Maybe (Russian: За миллиард лет до конца света,  literal translation: A Billion Years Before the End of the World, sometimes called Definitely Maybe: A Manuscript Discovered Under Unusual Circumstances) is a science fiction novel by Russian writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, first published 1974. The story takes place in Leningrad, USSR. The protagonist, an astrophysicist Dmitry Malyanov, is officially on vacation, but continues to work on his thesis, “The Interaction of Stars with Diffused Galactic Matter”. Just as he begins to realize that he is on the verge of a discovery worthy of a Nobel Prize, his life becomes plagued by a number of strange events, which finally lead him to a great deal of stress and make him unable to do his research anymore.

Little by little, Malyanov begins to suspect that someone (or something) deliberately intends to prevent him from continuing his work. Meanwhile, the same idea occurs to his friends, also talented scientists, who find themselves in a similar situation—some powerful, mysterious, and very selective force impedes their work.

An explanation is proposed by Malyanov’s friend, the mathematician Vecherovsky. He posits that some mysterious force is trying to slow down mankind’s scientific pursuit, which might become a threat to the very fabric of the universe in some distant future. In fact, it is the Universe itself that resists attempts of rational beings of constructing supercivilizations. Vecherovsky proposes to treat this universal resistance to scientific progress as a natural phenomenon which can and should be investigated and even harnessed by Science.

As the novel concludes, the other scientists, including Malyanov, have been forced to abandon their research, and Vecherovsky remains alone to battle the universe and continue their work.

I just finished reading the book for the 4-th or possibly the 5-th time, and enjoyed it again– maybe even more than the previous times. It glows with love for the world we live in. It is profound in thought; it touches deepest problems of human ethics, and at the same time, it is full of humor and life. I do recommend you to try reading it.

Also, I absolutely love and would like to recommend a few more books by Strugatsky brothers:

Snail on the Slope (Russian – “Улитка на склоне”) is a philosophic and deeply psychological sci-fi novel ;

The Doomed City (Russian: Град обреченный) is a 1972 science fiction novel — an absolutely amazing philosophic piece to read

Roadside Picnic (Russian: Пикник на обочине), a 1971 novel; within ten years after the first publication, 38 editions of it were published in 20 countries.

The Ugly Swans (Russian: Гадкие лебеди) written in the 1960-ies, but published only in 1987, during Gorbachev’s Perestroika.

Side Thoughts About Reading Fiction

Has it ever come to your mind that mankind might have never accepted the idea of writing books that are supposed to give the reader nothing, but pleasure? I am talking about fiction. Well, we all know that quite many people find fiction books absolutely useless and never read them. In the early ages, especially when only a tiny part of society could read at all, the mankind could easily decide to pass on fiction at all and limit itself to just using books for the purpose of sharing useful information, like coursebooks, instruction manuals, all sorts of directories and documentation, etc. Wow, just think about it: people might have never understood the pleasure of reading for fun. Eww, what a dull planet we would be then!

Unlike other inventions of the mankind, and even more — despite them — fiction books manage to remain incrediblly popular among millions, and this fact itself is amazing.

“It took thirty-eight years before 50 million people gained access to radios. It took television thirteen years to earn an audience that size. It took Instagram a year and a half.” says Gary Vaynerchuk, a social media personality and a serial entrepreneur. I can’t help thinking that, with all these changes in the world, with so many other things to see and experience, and with having dramatic lack of free time, people’s affection for reading fiction looks… well, it looks kind of weird!

I used to think that this has something to do with the insatiable appetite of all humans for obtaining new emotional experiences. The best (or the safest) way to get them is to make yourself comfortable with a book in a soft chair and follow your protagonist’s adventures, unless you perfer to throw yourself into the storming ocean of real life experiences. Through centuries, fiction books continued to play the role of a soft sedative for emotionally thirsty people. But now, in the 21-st century, when we have all sorts of other emotional teasers like television, the Internet, virtual games, etc., why do we remain so attracted to books? So I think that it is not just about emotions — fiction books help feed our thirst for fantasizing. Our imagination refuses to be chained within the limits of a movie, or a game, or something that has been prepared for our eyes, and — alas! — has a finished, static shape. We need more: some basic blocks for experiences which we can build and colorize in our own minds, to our personal tastes, and fiction books, so far, remain the only phenomenon that can give it to us.

Please, let me know what you think about this. Your comments are very welcome.

Problems Learning Russian?

Dear Friends,

I have been receiving requests about the less difficult ways to learn a few basic Russian words and phrases from those who only need Russian for their short trips to the Russian speaking countries once in a while. If you are one of such people, you are very welcome to share your learning goals with me, and I will help you find the best resources for fast and effective learning.

You are welcome to check the Romantic Russian Phrase Book — a simple huide to the most needed Russian words and phrases for those who are about to take short trips to Russia and meet local people there. One cannot learn to speak Russian fluently in a few days or weeks, but it is possible to protect yourself by having a great ‘assistant’ at all times right at hand during your trip: a book of phrases (with translations) to use in daily situations during your visit to Russia.

If the book still looks too long for you, please contact me personally , and we will select even a simpler way for you to reach the goal of being able to communicate with Russians during your trip.

I wish you to have a wonderful and successful trip to the Russian speaking world!

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