Stepping into the Same River

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This time, visiting my home city felt like stepping into the same river. Sevastopol, the notorious Black Sea port at the southern tip of Crimea, where I grew up, has finally and completely turned into an imprint of the Soviet era. As I walked along its streets, I could not resist a funny feeling that I’d been thrown there from the future: all surrounding objects, people, little street conversations, sounds, smells – everything was amazingly familiar, but had undeniable touch of the past- of the time about 30 years ago, when I was a teenager.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, local residents of Sevastopol (more than the other dwellers of Crimea) were re-captured by their own old misconception of being the main southern forpost of Russian military glory that had protected mother Russia in a number of wars, thinking that they would now regain the attention of the Russian government and receive abundant accolades from all Russia’s population. This did not happen, though. After a short emotional moment (also provoked by the Kremlin propaganda) the population of Russia realized that Crimea is no more than another needy region that requires support, and its vaunted seaside resorts are uncomfortable and inaccessible for many Russians. Litle by little, Sevastopol – the Crimea’s dead end – was completely left to fend for itself. The only part of its nearly half-million population that feels more or less protected are the miliary and naval personnel, paid by the Russian government.

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The sanctions, which affected Crimea more than any other region of Russia, have reached their goal: my childhood city looks abandoned, humiliated and deceived; people are troubled and moody, no one smiles back at you if you make eye contact – just like it was in the Soviet time. Their interests are scarce, everybody is busy surviving, and again, like it was in the Soviet time, they tend to be happy with very simple things: a lucky purchase of some fresh food in a store or a drinking party with friends in the kitchen.

Every moment I was there this time, I could not help thinking that in only three years (since the annexation) both conflicting countries – Russia and Ukraine – have estranged from each other to a huge distance, moving exactly in opposite directions: Ukraine to the west, Russia to the east, which means (unfortunately for the city of my childhood) that it has been moving backwards, into the past, and this movement will soon bring it to complete disappointment and depression.

My own mind has changed a lot, too: when I visit Sevastopol now, I see it with the curious eyes of a westerner who has purchased a time-travel tour; the only difference is that my mind still keeps clear memories of the childhood spent in that time.

Interestingly, I just caught myself on thinking that I am not even sad about this fact. All people deserve to have the life they want to have. The population of Sevastopol, at least its older (and prevailing) generation, looks quite satisfied with the movement back in time. Well, if they like it, let them have it. I will simply wave my hand to them and go my way.

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My Protagonist of the Opposite Gender…

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One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write someone who is not yourself.” – George R.R. Martin

Writing a whole book from the name of a particular person is always a challenging task, but choosing a protagonist of an opposite gender is a real test for every author. I am doing this for the first time now, so I have been trying to adjust to the funny sensation of having a whole new personality – a male one – living inside me. 

The first confirmations of his presence started coming when I was thinking over the plot, and since then my protagonist has been growing through me like a plant that breaks through layers of soil to see the sunlight. Wow, what an interesting sensation! My first thought was that I was going crazy, but then I found similar feedback in the blogs of many authors. I completely agree with this comment by Cristina Hartmann: “I string words together and hope for the best. All characters, regardless of gender, have a part of me in them. No matter how seemingly different a character may be from me, they all have something in common with me. I put a little of myself in every character I write. In that sense, gender is irrelevant.”

When I write a character, I cannot go only with his/her general gender characteristics: I must imagine and draw a whole colorful picture of the character’s personality traits. Besides this, I may give a character an atypical quality: a male character may love planting roses, while a female may entertain herself by solving math problems in evenings. These unusual qualities may look like pesky imperfections at first, but they often lead my character toward some significant and exciting events, and eventually, the character is supposed to win the readers’ sympathy.

It is important to pick out some easily recognizable, but still quite unique character traits, because this helps the reader find connection between their mental image of my character and someone who they already know from real life: such character can keep the reader excited and interested to read the story to the very end. Secondly, the character’s imperfection should be charming; it is always a good idea to turn it into the character’s power at some point in the story (a stutter that suddenly helps them meet their love, or disarming shyness, or clumsy forgetfulness – anything).

It seems to me that the most difficult thing is to do this with a novel protagonist, especially if this is a person of an opposite gender, and even more – if he/she is the narrator of the story.

Kristen Houghton in her article “Writing As Your Opposite Gender Can Be Successful” wrote: “There are some things to remember when writing in your opposite gender voice. Understand that your character is unique and not a metaphor for the entire gender. The same is true when writing about ethnicity, race, religion, or social classes. You’re not generalizing about entire segments of society, you’re being specific about one character. As far as characters go, it pays to remember that not all women think and behave alike, and neither do all men… If my goal as a writer is to help my readers expand their life experiences through my writing, then my success will depend mainly upon my talent and technique, not on my character’s gender.”

My biggest goal in writing is to draw my characters so realistically that every reader would recognize someone they know in them. I believe that the only right way to do this is to write my characters completely from my own experiences.

I found a similar opinion in an article by Avory Faucette: “…the difficulty comes when describing an experience I haven’t had, which is more about others’ perception of me than about my own gender… I feel comfortable writing characters with similar hopes and aspirations and experiences to my own, and that makes it difficult to write someone who is not college educated, who is much younger or older, who is an immigrant, who is a person of color, etc.”

Sheri Fresonke Harper: “I think people in general have a blend of both feminine and masculine traits and interests… Often we pick up voice, mannerisms, and other characteristics of character from our experience with the world so that when we write from the perspective of another sex, we’ve seen the world through the eyes of people of that gender that have said the same thing, thought the same thing, acted the same way.”

This is true. Men and women aren’t that different, but they face quite different social roles and as so, their behavior is not the same.” Even the very fact of choosing to write the protagonist of the opposite gender shows that the author has made a commitment to explore a new social role and is willing to share that new knowledge with others.

It was a surprise to see that some authors find the task quite entertaining. I loved this comment by Eli Havoc: “It’s really easy. I was told once, by a female friend “we think just like you do, except we’re constantly worrying about how we look.” And that piece of advice had worked very well for me. I wrote a book written in first-person, once, with a female main character, and have gotten several comments from readers that go something like “Jenna’s character is so real! How did you write a high-school girl so believably?”

With all this being said, everything still seems to boil down to the author’s talent and brilliance in writing technique. In fact, the protagonists’s gender becomes nothing more than a tool which the writer decides to use in order to deliver the main idea of the book. Well, let us proceed to writing then! In the end, if I am a good writer, I should feel comfortable writing characters of either gender. Do you agree with me?

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About English Verbs

Об английских глаголах (статья для изучающих английский язык)

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Каждому, кто изучал английский в школе и в институте, знакомы понятия о правильных и неправильных глаголах (к первым относятся те, которые в прошедших временах заканчиваются на -ed – to like – liked, to want – wanted, to jump – jumped, а у неправильных есть свои собственные формы прошедшего времени: to break – broke – broken, to cut – cut – cut, to see – saw – seen). Помимо этого, школьные учителя рассказывали нам, что существуют глаголы смысловые, и какие-то вспомогательные, и некие модальные глаголы и даже глаголы-связки, но уж этих понятий почти никто в большую жизнь из школы не вынес. В этой статье мы коротко напомним вам о них.

Смысловые глаголы в английском не награждены особыми приметами, этим термином обозначаются все глаголы уже только за то, что они обозначают действие, а следовательно, используются в предложении для описания разнообразных действий.

Jack writes books. Джек пишет книги.

My friend studies biology. Мой друг изучает биологию.

Please, call me at five o’clock. Пожалуйста, позвони мне в пять часов.

А вот вспомогательные глаголы имеют свою специфику. Их всего пять, это глаголы to be, to have, to do, а также слова shall (should), will (would), которые тоже принято считать глаголами, хотя на самом деле никому вообще непонятно что это за чудо-юдо. Вспомогательные глаголы совершенно несамостоятельны: их можно использовать в предложении только в сочетании со смысловыми, то есть всеми остальными, нормальными глаголами, помогая образовывать любые времена или, например, делать из положительного предложения отрицательное или вопросительное.

Теперь скажем пару слов о каждом из них.

Глагол to be уникален на фоне остальных английских глаголов, потому что у него с древних времён сохранилось несколько форм:

– в настоящем времени он приобретает формы am (для первого лица), are (для множественного числа) или is (3-го лица, единственного числа):

I am driving to work. Сейчас я еду на работу.
He is writing a letter. Он пишет письмо.
They are waiting for you. Они ждут вас.

– в прошедшем времени у него две формы: was (для единственного числа), were (для множественного числа)

He was writing a letter when I called. Он писал письмо когда я позвонил..
They were waiting for you at 12:30 yesterday. Они ждали вас вчера в 12:30.
– в будущем времени он приобретает форму will be :

They will be waiting for you tomorrow at five. Они будут ждать тебя завтра в пять.

Вспомогательный глагол to do используют для построения вопросов или отрицаний, причём в настоящем времени имеет форму do или does (для третьего лица в единственном числе), а в прошедшем времени – did.

Do you know her? Ты ее знаешь?
She doesn’t live in this house. Она не живет в этом доме.
Did he go to school last Friday? Ходил ли он в школу в прошлую пятницу?

* Вам вероятно приходилось встречать и такие фразы:

Do you do this exercise daily? – Делаешь ли ты это упражнение ежедневно? – здесь “do” появляется два раза: первый из них – это как раз вспомогательный глагол, который служит для построения вопроса, а второй в данном примере выступает как обычный смысловой глагол “делать” (to do) в настоящем времени.

Глагол to have тоже используют для построения разных временных конструкций, включая вопросительные и отрицательные предложения. В настоящем времени он имеет формы have или has (для 3го лица в ед.ч.), в прошедшем времени – had, в будущем времени will have.

My mother has been to Spain. Моя мама бывала в Испании.
He had seen this movie before we saw it. Он видел этот фильм до того, как мы посмотрели его.

will служит для образования форм будущего времени.

Will you go with me? – Ты пойдёшь со мной?

Shall теперь используется совсем редко: только, когда мы сомневаемся и хотим задать вопрос, следует ли (стоит ли) нам что-то делать –

Shall I write it down for you? – Не записать ли всё это для тебя?

Shall I help you? – Не помочь ли тебе?

А формы should или would помогают обеспечить согласование между разными временами в сложных предложениях:

My husband said that he would be in office. Мой муж сказал, что будет в офисе.

She thinks she should go there by herself. Она считает, что ей следует идти туда одной.

Есть ещё в английском несколько модальных глаголов, которые дают возможность говорящему выразить свое отношение к происходящему или различную степень уверенности (неуверенности) в действии. Это глаголы can (could), may (might), must (had to), need, ought to, should, have to, to be to. Многие из них обладают способностью самостоятельно строить вопрос:

May I help you? (Do I may help you?) Могу ли я вам помочь?

Can you call him now? (Do you can call him now?) Можешь ли ты позвонить ему сейчас?

У модальных глаголов есть свои секреты и о них стоит написать отдельную статью; мы это сделаем в ближайшее время.

А так называемые глаголы-связки – или фразовые глаголы – привязывают к себе другие слова, чтобы получить составное сказуемое:
be, become, keep и некоторые другие:

to become clever – становиться умным,

to keep well – держаться молодцом.

Некоторые глаголы могут одновременно относиться к разным группам глаголов (например, be, do, have), потому что способны выполнять в языке самые разнообразные функции. Более подробно о каждой из групп глаголов мы поговорим в отдельных статьях. Оставайтесь с нами!

“Cooking” Blog Headlines: My Signature Dish

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Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that a smartly chosen headline can sell even an average article. Headline is the face of every text composition or document, no matter if it is long or short, creative or strictly logical, artistic or business-like. Every word of a headline works to represent the whole composition in search engines, in email, on social media, and can either attract the eye of the reader or do quite the opposite thing, which makes the task of crafting the headline crucially important.

Being a mother and wife with decades of experience in the kitchen, I can’t help but compare this process with cooking. Cooking is a skill, which – when properly used – can turn my daily work of processing food into a very satisfying, creative and surprisingly effective activity. Moreover, it gives me a chance to share my creative work with others… just like with blog writing! See for yourself: to cook a good dinner, we need to take care of four things-

  • to know what we are going to cook (a simple way to talk about goal setting);
  • to develop a method and a sequence of doing it;
  • to have necessary food ingredients and the kitchen equipment at hand; and
  • to decorate the final product and serve it properly, in order to get the best appreciation of the diners.

Well, this daily cooking scheme looks amazingly similar to blogging process, don’t you think? Cooking a blog article seems to follow the same methodology!

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I try to write for my blog quite regularly, so the task of giving names to the articles comes up a few times every week. The method I have developed is a kind of a recipe for cooking blog titles. These are the steps I take:

Step 1. Select 3-4 keywords

While I work on the article content, I write down 3-4 keywords, which describe the main idea of my article. These words usually become the basis for my working titleFor example, when I started writing this article, I picked four key phrases: blog article, create a title, craft a headline, headline writing howto (the idea to compare it with cooking process came to me later). This first step is very important, because it helps me set the direction of my thoughts, and then I check every passage of my article with the key phrases to see if the content corresponds with the working title.

Step 2. Answer the seven questions (below)

When the first draft of my article is ready and I have the working title, I can proceed directly to designing the final title. To do this, I ask myself a few questions-

  • Should I create a witty, inciting title or rather craft an informative headline*?

  • Who may want to read an article with this title/headline?

  • What words should I use or avoid in the title?
  • Is my title/headline catchy enough?
  • How long should my headline be?
  • Does it correspond to the content, structure, and style of my article?
  • Does my headline include the necessary keywords (is it satisfactory to both, my readers and the search robots)?

*There is some difference between the notions “title” and “headline”. To read more about it, go to page: http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

Step 2 is the most creative one. I try to imagine my readers and, depending on how I visualize them, I come up with ideas of style, manner and length of my title. I won’t go into lengthy discussions here. You can simply apply these questions to an article that you are writing at the moment, and some ideas will flash in your mind right away.

Step 3. Personalize the title

To make my title attractive to many people, I need to enrich it with an emotional component. Some authors would express it by the phrase “make it sexy”, I would rather call it personalizing the title, which gives my readers a promise that, along with sharing the basic information, I will share a little about my personality. This makes me closer to the reader and simplifies the task of disclosing the subject of my article. Sometimes at this step I come up with an idea (like the one about comparing crafting of blog titles with the process of cooking), which makes me revise the whole article and sometimes rewrite it. But in most cases, revisions make the article better, so I don’t mind…

Step 4. Decorate and serve

At this step the article is finished and the title has been cooked. If I am satisfied with everything, I can proceed to publishing it in my blog. Quite often, I revise my articles days and weeks after they were published, and recently I found out that I am not the only one who does so. Honestly, I never expect the blog articles to be perfect: this is what blogging is about, isn’t it?

A blog article should be fresh and inventive in thought, but it does not have to be coursebook-precise or academically elaborate, it should simply catch the readers’ attention and provoke them to think. This is why I added Step 4 to my recipe. “Decorate and serve” means: make it visually attractive. Do not forget to develop a clear visual structure: break it up into easily identifiable parts, add numbering and bullets, or do whatever is necessary to make your article dish look edible and delicious.

Then, finally, add illustrations and serve.

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Here is a little bonus for you:

To read more on the topic, you are welcome to go to blendmagazine.org, where, inter alia, they provide a classification of article headline types. Enjoy:

7 Types of Headlines

http://blendmagazine.org/blog/2009/02/27/headlines-vs-titles/

1. The Know-it-All: these headlines offer practical advice or tips.

2. The Teacher: these headlines teach you something you didn’t already know.

3. The Gossip: these types of headlines stir up controversy, pique your interest, and often have you asking “and then what happened?”

4. The Instigator: these headlines make bold statements, which may or may not be true, but they make you want to click to find out.

5. The Nay-Sayer: these headlines convince you that what you don’t know will hurt you.

6. The Campaigner: these headlines provoke people who have similar problems or issues to click on the articles and connect with other like-minded people.

7. The Connector: these articles show the connection between two seemingly unrelated things.

Secrets of Blogging Success: Secrets? Seriously? Pah.

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“So, you call this a secret? Seriously? Pah!”

I just read another portion of articles about achieving success in blogging, and my teacher mind has been trying to put all that information into a simple, clear and easy-to-remember system of rules. Many titles promise to reveal secrets of blogging success, but in fact, ther is nothing secret-ful about it: blogging is a skill – no more, no less sophisticated than any other skill that can be developed by thorough, repeating effort – and as so, there are no secrets behind it: only rules.

To be honest, I like setting up little rules for myself: they keep me well-organized and help me manage my time. Based on all the material that I have read about blogging, I have developed my own rules – or tasks, or… well, call them whatever you want, but certainly they are not secrets! Here they are:

1. Find a subject that works for you and your audience.

I find it quite logical to blog only about things that I know quite well and to share it with the people who are interested in the same topic(s). It goes without saying that I need to study the interests of my audience all the time if I want them to read the stuff I write.

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2. Develop a voice and don’t lose it. 

This is a very creative task, but developing an author voice is a skill, too. One does not have to be gifted for blog writing; good understanding of what you are doing plus lots of untiring effort would be enough. Sounds quite promising, eh? 😉

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“Develop your author voice and keep it.”

3. Blog away regularly, let your articles be short and precise.

Doing something regularly is a good rule in every undertaking. When we talk about blogging, it is crucial, especially when you have regularly returning readers and fans. If you stop blogging for a while, a part of your audience may leave you, and regaining their respect later will be really hard.

“Краткость сестра таланта” (brevity is the soul of wit), said a brilliant  Russian writer Anton Chehov in the19th century. Today, in the world of information, his words are gaining more and more value. People prefer short, schematic and visual posts… so I will stop here and go on to our next rule.

4. Communicate with your readers, and do it honestly.

I don’t think this item even needs any additional comments. Communication is the basis of the blogger’s life, it is the ultimate goal of blogging. Doing it with the most sincere intentions will help you to build that special bond with your readers, which makes you successfull and keeps your readers satifsied with your writing.

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“Honestly? Alright, guys, I’ll be honest: I’m sleepy.”

5. Think like a scholar, share like a friend.

This is a good rule that just came to my mind this morning. By thinking like a scholar I mean being logical, consistent and precise in your writing. But sharing like a friend means that a blogger – no matter how educated and experienced she is – needs to find a lucid, intelligible style and friendly manner of writing.

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6. In every blog post, tell your readers a story from life.

“I had never thought I would write a blog, until I met a fortune-teller who told me I would become a famous writer one day… This happened many years ago, the word “blog” did not exist then… but I could never get the prediction out of my head, and now… here I am, writing these words to you.” Did you get the idea of what I mean by suggesting to tell the readers a life story in every post? Let us go on then.

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7. Illustrate everything!

Without the pictures of dogs this post would not attract even one tenth of the visitors to this site. Today, in the era of visual media, simple text is no longer attractive to anyone. All people have a common sympthom: a thirst for visual stimuli. So I have set this rule for myself: “every time you blog, do not forget to quench the thirst of your readers.”

This is it! Please, leave your suggestions and comments below. I would love to hear your feedback.

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Breaking the Myths of Language Learning

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Let us face it: nearly everyone has an item like “learn Spanish” or “do Rosetta Stone class” on their bucket list once in a while. When it comes to learning a foreign language, thousands of people around the world start procrastinating and quite often, they stubbornly stick to a popular myth in order to justify their inaction. I am sure you have heard each of the below statements before. Today we will see if they are credible or not.

Myth 1: “It’s a hard work, I can’t do it.”

When I was a high school graduate, I decided it was time for me to learn some adult life skills, so I took a 6-week contract as a farmer’s apprentice during my summer break (it was in 1982, in the USSR). I remember weeding onions from dawn to sunset along with a dozen of women-farmers, who could do the same job five times faster than me and were a way better adapted to doing it in the mid-summer heat. By the end of the very first day my back was aching like crazy and my hands were cut all over by the taut and elastic stems of weeds. That was a kind of job which I call a hard work.

Learning a foreign language is quite opposite to that. In fact, I wouldn’t call it a work at all. You only need to listen, read, watch and react to the obtained information. Because you don’t know many foreign words, your first reactions are simple: whenever you can understand a phrase, you try to respond with the help of hand movements, mimics, exclamations, gesturing, a bit of acting, etc. This simple activity is already the language learning, because when we communicate, this is exactly what we do: we send and receive portions of meaning to each other. This does not sound like a very hard work… and it isn’t.

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Myth 2: “Learning is boring, it always is.”

The process of learning a foreign language can be boring only to those who-

a) like being bored; or

b) are not motivated for learning,

but if you are well-motivated, you will love it!

To make it easy and captivating, start by setting a very simple goal: to exchange any meaningful units of information with other people. Take a dozen of simple words (for example, take the words: I, you, like, need, work, have, this, room, book, class) and practice putting them together into various combinations. Again, be sure to help yourself with mimics, gestures and any other internationally recognized patterns of non-verbal communication. Then, take another dozen of words, and another. After an hour of such practice you will see that you have learned nearly a hundred of words and – most importantly – you can put them together into simple sentences, which means that you can communicate! Was this boring? I don’t think so!

Every learning process stops being boring when you start doing it right, because it begins sending you signals that you are on the right way. Nothing can motivate a learner better than these little signs of success.

Myth 3: “One must have a talent for languages, I don’t have any”

You will have to believe me on this: you are already talented enough. As a language teacher with 25+ years of experience, I can certify: you do NOT need to have any special gift to learn a  foreign language.

You have somehow mastered your native language, haven’t you? This means that your brain is completely developed and prepared to learn more of the language material, no matter if this is your native language or a foreign one.

All people living on our planet have similar anatomy: one head, two hemispheres of the brain to process information, a tongue to be able to speak, a pair of ears for listening and a pair of eyes for watching your partner in dialogue. This fact makes us equal when it comes to learning anything new. In the beginning, you won’t even need to think or torture your brain by remembering stuff: just listen to others, repeat what they say, and copy their intonation… like all toddlers do when they try to communicate.

Learning a foreign language has very much in common with learning your first, native language: if you were smart enough to master that first one, then you are good enough to master another language.

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Myth 4: “To master a foreign language, I need a classroom.”

There are hundreds of life examples, which can break this myth within minutes. Quite often, people learn a new language without any classroom or coursebooks, simply by immersion in the so-called “language environment”. Our brain is a very flexible organ: it remains adaptable for study from early childhood to very old age; it can learn pretty well without coursebooks or grammar exercises. As soon as your brain receives an “imprint” of a new piece of information (for example, a new phrase which you hear someone say in a street), it imediately “sticks” the imprint to its meaning and puts this new element into a certain “memory cell”. No effort on your part is needed for this. Some classroom study can be helpful to those who need to be organized. Every language learning classroom aims to imitate real life situations to those who are separated from the language environment, but if you are lucky to have this environment around you every day, you can start speaking the new language much sooner than any classroom student.

In fact, our brain never stops to learn: you only need to open your mind, welcome the new knowledge and let it in, within the classroom or out of it.

Myth 5: “It is necessary to live in the country of the language.”

No, this isn’t a necessity at all. As we just mentioned above, your learning process can go  much faster if you live in the country of the language for a while, this is true, but living within the language environment is not a necessary condition for the language study.

Today, we are all lucky to live in the informational society. We have instant access to a whole virtual universe, called the Internet, at a single click of a finger. Why not use it as a medium for learning a foreign language?

You can use the Internet resources for reading, social networks for communication practice, video files for better memorizing, and occasional online sessions with a teacher to get your knowledge organized. Learning foreign languages becomes easier and easier every day now, so don’t waste your time deciding, just start it right away!

Myth 6: “Language learning requires lots of time, I don’t have it.”

The good news is: you don’t have to do hundreds of exercises or drill the rules of the new language for hours; it is enough to give it a few minutes a day, but regularly. Try to fill some gaps in your day-plan with listening practice, simple reading, or doing fun language exercises (a lot of which you can find on numerous Internet sites designed specifically for the language learners like you). Why not take a look into a mobile application while you are waiting for your car to be filled at the station? Or listen a passage or two of a simple story while jogging? Or find a random language lesson on Youtube when doing some housework? If you start with 10-15 minutes a day and turn it into a habit, you will soon enjoy the first results.

In the end, we always learn by ourselves, which means that no one but you are the master of your time and knowledge. If you can organize your time well enough, you will always find a few minutes for the language study. Those who feel that they need someone’s organizing hand, can find a teacher and take a few online classes to get the  general idea of the most effective ways to organize your learning process.

Myth 7: “I am too old for this; I will never learn.”

Growing older does not mean becoming incapable of learning new things. While there are some studies suggesting that children have an easier time learning a second language, no studies suggest there’s an age at which learning abilities disappear for good. So, let us put this myth to rest, too, and hink about another incentive instead: your age gives you some certain advantage in the form of life experience. You have been speaking your native language for quite some time, so your innate knowledge of its grammar and sounds will be helpful when trying to learn a new language from scratch.

Finally, let me tell you that I have been learning English for nearly half a century now, and of course, my English will never be perfect, because I have lived my life in the environment of anoher language, but this does not bother me much, because noone’s language is perfect! It really does not matter, how good, or fluent, or literate you are in a foreign language. The most important thing is to learn how to express your thoughts in it: the task which cannot be boring.

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English: the Lingua Franca of the World

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Historically, the term lingua franca was used to identify a bridge language, representing a mixture of Italian with French, Greek, Arabic, and Spanish, formerly used in the eastern Mediterranean. Today, the term has acquired a much wider meaning: lingua franca is a common language used as a means of global communication. We, people, have always needed it, but today, when the world’s population grows incredibly quickly along with the boosting development of communication technologies, the need for a language of global interaction has become crucial for our survival… and interestingly, it appeared by itself, without waiting for our global negotiation, memorandum signing, or approval. People have chosen English to be their “universal” language, and today this fact is accepted by everybody.

Currently, more than 350 millions of lucky guys around the world speak English as their native language, plus 430 million people are using it as the second language, and it is not difficult to find English speakers practically in all corners of the world. More and more frequently now, English is called the international language of business, science, politics, trade, academic world, journalism, travel, Internet, global press, and its influence continues to increase right at the moment, while I am writing these words.

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(These figures are of the year 2014)

But why is it English? It is not the most spoken language in the world. What makes it our lingua franca today?

Though the number of its speakers soars up with acceleration, it is native to 350 million, while there are 500 million of Spanish speakers, nearly 500 million of Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) natives and 900 million of Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world. The main explanation of the reason why English has gained the status of the world’s lingua franca lies in its linguistic specificity. English is widely considered as a “simple” language which is relatively easy to pick up. It has no noun genders, no complicated morphology, no tone system, it is written in the Roman alphabet which is pretty good at accurately mapping sounds to symbols, and majority of the English learners agree that, due to its mathematically logical structure, it is relatively easy to build understandable phrases in it. Besides this, the prevalence of English-language movies, television programs, and Internet sites makes the language quite accessible to practice.

At the same time, English has an extensive vocabulary and a highly inconsistent spelling system, which can turn one’s learning process into nightmare. It also has hundreds of irregular verbs, some problematic sounds such as “th”, and a large inventory of vowels which can make it difficult for a foreigner to understand the native speakers of English. Still, representatives of many nations would rather prefer to take time and learn English rather than take up Mandarin, Hindustan, or Arabic, for example.

There is one more explanation of the role of English: a historical one. Generations ago, the United Kingdom became the first industrialized nation; the boosting development of technologies started from there and since then, the English speaking nations have pioneered in technologies and science. They managed to colonize the rest of the developing world far faster than other European countries. At some point, the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe at its largest, including North America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, much of West and Southern Africa, South Asia, and parts of South-East Asia. The UK set up English-speaking systems of government, industry, trade and business, which established English as the language of global power in the industrial era. In the 20th century we could see the transfer of power from one English-speaking expansionist to another: the USA’s cultural, economic, political, and military domination has also encouraged the process of global recognition of English as the most important and influential global language. Today, when the world has entered the informational stage of evolution, English has officially become the language of IT, meaning that its status of the global lingua franca has been reconfirmed, and it is unlikely to change any time soon.

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Quickly About Russian Question Words

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Russians love asking and answering questions. In fact, quite often, our communication process keeps going mainly by means of aking each other short questions and jumping from one topic to another just for the sake of the speech process itself. When meeting, Russian close friends seldom greet each other by traditional “здравствуй” (Hello) or “Доброе утро” (good morning), they rather start with questions right away: “Ну что? Как дела?” (So? How are things?), “Что нового?” (What’s new?), “чем занимаешься?” (What’s keeping you busy?), “Что скажешь?” (What will you tell me?) “как оно?” (How’s it going?)… I could continue this list on and on. All these phrases are cliches: we use them so often that we pronounce them automatically, and quite often a newcomer may not recognize them by an unprepared ear. This is why, I listed the main Russian question words below in this article and supplied them with simple transliteration notes for your convenience.

I think I should share one more little secret here: unlike the English-speakers, when Russians ask something, they expect a full, detailed unswer. The talk may move from one topic to another and return back a number of times; Russian love to interrupt each other by telling stories that just came to their mind in association with the object of discussion, and usually they cannot wait to tell their stories.

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People who ask too many questions are friendly called Почемучка (A-why-so-man or woman); those who seem to know answers to all questions are called Знайка (All-knowing guy).

The good news is the face that many questions in Russian language can be made by simply changing intomation of your sentence. For example, the phtase “Ты можешь мне позвонить” (You can call me) can be considered an affirmative sentence when pronounced with ordinary intonation, and the same phrase can turn into a question “Ты можешь мне позвонить?” (Can you call me?) simply by changing the intonation.

Still, there are a number of question words which, like in every other language, serve to ask for details of some events or actions. Here are these question words, and below, a couple of tables explaining how these words can/should be changed depending on the case, gender, or other grammar specificities.

The main question words in Russian:

Что? [shto] – What?      Кто? [hto] – Who?     Как? [kak] – How?

Сколько? [skolka] or [skoka] – How many?

Почему? [pachimU] – Why?

Когда? [kagdA] or [kadA] – When?

Где? [kde] – Where? (Used when you are searching for something. “Where is the bank?”)

Куда? [kudA] – Where to? (indicates motion towards something. “Where are you going?”)

Откуда? [atkUda] – Wherefrom? (indicates motion away from something. “Where are you coming from?”)

Какой? [kakOi] (m), Какая? [kakAia] (f), Какое? [kakOe] (n) – Which? What sort of?

Чей? [chei] (m), Чья? [ch’jA] (f), Чьё? [ch’jO] (n), Чьи? [ch’ji] (pl) – Whose?

Notes: Where gender is shown, the word should agree with the noun it relates to.
The word Какой declines like a stressed adjective, so it must also agree in case.
The words Что? and Кто? have different forms in different cases. Above is nominative. (others shown below)

Cases for the question words Кто? [hto] – Who? and  Что? [shto] – What?      

кточтопадежи This is a similar table, but is provides examples of related words and prepositions which are traditionally used with thes words when we answer case forms of questions Кто? [hto] – Who? and Что? [shto] – What?

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I hope this information with help you a little bit. Don not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

All Those Omens On My Way (A Short Story)

A couple of days ago I suddenly started getting signs of being in luck. Well, unlike many others, I am not superstitious; I mean, finding a thing like a four leaf clover would hardly make me excited. Still, I could not help noticing signs of good fortune, they poured onto me intensely and bluntly, like a powerful stream that rolls down a hill, smashing obstacles on its way.

It began with a bus ticket, a so-called lucky one. While the bus was carrying me to my destination, a few scenes from my middle school years kept floating in my mind. If the sum of the first three digits on your ticket equals the sum of the last three digits, this ticket will certainly bring you good luck, my school friends used to say. If you get a lucky ticket, you should eat it at once… I was summing up little figures printed on the gray scrap of paper when my bus nearly hit a huge truck, making me forget about that ticket at once, of course.

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I did not take a picture of my lucky ticket, but here is one I found on the Internet as an illustration

Later during the day, a bird pooped on my shoulder – a small bird like a tit or a sparrow – it flew away before I could see it, but the fact remains that it spoiled my blouse! Knowing that all of my friends would blindly believe in the good outcome of such accident, I had a good reason to grin, “What a nonsense! Never heard of a more stupid omen than this!” I ignored that omen, too, because at that very moment I found a long awaited letter in my mailbox: it said that my book had been published!

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This guy does not look quite happy being pooped at! 🙂

Soon, a new “sign of fotrune” arrived as a proof that it was not the end of my journey of luck: I broke my favorite plate by dropping a glass that fell right on it and shattered into small pieces, too. In every Russian home this would be considered a sign of double luck, but, well, not to me. I was growing tired of my little mishaps, so I spit three times over my shoulder and knocked three times on a wooden table – the surest Russian way of keeping lucky till the end of the day.

And then my hand started itching: a sign of an imminent inflow of earnings, welcomed by every Russian, of course! “Not my style, there’s no logic in this,” I thought to myself as I rushed to pick up my buzzing phone: it was a colleague calling to say that our boss had increased my salary by fifty percent! She sounded so excited that I did not recognize her voice at first… another Russian belief, by the way. She screamed into my ear, “You see? This is it! You did not recognize me, and so I am also in luck! I just got a confirmation message about my raise, too!”

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I hang up and returned to the kitchen to feed my cat. He was washing his face, and a casual thought slipped through my mind: this means I am going to have a guest in my home.

No, this was too much for one day! I was fed up with those signs, as I was fed up resisting my “fate”. I did not want any more of this stuff in my life, but my mind still kept pestering me by intrusive guesses:

What if I show a coin to the young Moon, which is this night, by the way? Will I become any richer?

If I hit my elbow on a doorway, will my boyfriend finally dare to tell me he loves me?

Is it true that this pigeon looking through my window is going to bring me a romantic adventure?

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A horseshoe and clover are considered to be signs of good luck, internationally

I felt tired and went to bed early that day. I began to believe that there might be some subtle dependence between all those popular omens and real events… at least, they had been forming for ages! “If you believe in something, it will come true,” our ancestors used to say. Who knows? They could be perfectly right, I thought. The pace of my thoughts slowed down and I slept… and I saw a ring in my dream.

Something made me wake up. As I lay there thinking that the ring, by the way, was also a silly omen promising me a whirlwind romance over the night, the sound of the door bell cut into the quietness of my home.

Oh goodness, I thought, who can it be?

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“He stood in the doorway – my boyfriend – all wet from the showering rain.”

He stood in the doorway – my boyfriend – all wet from the showering rain. A few drops reached my face as I touched the rose he was holding between us. Fresh fragrance of the flower made me wake up from my drowsy oblivion, so I opened my mouth to greet him, but he interrupted me by a passionate kiss.

Then he said, “Please, let me in. I happened to have a terrible day: I broke a large mirror, I stupidly walked under a ladder, then a black cat crossed my way… twice, and a friend started whistling right in my home… so many bad luck signs just in one day that I nearly started to believe in this nonsense!” He took my hands in his and looked right into my eyes. “Darling, let me stay here with you tonight. You are my only good luck charm, and let me be yours. It is so much easier to resist evil omens, when love keeps us both, don’t you think?”

I excitedly clutched the stem and a thorn dug deep into my finger (meaning I would marry the guy who gave me the rose). I gasped, then I shook my head.

“This isn’t even an omen,” I said, looking into his eyes and moving my face closer. “Even before this moment I kind of believed that we are about to marry this year.”

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How to Memorize Russian Words with Less Effort

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The English-speaking learners of Russian often complain about having hard time memorizing Russian words, which seem too long and difficult to pronounce. In this post we will look at some ways to simplify the process of memorizing Russian words.

First of all, let us agree that memorizing is a learning skill, which requires time and concentration of the learner’s attention, which means that the words cannot “jump” into our memory without our participation. So, the first condition of good memorizing is your intellectual and emotional state. Do not even try to memorize anything when your mind is busy thinking over some work problem or when you are excited or disturbed by something. Also, a very important thing is motivation. If you know exactly why you are learning Russian and how you may use knowledge of these particular words in the future, then you will memorize everything quickly and, as some students often put it, “almost without effort.”

To make your memorizing process as efficient as it can be, you may want to start a book (or a file) of new words, then you can enter every new word you come across, and thus, you can see your progress, daily. Some people, however, are not big fans of writing, they memorize everything “by ear” or “by their eyes”, so let us leave this choice to every person, individually.

The first thing you meed to do to remember a new Russian word is to look at it with full attention, and read it loud, trying to hear your own voice as you pronounce it and remember how the word is spelled with your eyes.

Let us take the word неожиданность, for example. It is long and difficult to read for a beginner. First, you need to know the basic information about the word: it is a feminine, singular noun, it has 5 vowels, which means it has 5 syllables (неоИан-ность), it has a stress on the 3-rd syllable (letter и is stressed) and it is used in its dictionary form (has no specific ending). All this information is usually available in dictionaries.

Now, for the pronounciation. Try to read it loud: неожиданность [ni-a-zhi-dan-nast’]. Repeat the word a couple of times and get your tongue accustomed to saying it.

So far so good, you will say, but what does it mean? The unpleasant thing is the fact that this word does not have a direct, completely equivalent translation into English, “неожиданность” means: an unexpected event, a surprise, something that happened unexpectedly. All right, you can probably remember the meaning of the word, but how can you remember this incredible sequence of letters?!

Here is a way: look at its syllables first-

неожиданность – [ni-a-zhi-dan-nast’] – and interpret it as: [new-a-zhid-an-nast] or even as: [new-as-shit-on-us]. I am sure this way the word is crooked all over, but it is beginning to create a trace in your mind.

The fact is, when you try to build up a meaningful association between a new piece of language [ni-a-zhi-dan-nast’] and something already familiar [new-as-shit-on-us] – no matter how crazy it may sound, our memory “catches” the new meaning right away, creates a visual association (I am sure your brain has already built an image in association with the [new-as-shit-on-us] combination), and then memorizing takes place. The only thing you need to know now is to make a mental note for yourself that Russian word неожиданность means something new happening unexpectedly, that is is a noun and sounds somewhat similar to the phrase [new-as-shit-on-us]: ni-a-zhi-dan-nast’.

The next step will be to train using this word in other word combinations (preferably, in the most commonly used combinations – just as it appears in its language:

приятная неожиданность – a pleasant unexpected event

Вот так неожиданность! – What an unexpected event!

You may also try to make up a sentence containing the word:

Это была полная неожиданность – It was a completely unexpected event (news)!

There are many other methods of memorizing language material, and we are going to look at more of them in our future posts, but most of those methods aim to achieve the same effect: to develop an image in your mind, which will “stick” to the meaning and to your way of “hearing” the new word. Try the above method for now – play with your words, try to develop associations with their meanings or the ways they sound and memorizing will become a lot easier.

As the last little tip I’d like to suggest you not to waste your time trying to memorize difficult words. If a word seems quite difficult, just skip it for now and go on to work with the next one; try to choose the easiest and the most “likeable” words in the first place. Try the ones which you can easily pronounce and associate with something familiar. This will save you the time and emotion of having to remember the “immemorizeable” stuff.

Did you understand what I meant by “immemorizeable”, by the way? Right, I meant to say: something that cannot be memorized. Your mind just did the job of understanding of this word (which does not exist in the English language, but is understandable to you because of its quite understandable parts). When you try to memorize Russian words, your brain pushes every new word through a similar process. This is why, if you learn to divide the “meaningless” Russian words into meaningful units of sounds, you can easily use your existing mind strategies for memorizing of the new words.

Thank you for reading this! See you soon with our next post.

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