Dostoevsky’s drawings

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Fyodor Dostoevsky never discussed his drawings with anybody. Neither he left any notes describing his attempts to picture his characters or scenes from his stories. He must have believed that writing was a very intimate business, so the only person who was allowed to keep Dostoevsky’s diaries, notebooks and sketchbooks, was his wife, Anna. It was largely due to her effort that many of Dostoevsky’s sketches and drawings were preserved in very good condition and can be studied by researchers today.

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Interestingly, Dostoevsky never produced anything else but the three types of drawings:
1. Portraits of people, which were made with great attention to detail and, as a rule, they were images of his new characters, which he crafted while working on every new book;

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2. Architectural forms, mainly of Gothic style buildings, which Dostoevsky – an architect by diploma – also drew with amazing care for detail; and
3. Exercises in calligraphy, which, very probably, helped him concentrate when he was planning his novel plots, because these ‘exercises’ appear quite often among his notes, made at the beginning stages of work with every big manuscript.

D1 His drawings, as well as writing sketches are usually scattered all over the page, which shows how thoroughly he used to put together little pieces of ideas, scattered thoughts and observations to develop every scene, description, or dialog.

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This is how great books were (and are) put together: huge work of mind; mindblowing concentration of thought, amazing work of imagination.

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Mick Jagger and a Russian Book

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I just learned that when Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones) was writing his song “Sympathy for the Devil”, he was inspired by the book which I love more than many other books taken together and find one of the best books ever written in Russian. In one of his 2012 interviews, Jagger stated that his influence for the song came from reading Baudelaire, and even more from the Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. Jagger got the book as a present from his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. Back in 2005, Marianne herself confirmed this during an interview for Mojo magazine: «I got Mick to read ‘The Master and Margarita’ and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song».

Master and Margarita, written in the 1930-es, became available to the English-speaking readers only in 1967. The translators, of course, did their best. Still. the book is so thought-provoking and the story world (Moscow of the 1930-ies, the peak of Stalin’s power) is so unique that majority of the readers prefer to return to it again and again to understand and sense it better.

As a Russian speaker by birth, I have the pleasure of enjoying the masterpieces of Russian literature and poetry in originals. Every couple of months, Bulgakov’s books turn up on my table and I never put them back to the shelf until I read everything through to the very end. I am not surprised at all that Mick Jagger was inspired by the book to write a new song. If you have not read The Master and Margarita yet, do so. You will feel like having opened a new door which you used to pass by for years, and now you finally pushed it open.

P.S. Finally, another cute trivia: Ray Manzarek of the legendary band The Doors had for a long time hoped to make a movie picture based on The Master and Margarita, he believed that Mick Jagger would be the best candidate to play Professor Woland in the movie. As far as I know, the movie was never made.

Based on Wikipedia and www.masterandmargarita.eu

Sympathy for the Devil

The Rolling Stones

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
(Who who, who who)

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
(Woo woo, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
(Who who, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
(Woo woo, who who)

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
(Who who, who who)

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
(Woo woo)
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, mm yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, mm mean it, get down
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!
(Woo woo)

Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame

Oh, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah

What’s my name
Tell me, baby, what’s my name
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name…

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Spoiled by Dostoevsky, Healed by Humor

“The soul is healed by being with children.” F. Dostoevsky

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Every man is born innocent. Having been born, a child knows neither evil nor good. It is us, the grown-ups, who turn every child into what they finally become. Dostoevsky was right when he said that a sinful soul of a grown-up is ‘healed by being with children’, but he never paid attention to the other side of this two-way process: being with a grown-up (Dostoevsky included!) spoils the innocent soul of a child. Therefore, whoever thinks that by being with kids they are cleansing themselves against moral degradation, they only lay a time bomb of sin… in the souls of the next generation.

Children tend to copy the adults’ behavior. The little ones don’t realize whether they are copying good or evil. Only later, when they acquire some social experiences, they will begin to differentiate between the two, but at that point, they will already be infected with sin.

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The struggle of opposites underlies our existence: without knowing evil, we can not see the good. I have been thinking about it all my life – as a person, as a mother, as a teacher and now, as an author who is supposed to share with others, and I have finally come up with a solution… at least for myself. To break this vicious circle, we need to turn to… no, not the church, we need to turn to HUMOR.

Yes, exactly. We need to turn to humor. We need to develop the sense of humor in our children, because humor helps everyone to bring sin to nothing.

  • Humor teaches us to think;
  • Humor encourages creativity;
  • Humor has a huge impact on our health, it boosts our immune system;
  • Humor helps us overcome fears;
  • Humor develops divergent thinking (it gives us a chance to see things from a new perspective);
  • Humor comforts and relaxes a person, it reduces stress and cultivates optimism;
  • Humor boosts our curiosity and playfullness; and finally
  • Humor encourages creative problem-solving. Why commit a sin, when you can reach your goal by a different – quite innocent method?

So, let me paraphrase the great Russian writer (with all due respect to his genius) and say that

the soul is healed by living with humor.

If we learn to laugh instead of starting a fight or a quarrel, we can solve millions of problems and avoid conflict. If we learn to smile and teach our children to do the same instead of demonstrating an ugly emotion which we tend to call ‘power’, we can solve the dilemma of all times: conquer evil without a fight. If everyone, including children (and Dostoevsky, by the way), acquired a humorous mindset, the need in confrontation between people would reduce. Then, the real healing could begin.

I am very interested to hear what you think about this. Please, share your opinions. Thank you!

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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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“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.

lingua franca 02

Quickly About Russian Question Words

девочки

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.

conversation

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?

кточтопадежи2

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

A Few Minutes with Vincent van Gogh

Cypresses

Wheat Field with Cypresses, by Vincent van Gogh (1889, oil on canvas, 73.2 × 93.4 cm).

Millions of people around the world today are ready to travel across continents in order to see original Van Gogh’s paintings. I am a happy one of them: I have done this more than once. Luckily, Van Gogh became appreciated quite soon after his death, so most of his works have been found, restored, and are kept with proper care.

I have been looking through Van Gogh’s paintings, and decided to share a few lines about this amazing man. I believe, these facts about Van Gogh’s life will be new and interesting to you-

His life began with a strange decision made by his parents: they gave him the same name as they had given to their previous child. It appears that Vincent had an older brother who died at birth. His name was also Vincent.

Then, according to a common tradition, Van Gogh was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a pastor. Luckily, he was strong enough to choose his own way in life. Here is a photo of young Vincent.

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Van Gogh did not start drawing in early childhood, like many famous artists did. He was 27 years old when he painted his first piece. Before that, he had been failing as an art dealer and engaging in missionary work. He was mostly self-taught and he started out by painting dark and sad depictions of peasants. Only later he started drawing light and life-welcoming pictures, like First Steps, after Millet (1890, oil on canvas, 72.4 x 91.1 cm)

VanGogh_First_Steps

In late 1885, interested in honing his skills as a figure painter, Van Gogh left the Netherlands to study at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium. Three months later, he departed for Paris, where he lived with his brother Theo, an art dealer with the firm of Boussod, Valadon et Cie, and for a time attended classes at Fernand Cormon’s studio. Van Gogh’s style underwent a major transformation during his two-year stay in Paris (February 1886–February 1888). There he saw the work of the Impressionists first-hand and also witnessed the latest innovations by the Neo-Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. His  Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat is a good illustration of the Impressionists’ influence on his work.

vincent-van-gogh_auto_straw_hat

Between 1886 and 1889 he painted over 30 self-portraits. Was he trying to understand himself this way or was his own face just the handiest object to draw? We will never know.

In May 1889, fearing a new breakdown, Van Gogh voluntarily entered the asylum at Saint-Rémy, where, over the course of the next year, he painted some 150 canvases.

(Corridor in the Asylum. Vincent van Gogh , September 1889. Oil color and essence over black chalk on pink laid (“Ingres”) paper. Dimensions: 65.1 x 49.1cm. The Met Museum)

corridor

In the time frame of only 10 years, he created nearly 900 paintings! A number of them are now considered the greatest works of art ever created.

Everyone knows that during his lifetime Van Gogh sold only one painting, this one:

(The red vineyard (Arles. November, 1888), By Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), oil on canvas; 75 x 93 cm, © The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia)

The-Red-Vineyards-in-Arles-2

He painted Portrait of Dr. Gachet in 1890.  In May 1990, the portrait was sold for $148.6 million dollars. As funny as it may sound, neither the artist, nor Dr.Gachet could ever imagine such a pile of money.

(Vincent van Gogh, “Docteur Paul Gachet, 1890, private collection)

Portrait_of_Dr._Gachet

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ALEX MARKOVICH

Author, scriptwriter, theater director