A Talk About Languages: An Interview with SinDe Barnwell

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

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

SinDe: OUCH! That hurts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Learn about American shag dance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________

SinDe Barnwell about herself:

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

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

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

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

The Truth Behind the Christmas Tree

xmas-treeThis is a picture of the famous Harold Lloyd’s Christmas Tree of 1974. According to some Internet resources, it took the Lloyds family a whole month to decorate it. Well, I have no idea how much this giant could weigh, but–

Cats of the world, keep away! 🙂

The tree was made by wiring three large Douglas firs together. The carcass was then fireproofed and reinforced with bamboo and steel bolts. The resulting giant was 20 feet high, 9 feet wide, and 30 feet in diameter. Thousands of Ornaments were used to decorate it. They say, Harrold Lloyd loved collecting Christmas ornaments, he would buy some  new items all the year round, wherever he used to travel. xmas-tree-HL

The tree is supposed to look beautiful, and– well, in human understanding it does, because it is perfectly proportional, amazingly luxurious, enormous in size, and it was ‘assembled’ of so many shining items, each one really beautiful in itself, that it wows everyone who takes a look at it.

But to me, it also looks bizarre, even a bit scary, especially now, when I know that it conceals three bodies of some day gorgeous and healthy trees and a mass of bamboo sticks and bolts.

It looks kind of scary because it reminds me of our world today: seemingly beautiful, shining and full of life, but being held together by quite a big mass of ugly stuff, and we, people people of the world, are nothing more than billions of shining, but freakishly vulnerable decorations, helplessly hanging down from it. Each of us knows this, but we prefer not to think about it: we keep hanging and shining, and pretending that there is nothing wrong with our big Mother tree.

I did not intend to make you sad by this post: I was just telling what I consider to be the truth. But if it did make you sad, it means that you also feel the way I do… at least a little bit. Do you?

A Jonah of Portugal: A Few Lines About Camoens

Jonah (in the Bible) is a Hebrew minor prophet. He was called by God to preach in Nineveh, but disobeyed and attempted to escape by sea; in a storm he was thrown overboard as a bringer of bad luck and swallowed by a great fish, only to be saved and finally succeed in his mission

Luís Vaz de Camões (or de Camoens) (c. 1524 – June 10 1580) is the greatest national poet of Portugal. He is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), the influence of which is so profound that even today, Portuguese is often called the “language of Camões”. He is also well known as the man whose life was marked with numerous troubles, which seemed to accompany him like seagulls that follow a boat.

camoesMany details concerning the life of the poet remain unknown. The historians learned many facts about his young life from his poems: Camoens was lucky to obtain a good education by having access to exclusive literature of that time, including classical Greek, Roman and Latin works. He used to read a lot in Latin and Italian, and wrote poetry in Spanish.

Now, comes the interesting part: having studied a massive amount of books, Camoens — an incurable romantic and idealist — fell in love with Catherine of Ataíde, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and also Princess Maria, sister of John III of Portugal. Like many other immature and brave romantics-in-love, the young man had a sharp tongue and, as a sequence, could not find common language with authorities, which resulted in his exile from Lisbon in 1548. Camoens traveled to Ribatejo where he stayed in the company of friends who sheltered and fed him for about six months.

In the fall of 1549, he enlisted in the overseas militia and traveled to Ceuta. During a battle with the Moors, he lost the sight in his right eye. In 1551, a changed man, Camoens eventually returned to Lisbon, living a bohemian lifestyle.

Not for long, though. In 1552, during the religious festival of Corpus Christi, in the Largo do Rossio, he injured a member of the Royal Stables and was imprisoned. His mother pleaded for his release, visiting royal ministers and the Borges family for a pardon. Released, Camoens was ordered to pay 4,000 réis and serve three years in the militia in the Orient.

He departed in 1553 for Goa on board the São Bento, the ship arrived to Goa six months later, and Camoens was immediately imprisoned for debt. He used to call Goa “a stepmother to all honest men”.

At that point in his life, Camoens was made to believe that adventure is the real man’s second name. During his first obligatory service, he took part in a battle along the Malabar Coast. The battle was followed by skirmishes along the trading routes between Egypt and India. The fleet eventually returned to Goa by November 1554. During his time ashore, he continued his writing publicly, as well as writing correspondence for the uneducated men of the fleet.

Camoens

Luís de Camões

Foge-me pouco a pouco a curta vida
(se por caso é verdade que inda vivo);
vai-se-me o breve tempo d’ante os olhos;
choro pelo passado e quando falo,
se me passam os dias passo e passo,
vai-se-me, enfim, a idade e fica a pena.

Little by little it ebbs, this life,
if by any chance I am still alive;
my brief time passes before my eyes.
I mourn the past in whatever I say;
as each day passes, step by step
my youth deserts me—what persists is pain.

At the end of his obligatory service, he was given the position of chief warrant officer in Macau. He was charged with managing the properties of missing and deceased soldiers in the Orient. During this time he worked on his epic poem Os Lusíadas (“The Lusiads”) in a grotto.

CamoensGrotto

Camoens Grotto, Macao

Uh-huh. Once a Jonah always a Jonah! Camoens was accused of misappropriations and had to travel to Goa and respond to the accusations of the tribunal. During his return journey, near the Mekong River along the Cambodian coast, he was shipwrecked, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover, Dinamene. His shipwreck survival in the Mekong Delta was enhanced by the legendary detail that he succeeded in swimming ashore while holding aloft the manuscript of his still-unfinished epic.

In 1570 Camoens finally made it back to Lisbon, where two years later he published Os Lusíadas, for which he was considered one of the most prominent Iberian poets at the time. In recompense for this poem or perhaps for services in the Far East, he was granted a small royal pension (15000 réis) by the young and ill-fated King Sebastian (ruled 1557–1578).

In 1578 he heard of the appalling defeat of the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where King Sebastian was killed and the Portuguese army destroyed. The Castilian troops were approaching Lisbon when Camoens wrote to the Captain General of Lamego:

“All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it”.

Camões died in Lisbon in 1580, at the age of 56. The day of his death, 10 June OS, is Portugal’s national day. He is buried near Vasco da Gama in the Jerónimos Monastery in the parish of Belém in Lisbon.

camoens2

Mick Jagger and a Russian Book

mick-Woland

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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Being yourself in the 21st century

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Oscar Wilde

Now, replace the word “mask” with the word “Facebook” and read the quotation again. It remains true in today’s world, doesn’t it? We can put in “Twitter”, or “Google”, or any other name of a virtual communication network, and Oscar Wilde’s words will sound like a correct observation about our current lifestyle.

behind-a-mask

A century ago, a mask (a really good one) was needed to help a person feel safe about speaking out their mind. Today, you can click on an “enter” button and write anything you want on a virtual wall; what is more, you can be pretty sure that you won’t be made responsible for your words. Does this mean that “being yourself” and expressing yourself openly has become more welcome in today’s world?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Our current lifestyle has given us unprecedented freedom of expressing ourselves and sharing knowledge with each other – freely, unconditionally, and practically in no time, but today, unlike it was in Oscar Wilde’s time, even when you say something meaningful to the world, your words will drown in the ocean of other stuff, which pours into our minds through social networking systems, press and media every minute.

Well, of course there are topics which people prefer to bypass even on social media. I have noticed that some articles of ambivalent meaning on Facebook (nothing special, just the ones that require a different angle of vision) are often ignored and receive no feedback at all, which means that people are still wearing their masks, even when their identity is “protected” by the freedom of social networks. Yeah, people have become smarter.

carrot-stick-approach  

But have they become wiser?

There is so much information everywhere around us that we – the people of the 21-st century – have learned to protect our minds against it: we simply don’t care anymore. In our crazy run away from the past to reach out for the future we forget to pay attention to the reason of the run.

To a 21-st century writer, whose mission is still the same – to observe and reflect the reality as it is – the new system of mind protection raises a problem: I mean, how can writers’ voices be heard when the readers have lost the ability to care?

behind_mask_cat_woman

In the 20th century it was not unusual to hear a saying that “a good writer is the nerve of his time”. The new millennium has led us to an opposite approach: how good is the writer’s “nerve” unless it is connected to the reader’s brain?

I hate to say this, but today, what used to be called the “nerve” has a tendency to transform into a logbook. The only hope is that the emotional personality in each person will still remain intact, it will require some emotional activity from us. If human feelings (like compassion, tenderness, affection, sympathy or others) are going to hide behind even harder masks than a century ago, then people will probably want to turn back to reading fiction in order to satisfy their needs in emotional life. Have you noticed that reading fiction is already becoming an intimate occupation? I think this trend will intensify in the nearest future.

I’d like to share another observation here: the growing interest to reading fantasy and sci-fi books. Isn’t it another evidence of the changes taking place in human minds to satisfy our need of self-expression? True or not, but one thing I can say for sure: people are actively learning to be themselves in the 21-st century. With a new design of our masks, we still find it difficult to speak out the truth. So, some of us plunge into the world of fantasy as we look for ways to satisfy the need to be ourselves.

Spoiled by Dostoevsky, Healed by Humor

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

child_oil-painting-3

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.

child_Adam-and-Eve-Apple

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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The Principle of Brevity in Writing

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Today, in our fast-paced world, time has become the greatest of all values. We, people, still have not fully realized this fact, but it already dictates us the necessity to introduce some changes into our lives – first of all, in the field of time management

The dwellers of large cities (New York, London, Tokyo, etc.) were the first to sense the change: they had to reduce the time spent on walking, cooking, cleaning, driving, socializing, learning, and so on and so forth, including the time spent on reading. Today, smaller cities confidently follow megacities, while the pace of life continues to accelerate, forcing us to revise our professional habits, too.

Have you noticed that more and more people tend to skip reading long texts, even if they are beautifully written and contain brilliant ideas? We seem to give preference to visual, well-organized, simplistically laid-out, or even bullet-structured information. When we revise a book of fiction, we tend to say (more and more often these days), “It’s a good book, but a little too long. It would be better if it was one third thinner…”

The reality makes every author to face an inevitable phenomenon: we don’t only have to write quickly, we also have to adhere to the new principle: the principle of brevity in writing. The rule is simple: the shorter is your post (article, story, novel, etc.) the better, because brevity in writing shows the author’s respect for their readers’ time.

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This fact may upset those authors who love writing long pieces of speculative prose. Certainly, there will always remain people who will love reading very long novels, but the number of such readers will continue to reduce. Well, this is the trend of the new Millennium! I am afraid, we have nothing else to do, but adjust.

I will try to be short here, too, and wrap up this one here. As a postscriptim, to please your eyes, I will finish this post with beautiful words by Aldous Huxley, written in 1958, which have become even more timely today:

However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation… On such a theme one can be brief only by omission and simplification… In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all. Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification. He must learn to concentrate upon the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought.” A.Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.


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A Few Thoughts About Ethics in Writing

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Interestingly, while ethics are huge in technical and academic writing, it is not given the same attention in the world of fiction writing. As an author who belongs to both groups, I have been watching the difference and wondering why? Could it be because scientists have to be more accurate about every word they write? Or maybe, the fiction writers are in any way more (or less) ethical than technical writers, so they don’t need to set up any rules of fiction writing ethics? 😉 I want to believe that both groups equally care about their readers and this difference is nothing more than a tradition, so nobody ever asks the question.

Ethics codes are present at the workplace: even if they aren’t always enforced, they still exist and we obey them… often mechanically, without thinking. Summing up a dozen of articles which I studied in search for an answer to my question, there are a few basic points to adhere to whenever you are writing a professional document:

  • don’t mislead;
  • don’t manipulate;
  • don’t stereotype; and
  • always check the facts.

Well, I did a thing which I may regret doing: I tried to apply these rules to fiction writing this morning… and found the reason of my writer’s block! I realized that everything fiction writers do is exactly the opposite of the four rules!

Unlike academic writing, which is all about sharing facts to feed the work of mind, fiction writing works with reader’s imagination and emotions; it’s principal idea is to mislead, manipulate, hide (or distort) facts of real life with the only purpose of creating stereotype universes in the readers’ minds and enticing them into reading! 

Does this mean that fiction writers are unethical, immoral, dishonest, improper, corrupt, unrighteous, unjust and… (could not think of more antonyms to the word “ethical”, sorry)?  Uh-huh, I kind of regret I took up the topic already!

To calm myself down, I decided to accept the following explanation: fiction writers have to break those rules of ethics. Like mathematicians, who sometimes look for a proof by contradiction, fiction writers need to show their readers a ‘different’ world, where rules are broken and norms are corrupted; we only have one rule to follow: we must expose the fake in the end. If writers did not do this, the world would never get to know “Alice in Wonderland”, “Winnie-the-Pooh” or Harry Potter books! These books mislead, manipulate, create unusual stereoptypes, and distort our reality, but they do this so awesomely well that no one can resist reading them again and again!

So, what is the answer? Is it ethical for fiction writers to ignore the ethics of academic writing? 😉 The question is still up!

Please, share your thoughts, I am very curious to know your opinions on this.

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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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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!

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

May The Best Book Win!

here nests a librocubicularist who prefers nonfiction and moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu. writes on Scrivener for pleasure.