Credibility and language learning

The reason why I need a lot of input, listening and reading, in order to get used to words and phrases, has to do with the word “credibility” in a way. The thought just crossed my mind as I was reading in Russian on my deck this afternoon. In other words, only after I have seen or heard a word or phrase many times, does my brain accept that this is the way things are said in a language. If I just see one example, or even a few, I feel that I am still, consciously or subconsciously, reluctant to use that word or phrase. I don’t yet believe in this word or phrase.

At some point, with enough exposure, words and phrases, including how they are used, become established, credible, and I start using them with confidence, perhaps timidly at first, but then increasingly naturally.

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Vyborg, a warm welcome

Vyborg is 130 km to the North of St. Petersburg, and only 30 or so km from the Finnish border. For a long time it was a Finnish/Swedish town, and it has a definite Scandinavian feel to it.

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What attracted me there was the friendliness of two of its citizens, Tana and Mikhail. Tana was my first Russian tutor at LingQ. She sent me CDs in the early days, and really encouraged me in my Russian learning.

I took the Electrichka from the Finlandski station in St. Pete. Three and half hours on hard wooden seats. I occasionally stood up, ostensibly to let elderly passengers sit down, but really to give my back a rest. One of these kind elderly passengers for whom I stood up, as she was leaving a few stations before me,  made a point of reminding me not to forget my bag when I got off.

The Vyborg tour was splendid. I was on my own the first afternoon as MiKhail and Tana had to work. I wandered around, and even found a little cafe where I had a delicious soup while watching Russian comic videos on the high definition TV.

That evening we had a lovely meal including a little vodka, some bliny with salmon roe, herring, and borscht if I remember correctly. This was followed by a walk in the midnight sun around the waterfront. (Water everywhere in this town).

The next morning we had a coffee in a charming coffee shop, visited a book store where I was given the interesting book I am reading (in Russian) , and then we toured the highlights of the town. These included a historic castle and tower where we saw local craftsment using ancient tools to fashion nails for the castle and other amusements.

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We also toured the famous English garden called Mon Repos. We came across a wedding party there.

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We finished our day with a lovely lunch of fish at the beach. Perhaps the most enjoyable of all was the constant conversation in Russian about all manner of subjects, in a constant feeling of friendliness and well-being, quite something for people that I was meeting for the first time.

On our way to the station we stopped an enormous supermarket. The consumer revolution has arrived in Vyborg. 32 cash register!!

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I got on the Elektrichka again around 5 in the evening and returned to St. Petersburg, having been treated like a long lost relative by Tana and Mikhail. I look forward to reciprocating in Vancouver.

Free speech. Blogger in Taiwan jailed for her opinions.

A food blogger in Taiwan was jailed for calling the food in a restuarant “too salty.” I find that astounding. “Too salty” is surely a subjective term. How can we be held criminally responsible for our opinions. I know that bloggers can be irresponsible. There is also the question of whether a blogger’s opinion is simply a private discussion or a form of journalism where higher standards of veracity or obejctivity are required. I hope that bloggers remain free to express their opinions and readers are free to form their own opinions without the heavy intervention of the law.

St. Petersburg – a movable feast

In St. Petersburg you are taken back a century or two or three. The city was built because a Tsar, Peter the Great, wanted it to be built. It was Russia’s stake on the Baltic, window on the West, and bulwark against the forces of Northern Europe, (Sweden, Germany and Denmark ) that at various times threatened Russia from the North. A fortress in many ways. A grandiose capital with majestic squares and regal palaces. The best way to see the city is to walk, take Neva river and canal tours, and visit the many museums.

Here are some pictures of Eugene one of our key LingQ programmers, our LingQ meetup and Храм Спаса на Крови Cathedral. More to follow.

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ex-Mayor Daley of Chicago does not speak English very well!

I just finished listening to an interview at Echo Moskvi with Richard Daley , recently retired Mayor of Chicago (for 22 years). Daley often does not make sense in English. You have to first interpret what he was trying to say, fill in the missing words, change the wrong words, and then interpret. The Russian interpreter at Echo Moskvi was not quite up to the task.

Mayor Daley should get on LingQ and work on his English. Just amazing!

Russian as a world language

English is the dominant world language today. The French sometimes promote French as an alternative international language, and historically it was prominent in Europe and today we find it in Africa and North America as well as Europe. Spanish and Portuguese, just like English and French, were spread by colonial conquest and are spoken in a number of countries and continents, and therefore are also world languages today. Russian is also a major world language, and it was also spread by colonial expansion.

I was recently in Lativa, and Russia. While in Russia I enjoyed food from the many countries that used to be part of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union like the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Georgia. Right now the St. Petersburg Economic Forum is taking place and delegates from all over the world, but especially the former Soviet Union countries, are there to discuss possible economic cooperation and business ventures. I imagine that a lot of the discussion will be in Russian.

The Russian language space occupies a large part of the world, from the Baltic to the Pacific,and from the Arctic to the Black Sea and Central Asia. It is a rich continental community with historical relations, not always without conflict, where the Russian language is an important unifying element. I hope that this area becomes the kind of post-colonial community that the Commonwealth, la Francophonie,and similar Spanish and Portuguese language communities are striving to be. Economically it can be even more significant, although there are tensions as Russia struggles to adapt to a new role as the most powerful, but still equal, member of such a community.

The best thing about Russia, the people.

Over the next week or so I will be posting about my visit to Russia. This trip far exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was like a reward for my more than one thousand hours of listening to and reading Russian. Being surrounded by real Russian people, and speaking Russian, was like a dream. Of course the grand cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow did not disappoint; the history, the atmosphere, the museums, the life! But most of all I come away with an impression of Russian people – earnest, sincere, friendly, generous and warm. I felt very much at home.And I had only scratched the surface.

Here is one of the first groups of Russians I met. They were celebrating the “day of the city” in St. Petersburg. I asked them where to buy the little flag they all had. They insisted on giving me one of theirs.

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