Monthly Archives: July 2010

Library Troubles and Another Month Gone

I realised on Friday evening that my library books were due on Friday, so I rushed myself off to the library during my lunch break on Monday (it’s a ten minute walk from where I work) to renew them. Now here is the sad story about the libraries in the city where I live. For the past few months there has been a strike (as far as I know they are asking for overtime pay for Saturdays, though I don’t understand how they can demand that when they would have known from the start that working Saturdays is part of the contract) so the libraries have been understaffed. They have been closing for an hour at lunch time (just when I like to go) and closing for the day an hour earlier (at the same time as I finish work), opening only every second Saturday.  All very sad for those of us who still read books.

Now there is a whole new issue. When I got to the library on Monday, there were two ladies sitting at the door doing renewals – nobody allowed in. They have been offline for two weeks and the backlog is too much, so they are not issuing any more books. According to the newspaper, the service provider of the new software has halted service due to an issue with their service level agreement with the municipality (and it was suggested they haven’t been paid yet for the past few month).  Very frustrating.

One of the books I have out at the moment is Teach Yourself Russian. I have renewed it probably three times now ( which means I have had it for over three months) and I am only about halfway through the book. I feel very acutely that I have not progressed much. Oh the shame! The terrible thing is that every time the due date comes around again, it just reminds me that another month has passed and I cannot yet read Russian.

Yes, read Russian.  That is my main end goal in learning languages. I’m an introvert, so I’m not likely to talk to many foreigners, but I do love the written word.  My end goal generally is to be able to read the news in that language.  (It’s also my main form of practice for French, Italian & Spanish). Understanding the spoken word and getting the pronunciation correct is also important to me. But reading is probably more what I would end up doing with the language.  Also, if reading books in your native language can improve your vocabulary, then surely the same is true of foreign languages!

So yes, my learning process is a bit slower than some, but I’m happy with just understanding something new today that I would not have understood last week, or a month ago. I love the feeling of seeing or hearing some foreign word out of the blue somewhere and actually understanding it.

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BBC Active & Russian Stuff

At the moment, I am trying to teach myself Russian. The most useful book I have found so far is a Teach Yourself Russian book borrowed from the library. I also own a BBC Active Russian Phrasebook and Dictionary and the BBC Active Talk Russian book with 2 CDs.  This audio course cost more than twice the price of the phrasebook, and quite frankly, I don’t think it was worth it.

I bought it because I wanted the audio, and in that sense it is useful, but I think it could have been done much better. It seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. There is not a lot of vocabulary in the book, in fact, there is plenty more vocab in the phrasebook. That is my first problem – you won’t get far with the audio series.

The audio has so much time wasted with the voice saying “if you want to say … in Russian then the word you would use is …”.   Too much of the audio is taken up with english. The book should be doing that job.

What I would have appreciated from this course would have been: a conversation for each chapter, in audio, and the book should make it clear what the conversation means. A little bit more explanation of grammar (though I don’t think too much is necessary). They could have gotten a lot more spoken Russian into the same two CDs, and a lot more vocab into the same size book.

The phrasebook on the other hand, is great. They know how to do a phrasebook. I find the pronunciation guide very logical; each phrase is transcribed into the roman  alphabet, in a way that makes sense to an English speaker. Well, it makes sense to me anyway. There is plenty of vocab, like a list of body part names, list of menu items, list of shopping vocab, etc. You can’t really learn Russian properly from that alone, but it is a great extra resource. And I think it would work really well as a phrasebook if that was all you wanted it for.

A useful resources for Russian is Master Russian. The site doesn’t look like much (I’m ashamed to say a boring looking website can put me off – what can I say I’m a graphic designer for a living), but it does contain some useful stuff.

Then there is a website of a university in Sussex that has some Russian texts online with the translation (prioritizing word-for-word accuracy) and a glossary, as well as exercises (which I have not yet tried) and audio (which I couldn’t get to work). But it’s great because you can start getting into Russian literature, while still learning Russian.

Happy learning!

Sun of May

With the World Cup™ (not taking any chances with They Who Shall Not Be Named) being hosted in my country, it has been interesting to look at all the different flags of the participating nations. As a graphic designer, I’ve had to put together artwork of the various flags for printing. During this process I have learned a few things. Firstly, the word vexillology, which is the study of flags, and all the stuff that goes along with that. Like how it’s a dire insult to hang it the wrong way – this just says to me that humans like to create ways in which we can be insulted, so that we can fight for our honour or something. This symbol represents me / my country. Display it incorrectly and I’ll… Oh I think you get what I mean.

So the correct way to hang a flag vertically is to keep the upper left hand corner in the upper left hand corner. Which means you can’t just rotate 90 degrees; you have to then invert it along the vertical axis. But what about all those flags that have crests on them? I assume they would need to stay right-way-up… And then some like the Brazilian flag leave the mind somewhat boggled. Information on how to deal with these specifics does not appear to be that readily available on the internet. The good flag websites I found often referred to some obscure book or text.

But enough about my flag troubles. World Cup™ is nearly over and what an interesting one it has been (she says as if she actually follows soccer).

The Sun of May in the title of this post is an object of my recent curiosity. I noticed that the Uruguay and Argentina flags shared the same sun emblem and I just had to know why. Apparently, the origin of the image is an Inca sun god (info here and here). But the reason for the name and it’s appearance on the flag is related to it being a symbol from the South American May Revolution – the beginning of the fight for independence from Spain.

So I learned a little something about South American history. Not that I would really go into any more detail here. I am interested in history, but only really the big picture. Even reading a Wikipedia article about history makes my eyes cross. But I see this as a challenge!