Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Free courses in 2015!

FutureLearn are offering some more great looking courses next year. I'm especially excited about the following two, and have already signed up!

Introduction to Dutch
Learn to speak, write and understand basic Dutch, with this free, three-week, introductory foreign language course.

Cultural Studies and Modern Languages: an Introduction 
Explore the culture, language and national identity of eight countries through their books, images, slogans and monuments.

Can't wait to start! You can see all the language and culture courses here.  

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Toki Pona in 48 hours

Last week I spent two days at the Memrise office, learning Toki Pona with other like minded people. You can read the original blog post that Memrise put out here. Plus more about what Toki Pona actually is here.

The original post from memrise was, 'Is it possible to learn a new language in 48 hours?'...I came to the conclusion that it really depends on the individual; how good your memory is, how fast your brain is at absorbing new information and putting it all together to make sense (whatever the technical term may be for that!).

We started off the first day by introducing ourselves, and then all starting the same memrise course at the same time. It was interesting to see how fast some people got through that course! I think it was about an hour for some, and I'm not joking when I say it took me more than twice as long as that to get through it. We then started on the second course which I actually didn't complete. I was feeling a little fried by the end of it, and some of us went out for a walk to get a break. We were obviously on a limited time scale, so we were really cramming, which is not the most efficient way to learn things, for me anyway! I wouldn't normally spend hours at my computer so my head was feeling a little scrambled.

We played some games in the afternoon. At one point we sat in groups and translated English into Toki Pona, sending videos to other groups to see if they could translate it back. It was really funny, and some of the translations when you only have 120 words to play with were quite abstract. It is interesting that we could almost always get the gist of what was being said, if not a complete translation. We also got to skype with Sonja Lang (who created Toki Pona), and it was interesting to hear what she had to say about why she created the language, and her thoughts around it. There were also several copies of the Toki Pona book that we got to use/ look at.

I was feeling completely maxed out by the end of the first day. I also had a pretty long journey home (just under two hours), so I didn't get to spend much time revising what we had learnt.

The second day we were only suppose to speak in Toki Pona, and I was amazed at how many people could, and how fast they actually were. I could barely string a sentence together!

It was a more low key day. We spent it on a mixture of games, chatting, translating, making videos, reading the Toki Pona book and generally just hanging out together. Some people wrote a Toki Pona version of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', which was fun to listen to, but too fast for me.

By the end of the second day I think that most people were quite confident with speaking (and understanding) Toki Pona, but I wasn't one of them. Give me a week of intense study and I think I would have got there! I was much slower at remembering and recalling the words than most, so it confirmed what I already knew - that I'm a slow language learner. I also kept confusing it with Russian! This happened on both the memrise course and when speaking. I'm not sure why as I haven't done this when studying Russian and Dutch. Perhaps because of the intense nature of the course my brain was just reverting back to the foreign language it knew best? Other people were also doing this (someone next to me was mixing it up with Swedish, someone else German), so its obviously a common thing to do. 

However, it was a fun experience (even if I did need most of this weekend, and a lot of sleep to recover!), and I met some lovely people and got to chat about languages and language learning which is always enjoyable. I also got to meet Chris from Actual Fluency which was great :) ...I won't be continuing with Toki Pona though, except for maybe using it to chat online to the people I met. By the end of the second day I was just itching to get back to Russian, and it really just enforced the fact that I need to have some kind of (emotional) connection/pull/reason to learn a language.

Church in Yaroslavl, Russia, taken by Emma Sibley, 2007

Thanks to Memrise though for setting it all up. There were lots of videos and pictures being taken, so keep an eye on their blog if you're curious. :)

Edit: Links to Memrise, Guardian and other bloggers take on the experience here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Learning multiple Languages (at the same time...)

Should you (attempt) to learn more than one language at at time? This is something I've pondered for a while. I've read many discussions on why it's not a good idea, and a handful on why you can and how to go about it. What I've discovered is that there's really no one answer. I have a list of languages I'd like to study, some in more depth than others, and as an older language learner I'm feeling that I want to explore them sooner rather than later!

After reading Ellen Jovin's wonderful blog I felt like I'd been given permission to take a peek at some of the another languages on my list. Ellen chooses to spend about 3 months studying one language before moving onto the next, and while I have no intention of giving up Russian I'm also very curious about several other languages especially Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, Romanian, Esperanto and Toki Pona.

my slightly biased language shelf!

I was thinking of studying Esperanto, and read a number of articles on how Esperanto helps learners to improve quicker with other languages as well. I was also drawn to how fast people seem to be able to use it, and how you can become quite good at it in a relatively short time. However, I was getting strong urges to take a look at Dutch, and after finding a Teach yourself Dutch book for 75p in a charity shop (plus some great Russian books!), I decided to go with this instead.  I also really wanted to try out duolingo (after reading lots of great reviews), and not one of the other languages on my list is available there (yet).  Plus because Dutch is suppose to be quite close to English I was curious to see how true this was, and I thought it would be a complete change from Russian (I also read about how it's best to learn two languages that are not related if learning more than one at a time).

my great charity shop finds, cost me £3 in all!

So, I started very enthusiastically a couple of weeks ago, spending about 10/15 minutes on duolingo (which I do enjoy, finally feel part of that club! :D), doing a basic memrise course and (if time) working through a lesson in the Teach yourself book or at - all in a very laid back way. My only rule was that I had to get my Russian all done first. I have found Dutch easier then Russian, helped by similar words (sometimes the same words as in English), and the familiarity of the Latin alphabet. I have not struggled with confusing the languages which is a concern in some of the articles I read. Probably because I'm at different levels with them, and they are very different.

However, after a good start I began to get frustrated with a few things. My time is very limited, and some days I don't even get to my Russian. On bad days like that I will try and get on memrise to at least review my words, but that's all that happens. Over the past week I've had ill kids and been poorly myself, so my learning time has been very sporadic. This means that no Dutch gets done, and when I do get back to it I have to go over the same stuff as it's leaked out of my brain! So, the slow progress is annoying particularly when I feel I could get further in Dutch much faster than I have in Russian. I'm also unable to dig as far into Dutch as I would like, I'm reaching the point where unless I just want to carry on studying Dutch casually and for fun, I need to look at rules and grammar. But to find myself at 1am reading about when to use de or het is making my head spin! First world problems eh?!

So what to do? I love Russian, however hard it is, and no matter how terrible I am at it I can't stop! I'm also really enjoying Dutch though, and would love to progress further. I'm not sure if it comes down to realising what my limitations are and just carry on as I am, or tweaking things to maybe doing a couple of days of just Dutch a week, or dropping Dutch for now until my Russian level improves. I think it may just take some trial and error to figure out what's going to work.

Any tips? Leave a comment below! :)

Friday, 28 November 2014

Reading in Russian

I wanted to add a little something about reading in Russian, that I forget to mention in my post about my 21 day language blast!

My reading speed has gone up tremendously. I suddenly made a huge leap from sounding out every little letter to reading in a much more natural way. I'm sure I'm not pronouncing everything 100% correctly, and I'm still far slower then when reading English, but it's been pretty amazing. It was almost an overnight thing! I wonder if my brain has gone through the same process children do when they begin to read! All of a sudden it clicks, and your brain is able to put together the words without having to sound out each letter sound. I'm still on the beginner readers, but I was so excited when I read a page through without stopping!

I have a Russian version of Alice in Wonderland waiting to be read!

I believe the two things that have really helped me are, listening to lots of Russian, and using memrise.

Memrise has really forced me to write in Russian (I really don't enjoy it!), and therefore I've become more familiar with spelling patterns, which letters are often together and when vowels changed their sounds. The combination (and repetition) of seeing the written word, and hearing it at the same time has been great for me. I find that the words on memrise that don't have a spoken version are much harder to remember.

Also listening to Russian (I can't emphasise this enough!), as you get to hear the words spoken at a normal speed and you ear becomes far more attuned to it. This is why I also improved when I went to Russia, my reading speed and speech improved even though I was only there 9 days. In my Russian class the following week my tutor could really tell the difference. Unfortunately, because I didn't keep this up my level dropped back down again...but I'm definitely starting to see a real improvement again now! :)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Update: 21 day Language Blast complete!

I'm now officially done! :) I think it was quite a successful mission. I've learnt so much about studying, and how I learn best. I would say that it became easier to fit in my language learning once I had, not so much a goal, but a framework to go by. I did end up tweaking it quite a bit. The times I've written are the minimum. Often once I started I went on for much longer. My routine ended up (mostly) like this...

AM: (Ideally this would be early, however most days I didn't manage to get up as early as I would like! After years of staying up late to study this is a hard habit to break, so still a work in progress).
- 20 minutes of  a Michel Thomas lesson
- 10/15 minutes of flash cards (I have to admit I ditched Anki. I know most people love it, but it just wasn't working for me. So I've gone back to making my own handwritten flashcards. I just find this easier as I can write down words/phrases immediately, and it's so much quicker. Might be showing my age there ;) )

Afternoon: (usually while making dinner)
- Listen to Russian radio/podcast (I try to aim for 30 mins).

PM: I've either been working through a Russian course book (Russian step by step as mentioned in a post below) or doing a listening and transcribing activity (I aim for at least 20 minutes).

I also do at least 15 minutes of memrise here and there throughout the day. Plus I'm re-doing the Michel Thomas lessons over (and over!), so I might listen to the same lesson 3 days running. I appreciate that while self-studying I can take as long as I like, and re-do activities/lessons as much as I need.

Sometimes I do something different. I have a couple of beginner Russian books, so I might read those in the evening instead, or I'll watch a Russian movie (usually a children's film/cartoon) on youtube. Fridays are my catch up days so I try to get to things I've been slacking in. 

Apart from Anki the other thing that didn't work for me was exercising/walking while doing/listening to a Russian lesson or podcast. For some reason I didn't seem to take it in. I kept catching myself day dreaming or zoning out, and I'd missed what was being said for the past 5 minutes! So, I ditched that idea quite quickly!

What I discovered from this is that listening is huge, and something that isn't emphasized enough. I missed listening to Russian for just a couple of days, and when I did listen to some Russian radio again it sounded like someone had sped it up!  It's amazing how fast you get used to the speed of it, but also how quickly you can find yourself back at the start...

The writing and transcribing was also incredibly helpful as you have to listen very carefully, and you start to be able to pick out words and letters you don't hear when listening through just once. My 'ear' for Russian has definitely improved, and while I still don't particularly enjoy writing in Russian it is getting better!

So, altogether it has been a really helpful process. I intend to stick to my above schedule as much as I can, although I have also been dabbling a little with Dutch (but that's another post!). I'd really recommend taking a look at Ron's website/book if you want to do your own 21 day language blast.

The Language Surfer

Language Master Key


Monday, 17 November 2014

Free course - Understanding Language

This has just started over at FutureLearn. Might be of interest to someone out there.

Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching
An introduction to some key concepts in the effective teaching and learning of languages.

 About the course
What is language? How do we learn meaning in a new language? What is easy and hard about learning another language? And what is the best way to teach English as a foreign language?
This free online course suggests some answers to these questions. It has been developed by the University of Southampton and the British Council, and draws on their exciting new joint online course, MA in English Language Teaching.

If you are a fully participating learner in “Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching,” you will be eligible to apply for a scholarship to cover part of the MA fees. You will find out more when you join the course.
The course takes place over four weeks. It will introduce you to some of the latest ideas in research and practice in language learning and teaching. We will:
  • Explore second language learning and what it means to learn language
  • Consider language classrooms and how teaching affects our language learning
  • Look at the use of technology in teaching, and its benefits and challenges for language learning.
Finally, we will investigate the case of English – the most widely learnt and taught language in the world. How has English achieved this position? What are the implications of the spread of English for policy, teaching and other languages?

The course includes quizzes, activities, discussions and videos filmed around the world. The videos feature experts such as British Council teachers, and staff and students at the University of Southampton.
During the course, you will hear different voices sharing their ideas and opinions – and we want to hear yours too. How do you use language in YOUR life? What is YOUR experience of language learning and teaching? Join us – to discuss effective language learning and teaching.

Join in here -

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

16 days of Russian

This post on gives an insight into what I've been attempting. I was very excited to see the post, and to be able to chat in the comments with my own thoughts. It gave me a bit of a boost! I've also been listening to some of the podcasts over at, and have loved finding Ellen Jovin's blog. The more I delve into language learning, the more I understand that it's not just about the language(s), but is a real journey into how we learn, motivation, communication, education, fun, cultures, and so much more. It's also a bit of a roller-coaster ride, from 'yay, I can understand and translate a whole paragraph' to 'why can't I remember this word I've seen on memrise 50 times before?!'.

It's sometimes difficult to forget it's a real journey and we don't have to rush to try to get to the end, to reach fluency, or whatever the goal may be. It's about the process.

So,all that being said how have I been doing? Well, I've taken on board little bits from blog posts I've read and podcasts I've listened to. I've been working on getting up early (still a work in progress!), using exercise in so much that I've been taking walks while listening to Michel Thomas (yes, my 'not buying any more Russian materials promise' hasn't been going very well!). It's probably a bit unnerving for anyone who gets too close...they can hear me muttering in Russian and still 'trying' to do a rolled r! I usually listen for 20-30 minutes, and do the same lesson twice a day. I find this works better for me as I'm quite a slow learner (I'll blame that on my ageing brain!). I've really been enjoying the MT course so far. I then spend some time adding the any new words to my anki flashcards, and doing a review. I also do memrise daily, will listen to some Russian radio (although I'm probably only fitting 20 minutes in at the moment) and do a 10-15 minute transcribing exercise (I really enjoy doing these). So I've kind of tweaked the 21 day language blast a little, but it's really given me the motivation to carry on. My Russian is still very much at a very basic level, as I'm  missing a lot of the connecting words (or rather finding it tough to remember), and the speed to put it all together. I've also done my best to avoid much grammar! I'll be addressing this when my 21 days are up, and I  have a Russian grammar book ready to go!

How is your language learning journey going?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Ten days in...

And it's going ok. I have slacked a bit. I managed to get my listening done at the weekend, and my Anki flashcards but that was all. We had a very busy two days, with all three children needing to be here, there and everywhere so by the evening I was too tired to do much else. 

I have almost finished a Russian workbook, just a beginner one, but it did cover a few things I didn't know. If nothing else it's a bit of revision. I actually really like the way these books are set out, the audio files are available online and they are easy to do in little chunks. I took the book with me to my daughter's gym class, and spent the hour working through it. I've ordered the next book now. The website is for anyone interested.

Products from Russian Step by Step/Photo taken from their website

The past few days I have been keeping up with listening, reading, writing, a bit of Memrise, Anki, a bit of Babbel...Yesterday evening I realised I'm doing that thing again of being all over the place, but not really moving forward. So, I need to focus a bit more, and read through the notes I took from the Language Master Key book. I also need to start studying in the mornings, evenings are my usual time, but I'm aware that I make so many more mistakes in the evening as I'm too tired to concentrate properly. Being a night owl this is going to take some very real effort!

Monday, 3 November 2014

A Spoonful of Russian

I just wanted to mention A Spoonful of Russian again. Natalia who runs the site and does the podcasts is so nice, and has been helpful and friendly when I've asked questions. There are videos on youtube as well so you can follow along, and actually see the words as Natalia's speaking. There are also some videos that have the English and Russian. I'd really recommend the website and podcast if you're learning Russian.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Language Blast - Days 2-5

Day 2 - Did not go to plan. I did my free listening (yeah!), but fell asleep in the evening putting my youngest daughter to bed. So I didn't get around to doing the other tasks (was planning on getting them done in the evening), as I didn't wake up again until the morning!

Day 3 - Did my free listening. A mixture of listening to the radio and youtube videos. When first listening to Russian radio it seemed that the presenters were speaking incredibly fast, actually I couldn't figure out where one word ended and the next began. I've found that I'm already getting used to this - although it's still fast it's making more sense as I became accustomed to the speed. Obviously on most language courses and CDs speech is much slower, so listening to Russian at 'real speed' wasn't going to be easy at first.  I'm able to pick out words I know more and more as well. Also listening to songs really helps as a lot of words are repeated, plus some of it is really quite good! I found a Russian children's radio station where they do speak slower, but some of the music isn't great. I listened to about an hour today. I've found the more I listen to the more I want to listen. Instead of turning on my favourite radio station when cooking for instance, I'm putting on the Russian one instead. I also did my active reading/writing, went through my flashcards and spent some time on memrise. So all in all a good day - hopefully making up for my lack of Russian yesterday.

Day 4 - Did everything I should do today and a bit more. Also went on memrise for about 15 minutes, and started working through one of the many Russian course books I have. This was just a basic one with stuff I already know, but it's always good to revise! 

Day 5 - Mixed day. I did lots of listening, but mixed it around. Listened to audio from here, and some songs from here. I also listened to some Russian podcasts from this site - especially the stories and poetry.  I went on memrise for about 20 minutes. I didn't do any writing though :/

So far the language blast has made my realise a few things. I need variety in what I listen to and the materials I use daily. Doing the same thing everyday is hard, but just setting aside the time or knowing I need to make the time has created a space where Russian has happened everyday. Even if I haven't done exactly as outlined in the book, I have done something. Once I start I also tend to go on longer than I anticipated. I think I'll study for 15 minutes and next thing I know an hour has passed. The more I do the more I want to do. I also realised how little I know, but try not to dwell on it. I have my whole life to improve! I will be carrying on the challenge over the weekend as well and will update on Monday. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

21 Day Language Blast - Day 1

Day 1 - Today was the first day of my 21 day language blast. I don't want to say exactly what this involves as it is an idea/technique I've taken from the book mentioned in the post below. However, it does involve spending lots of time listening to the language you are studying. I fell a bit short of this today. I didn't get all my free listening done (only about 15 mins). To be honest it's hard to fit this in as I have my children around me for most of the day, and they do not enjoy listening to Russian! So, I'm going to have to think about that. I did get my listening/reading activity done. I was actually quite proud of this one, and amazed myself by being able to translate some Russian sentences so they made perfect sense by putting together the words I knew, and having a sensible guess at the ones I didn't. I'm now going to spend sometime on my language journal and flashcards. 

If anyone else is having a go at this challenge then please leave a comment below. 

And just in-case there is someone else who is doing this with Russian some websites that I found useful today are -
Russian radio -
Russian audio with Russian and English translations -
Anki -

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Language Master Key

I recently discovered the book Language Master Key on my wanderings around the internet. I found it such a helpful read. I actually went through it twice, the second time I spent a while taking notes and looking at the resources suggested. It's different from most of the books I've read as it focuses very much on learning through listening, something that made so much sense once I thought about it! I think this (along with the other instructions and advice given) is a technique that will really work for me. The book also gives advice on how to embark on a '21 day language blast' which I'm going to have a go at. I will be updating here with my plans in the next few days. Very excited about this! :D

Friday, 24 October 2014

Still here, still learning...

Just not necessarily Russian! ;)

I hope this blog makes sense I have written it in bits and pieces, and it's kind of random.

I have been meaning to blog for quite a while. Over the summer my Russian learning (almost) ground to a halt. I signed up to babbel in an attempt to motivate myself, and also because I could use their app on my phone. And this did work a bit. It's easy to jump on for a few minutes and pick up where I left off, but I don't feel as if I'm progressing very much with it. I actually think my random approach to learning is not helping - I use a book, get distracted, use an online course (free or otherwise), get distracted, check facebook, then I might watch some youtube videos, maybe listen to a Russian radio station, perhaps go on memrise, but it's all kind of random and I'm not progressing. In turn this leads to frustration, which leads to me not bothering. I clearly need a better plan. I could really relate to this post at the blog to be fluent. This is me.

I have realised that I need to change my way of thinking, and think about my goals. Why am I learning Russian? What do I want to achieve? I read so many wonderful language blogs, which although fantastic and helpful sometimes make me feel like my measly efforts are just not worth it! This is my problem and not the lovely bloggers :) ...I decided that my goal actually isn't to be fluent. It would be great, but I don't think I have that all encompassing passion to learn Russian (or any language). What I do know is that I love languages, and learning about them. I love words. I have been on a bit of a Shakespeare kick recently (which has been one of the reasons my Russian got put to one side). Reading plays, going to the globe, studying a free futurelearn course, securing tickets to see Hamlet (yes, the one with Benedict Cumberbatch!!!!!!!) and so on. I also have a desire to learn Romanian and Arabic, as I plan future trips (in my head so far) to Morocco (as a volunteer) and Brasov (to work with Bears!). Most recently I visited the Language Show in London. I attended a Russian class, but my main reason for going was to find more information about teaching English as a foreign language (Celta/tefl/Trinity CERTtesol anyone?!). Other interests this summer included taking a counselling course, and an ongoing addiction to Homeland. Of course I also have 3 children, and partner who need my attention as well! 

I have so many thoughts, ideas, passions, and things I want to do I honestly pondered that I may have adhd. Then, I read a revealing, and oh so well timed blog post, about scanners. How I could relate, this is me! I am a scanner! This was a huge light-bulb moment! You can read more about scanners here.

So, how does this all relate to Russian. Well, I've come to some realisations. I decided that writing is down at the bottom of skills for me, as a borderline dyslexic I struggle with English spellings so you can imagine how I am at Russian! I love reading Russian, and of course speaking is very important (as is listening!) so these are the things I'm going to focus on. I would like to know enough so that when I return to Russia I can do things such as order a meal, ask directions, read signs, visit museums, and (maybe) take tours in Russian. Enough to have brief conversations. I won't be perfect, but will hopefully be understood! I would like to be able to read more in Russian, maybe even Shakespeare eventually (although starting with children's books!). Anything more would be great, but this is what I'm aiming for right now. Of course I'm going to get distracted and maybe take some diversions, and discover different passions, but I'm hoping I can keep my Russian going throughout all (most...) of that :) ...Now to make some decisions on how to go about it - what resources to use, what to get rid of,  and to try and stop buying Russian course books!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A different way of learning

When I first started to learn Russian in 2006 there was not nearly the amount of  information on the web that there is now. I don't remember any videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. I think masterrussian was about, but not much more. I signed up for a weekly class (I was lucky to have one nearby), and bought a BBC course, basic phrasebook and dictionary. I worked through the course book and the BBC course and that was about it. It didn't really occur to me that I could learn a different way.

I still use a notebook and pen (yes, I got through school and most of Uni without a computer!), but I've also been enjoying exploring other tools I can use online.

In particular I find memrise really helpful. If I don't have much time I can just jump on there for 5 or 10 minutes, and it's really been improving my vocab. When I read in Russian I'm able to decipher more as I can pick out words I've learnt from there. I also like the fact it's very visual. I've also started using anki, although not as much as it's more time consuming to make my own flashcards.

I'm still using the course books and CDs, but am also utilising blogs, podcasts, youtube, forums, etc - not only to learn about Russian, but also language learning in general. Sometimes I spend more time reading about language learning than I do actually learning the language! I have found lots of great tips though, and lots of different ideas on how to approach languages. If something isn't working I change it, or if I get bored I use something else. I've been trying to read something in Russian everyday, and although I don't understand much of it my reading is speeding up. A good tip (I think I got from fluent in 3 months) was to go to wikipedia and change it to your target language. I've read a few articles in Russian doing this, and could surprisingly translate more than I thought! 

I have also had lots of success rolling my r's! It's taken so much practise (daily!), but I'm much better now. It is still difficult to use it in actual words, but I'm getting there :D

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cyrillic alphabet

When first learning Russian the idea of learning a whole new alphabet can seem daunting. Actually it's easier than it looks, although I've found the cursive version of the letters harder to learn.


There are plenty of resources on the web for learning the Cyrillic script. You could try here or one of the many youtube videos . I have found this book helpful. The good news is a lot of Russian words are phonetic, so you can 'sound them out'. Of course there are exceptions to every 'rule', and I have found that Russian speakers sometimes pronounce sounds/letters/words differently depending on which part of Russia they are from.

So, I've been reacquainting myself with the alphabet (and some of the rules) over the last few days, as well as continuing to practising that elusive rolling r!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Learning Russian (again)

I've recently began re-learning Russian. Although I was nowhere near fluent I did manage to make myself understood probably about 75% of the time when I was in Russia. I have several books and CDs, and am also making use of the many internet resources - youtube and the like.  I recently discovered fluent in 3 months, plus a few other helpful websites. I especially like Adventures of the Directionally Challenged
Unfortunately, I tend to spend my time reading blogs about languages, rather than learning the language!

I'm listing some blogs/website/articles here on learning Russian. I haven't looked at them all so they may be a bit hit and miss. Some are aimed at children, but I find that they can be just as useful for adult learners! - there's lots more on youtube.
There are disney songs in Russian which is helpful if you know the English versions. Although of course the translations aren't always perfect. Here's Let it Go

I'm also learning roll my Rrrrrrs...kind of! I have been practising daily, and driving my family a bit mad. I have randomly managed to roll my rs a few times, but not on demand and it is very frustrating. There are several websites/youtube videos demonstrating how to do it (and lots of discussions about whether there is a rolling r gene or not!).  Here's one website.  I can't say that I've found one particular technique more effective than another. Will keep practising though!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Russian journey (part 3)

The garden at the hospital for children.

Day Four

Slept well – got up late and missed breakfast (must be getting used to the trams/trains)! Luckily I had some cereal bars to eat before we left for the hospital at 9.20am. We made bears today to add to the forest of owls. The proportions are a little wacky (the owls are bigger than the bears!), but apart from that it looks good! A had written his name on the example bear he had made to show and instead of writing their own names some of the children copied his onto their bears as well! That was funny and very sweet.  Felt better today at the hospital as I knew what to expect. It was hectic though as we had a lot of children take part.

I must mention that there is a very nice doctor here who is really great with the kids – she joins in with the activity we have planned and makes a real effort to communicate to us through the translators. Though she did tell me off for putting a bag in the wrong place! lol. I do like her though, she really seems to enjoy being with the kids.

There were some different kids there today. ‘Chatted’ to Svetla (Natalie Portman look-alike!) and another girl who was very sweet and talked to me none stop in Russian – she slowed down for me but I still didn’t know what she was saying. Though I did pick up ‘Ya lubloo (I love) A...’ quite a bit (the male volunteer!) – she was very taken with him!   Spent time with Lyuba - who is one of my favourites at the hosp. She speaks a little English and is very smiley. She made up a song though the only words I could understand were ‘emma’ and ‘banana’! I’m sure whatever she was singing was probably quite rude as all the other children were laughing!

Working on our craft project.

There is also a very small, animated little boy who is very smart and chats away to us. Shosha sat with me for a while today – she is hard to describe. She loves being hugged and holding hands. She is very affectionate. I’m able to chat with her a little in Russian. I ask her how she is and each day she replies with fine thank you! Out of all of them if I could I’d take her home with me. She has to have injections though I’m not sure what for. Some days she is more sleepy than others.

We went outside again as it was another beautiful, sunny day. Played terrible football for hours with a little boy who wasn’t too impressed with my ball skills and shouted at me a lot in Russian! Probably a good job I couldn’t understand him!

There seemed to be a lot of tears today as well. One new boy who was very upset and just sat and cried for most of the time. Another girl got almost hysterical as the van from the orphanage turned up and she thought they had come to take her back (she’s supposed to be going home soon). That’s hard to see – how distressed they are. How sad. Made me feel quite helpless…when there is really nothing I can do long-term to make their lives better.

Playing ball in the hospital garden.

Back for lunch which was…cheese and crab meat salad, mushroom soup, meatballs and rice and fruit. We met two more volunteers today R who came with us to the hospital and M – they have been in St Petersburg for the weekend and got back at 5am this morning! R has volunteered in South America and South Africa – she has some interesting stories to tell.

In the afternoon we were given the opportunity to take part in a trip Nadia had organised to the nearby Space Museum (dedicated to Valentina Tereshkova).

Entrance to the museum.

Tereshkova was the first woman in space and she was born in Yaroslavl. Most of the volunteers went and Nadia came along to translate for us. It was a  really nice, fun visit. I especially liked the reconstruction of the house Tereshkova had been born and brought up in.

Later in the afternoon myself and J went out for coffee which was nice. I can’t believe how warm it is here! I’m walking about in a t-shirt. Back to the hotel for dinner…lots of people had gone out to eat so there were only six of us. Really nice dinner of coleslaw, kebabs and salad - it was nicer than it sounds!

Spent evening preparing craft for tomorrow with A and J – snakes and butterflies to add to the other animals.

Can’t believe I’m already halfway through my time here!

Go to bed early but can’t sleep – practice my Russian instead.   

Day five

Feel tired today. Off to the hospital to make butterflies and snakes to add to the growing forest! We get driven there every morning in the CCS mini-bus (they now have two having purchased one the week I was there). Everyone is always kind of quiet...reflective on the way there. Just waking up and getting ready for our placements.

Loved going into the hosp today and seeing the kids. The children enjoyed the craft – I found out that a few of the children I thought were boys are actually girls! Because they have shaved heads or very short hair and all wear similar clothing it’s hard to tell! Not being familiar with Russian names doesn’t help either. Anyway, now I know!

I took my camera today and most of the children loved having their pics taken. The great thing with the digital camera is that I could show them their pictures straight away. Took lots of photos of our project as well. The nice doctor asked me to take pictures of them doing their exercises in the hall.

Took the children outside to play. Did lots of skipping today (actual skipping and not just holding the rope, was exhausted afterwards!)...with R another volunteer while the children counted in Russian and commented on how rubbish we were! Played ball for a while. Have my ‘set’ of children now who want to play and chat with me which is nice, although one little boy just wants me to play football with him for hours. He screams if any other child comes near while we are playing together. A lot of the children seemed sleepy today – or heavily medicated. Did lots of playing catch sitting down. They were all in need of lots of hugs.

It feels good to be here now. I’m going to miss the children when I go as I’m getting used to them and they to me. I know how to interact - who will need help with the crafts and who enjoys working independently. Which children like to be left alone and which to chat and play with. Which ones enjoy playing with me outside and which just like to sit in the sun and watch. All of them need lots of hugs.

Back for lunch – chicken and potato or fish and rice. In the afternoon we (all the volunteers) had a talk on Russian fairytales organised by the CCS staff in one of the downstairs offices. It was really nice, we were told some traditional stories and a bit about the morals behind them. I had studied fairytales as part of my English degree, and it brought back things I thought I’d forgotten! Lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Went to town later on and paid a visit to the internet café (60 roubles for 1 hour). We (me, B and J) then went out for dinner to a restaurant recommended to us by the other volunteers. The food was very nice, though it really is almost impossible to be a vegetarian here! I had chicken kiev, chips and salad. There was also live music - Two women with guitars, bells and a harmonica playing traditional Russian music. Quite an experience! :D

Got back quite late and went to the office to help prepare the craft for tomorrow. Found that R had prepared all the rabbits, so myself and J did some flowers as well.

Went to bed and slept really well – nice and warm!

Day six

 Decorating the hospital walls.

Didn’t want to get up today. Not feeling too well and as a couple of the volunteers have been sick I felt a bit worried. Skipped breakfast and made a decision on whether to go to the hospital or not. Really didn’t want to be ill there! Decided to go as I thought it might take my mind off it.

After all that I had a really good morning at the hospital. Love that the children call me by my name now. Made the flowers and rabbits we had prepared, went well and I stuck them up on the wall. Usually A does it but he had swapped placements with B today so wasn’t with us. We all missed him (volunteers and children), as he’s the best Russian speaker and great with the kids. I had to stick them high up as some of the children had been ripping the low down pictures off the wall when they got cross. So we now have flying rabbits and flowers! Went outside and played ‘pioneer ball’ – which is a variation of volley ball. I couldn’t follow the rules, but apparently we won! I had some competitive players on my team!

Felt better on way back to hotel, but after lunch I felt worse and went to bed for the afternoon. I was hoping to go on another placement to the children’s after-school club but slept for three hours instead!

 A street near the home-base.

Woke up about an hour before dinner feeling much better. Can’t remember what we had for supper but I ate some. Do remember that we had ice-cream for pudding! Yum.

We went to the office straight after dinner and designed the squirrels and snails for the hospital craft tomorrow. Sat in the craft room with the other volunteers for a while.

Back to our rooms, sat writing random thoughts in my journal.
- The grass here is brown, not green. Covered in dust - so much pollution.
- The kids at the hospital have nothing really except what we bring. How sad it is when we have to pack it all up and take it away when we leave. Some of them take stuff (scraps from the craft, a toy car, some jigsaw pieces) which is always punished, but they just want something to call their own.
- We’re doing something that no one else does. If we didn’t go into the hospital these children wouldn’t do crafts or go outside. They wouldn’t have hugs. It’s been very hard for CCS to get into these places and so we have to tread very carefully and stick to the rules. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s better than not going at all.

I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day. Being here has made me appreciate what I have. How luck plays a huge part of your life. How fortunate or unfortunate we are to be born into the countries we are.
I wonder what will happen to these kids. What they will grow up to be. 

Day seven

Woke up very early. Wanted to make the most of my last full day here. Went out with J and B to get a coffee – first morning I’ve got up and gone out with them!

I took some pictures from my bedroom window; this is Yaroslavl at 6.30am!

Very cold walking through the streets at this time!

Back to the hotel and then off to the Children’s Hospital. We arrive to be told that it’s wash day! Hurray! Actually we could tell as there were sheets on the washing line for the first time that week! The downside is they won’t let us take the children out to play so we have to stay in the ‘school’ room with them the whole time. They’re about as happy as us with this arrangement.

The kids are queuing up to take their turn in the bath – the queues are long and I’m sure that the water isn’t emptied between each child. I feel sorry for the ones at the back. I also don’t get to see all the children to say goodbye. Lyuba isn’t around, but I see Shosha and Svetlana.

Here they are all clean(ish) from the bath. They had clean clothes on, but I noticed some of the children had been put back into their dirty clothes. Perhaps there aren’t enough clean ones to go round.

We make squirrels and snails to finish off our wall picture. It looks really good.

Some of the boys are really into the craft today and make several snails each! I played lots of card games and also did lots of colouring with various children. I spent a while with a little boy. I wrote my name (in Russian) on a piece of paper and he was watching – as I was decorating it he spelt out my name. I asked him his name and got him to write it on the reverse side and then we decorated it together. I noticed that he took it after we had finished and ran off somewhere with it. It was nice – one of those moments where I felt like I made a small but personal connection with one of the children.

Me with some of the girls.

It felt sad to leave. Sad because I won’t see these children again.


Friday lunchtime is spent in the CCS offices having pizza and a feedback session. This is followed by a session deciding on what activities to do the following week at each placement. All the volunteers and CCS staff members attend. There were 6 of us leaving this weekend which brings them down to 6 volunteers – that makes it a lot harder to visit all the places. Most days they are doing two visits a day. Wish I could stay and help! We have all filled in our evaluation forms and Nadia speaks to us all individually about the programme and our placements and experiences. As there are 6 of us this takes quite a while! I thank Nadia and tell her I’ve had a wonderful time. There is not one thing I would change about my time here. Nadia then reads out some interesting things that have been going on in local and world news, and discusses weekend plans (sometimes volunteers go off travelling) . Everyone is staying in Yaroslavl this weekend. 

Off to the craft room to come up with ideas for next week. Say goodbye to Nadia – I won’t see her tomorrow. Come up with lots of Easter and spring based ideas. Make a spring flower sample out of lolly-sticks!

 One of the many 'shops' where you ask for your goods through a window. 
We mostly bought bottled water! Notice the car parked nearby. So many cars we saw were very dirty, probably due to the dusty roads.. I was surprised anyone could see out.

Pop over to the supermarket (opposite hotel) to buy some snacks for P and A’s party tonight. They are having a going away/silly glasses party for the volunteers that are leaving. We all have to design and make our own pair of silly glasses or there's no entry! Luckily we have lots of spare pipe cleaners to work with!

Skip dinner at the hotel as P and A are ordering pizza (yes, more of it...!). Walk up to their room wearing my glasses, and Russian man standing by lift gives me a very strange look.  Have a very nice night with the other volunteers, plus 2 of the interpreters come. Pass on the vodka, but make a great discovery - choco-pies! Play some silly games and generally chat to the others. Exchange email address. Say goodbye to everyone at about 10.30 ish as I have to be ready to leave by 5.30am! I’ve booked a late return flight, but some of the others have much earlier flights which is why we have to leave the hotel at such an awful time!

One of the interpreters says some lovely things to me about how much I’ve accomplished in such a short time. Was very sweet of her. Feels very sad to leave people that I’ve only known for a week - feels like much longer!

Back to my room – didn’t have much left to pack but finish that off. In to bed for my last night in Yaroslavl and of course I can’t sleep! Finally drift off about midnight.

Last day - Home Again

The now familiar early morning view from my window.

Was up and ready to leave by 5.30am! Meet one of the interpreters downstairs. All pile into the van. Leave Yaroslavl as I arrived – in the dark! So tired I fall asleep after about 30 mins. When I wake up it’s 7ish and the world is much lighter. Stop for breakfast after about another hour. I have pancakes with honey. Lovely.

Back into the bus and I fall asleep again as do the other volunteers. Wake up on and off. The traffic going into Moscow is terrible. We have to drop J and B off at SVO and then me and V off at DME. The airports are about an hour away from each other.

We arrive at SVO with not much time to spare. J and B rush off. Me and V fall asleep again on the way to DME. Finally arrive about 1ish. Have to wait 4 hours until my flight. V’s flight isn’t until much later. Say a quick goodbye to our interpreter and then spend 20 mins trying to find the BA check in. Fail and decide on going to the toilets and having a sit down before trying again. Chat to V until it’s time for my check in. Finally locate BA and return to V to collect my rucksack and say goodbye.

Flight isn’t the best – but I survive. Spend 45 mins at Heathrow waiting for my baggage. Finally get it and get out! P and kids waiting for me. Good to see them.

Home again.