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Monday, December 26, 2011

Next holiday destination: Ukraine

 Lonely Planet
Hohohooo. Not Santa Claus but me in good cooperation with my husband/babysitter and my good old friend/travel partner made it happen: today I booked my next holiday.

Destination: Ukraine.

Travel partner: good old friend with whom I used to do lots of citytrips until we both got kids. Luckily last summer we found each other back in our travel yearning and we headed off for Bilbao. It tasted like more...

The travel programme: limited in time as the kids will be missing us (we think/hope/fear), we will cover Kiev and Crimea in 4 days/4 nights. Good preparation will be everything, so I am already the proud owner of the Lonely Planet Ukraine. It is a little pleasure of mine - especially during grey, boring days - to leaf through travel guides and dream of what is yet to come :-)

Anyway, next to the vacation with my family of course, this is something in 2012 I am really looking forward to! And yes, of course, I hope to speak some Russian there. I know it is not the first language of the country but I hope there will still be many opportunities to speak it. I will soon find out!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Russian food

Yesterday evening we had Christmas party with our Russian class. It was an everyone-brings-some-food-or-drinks party and devoted as we are, we all did our best to bring something 'Russian'. Luckily for me - being everything but a cook - the prefab blinis (little pancakes) have found their way to our mainstream supermarkets. Just as wodka of course. And although the champagne, fish and seafood we brought were most likely not really from Russia, they gave our buffet a Russian touch.

For those interested in Russian food, I can highly recommend the book Culinaria Russia. It is full of interesting information about Russian food and drinks: history, habits, regional specialities, recipes, it is all in the book. So if you always wanted to know what exactly борщ (borscht), квас (kvas) or пельмени (pelmeni) are, then don't hesitate and put this book on your Christmas wish list.

In the meantime, let me whet your appetite by showing these pictures of some закуски (zakuski) and блины (blinis)!
Culinaria Russia

Friday, December 9, 2011

Noteer alvast in uw 2012 agenda: 'Rusland voor beginners', op Canvas

Het concept: 'In "Rusland voor beginners" verkennen 10 Vlamingen de Russische samenleving in al haar facetten. Ze worden geholpen door Lena De Winne, de van oorsprong Russische echtgenote van Frank De Winne.' (aldus

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

4 декабря: life at different levels

Dear readers,

As announced, on Sunday 4 December I became 40 years old. I invited a few friends for a breakfast and played Stratego with my kids in the afternoon. I had a very nice day.

That same day, Russians went to vote for a new Duma. I can advise you to read about it in the professional press: Western and Russian press, trying to get an objective view on it.

Two days later, in my little country Belgium, we finally manage to form a government. Negotiations went on for how many days? We voted on 13 June 2010, press helps us remember (one would almost forget) and we have a government on 6 December 2011. A year and a half, let's say, without government.

Dear readers, I leave it up to you to follow the press and, yes, to judge.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Turning 40, being greedy

Next Sunday will be a milestone in my humble life: I will turn 40!
I am not really panicking. My life is okay (perfect husband, kids, friends, work and house) and 'je ne regrette rien' (if I did stupid things, at least I learned from them). Yet, turning 40 makes me reflect a bit. Upon the past, upon the future. Every year, the first becomes a bigger, the latter a smaller part of my life.

And thinking about my life makes me conclude that I am greedy. If it were up to me, I would try all the chocolates in the box. They all look tempting. Well most of them, from a few I already know I don't like the taste (after all I am in life for 40 years now). But there still remain a lot to try.

And as a result, my resolution for my +40 part of life is to do as much fun and interesting things as possible in the coming years. Don't imagine a young lover, sports car and the like now. Being me, I am first of all thinking of (city)trips: on my own (to Russia) as well as with my little daughters (a bit more nearby to start). And of books, operas, films, courses, musea, gardens, restaurants,... Oh yes, I am greeeedddyyyy!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Busy busy busy

I have been absent here for too long. Life is full of interesting and beautiful things and I tend to get distracted :-)

But I haven't forgotten about Russian. I went to Russian class almost every week (good girl, I am!). We also had a conversation evening in our school, very nicely named (in Dutch): Taalmaatje, which means something like 'language buddy'. Очень интересно! My co-students and me met a nice Ukrainian lady and a nice bilingual Bulgarian lady, who both talked very patiently with us in Russian that evening.

And maybe you remember that last year I did a course of Davidsfonds - Universiteit Vrije Tijd on Russian history. Well, I liked it so much that I of course registered for the new course on Russian literature this year. Also taught in a very captivating manner, this time by Professor Waegemans, another Belgian authority in the field.

Inspired by the course, I started reading 'Dead souls' of Gogol, but I will have to put it aside for a few days now because we have a Russian test next week - just a matter of priorities :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'Back in the USSR': meer van dat!

Hé, de documentairereeks Back in the USSR zit er al op. Slechts vier afleveringen. Maar dan wel vier goeie. Geen gezwets en samen haring eten en vodka drinken, maar duidende, vrij objectieve journalistiek waar een mens nog wat van opsteekt.
En Canvas heeft al een opvolger geprogrammeerd: 'Last days of the USSR', documentaire van Jean-Charles Deniau en Sergey Kostin. Ben benieuwd.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Memory loss

Now that we focus on conversation in our Russian class, it becomes really obvious how much one forgets. Basic sentences we learned in our first year Russian seem to be forgotten. It is embarrassing.

I must admit that I am worried about my memory loss. Most women turning 40 (my case in a few  months) mainly worry about the loss of their 'looks'. Of course I am not completely insensitive to my physical ageing either, but even more I worry about a possible loss of memory.

Why is it more difficult to remember Russian words at my age than it would have been when I was 15? Is it correct to think that it is more difficult now, by the way. And if yes, what's the reason? Is it just age? Do you lose brain cells or do they die? Or is it just that more capacity of your brain has been used, the memory disk is almost full and your brain becomes more selective?

Being a hands-on person, I am not going to try to give you an answer to the why-questions above, but you can expect references to information on memory techniques from me. I already like to refer to the book S.O.S. Taal from Bernard & Lisa Lernout (in Dutch, I don't think it has been translated).

More tips and info on memory techniques will follow... if I don't forget :-)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nieuwe reeks op Canvas: Back in the USSR

Vanaf morgen een - hopelijk verrijkende - nieuwe reeks, op Canvas: Back in the USSR
Met Stefan Blommaert en Jan Balliauw, toch alvast twee mogelijke kwaliteitsgaranties.
Zeker uit te proberen, zou ik zeggen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Too much food for the brain

So we took a good start with our Russian class. We have a new teacher this year which corresponds to a new style. She is a native speaker and we will talk talk talk this year. That's good. I think we are all ready for it. We have seen most of the basic grammar and vocabulary the previous years; the foundations have been laid and we can now start putting the acquired knowledge into practice.

There is a little nostalgia sometimes. Our previous teacher is teaching the first year Russian on the same evening in the classroom next to ours. So we peep into the classroom during the перерыв and remember the days where we were now learning the cyrillic alphabet. We started the first lessons with about 25 students. Only 9 of us persevered. Well done, classmates :-)

In the meantime, I am wondering whether I should quickly start learning some Spanish as I will be going to Bilbao next weekend. I think I will drop the idea. First of all, Bilbao is located in the Basque part of Spain and many people speak Euskera there, not Spanish. Next to that, I am in the middle of a lot of training at work: project management, activity based management and that sort of topics; quite different I know but there is a limit to how much new information someone can absorb. Can food for the brain also be overdone? Is there something as a Brain Mass Index?

Anyway, I decided that this weekend at least I will give my brains a little rest and instead will shamelessly 'hang out' with my little daughters - read: dress up as a princess or a witch (the latter being mostly my role), paint your face in all colours, watch 'Oggy and the cockroaches', 'Looney tunes' and other sorts of other crappy tv entertainment (and laugh like crazy), jump on the trampoline, colour Top model and Disney drawings,...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

First schoolday

Classes started again last week, on 1 September to be precise. My daughters had an excellent first schoolday, happy to see all their friends again. And mummy had the same experience in the evening :-)

Yes, we had our first Russian lesson last week. I wasn't really looking forward to it. One reason was that I had finished the German course only a few days before. I had really enjoyed the course but it was also very intensive and I felt as if I could use a break. But no no, I was going to jump from one language into another.

Another reason why I was reluctant to go, was that I had started wondering why I was putting all this time and effort in a language that I - let's be honest - still do not speak after 4 years of evening school and that I do not need in my life at all, not for private reasons, not for professional reasons.

But I went to that first lesson after all and hey, almost all classmates of last year were there and it was good to see each other again. And by the end of the lesson, I had this feeling of 'come on, I will go for it another year'. But I have a goal! I must open my mouth this year. I am one of these people who are reluctant to speak a language as long as they can make an utter fool of themselves.

So, be my witness: I will have conversations, I will communicate in Russian by the end of the year! Otherwise I quit.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Russian is not an EU language

Russian is worthwile studying because it is one of the 23 official EU languages, I read yesterday on one of these language school websites. Well, that is definitely not true.
TRUE: Russian is worthwile studying.
TRUE: there are currently 23 official European Union (EU) languages.
BUT: Russian is not one of these 23.

If you are now curious which languages are among the lucky 23, you can find them on

For those wondering: the languages mainly used internally by the EU institutions are English, French and German. So it is not the case that all internal documents are written in 23 languages.
But everything that is law or concerns the EU citizens directly, is translated in all 23 official languages. That is the language policy roughly explained. And I consider it fair, despite all the resources needed for this, because you should be able to find out about your rights and obligations in your own language. Not every citizen masters a second language.

On the webpages of the European Commission, you can find more details and the piece of legislation on which this language policy is based. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Show me the beauty!

While I was adding a book to my I can recommend page yesterday, I wondered why certain books or dvd's did not make it to my shortlist. I had a quick look at the unfortunate ones and concluded that a lot of them have in common that they focus on the dark side of Russia.

It is my impression that it is in - especially among (mostly male) correspondents, journalists, photographers - to show anything but the beauty of Russia.

I am certainly not going to plead that we should ignore the problems there are in Russia (as well as we shouldn't ignore the problems in any other country). I understand people do freeze or drink themselves to death, there is prostitution, maffia, a huge gap between the poor and the rich.

But showing only the poverty and misery doesn't give a correct image either. It leads to situations where people wonder why on earth I am interested in Russia as it is such a grey, cold, poor country. And isn't that a missed opportunity?

On the same square...


Friday, August 19, 2011

Deutsch Deutsch Deutsch - piece of cake
If this were Twitter, I wouldn't have the feeling I had to add anything to the title (and could go to bed now).
But this is a blog, so a few words...

I'm completely immersed in German. Hausaufgaben jeden Abend... I have been preparing my second oral presentation tonight. Next week we also have our final exam already.

There are definitely pro's about this concentrated way of learning a language (every morning for three weeks). My level is improving at lightning speed. I already watched a few good movies in German last week and I started reading a detective in German yesterday, all very doable.

Of course, it helps that German is so similar to my Dutch and it turns out that once you have learned a language before (I learnt German during secondary school), you don't forget it - you just have to find it back in your memory somewhere and then upgrade it.

When I think about how I struggle with Russian sometimes, this German course is like a piece of cake. It gives my selfconfidence a boost :-)

(Maybe I shouldn't say this before I have succeeded in the exam... the bear and the skin, you know... which makes me decide to go to bed now so that I can study tomorrow morning... so: Gute Nacht!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hip hip... 1st anniversary of 'The pleasure and pain of studying Russian'

One year ago, on 9 August 2010, I bravely posted my first little text on my brand new blog.

The goal then was to narrate about my 4th year Russian in evening school and whether I would make it, once more, also for that fourth year. I succeeded :-)

Mission accomplished. Will I archive/delete this blog?

 Nooooo.... In the meantime, I got the hang of writing for my own little blog. I enjoy it too much to stop.

The topic of this blog also broadened. We went to Saint Petersburg with our class for instance, which led to some extra posts. I also added these extra pages with links to related websites and with books, films, documentaries I enjoyed.

Last year, I also discovered some other interesting forums and blogs on the web. You find them under My blog list or on my page Also on the www. I am sure these lists will only grow in the future. Just as the whole process of learning a language is one of GROWTH!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Competition is tough, dear Russian

I had the intention to do some self-study Russian during my vacation. I have interesting material: another coursebook than the one we use (to compare), a course on CD (to improve my speaking skills), Russian easy reader books (to finally start reading a complete book in Russian; I would be utterly proud). But none of these plans materialised. Competition is tough. There was the Santa Montefiori novel during my holiday. And I did some other reading and dvd watching as well. You find the books and dvd's I enjoyed on my page I can recommend.... I am currently reading The Master and Margarita of Mikhail Bulgakov, very intriguing. And July is only about 4 weeks after all...
I love scanning covers...

My plans won't materialise in August either. Do you remember my flirting with the other language in February, when I prepared for the placement test of a German course? Well, the real cheating will start as of next Monday. For three weeks, I will have German classes every morning and the course ends with a test so I will really have to focus on German the coming weeks. Wish me good luck... (although, now that I am learning a language with 6 cases, I surely can handle one with only 4, right?)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Graphic designers: don't mirror the R!

True, the Я gives you the idea that you are reading Russian.
It is a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.
It even is a Russian word, meaning 'I'.

Я люблю тебя.
I love you.

BUT you pronounce it as 'ya'.

Wild Yaussia.
Doesn't make sense, does it?

The version I have at home.
It is perfectly clear that it is about Russia.
No need to try to emphasise this
by - wrongly - using the Я.

If you really want to replace the R by the Russian equivalent, it becomes:
Wild Pussia
which is probably not what you had in mind either.

Suggestion: find a catchy title and stick to that!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My life well planned

Back from a kids vacation with lots of swimming, pony riding, boat driving, playground hanging. I took some Russian stuff with me but ended reading a Santa Montefiori novel, the perfect holiday read. It was also time for some reflection on life: imagine an evening of staring at the lake when the kids are finally asleep and you have no cleaning to do because that's included in the price of the little house you rented and you have no laundry to do because there is no washing machine so the only thing you can do is - finally - relax, an 'activity' you are not used to at all.

It is about a year ago that I started with this blog. How did it start? During a lunch break one of my colleagues said: 'Do you know that you can create a blog in 5 minutes?' That same day this blog 'The pleasure and pain of studying Russian' was born. If all my decisions were made so quickly... But it turned out to be 'my thing'; one year later I can say that I have found my rhythm and my style with this blog. Although I admit that I often stretch the topic of studying Russian to learning about the Russian culture.

And how did I start with the studying of Russian?
I was pregnant of my second daughter. After our first daughter was born, my husband and me decided to take each a 'kids free' evening per week. So I used that evening to go to the gym, as you are supposed to do when your body has been stretched in all directions by a pregnancy. And of course, I didn't like it because I have never been into sports.
So when I was pregnant the second time, I decided to do something I liked during my precious me-time. I don't remember the whole thinking process that led to studying Russian. I remember that I went back to my time as a student (I chose languages and literature) and once I had decided to study a language again, I did some reading about languages in general and narrowed the choice down to one of the official languages of the United Nations (don't ask me why). Knowing already English and French, it had to be Spanish, Arabic, Russian or Chinese. Some further reading and I made my choice: I would go for Russian, which seemed a good compromise between a little exotic and not awfully difficult.

I never questioned the method I would use. It was clear to me I would follow lessons in a school. It suits my personality: it is structured, measureable, and it has a social aspect. It is a mystery to me how people can learn a language in self-study: especially for a difficult language such as Russian, I need the peer pressure and the set time schedule to keep going.
I also would never learn a language without learning to write it, especially not a language that uses another alphabet. Although you seem to come to quick results with these learning systems that transliterate into the Latin alphabet, the day you go to Russia you will be able to chat with the natives but you won't be able to read the menu in a restaurant, the directions in the metro, the bills they present you. And to me a decent study of a language also includes the analysis of the grammar; otherwise your level will never be lifted above the 'learn Russian in x weeks' level.
But hey, this is only my view. And of course, I admire people who pick up a language just by hearing it. Actually, I get more and more convinced that you should do both in parallel. The perfect recipe: a stay in Russia - you get courses in the morning, discover the country in the afternoon and stay with a Russian family in the evening. One day, when my lovely daughters are older...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Studying Russian and having kids

Having an interest in another culture and having kids, to what degree can you reconcile that? Am I (de)forming my kids? And on the other side, is it possible to learn about another culture when having little kids?

My daughters play with Russian dolls since I'm back from Saint Petersburg - yet not more than with Playmobil and Barbie and Polly Pocket. And thanks to Dora the Explorer (Даша-следопыт), they already knew there is more 'out there'.

They know the plot of Anastasia by heart - yet for them she is just another princess and as it is a widely distributed movie I guess they are far from the only ones who have seen the movie about a hundred times.

They are used to a mother who 'goes to school' on Thursday evening and who disappears upstairs now and then, to study Russian - and other mothers go to fitness or ceramics class or the choir or whatever.

They had to miss me for a few days when I went to Saint Petersburg. They clearly survived that.

And hey, I don't dress them in Russian folklore costumes or I don't make them listen to Russian music all day long, I don't even play the balalaika for them :-)

From my side, learning Russian and learning about the Russian culture will have to be done mainly 'behind the desk', I'm afraid. I am happy with my books, documentaries, little trips to Amsterdam and slightly longer trip to Saint Petersburg. But I am also looking forward to the day my kids will be old enough so that I can do the Trans Siberian Express or the Wolga Cruise or whatever, to learn more IRL about that rich, vast country the size of a continent, and to finally immerse myself in the Russian language.

In the meantime, let's print another colour drawing of 'ugly Rasputin' and 'Anastasia with her nice dress'...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hermitage Amsterdam

Last weekend, I went to my beloved Hermitage in Amsterdam. The current exhibition is on Art of the Russian Orthodox Church. Though not so much into religion (I just have seen too much catholicism in my youth, I'm afraid), I realised you cannot want to learn about the Russian culture and ignore their religion. So, off I went.

I am not going to tell you all about the orthodox religion here for three good reasons: I am not an expert, we already have wikipedia, and you should go to the exhibition of course :-) But I want to share that I was struck by the way the church has been used during history. Not unique for Russia of course, but still. If you go to the exhibition, watch the short video they show on the history of the church and you will find out how, already in the 20th century alone, one day you could be welcomed with open arms for your religion and the other day you had to attend masses secretively; one day there were cathedrals, churches and monasteries in all their 'splendour and glory' and the other day they were burnt down again. This as a teaser to make you go to the current exhibition...

Concerning the upcoming exhibitions: Hermitage Amsterdam can welcome me again in about a year, for the Siberia exhibition. I will skip the next one on Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, my compatriots; although of course everyone unfamiliar with them should go and find out about these fabulous Flemish painters (as of 17 September, for all info:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum
Let's do something else, I thought, it doesn't always have to be Russian and Russia. So I went to the Tutankhamun exhibition here in Brussels. Does the exhibition start with the Rosetta stone. Well, a replica of the Rosetta stone actually because the whole exhibition was made up of replicas but they compensate this by bringing it all very gripping so the exhibition is definitely worth a visit. But for the original Rosetta stone you will have to go to the British Museum in London.

Anyway, thanks to the Rosetta stone, only found in 1799, they finally managed to decipher the hieroglyphs. Because the same text was inscribed three times on this stone: in hieroglyphs, in the demotic or Egyptian script and in the Ancient Greek script. The latter was still known in 1799 and so they managed to 'crack the code'. Fascinating, isn't it?
Hieroglyphic alphabet decoder

So, with the hieroglyphic alphabet decoder (another hebbeding), you can manage to read f.i. the names Cleopatra and Ptolemy. An eagle stands for an A, a lion for an L, etc.

And isn't this what we do when we study Russian? Transposing the Cyrillic alphabet to our Latin one: a 'p' is an 'r', an 'н' reads as an 'n'. That's what I love most about Russian, the deciphering. Back to where we started...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Russian children's books - Моя первая книга о ...

Among my trophies from Saint Petersburg is a children's book Моя первая книга о России.
Russian children's book
bought in Belgium

I had already bought a few children's books in a Russian shop here in Belgium. They had this most adorable, slightly outdated look. Somehow I thought the supermarket was just offering its stock from the '60s. Reminding me of the Tiny books I devoured as a kid.
Note 1: Tiny, aka Martine in French, Debbie in English;
Note 2: I was NOT born in the '60s, I repeat: NOT born in the '60s; it's just that the series went on for ages, even my daughters are reading Tiny now.

Tiny helps mother (1963)

But no no, the style is still 'in'. Proof is my newly acquainted book. Printed in 2011.

I bought it in the Prisma supermarket right next to our hotel in Saint Petersburg. For 158p 40коп! If I want to piss off my classmates, I can just take this book and show off :-) The only thing I regret myself is that I did not buy more of these books. Because Моя первая книга ... is a series, so you have it also on dinosaurs, history, art, animals, the cosmos,...

Моя первая книга ... is what we call in Dutch a 'hebbeding' (meaning: thing to have, which is exactly what it has to express - 'I WANT THIS!' and on top of that, it sounds very cute, which is rare for Dutch words). Admire and enjoy!

Моя первая книга о России
Inner page of Моя первая книга о России

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saint Petersburg - the do's and don'ts

- go to Saint Petersburg: this city is a pearl!
- leave the center of Saint Petersburg and go to Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo,...
- go during the White Nights (although Saint Petersburg during winter has probably also its charms)
- make a boat trip in the evening
- try Russian food
- go to a ballet
- go to the Russian museum, not only to the Hermitage (Russian museum = Russian art)
- go to Cafe Singer if you love books

- underestimate the distances; Saint Petersburg is a city of almost 5 million inhabitants (compared to 11 million inhabitants in my country (!) Belgium)
- go to Peterhof on 12 June, Russia day
- think the customs and passport control people will make sure you get back the correct forms
- shout at the customs and passport control people
- leave your keys in your suitcase in case your suitcase doesn't arrive
- think your tickets for the ballet will be delivered in your hotel in time even if you ordered a month in advance

The test and the teacher
I've just done my written test. It wasn't perfect, but it will do. I didn't study enough, that's for sure. But it is also about priorities and it is good enough as it is. Next week, we will have the oral test. And the week after, the traditional end-of-schoolyear dinner. It will also be a bit of a farewell dinner for our teacher, who shared our concerns and silly jokes for the last four years with a lot of patience and laughter. Thank you, dear teacher, if you read this :-)

We are all a bit worried about next year, as we will have a native speaker as a teacher then. But she joined us to Saint Petersburg and she speaks Dutch as well so if the worst comes to the worst, she can translate. Although, I remember from the years where I studied for my teacher certificate (about 20 years ago, aargh, time goes quick), that you should teach without translating - yeah right! I never became a teacher by the way and maybe views have changed over those past 20 years.

Anyway, now that my test is over, I feel relax. Time for a good glass of wine and to put my feet up and hang in the sofa....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saint Petersburg - the highlights

The colour code

Green = Hermitage

Yellow = Russian museum

Blue = Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin)

Up in the sky

Church of the Savior on Blood

Peter and Paul Fortress


Peterhof on Russia day (12 June)

Where do I know you from?
(should do a photography course...)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saint Petersburg here I come... or not?

Illness is in the house. With this domino effect, probably known to most parents: daughter 1... tok... daughter 2... tok... mummy (= me, more or less better by now)... Let's hope daddy will stay in good health as he is supposed to take care of the daughters the coming days.

Taken this into account, the current objective is: leave my motherly guilt feelings behind tomorrow morning on Brussels airport, not my luggage! (*)

(*) For those not living in Belgium: this country is not only known for its chocolates, but also for its strikes - specialty: public transport - right at this moment, the company taking care of the luggage handling on Brussels airport is on strike.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My daughters' wishlist

Next week, I will be in Saint Petersburg already. Time to read a bit in travel guides. Time also to explain to my daughters that I will be away for a few days. The oldest (5 years old) understands. We leaf through the travel guide together and she declares the colored onions of the Church of the Savior on Blood beautiful. She is also intrigued by the fountains of Peterhof. The youngest (3 years old) is still unaware but she agrees with her sister on the wishlist: matryoshka dolls in all sorts of colours and at least one of these typical Russian dolls. I'll take an extra bag with me...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Russian Club - Русский клуб

Last week was interesting.

I discovered recently there exists this 'Russian club' in my workplace (I already mentioned I work in this big international organisation). Everyone of our organisation who speaks Russian - or tries to speak it, ahem - is welcome to join the Russian club to have lunch together, every Thursday in our canteen. So I decided to go for it and have my first real conversation in Russian. Without exaggerating: I was empty and exhausted afterwards. But it was a good exercise. Just what I needed.

Another good thing about this Russian club is that they forward you information on activities in Russian or related to Russia. For instance, they organise a trip to the Hermitage Amsterdam soon (one of my favourite musea).

And on that same Thursday, in the evening, we had this visit of one of the last surviving relatives of Pushkin and his wife in our school. Everyone interested was welcome. Again an encounter with kindred spirits...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To memorise or not to memorise

There is this issue of whether memorising is an effective way of studying a language or not.

Our teacher tends to ask us sometimes to memorise parts of texts. Leading to us students mumbling Russian phrases in the car, the metro, the living room, the garden - eyes focused on a blank spot in the distance, a bit out of breath, saying 'nananaaaa' when the words escape us, glancing at our paper and then raising our voices again for the next pair of sentences...

It feels a bit childish at least; back to the days where you had to learn your new year's letter, ready for this little pat on the back and the 'bravo!' of parents and grandparents. (Which is what we do: we applaud for each other when we make it to the last sentence of the text in class, with a little irony in our claps maybe but still we do it!)

It's discouraging as well, especially when the texts are long. There is this other childish feeling: I will never be able to remember this whole text! OK, there we found a solution: a paragraph a day... Some of our class even make drawings to remember the order of the events.

And is it also useful? I think it is. Depending on the texts of course. It should be common phrases, used daily. Phrases that are supposed to stay in your memory like annoying tunes. How wonderful then that I still remember the sentences: "Скоро я дошёл до места. Я подошёл к дому, постучал в двер и услышал знакомый голос: "Войдите!" Я вошёл в дом. "Как хорошо, что ты пришёл", - сказал мой друг."
(...verbs of movement indeed...)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saint Petersburg: the countdown

Wow, long time not been here. There's more excuses than another language apparently. Such as (very valid) having two kids who expect birthday parties and need summer clothes, (also valid) a job with deadlines and a boss with quality expectations.

Anyway, I kept up with my Russian - managed to do the interimary tests and we are heading towards the end of the schoolyear, already. Wasn't it the goal of this blog? To see how I should make it through this schoolyear? It's too early to say that I made it to the end (one more final exam to do) but it looks like I'll get there.

I am proud to see what level of texts we can already read. The times of rehearsing our first sentences such as 'меня зовут Сабин' and 'это карандаш' are long behind us. We read texts about Saint Petersburg and Moscow, about Siberia, culturally, economically, ecologically. If I buy a newspaper or a magazine, I am able to decipher more than the date now; I can grab the topic and the main ideas of the articles. Proud proud proud :-)

Less proud I am of the fact that I am still not able to really speak it. But hey, soon we will have the opportunity to practise. Because yes, it finally materialised - we are going to Saint Petersburg! The teacher managed to make a group of 20 students (out of different Russian classes) and it is booked now. Mid June, we will be in Saint Petersburg, enjoying the White Nights. The programme of the trip looks promising: a city tour and a visit to the Hermitage (of course), but also Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo. The countdown can start!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The other language

Dear Russian,

I admit. I wasn't there for you for a while. I even have been flirting with another language: German is her name. Let me explain.
I'm working in an international environment and German is the third working language (after English and French). Therefore, I will do a summer course German at work in August. Last week, I had a placement test and yes, I prepared myself quite thoroughly for it: went through the whole grammar and some vocabulary. With good result: they put me in level 6 (the highest level): yihaa. Call me result-oriented. Anyway, if all goes well this summer, German will be covered in my internal curriculum at work.
In the meantime, now that the placement test is behind me, I'm all yours again.

Your beloved

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Studying Russian in 2011

So, what is going to happen in 2011? I wil become 40 - hm. And I will treat myself on a trip to Saint Petersburg!!!
I am completely thrilled. With two little kids, I haven't seen many cities the last few years. Well, I made it to Krakow and London when I had only one daughter. But after the second, more mummy-oriented, daughter had entered our lives, my husband was less eager to take care of them both for a whole long weekend. Luckily, the Hermitage Amsterdam (from Belgium, good for a one-day trip) was there to comfort me a little. But now that they will become 5 and 3 years old, it is time to spread my wings again :-) So I had been looking for flights and hotels already, when suddenly the idea of going to Saint Petersburg was also raised during our Russian course. Our teacher took initiative and we have now an offer in our hands for a full trip, all in, for a group of 20 people. Fingers crossed we find enough participants and then, off we go...!!!