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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: