Diary Entry #4 - learning never stops

The academic year has well and truly begun. The streets are now teeming with students and I think it is high time I became a student again and 'kick-started' my Russian. Start to practice what I preach a little bit more!

After studying French at school, I, like so many of my fellow countryman, wasn't interested in learning another language. One is enough was the mantra! But for some reason, over 8 years ago I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. Well actually, earlier that year I had went abroad for the first time in over 10 years and unsurprisingly it was to Spain. 

I thought it would be pretty easy. Spend 30-40mins a day with my Rossetta Stone CD-rom, learn a few thousands words and then voila new language at my disposal. I worked my way through the different levels of their program and I felt like I knew quite a lot. My accent was terrible of course, but I could recognise different sounds and I could quickly tell you the Spanish for "cat", "gentleman", "hat", "open". "close" etc.

So now it was time to buy a one-way ticket to Spain. I literally did - from Luton or Stansded to Santander. But before I left I felt it was prudent to have a few conversational classes. I found a wonderful native Spanish teacher living in Birmingham and had 5 classes. 

I remember getting to my hotel in Santander and completed the formalities with the receptionist with relative ease. But, that was pretty much the only success I had on my whole journey! I could answer all the questions in the app but couldn't express any idea myself and had very little idea of what was being said to me. Back to the drawing board. Or rather, put learning Spanish on the back burner and focus my attention on something else.

However, fast-forward 6 years and my enrolment in a Russian course for foreigners at the Minsk State Linguistic University. Out of the frying pan and into the fire! New alphabet, some hardcore grammar (there can be 24 different words just for one adjective) and some crazy sounds. 'Hard' is not an adjective that does it justice. 

But now I've become an English teacher I feel much better equipped to make good progress. I also know that learning a language is not bloody easy. It's a long road and my expectations are much lower than 9 years ago. I'm looking forward to my weekly Saturday classes and finding YouTube videos in Russian and Instagram accounts to troll.

I'll report back my progress in July.

Diary Entry #3

Sunday morning is always a good time to get political. There's usually programs such as The Andrew Marr Show and The Sunday Politics. The newspapers too are three or four times as big; it used to take me ages to complete my paper round* on a Sunday!

Over the past week I read a couple of articles that got me thinking about 'Western' media coverage. Vice.com ran an article called "A Visit to Europe's Last Dictatorship", a well written but superficial account of Minsk. I think the author (Dave Hazzan) must have written it when he was hungover. Or, as other have pointed out maybe he wrote something he knew the editors would like. Or maybe, people go and find what they want to find. 

Dave writes, "Like most dictators, Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko isn't keen on lots of foreign visitors."  As a Canadian, he could look a lot closer to home to find someone (or some people) that doesn't like a lot of foreign visitors.

After visiting the War Museum he says "Sure, it's propaganda—the Baltic republics were invaded and occupied, not "incorporated" into the USSR, as the explanation panels would have you believe. " I wonder what he would make of The History Museum in Riga. I suppose their version would be the absolute truth. It's all 'propaganda' if you want to use the 'p' word.

This reminded me of an extract in the current book I'm reading, Michel Houellebecq's Submission:

"When people get tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we'd witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a  strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm."

It's no surprise that both 34mag and BelarusFeed ran a parody article!

Diary entry #2

Is it just me or are there more buskers in the streets than ever before? The thought crossed my mind this afternoon when I was walking in the subway at Ploshad Pobedi. When I entered there were two dudes, one playing the violin and the other playing some sort of big drum thingy. It sounded quite good to be fair. Then, as I got to the other end there was a young man playing some crap on the electric guitar. He brought his amp with him to make sure everyone could hear.

I didn't give any money to them but that's not always the case. I mean, it is most of the time but not always. I used to work on Zybickaja Street (I've only spelt it like Zybickaja only because that's how it spelt on gmaps) and if I got into the habit of giving money I would definitely have no money left for my end of day Lidskoe Svetloe! And, in my experience, there a little bit more aggressive in their demands. They usually have an accomplish who waves some box or hat in your face even though you think the song is shit!play

When I first came to live in Minsk permanently it feels like there were only a handful of buskers including a guy playing a recorder that always used to make me feel like, momentarily, I walked into a dystopian nightmare, like joseph K in Kaftka's The Trial. But, now they're everywhere, bless 'em.

The last time I dipped my hand into my pocket was when I got off at Institut Kulturi and heard some nice strumming on an acoustic guitar and then in a strong, powerful voice "bolshaya goroda..." 

Why don't people say 'Roubles'?

I've noticed that language learners try to avoid saying amounts in their own currency, which my literal brain finds a little bit odd.

I was at a cafe earlier today and the barista quickly took the opportunity to practice her English (which is commendable). I only said "americano pazholsta". And then she wanted 3 pounds off me. I look confused. I'm sure I heard the 'd' sound for dollars before she settled for coins.

This is just one example of many. There's a god chance the foreigner has brought some of the local currency and probably would have researched the name of the currency too :)

I'm sure in Poland they don't have the same issue asking foreigners for Zloty, or maybe they do??


Diary Entry #1

I thought it would be a nice idea to write a little diary entry now and again and just write about anything that takes my fancy. It will mostly be all the irreverent stuff that happens to me here and it will be liberating for me to write it in such a way that is designed per se for learners of English but will be 100% natural.

Anyway, so today, for example, it wasn't my intention to get caught by controllers but I did (I suppose it's no-one's intention to get caught by controllers). As always, I left my flat in a bit of rush and quickly grabbed my things included some small change because I knew I had to buy a ticket for the bus.

The bus arrived as soon as I crossed the road directly opposite my building and as I got on the bus I started to count my small change and it turned out I had only 52 kopeks. 8 kopeks short of a ticket bought from the driver. Oh well, I thought and decided to sit down and check some things on my phone. Needless to say, two stops later the guys with navy blue waistcoats arrived and started to check everybody's tickets and travel cards. 

One of them approached me and said something. I showed him my travel card something like "it doesn't work. it must have ended yesterday" and then from my hand I showed my change including a couple of round pink tokens for the metro and said "I'm short of money". 

I had no idea how he was going to play he was in his mid-twenties. But, the controller guy counted the money said something i didn't understand and then gave me 3 kopeks and told me to buy a ticket. I was, of course very grateful, and offered a "zhiton" in return (metro ticket) he refused, I said thank you and walked down the bus to get off at the next stop to buy a ticket with my 55 kopeks (it costs slightly more if you buy a ticket from the driver). As a got out I heard the other controller in the middle of argument with a woman who had a young child with her.
I'm glad I got the younger guy and not the older one!
I also miss the good old days of 'conductors'.