alan little’s weblog archive for july 2007

frying tonight?

30th July 2007 permanent link

I have another batch of ebay lego on the way.

So if anybody knows anything about lego dissolving, or changing colour, or otherwise behaving wierdly in a mild bleach solution … well then I guess this would have been a good time for me to have comments on my blog.

not learning russian

30th July 2007 permanent link

Isho ras zdrastvuite, dear readers. Progress report on learning to speak Russian: almost nil.

Listening to BBC Talk Russian in the subway isn’t working. As far as I can see my options now are: wait until my mother-in-law arrives and see if I can make some pathetic attempts to talk to her – I have quite a bit of vocabulary, the problem is stringing it together into halfway comprehensible sentences. And if that doesn’t work, then I’m just going to have to go to nightschool before the Siberian Expedition.

I’m not being helped either by dictionaries that lie to me. I cooked Indian food (masala dosas) last night and we invited my wife’s friend. She wanted to know that one of the spices was. We told her cumin, in English, and kreuzkümmel in German, and she was none the wiser. Now I know cumin is heavily used in Central Asian cookery because I ate lots of it in a very good Uzbek restaurant in Moscow. My wife’s friend grew up in Kirghizstan, so she must know what it is. I suggest trying to look it up in a dictionary. But, says my wife, her big German-Russian dictionary isn’t really German-Russian, it’s East German-Soviet and exotic concepts like kreuzkümmel definitely don’t feature. In fact, she says, never trust a Soviet dictionary. (So why do we have an entire shelf full of them?)

Why don’t we try looking in this big English-Russian dictionary, I ask? Oh, says she, I didn’t know I had a big English-Russian dictionary. But she does, and voilà, cumin is in there translated as тмин (tmin). Never trust a foreign language dictionary without cross-checking. тмин looked up in Russian-German dictionary comes back not as kreuzkümmel (cumin) but as kümmel - caraway. Different thing entirely. The English-Russian dictionary also says тмин for caraway.

If you can’t trust a dictionary for a perfectly normal, everyday word like cumin, what hope do you have?

UPDATE: Saved. No language is complete these days without a good online dictionary. I couldn’t do the German email-writing part of my job without LEO. And I may have discovered the Russian equivalent – looks pretty good, assuming you can deal with cyrillic. I’m ok on that part at least, if not much else.

related entries: Language

on learning german

30th July 2007 permanent link

Since I now want to learn Russian, some thoughts on what I’ve learned about learning languages since I’ve lived in Germany.

fließend in wort und schrift

“Fluent in speech and writing” is the standard German phrase that you need to put in your CV if you’re a foreigner looking for a job in Germany. For job purposes I can claim it, and do, with a clear conscience. How fluent am I really?

I operate successfully in a job that’s mainly but not exclusively German-speaking, and have done for about five years. I spoke German at home too for a couple of years, although I don’t any more because my wife decided she needed to practice her English at home when she went back to work after our son was born.

I have some of the classic symptoms of fluency. I (usually) don’t have to think of things in English and then translate them. In honour of a new, non-German CEO my employer a couple of weeks ago switched the required language for project status reports from German to English. I had some difficulty remembering idiomatic English equivalents for German phrases in my own report from the week before.

I am not, and will never be, fully bilingual

I read very few books in German. I read books for relaxation, and reading German is still hard enough work that it isn’t relaxing. I didn’t even make it all the way through Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha which is (a) a famous literary classic (b) about something I’m very interested in and (c), short.

I have a foreign accent. It’s indistinct enough that it’s not always obviously English. Nobody would ever take me for a native speaker, but I sometimes get asked if I’m Dutch.

Most importantly, operating in German is still harder work. I distinctly remember my first long business meeting in German: I was so tired, I went home and was in bed by eight o’clock. It isn’t still like that – obviously, otherwise I would have given up and gone home years ago – but I still notice how suddenly pleasant and easy it is when I get to do a meeting in English now and again.

you’re not as young as you used to be (1)

One reason I took a contract in Germany eight years ago was that I thought I was “good at languages” at school, and so I also thought it would be interesting, and easy, to live abroad for a little while and really learn to speak a foreign language properly. Which I guess I did, but it was a lot harder work than I thought it would be.

What I was actually good at at school, because I trained myself for years to be good at it, was remembering lots of stuff and repeating it in order to pass exams. Only later and with considerable disappointment did I discover that this is not a particularly useful skill in real life. Stuff that I could memorise included lists of vocabulary and tables of declensions, so I was “good at languages”. Exams were mostly written and actually being able to have real conversations with real people wasn’t high on the agenda.

So I arrived in Germany, with remnants of my two years of school German still nestled somewhere in the back of my head, and was taken aback to find that my brain was no longer trained to operate in that way and I had discovered better things to do with it in the meantime. I had to learn by other means, such as actually conversing with people in bars and business meetings. It seems to have worked, but it took a while.

you’re not as young as you used to be (2)

Since my son is growing up in Germany with an English dad and a Russian mum, I’ve read quite a bit on the development of the multilingual child. More than two languages can be tricky, apparently, and my son has great difficulty filtering German words out of his English/Russian when he is talking to one of his grandmothers; but my wife is watching very carefully and he’ll be ok.

What I also picked up that’s relevant to me, among others from Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, is that instinctive language learning as a child and conscious language learning as an adult are two entirely different mental processes. Beyond the age of about five the window of opportunity for learning a language instinctively and with true fluency is gone.

For example, Pinker says there is a limited range of sounds the human vocal system is capable of. We are born with the ability to hear and make all of them, but we quickly lose the ability to both make and hear the ones that don’t happen to be used in our native language(s). How many non-Indians can distinguish the four separate D-like sounds that occur in sanskrit and other Indian languages? This is why it’s almost impossible, or very rare, for somebody to be able to learn a language as an adult and speak it without an obvious foreign accent.

A friend of mine says he saw an article saying that speaking a language one learned as an adult lights up different parts of the brain than speaking a language one learned as a child. Makes sense.

So I’m sceptical when I read about language prodigies who can speak lots of languages “fluently”. You often read it about various figures in British imperial history. A lot of them would have grown up in India and been more or less bilingual in English and an Indian language. But Persian, Arabic and a couple of extra Indian languages too? Depends what you mean by “fluent”. Fluent enough to fool an Englishman, perhaps.

one at a time, please

I only seem to be able to use one foreign language at a time. I did seven years of French at school and only two years of German, and when I arrived in Germany I could speak French quite reasonably. This turned out to be useful: my first landlady was a French teacher; she didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much German at that point.

As my German improved, though, my ability to speak French decayed. I can still pick up a French newspaper and read it, but I can’t get through a sentence without German words drifting in.

english speakers are lazy

Native English speakers can be, and frequently are, lazy about learning other languages. I’ve known people who lived in Germany for years who, though they could obviously read menus and street signs and so on, could barely begin to hold a conversation. Contrary to common preconceptions, Brits and Irish tend to be worse in this respect than Americans. I guess for an American to come and live in Europe is a big decision requiring commitment, whereas for Brits it’s pretty easy, and common, to come over on a whim for a short term contract and then just not go home for a few years.

I’m not lazy with my German, but nor am I as motivated with it as somebody who has no other chance of getting by. My wife hasn’t lived in Germany all that much longer than I have but her German is way better. I can only hear that she has a foreign accent if I deliberately listen for it.

related entries: Language

happy birthday guruji

29th July 2007 permanent link

Pattabhi Jois (click to see larger version)

Yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was born on the July full moon, 1915 (Indian tradition is that gurus’ birthdays are reckoned by lunar months rather than calendar months). He has been practicing and studying yoga since his teens, and teaching since the 1930s.

Anne Finstad has an excellent piece on ashtanga news on the atmosphere in Mysore these days. Guruji has had health problems recently and at 92 is no longer able to teach as actively as he was even up to only a couple of years ago. This was inevitable at some point.

My four months in Mysore studying with Guruji were one of the high points of my life so far. I fully intended to return, but within a year of coming home my plans changed abruptly, so I never did and now almost certainly never will. We all have our dharma. In any case, I knew what I was experiencing was the twilight of the old days of ashtanga yoga in Mysore. The old yoga shala where Guruji had been teaching for sixty years had been drastically overcrowded for years and was due to be replaced by a new, bigger, glitzier construction just across the road from his house. I had a look round the new shala while it was under construction (but forgot to take pictures) and it was obvious things were going to be very different there. In general I don’t like what I’ve heard about the huge, crowded classes there, and I wonder if I would have been disappointed if I had made it back there at some point in the last five years.

Which doesn’t diminish in any way my respect and affection for Pattabhi Jois. Happy birthday Guruji.

A note on the picture: I quite often get asked for prints of it, but unfortunately it was a grab shot taken in the dark with a manual focus camera. It just isn’t sharp enough to print; I’ve tried several times. I can only just get away with it on the web. Why was Guruji wearing sunglasses indoors in the dark? Because he was teaching a couple of days after a cataract operation. He’s like that.

related entries: Yoga

cool camera

21st July 2007 permanent link

A Saturday Family Life Vignette.

I loaded up my Nikon FM2 with a roll of black & white film and took it for a walk round the zoo with my son today. I like to do this from time to time; there’s a lot to be said for autofocus and modern digital whizz-bangs, but there’s also a lot to be said for a camera where you press the button and it takes the picture immediately.

My son’s take on the matter:

Daddy, this camera is cool

Looks at back of camera. Works out that the little rectangular thingy where people too stupid to remember what film they were using used to put torn-off bits of film carton(*) isn’t a viewing screen.

But you can’t see the pictures can you?

No son.

Daddy, this camera is cool, but next time I want you to bring the other camera

Mister Diplomat.

(*) OK, ok, more likely pros who needed to know at a glance which was the one with the Kodachrome in and which was the one with the Tri-X.

related entries: Photography

those who can, do

20th July 2007 permanent link

It occurs to me, thinking about yoga and blogging, that I can’t think of a single well known yoga teacher who has a blog.

It’s just a thought. I don’t mean to offend or dismiss any of my fellow yoga bloggers who manage to write interesting and worthwhile stuff without being well known teachers.

(Godfrey Devereux was a regular on an ashtanga message board I used to frequent years ago, and Erich Schiffman seems to be pretty active in the ezboard discussion group for his style of yoga, but message boards aren’t blogs.)

If I had comments on my blog, people could now flood me with links to dozens of fascinating yoga teacher blogs. Emails are always welcome.

related entries: Yoga

no comment

20th July 2007 permanent link

I’ve had a couple of mails recently suggesting or implying that I ought to have comments on my blog.

I’ve thought about it often. The reason I don’t is that it would involve either a major upgrade to my homegrown blogging software or switching everything across to a standard blogging tool; either way a big project which has never yet made it to the top of my to-do list.

Then up pops Joel Spolsky with some intelligent arguments against comments.

I get a steady trickle of interesting email responses to things I’ve written. There may still be something to be said for what I said three years ago: “Having only an email link instead of comments might actually be better, because it means only the truly motivated bother to get in touch.”

UPDATE: I’m in good company. David Heinemeier Hansson, author of web application framework du jour Ruby on Rails, just (re-)wrote his personal blog software. He hasn’t got round to implementing comments yet either, and doesn’t seem to be in any great hurry to do so: “I think I'll be happy with the tranquillity for a while.”

living in public

19th July 2007 permanent link

I’m used to friends reading my blog (hi Peter).

I’m mentally prepared for questions from my wife like “so, you have women bringing you clothing from America?” (yes).

But I find it disconcerting when my sister-in-law opens a conversation with “boiled any lego lately?”

time dilation

18th July 2007 permanent link

A downside of not spending much time sick is spending time injured. It’s a price worth paying.

In my early twenties I got my left little finger dislocated in a karate class. Folks, listen when Sensei says you should always block kicks with a closed fist. We managed to pop it back in and taped it to the next finger, and riding my motorbike five miles home in February without being able to put my glove on was a drastic but effective anti-inflammation treatment. (No, I didn’t think it was worth bothering a doctor with it. Why do you ask?)

It healed up ok except that it left a hard ring of what seemed to be some kind of scar tissue around the bone just below the knuckle. I got used to that, and after a while I assumed it would be there for life. Then about a year later I noticed that it had gone away. Somehow a year seemed like a long time then.

Two years ago I was on holiday in New York. It was hot and humid, ideal stretching conditions; I had been doing my yoga practice very diligently and was well bendy. But one day, just doing a very casual morning warmup stretch on the way to the bathroom, I managed to pull my right hamstring. (Folks, be careful with those casual stretches where you’re not really paying attention) It ain’t a debilitating injury, but it ain’t gone away yet either. But somehow two years doesn’t seem like very long at all now.

doctor, doctor

18th July 2007 permanent link

A Saturday Family Life Vignette.

I’ve lived in Germany for eight years. Up until this week I had had contact with the German healthcare system as the father of the patient’s unborn child when my wife was pregnant, as the father of the patient at the children’s practice my son goes to, but never actually as the patient, except for a couple of immunisations.

What do I put this down to? Yoga and healthy living and a healthy dose of luck too, clearly, to not have had an even moderately serious illness in eight years.

Even when I lived in England I only remember going to a doctor because I was ill a couple of times in my adult life, otherwise only for jabs and insurance checkups. How have I managed this? Mainly, I suppose I’ve been careful (mostly) and lucky (pretty consistently so far) with my health. But also I’m stubborn about not going to doctors unless I absolutely have to, even when I’m not healthy. I have a firm belief, acquired I suppose from my parents who are of a generation that didn’t have universal access to healthcare, that doctors are busy people whose time is valuable and not to be wasted with coughs and sniffles because they have more than enough genuinely sick people to worry about. I do still believe this, but I also wonder if I might draw my personal line between “coughs ands sniffles” and “genuinely sick” rather more harshly than a lot of people would.

I think something much more fundamental to my psychological makeup is at the root of it. I think I have a basic difficulty with asking other people to inconvenience themselves in any way in order to get my needs met. Including doctors, even though rationally I know they are there in their professional capacity precisely in order to meet my needs (in addition to those of lots of other people whose problems might be more urgent than mine etc. etc. etc, says the inner voice). Then there’s the little vicious cycle that builds up behind that: if I delay asking for help because I’m reluctant to ask in the first place, then the problem sometimes gets worse, and then I’m more afraid to ask for help because I’m afraid of being disapproved of for not having dealt with the problem sooner. And so on. Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t one reason why I took so enthusiastically to living in a foreign country – I could pretend, both to myself and to the world at large, that “language difficulties” were the reason for this reticence, when really they aren’t.

Gradually I am learning to deal with these things. I had been starting to think lately that (a) I’m paying a lot of money for health insurance. It isn’t something I would choose to spend a lot of money on if I didn’t have to, but since I do then at least I ought to get something for it(*). And (b) I’m at an age – mid 40s – where I really should be thinking about things like regular checkups and getting my prostate felt. Just in case janu sirsasana b doesn’t in fact work.

So I was planning to get round to checking out my local doctor’s practice some time soon anyway.

When, however, one suddenly finds oneself simultaneously with:

  1. a streptococcal throat infection
  2. an entirely separate (as it turns out), non-streptococcal, bacterial conjunctivitis
  3. a wife who is heading out of town to a yoga course for the weekend leaving one with …
  4. a child to take care of who himself is already on antibiotics for the same streptococcal throat infection

… then it’s clearly time to seek professional help not “some time soon” but now.

Trouble is, now was four o’clock on Saturday morning and doctors’ surgeries in Germany aren’t open at weekends. I contemplated whether it would be ethical to steal enough of my son’s penicillin to make it through to Monday, then Google Saved My Ass by revealing the existence of a weekend emergency clinic in town near the railway station. For once I decided my needs did constitute an emergency, so after sleeping the sleep of the relieved for a few more hours I duly headed into town.

And it was fine. Nobody questioned whether I deserved to be there, my medicinal German was perfectly adequate for the job in hand, and despite the presence of all the urgently sick people in Munich I only had to wait an hour for the first doctor and then another hour for the eye specialist. Both of whom were friendly and helpful, and the antibiotics seem to be working.

I’ve made an appointment with my local family doctor for the checkups too.

(“Vignette”? Whatever)

(*) I suspect that lots of people think this and it’s probably the main reason why healthcare costs are spiraling out of control in most rich countries.

dvd night

8th July 2007 permanent link

My wife reviews Departed:

“Very impressive. First they swear for two hours, then they all kill each other.”

(Whereas she was fine with Volver: first the women kill the men, then they talk about their feelings for two hours)

on learning caution

6th July 2007 permanent link

I did something really stupid a few weeks ago, and I’m going to come clean and describe exactly what it was so that everybody else can avoid doing it.

Due to karmic burdens, my right knee and hip are much stiffer than my left, especially in lotus or half lotus positions. Yoga is to a large degree about recognising and accepting the reality of where you are, instead of which I decided I was fed up with this after all these years and was going to take drastic action to “fix” it.

I thought about various techniques I’ve picked up for learning/improving half lotus. Two good variations are to take a leg that is in half lotus and, rather than letting it rest on the other leg, take the other leg away and let the half lotus leg make its way to the floor under its own weight. You can do this sitting, as recommended by Donna Farhi (in a very good article to which my previous link unfortunately appears to be broken) or lying down as recommended by Donna Holleman in a class I took with her recently.

I haven’t got to the stupid bit. Donna and Donna are two of the least stupid yoga teachers anywhere.

Getting slightly more stupid now: there’s a thing sometimes called double pigeon that a lot of people swear by as a remedy for tight hips. Other people I know and respect say it’s ok but you have to take great care with the foot and ankle positioning for it to be safe; others still say it’s just downright dangerous and you shouldn’t do it at all. I have always been suspicious of it, and find it exceedingly difficult & uncomfortable, so I don’t often do it. Plenty of the people who recommend it are reputable and non-stupid though, so we’re not there yet.

I’ve been (re-)reading some stuff lately about a stretching technique I actually first learned about in my climbing days, long before yoga, in which you strongly contract a muscle in a stretched position and then relax it again. A stretched muscle tends to tense up to prevent over-stretching and injury; this technique overrides that reflex. It is safe, effective, scientifically proven and definitely non-stupid. The stretched limb needs something to push against though. And here’s where it all goes horribly wrong.

Do not: lie on your back on the floor. Put one leg in half lotus position. Bend the other leg ninety degrees as in a double pigeon and place the outside of the ankle on top of the knee of the leg that is in half lotus. Use this leg to provide resistance while you practice tense-relax stretching with the half lotus leg. Because guess what: physics. While that ankle is pressing down on the knee, the knee is also pressing up on it with equal and opposite force. And that ankle is one end of a long lever, the other end of which terminates at the cartilage on the inner edge of your knee joint.

Damaging the inner edge of the knee joint by squeezing it together it is the most common injury that yoga beginners inflict on themselves by overenthusiastic premature attempts to sit in lotus. Practitioners with ten or more years of experience should know better, but they don’t always.

Fortunately, having been such an overenthusiastic beginner, I have years of experience in dealing with yoga knee injuries. I always knew that knowledge would come in handy for something one day, although I rather hoped it would be for helping other people not myself.

Still I’m learning interesting things this time round. Lotus on the left side is out of the question for the time being; I just need to be patient with that. I can do rehabilitive stretches with my left knee bent as long as I’m very careful about my ankle position and I go into them very slowly. It’s good mindfulness training – the slightest moment of inattention earns me a sharp stab in the knee. Another question presents itself too: if my hip isn’t open enough to get into half lotus without hurting an only slightly injured knee, then maybe it wasn’t as open as I thought it was in the first place. I must have been sitting in lotus with slight pressure on the knee all along. More work to do – it’s just as well I enjoy doing it.

I probably should take glucosamine/chondroitin for a few weeks too in case there’s any actual cartilage damage, although that’s very much secondary to working on hip rotation and careful foot positioning.

No Disclaimer This Time: really don’t do this.

related entries: Yoga

picasso in leicester

4th July 2007 permanent link

Just back from a very pleasant few days visiting family & friends in England, the excuse being the tenth wedding anniversary of my oldest friend whom I’ve known since kindergarten.

Before the party I took my son to my parents in Leicester. It’s very important for him to see his grandparents, especially as they have health problems and can’t really visit us at the moment. I don’t really expect all that much of interest from my home town these days though, so it was quite a surprise to discover that New Walk Museum has a Picasso exhibition.

I went to New Walk Museum a lot as a small child. There were stuffed gorillas and giraffes, a few dinosaur fossils, an aquarium. A typical decent small provincial museum. Once there was a Japanese exhibition with swords and a suit of samurai armour. I sat for hours in front of that thing. There were some rooms with paintings ’n’ stuff too, but so what when there were gorillas and samurai suits in other rooms? My route to and from school took me past the museum, and even when I was eleven or twelve walking past the front door of the place where the mummies were on winter evenings when it was already getting dark at four o’clock made me nervous.

Going back and visiting somewhere that has those kind of associations is always dangerous. The place was renovated at some point and has been completely ruined architecturally. It was quite a decent late Victorian neo-Classical thing, but the formerly grand atrium has been split into two levels and the lower level is dingy and shabby. The aquarium is gone and the mummies aren’t scary any more. The dinosaurs and gorillas somehow aren’t as exciting as they once were either.

But somehow those dull rooms with the pictures have become interesting. The top half of the wrecked atrium makes I must admit a rather fine gallery space housing film director and local boy Richard Attenborough’s collection of Picasso ceramics. They are stunning. Readers in or anywhere near Leicester, if any – you should go. There’s some other fine stuff too. My wife fell in love with the work of LS Lowry which she was seeing for the first time, and I was much impressed by a room of Dürer prints including his amazing Death And The Knight. My Dad tells me that one was already there when I was a boy, but somehow I never noticed.

Picasso ceramics, Dürer prints – these strike me as a pretty smart way for a small provincial museum with not much money to nevertheless display Great Art. They were limited editions rather than handmade orginals, so presumably not worth millions. Richard Attenborough apparently started his collection long before he was rich and famous, because he just happened to meet the potters who were Picasso’s friends and producing his designs. (Apparently one or two of the later things in the collection are Picasso handmade originals). Still, they are magnificent works of art by two of the greatest artists Europe has ever produced, and if you happen to find yourself in Leicester you can go and see them and be surprised and impressed. Good curating.

on learning russian

3rd July 2007 permanent link

Zdra[v*]stvuite, dear readers. I have five weeks in which to learn to speak Russian. Why do I have five weeks in which to learn to speak Russian?

  1. Embarrassment. My original plan for learning Russian was by osmosis along with my son. He would learn Russian without conscious effort by hearing his mother speak it to him and hey! I would too by listening in. That didn’t work. He is four years old now and his Russian has been significantly ahead of mine for about two years. A little while ago he asked me “Daddy, why can you not speak Russian?”
  2. Good manners. Here’s the crucial time deadline: in five weeks my apartment will be full of Russian women. This is not in itself a bad thing. And my wife’s friends who are planning to stop by at various times in the summer can all speak English and/or German perfectly adequately. My mother in law cannot, however, and she will be staying for a few weeks. She is a hero; the last time she was here she looked after a toddler for a week on her own in a country where she can’t speak a word of the language, so that my wife and I could have a proper honeymoon. She deserves a son in law who can at least make some attempt to communicate with her.
  3. Self Preservation. My wife has a Plan to visit her long-lost aunt in Siberia in the not too distant future. On the few occasions when I’ve been let loose on my own in Moscow I’ve learned that getting by there with sub-rudimentary language skills is sketchy. Then I try to picture myself in a village in the forest a few hundred kilometres from Irkutsk …

Learning to speak Russian is a daunting task. Learning to speak any language as an adult is, as I learned when I first came to Germany eight years ago. More on that later. But Russian particularly so. I’m not bothered by the alphabet, which is nowhere near as big an obstacle as it first appears. More cases than German doesn’t scare me either, Latin has more cases than German too and I didn’t find that a problem at school. I look through tables of declensions and think ok, they’re a pain in the ass but I’ve learned them before in other languages, there are usually patterns to them and I can learn them again.

The fact that “o” is only pronounced as “o” if it is stressed otherwise it sounds like “a”, and you as a learner have no good way of knowing where the stress is in any given word, is a bummer – especially given that my wife pronounces a huge difference between her stressed and un-stressed “o”s, and other people I’ve heard do it much less, so there’s clearly no consistency there. But I can live with it.

No, the thing that really finally made my blood run cold as I was reading my grammar book last night is that verbs have masculine and feminine forms. What the f*ck? Now you’re just trying to be arbitrarily complicated and give foreigners extra opportunities to sound stupid. I know how languages with declensions work. I understand the value of redundancy for error-checking in data streams. I understand how unusual English is in having dropped almost all its declensions in favour of word order and prepositions, and how very weird and hard to parse that makes it. But really. Masculine and feminine forms of verbs? Don’t be silly.

The weapons I have at my disposal are: Russian Grammar by Natalia Lusin, which seems good but intimidating (and gets four and a half stars on; BBC Talk Russian book and CDs, which alarmingly has no reviews on and irritating snippets of crap music between phrases; my wife’s extensive collection of Russian-German and some Russian-English dictionaries; and, all too soon, numerous Russian women. I’ll let you know how I get on.

(*) The first “в” in “здравствуйте” is silent (just try pronouncing it), and therefore normally (always?) omitted when the word is transliterated. This is the sort of arbitrary fact that makes learning languages such a pain in the ass, because there is no way round just memorising it and heaps of other things like it.

related entries: Language

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