The mathematics of language learning: finding formulas for your success

I’m sure nobody will be surprised to hear that at school I was appalling at Maths and Science. I realised at about the age of seven that it just wasn’t for me, and that the humanities were my calling. However, what I later discovered is that the two worlds are actually more similar than I’d first thought. When it came …

Russian culture: re-encountering the clash

My Russian visa arrived today. It still feels like a monumentous achievement when you open that scruffy grey envelope to be reunited with your passport and then flick through the pages until you find it sitting there, safely glued in, your name mutated into Cyrillic and then back into Latin (I am now Aleksandr Dimitris Djordj Roulings again), your entry …

Ten proverbs and sayings to help you around the world

It’s taken me a long time as a language learner to come to terms with proverbs. I always resisted them for various reasons. They’re a pain to learn, they can sound silly and unnatural, and it’s often hard to imagine a scenario in which you’d actually use them. However, they’re actually a really important part of every language, and as …

Returning to Russia

When my mother came to visit me in Russia for the second time exactly a year ago, I had already been living there for five months, and as she emerged through arrivals at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, I greeted her decisively, but affectionately, with “Welcome to the mad-house.” It just so happened that the British Airways flight from London had …

Gender in language: what is it and what does it do?

One of the biggest problems that English speakers have when approaching foreign languages is getting their heads around why words suddenly have genders. After all, surely a table is just a table. How can it possibly be a he or a her? I have to say, it’s something that I’m not too sure about myself. I’m not sure where it …