Departures_Paris_CDG_2009

The pain of learning languages in immersion

When I was at Oxford, studying was something you did on your own. There were lectures if you wanted or the odd compulsory class, but apart from that it was up to you to force yourself to sit down and work. We had meetings every now and then with our supervisors to see how things were coming along. Especially in …

Language learning never stops, and that’s why I’ve stopped (for now)

I remember I came home one day in Yaroslavl, after another idyllic day spent eating cabbage pies in the mid-April snow, to find my flatmate at the kitchen table buried in a pile of grammar books with sheets of vocabulary written out all around her. I asked her what on earth she was doing – the test wasn’t until Monday. …

How do you learn languages?

I often tell people that I learnt to speak Russian at the kitchen table. This is, of course, a shameless lie. I attended eight hours of language classes a week with 10-15 hours of homework on average and vocabulary lists of sometimes up to 1000 words, did this for an entire year before revising for, sitting, and having to pass …

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 …

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 …