Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stepping it up a bit.

All of a sudden I'm posting more often than once a month. How come? I'm not really sure, but I used to enjoy writing very much. When I stopped being able to actually write and was forced to dictate instead, I guess the pleasure of writing more or less disappeared, because dictating isn't writing. It's completely different. What was supposed to be unspoken, written words is all of a sudden turned into false spoken language, and spoken language is very much different from its written counterpart. So you see, it's a question of two worlds interfering with one another - and I would very much have preferred to keep them separated.

Plus, I don't like things I don't feel good at. Who does really? I have the impression from school that you are supposed to enjoy difficult things ("these exercises will probably be boring for you, they will be too easy" always seemed stupid to me), things that you are no good at, but I always hated physics, and I was crap at it, whereas I loved writing, because I was good at it. Then I grew older but my writing did not evolve with me and now it doesn't feel special in any way anymore. I guess everyone has those things, "I had so much potential when I was a kid, then it all went away".

But that was only part of what I wanted to talk about. I skimmed through some language blogs today, and I realized how much I miss reading them and how much I miss wasting too much time on language forums while thinking I should be studying languages instead. It also made me realize I should be more ambitious with my other studies and about my general culture, and no, all of that isn't really possible to combine, so I don't really know what to do. However, I felt there were two things I wanted to share on this blog. Two very basic things, those kind of things you actually know without really realizing it, and that become very obvious when someone puts it in plain writing.

The first is about READING. Many people seem to be very hesitant about reading in foreign languages. When someone catches me reading a Russian book in class they are always impressed for some reason. Why is it people think reading is so difficult? It's just a text, it's there, it's not going anywhere, you can read it for as long as you like and using whatever tools you have. What is so difficult about that? I think the important thing to realize is that you don't have to read a text in any specific way. It's perfectly okay to switch between strategies, to go from reading something very meticulously to just skimming through it. No one says you have to read an entire book while understanding 100% of the words - that's not the only way to read a book. You can just as well read one page where you make sure you understand all the words, and then read five more making sure you understand what it's about, regardless of how many words you understand. Books are friendly, don't be afraid of them.

Secondly, USAGE. If you never use a language, you will never know when you make mistakes. Apparently Stephen Kaufman said something about this recently, and this kind of surprised me because generally I don't like much of what he says, most likely because I think he looks too smug. Ehem. Anyway, this is absolutely true. While you are reading or listening, you aren't creating anything on your own, you aren't using the language actively, so you don't really realize exactly what you know and what you don't know. And usually, no one corrects your listening or reading unless it's some sort of a test. You may read something and understand it perfectly, but then try to say it yourself and get it all wrong. It's like only reading Russian books without stress marks and then try to speak Russian and realize you can't pronounce anything correctly, because you have always taken for granted that this or that word has that particular stress, whereas as a matter of fact... it doesn't. Or perhaps you never really noticed the difference between ничего and нечего, because when you read it, you read it all like ничего... Those are just small and simple examples. A big and horrifying example would on the other hand be Russian verb aspects. You read and you have no idea you are missing 500 nuances, but you can't really care either. It only becomes a problem when you have to use the damned things yourself.

But what am I doing here? I am supposed to be analyzing 19th-century texts on nationalism.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


There is very little language learning activity going on here right now, mainly because I have constantly got some essay to work on for university, or a heap of Russian exercises to do and Russian grammar rules to memorize. However, I am going to France! Not for very long, it's just a prolonged weekend in April, but it will be excellent anyway. I kind of feel like it's my responsibility to visit the countries of my languages every now and then, and France is very very cheap to go to, so it would be stupid to not go. Russia is a whole other deal, and I would feel much more lost in Hungary than in France. This time I'm going to Paris, where I've already been a couple of times, but it's such a big city that I can still go there many times. I'm going there together with Sasha, so it will be a perfect combination of Russian and French!

On the photo above you can see something completely unrelated, notably my latest attempt at Russian cooking, including a mushroom salad with horse radish sour cream, a салат Столичный or Оливье, and chicken soup with buckwheat (not very visible) together with a very fine bottle of Saint-Emilion Grand Gru Château Fombrauge 1997 (not very Russian!) that went straight to our heads.

It's important to not only get lost in the language, right?

Next time, I'm making пельмени. I would just like a good recipe first, one that someone can vouch for, since the last time I made them I wanted to kill the person behind the dough recipe...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nya perspektiv.

Snarare Pelle Svanslös då?

Dop, Söderhamn
Två barn ~3 står och pratar.

Pojken: Är du en pojke eller en flicka?
Flickan: Jag är en flicka. Men vad är du?
Pojken (funderar): …Jag vet inte riktigt.
Flickan: Men vad heter du då?
Pojken: Jag heter Måns.
Flickan: Men då är du ju en katt!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oh, Oslo University...

I desperately want to go to Russia!

Which is why I'm a bit disappointed with my university, where I only get the possibility to go to Russia for three months. I will also have to study with Norwegians only in Russia (at a Norwegian center), with teachers that speak Norwegian but that apparently teach in Russian. How is it fair that the students studying English get to go to English-speaking countries for a year, whereas those who study Russian, which is so much more difficult, only get three months? And why don't we get any practice actually using the language?

Studying Russian in the incredibly grammatical and sterile manner they do here is not a problem for me, since I writes essays on my own accord, have a big vocabulary and can read books, and meet with a Russian speaking person once a week. But if I had had no previous knowledge of Russian, and I only started studying this way, I very much doubt if I would've found it very rewarding. We never write anything of our own, we have never handed in anything written whatsoever, and we only get to speak once a week - that is those who actually show up for those hours. Since they are not obligatory, a lot of people just drop them. Not that the lecturers are obligatory, people still go to them without actually being forced, but for some reason the speaking class seems to be of very little interest to a lot of students. They are the only hours that include some literature!

This really makes me wonder how much Russian stuff the other students do on their own. I really can't imagine that someone who only follows these classes and who doesn't try to improve on his or her own would be able to follow classes in Russian after only one year. Since people still seem to do it, does that mean that the classes that we get in Russia aren't difficult at all? :(

Today as I was browsing through the classes that are offered at Oslo University I got very much tempted by some French classes. However, everything at Oslo University must be difficult and complicated, and I can't choose any free subjects. And if I could, I don't think I would be able to choose those French classes, because they seem to be reserved for people enrolled in French bachelor programs or masters programs. And, certain classes seem to be held once every 4th year... FLEXIBILITY, Norway. It's a virtue.

I'll get to it eventually though. As soon as I am eligible for student funding in this country I'm going to use it to the max, even though staying at this particular university for a decade doesn't feel that very tempting. Meanwhile I want to find some sort of distance class that forces me to go to Stockholm every now and then, just for a change of scenery, but I can't do that either since I'm going to Russia this fall. Bah!

For this summer, I signed up for a distance class on female history and another one in English grammar and translation. (At Swedish universities - distance teaching isn't really a concept in Norway it seems.) I may go crazy and go through with both.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Whose day?

It seems like everyone is posting about the international Women's Day, so I can't help myself, I have to post as well! But if you want to read something much more interesting, I recommend you go read this 8th of March post.

My favorite Hanne Nabintu Herland is once again in the newspapers, thanks to this occasion. Heading of the article: Today we should turn the TV off and give him a sexual surprise. This time she thinks that Women's Day should be turned into Man Day, and she says that if the journalist called her because she's a woman, then she feels like just hanging up. She wants to be interviewed because she has something interesting to say.

I think we can all agree that the reason the newspaper called her is because she always says things that make a lot of people angry - and a lot of men happy.
(Did you see what I just did there? I separated "men" from "people", something that is usually done when speaking of women! And I even did it unconsciously! Perhaps this is the problem Herland speaks of?)

I never really understand what that woman wants to say when she appears somewhere, so I'll just leave it at that.

International women's Day is kind of like Valentine's Day in this part of the world. It's kind of shameful to celebrate it. It's best for all if you aren't even aware of what day it is. Surely, going "oh? Valentine's Day is today?" is a sign of you being a sensible person and not tricked by the evil forces of capitalism and consumption. Surely, these kinds of days are just about making people spend money (but hello, Christmas?), and on (primarily) women on top of that. Women in Scandinavia get no flowers or anything like that on the eighth of March, and I think many would consider it just a little bit politically incorrect to give them any. Equality and all that; women don't need any flowers because they already have it all. Only in countries where women are not yet as emancipated as in Scandinavia is it okay to give them gifts and to celebrate them.

The only people I've met today who have mentioned this day were... Russian. And I can't help thinking that it's a nice thing. I wouldn't mind at all if International Women's Day was celebrated at least... a bit around here, and if it was not just a reason for the newspapers to write articles about equality or the illusion of equality, which are then attacked by men crying about how feminism has gone too far and about how women should go back to being women.

And speaking about women being women... what does that mean? Does it mean being servile, shy and knowing your place?

Or does it mean trying to look nice, to be feminine? (Because that is kind of looked down on, even by men, as non-intellectual and vain. So are we supposed to do that or not?)

I feel like celebrating today by painting my fingernails pink and doing a facial mask, and by reading a couple more pages of Charlotte Roche's scandalous autobiographical novel about revolting things women definitely shouldn't be writing about, but sadly I don't really have the time for that. I have to be utterly unfeminine and write an essay on the nationstate from an historical perspective, and read some poorly written essays other students have written. Come to think of it though, all of those students are women, so perhaps it isn't unfeminine at all? Did academia turn feminine?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feeding the Russophilia

Great news! Søstrene Grene opened a store in Oslo, on Karl Johan. Great store, great stuff, great prices! I just couldn't help buying these two.

On another note, has anyone read Наталия Толстая? I've been reading her collection of short stories entitled Одна forever, and even though I have been enjoying it rather much, I must admit that I'm getting a bit tired of it. Each and every one of the short stories has an air of gloom about it, and the (as I perceive it) somewhat condescending tone of the narrator is ever present. All of her main characters seem to have lost all interest in life and the narrator makes an art out of describing how pointless their existence is (and how lonely). Funnily enough, the author seems to have a certain connection to Sweden, because several of the stories are about Swedish or Sweden; how naïve them Swedes are with their idyllic image of Russia, that mysterious Russia that of course no one can understand (and this seems to be something that only goes for Russia) - certainly no foreigners. And of course, about what health freaks the Swedes are and how unfeminine the women are. There's also a general resentment against men, even though the narrator seems to pity them more than anything else.

Still, it's very good reading, and much more difficult than Dostoyevsky or any of the classics. I just kind of look forward to finishing it...