Credibility and language learning

The reason why I need a lot of input, listening and reading, in order to get used to words and phrases, has to do with the word “credibility” in a way. The thought just crossed my mind as I was reading in Russian on my deck this afternoon. In other words, only after I have seen or heard a word or phrase many times, does my brain accept that this is the way things are said in a language. If I just see one example, or even a few, I feel that I am still, consciously or subconsciously, reluctant to use that word or phrase. I don’t yet believe in this word or phrase.

At some point, with enough exposure, words and phrases, including how they are used, become established, credible, and I start using them with confidence, perhaps timidly at first, but then increasingly naturally.

Vyborg, a warm welcome

Vyborg is 130 km to the North of St. Petersburg, and only 30 or so km from the Finnish border. For a long time it was a Finnish/Swedish town, and it has a definite Scandinavian feel to it.




What attracted me there was the friendliness of two of its citizens, Tana and Mikhail. Tana was my first Russian tutor at LingQ. She sent me CDs in the early days, and really encouraged me in my Russian learning.

I took the Electrichka from the Finlandski station in St. Pete. Three and half hours on hard wooden seats. I occasionally stood up, ostensibly to let elderly passengers sit down, but really to give my back a rest. One of these kind elderly passengers for whom I stood up, as she was leaving a few stations before me,?? made a point of reminding me not to forget my bag when I got off.

The Vyborg tour was splendid. I was on my own the first afternoon as MiKhail and Tana had to work. I wandered around, and even found a little cafe where I had a delicious soup while watching Russian comic videos on the high definition TV.

That evening we had a lovely meal including a little vodka, some bliny with salmon roe, herring, and borscht if I remember correctly. This was followed by a walk in the midnight sun around the waterfront. (Water everywhere in this town).

The next morning we had a coffee in a charming coffee shop, visited a book store where I was given the interesting book I am reading (in Russian) , and then we toured the highlights of the town. These included a historic castle and tower where we saw local craftsment using ancient tools to fashion nails for the castle and other amusements.



We also toured the famous English garden called Mon Repos. We came across a wedding party there.


We finished our day with a lovely lunch of fish at the beach. Perhaps the most enjoyable of all was the constant conversation in Russian about all manner of subjects, in a constant feeling of friendliness and well-being, quite something for people that I was meeting for the first time.

On our way to the station we stopped an enormous supermarket. The consumer revolution has arrived in Vyborg. 32 cash register!!


I got on the Elektrichka again around 5 in the evening and returned to St. Petersburg, having been treated like a long lost relative by Tana and Mikhail. I look forward to reciprocating in Vancouver.

Free speech. Blogger in Taiwan jailed for her opinions.

A food blogger in Taiwan was jailed for calling the food in a restuarant “too salty.” I find that astounding. “Too salty” is surely a subjective term. How can we be held criminally responsible for our opinions. I know that bloggers can be irresponsible. There is also the question of whether a blogger’s opinion is simply a private discussion or a form of journalism where higher standards of veracity or obejctivity are required. I hope that bloggers remain free to express their opinions and readers are free to form their own opinions without the heavy intervention of the law.

St. Petersburg – a movable feast

In St. Petersburg you are taken back a century or two or three. The city was built because a Tsar, Peter the Great, wanted it to be built. It was Russia’s stake on the Baltic, window on the West, and bulwark against the forces of Northern Europe, (Sweden, Germany and Denmark ) that at various times threatened Russia from the North. A fortress in many ways. A grandiose capital with majestic squares and regal palaces. The best way to see the city is to walk, take Neva river and canal tours, and visit the many museums.

Here are some pictures of Eugene one of our key LingQ programmers, our LingQ meetup and ???????? ?????????? ???? ?????????? Cathedral. More to follow.




ex-Mayor Daley of Chicago does not speak English very well!

I just finished listening to an interview at Echo Moskvi with Richard Daley , recently retired Mayor of Chicago (for 22 years). Daley often does not make sense in English. You have to first interpret what he was trying to say, fill in the missing words, change the wrong words, and then interpret. The Russian interpreter at Echo Moskvi was not quite up to the task.

Mayor Daley should get on LingQ and work on his English. Just amazing!

Russian as a world language

English is the dominant world language today. The French sometimes promote French as an alternative international language, and historically it was prominent in Europe and today we find it in Africa and North America as well as Europe. Spanish and Portuguese, just like English and French, were spread by colonial conquest and are spoken in a number of countries and continents, and therefore are also world languages today. Russian is also a major world language, and it was also spread by colonial expansion.

I was recently in Lativa, and Russia. While in Russia I enjoyed food from the many countries that used to be part of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union like the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Georgia. Right now the St. Petersburg Economic Forum is taking place and delegates from all over the world, but especially the former Soviet Union countries, are there to discuss possible economic cooperation and business ventures. I imagine that a lot of the discussion will be in Russian.

The Russian language space occupies a large part of the world, from the Baltic to the Pacific,and from the Arctic to the Black Sea and Central Asia. It is a rich continental community with historical relations, not always without conflict, where the Russian language is an important unifying element. I hope that this area becomes the kind of post-colonial community that the Commonwealth, la Francophonie,and similar Spanish and Portuguese language communities are striving to be. Economically it can be even more significant, although there are tensions as Russia struggles to adapt to a new role as the most powerful, but still equal, member of such a community.

The best thing about Russia, the people.

Over the next week or so I will be posting about my visit to Russia. This trip far exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was like a reward for my more than one thousand hours of listening to and reading Russian. Being surrounded by real Russian people, and speaking Russian, was like a dream. Of course the grand cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow did not disappoint; the history, the atmosphere, the museums, the life! But most of all I come away with an impression of Russian people – earnest, sincere, friendly, generous and warm. I felt very much at home.And I had only scratched the surface.

Here is one of the first groups of Russians I met. They were celebrating the “day of the city” in St. Petersburg. I asked them where to buy the little flag they all had. They insisted on giving me one of theirs.


Pathetic NHL Stanley Cup playoffs

The Stanley Cup playoffs are usually the highlight of the professional hockey season in North America. These playoffs are followed on television in Canada, the US and in Europe. The present final is a disgrace. I predict that in ten years European/Russian hockey will take over, and the NHL will lose its preeminent position as the top professional hockey league in the world.??

In the Vancouver-Boston series, the Boston Bruins have been allowed to intimidate the top players on the Canucks, with the acquiescence of the referees. They can punch, slash and spear the top players on the Canucks, during play and after the whistle, and this is either ignored by the referees or at best both the offending Bruin and the Canuck player who got slashed or punched get penalties. The videos on youtube of Marchand repeatedly punching Sedin, knowing that Sedin will not retaliate, or Thomas spearing Sedin in the groin with his goalie stick, all after the play, show how the NHL is allowing its best players, and therefore its product, to be cheapened by goons. I have no respect for the way the Bruins have played, and less for the league in tolerating it and almost promoting it. The whining from some quarters about Vancouver player Burrows biting the finger of a Bruin player (Bergeron) who was shoving his glove in his face is just that, silly whining. What damage was done and why was the glove in Burrow’s face in the first place???

Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome’s open ice body check on Horton was not a dirty hit, just a late hit. Unfortunately Horton was injured.The league tolerates and encourages late hits (finish the check) and the decision on when a hit is too late is at best vague. When is it “finishing the check” and when is it “interference”? Other players who have deliberately hit people from behind, or aimed elbows at their heads, and injured them, have received one game suspensions. Rome got suspended for four games, or the rest of the series.

Vancouver player Mason Raymond received a serious injury (broken back) when he was slammed awkwardly into the boards by Bruins defenceman Boychuck, on on obvious interference play. Raymond did not have the puck, and may not even have touched the puck at all in this sequence. No penalty, no suspension, and the incident was not even reviewed by the league. But the Burrow’s biting incident was reviewed by the league????

The son of the NHL official responsible for discipline plays for Boston. The Eastern clique that runs the NHL wants the cup in Boston. It will take a lot for the Canucks to win it.

Notes from Russia.

I have not been writing about my travels in Russia because of the following reasons.
1) I have been too busy simply enjoying myself.
2) I did not bring my USB cable so I cannot upload my pictures. I bought a card reader here in Moscow but either it does not work or I do not know how to make it work. My computer finds the pictures on my camera, but they seem not to copy over. I want to include pictures as I describe my travels.
3) I am being followed by a KGB agent disguised as a bear, and I think my emails are being monitored.

I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying myself, and the glorous weather does not hurt. In Moscow I cannot imagine driving a car, since a lot of time the roads seem more like parking lots than actual thoroughfares. And when the main boulevards do open up, the locals really step on the gas until the next bottle neck appears. Here in the centre there are lots of black expensive cars with chauffeurs lazing around, while the owners are shopping in luxury shops. Then there was the time near the Kremlin where all traffic , including pedestrian traffic, was held up while waiting for a motorcade of black cars to emerge from the Kremlin. There was a bit of honking of horns to let off steam. I prefer walking the subway.

People here fall into two categories. People you meet on the street to ask for directions, or friends that you have, and they are tremendously warm, hospitable, generous with their time and helpful. The other group works in shops, railway stations, subway stations, etc. and they consider you a nuisance for having bothered them, and make sure you realize it.

The subways in both St. Petersburg and Moscow are great, with very efficient automatic payment cards. The high speed train from St. Pete to Moscow was extremely comfortable. I was in second class. I cannot imagine what first class offers for twice the price, maybe a massage?

Anyway, I promise a more detailed diary with notes upon my return next week. Now I am off to the History of Moscow Museum and the Tretiakov Museum

How many words do we need.

The following is a comment I added to a thread on this subject at the LingQ forum.


I have said before that I consider the word count to be a little like the mechanical rabbit that dogs chase at the dog races. Something to help keep you going.

That said, the known word count represents your potential in the language. To realize that potential you have to put yourself in a situation where you have to use the language often. You will stumble at first, but the higher your language potential, or word count, the better you will do, and the sooner you will sense that you are fluent.

The number of words needed to be comfortable will vary from language to language, since some languages are more inflected than others. 1000 words in English will equate to over 2000 in Russian or Korean , whereas other languages may fall somewhere in between.

Based on English, 3,000 words gets you started talking to people, with lots of gaps. Once you are over 10,000 words you can engage people in more meaningful conversations and enjoy it. There will still be lots of gaps. It is a long road, and you will probably want to get over 15,000 or so to call yourself advanced. That is for English so you need to multiply by some factor for other languages.

Remember, this is just your potential. You then need to get out and use the language a lot, and you will stumble around for a while trying to get your potential to turn in to real fluency. The choice of when to start engaging with people in the language will depend on your opportunities and personal preferences.