воскресенье, 26 июня 2016 г.

My impressions of Russian fantasy musical. 9.04.16

Being a fan of musicals and a fan of fantasy literature, I couldn't miss such a phenomenon as a Russian musical "The Last Trial" (this is just a literal translation of its original name, "Последнее испытание", which I came across on the English-language fan site) based on the second trilogy set in the famous Dragonlance universe created by American authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Although the stage version of this musical was set in Moscow, they came to Saint Petersburg twice. The date of their autumn performance, unfortunately, didn't suit me, but in April I finally watched the fantasy musical.

Two years ago I listened to audiobooks corresponding to the first trilogy ("Dragonlance Chronicles"), so I was familiar with the setting and most of the main characters of the "Dragonlance Legends". However, I had almost no idea about the plot of the second trilogy because I started to read it only a week before the performance. Now, after watching the musical and reading the entire trilogy, I can tell you that:

  • You don't even have to be familiar with the setting (i.e. reading neither the first nor the second trilogy is not obligatory) to be able to understand what is happening on the stage (tested on my friend ;) ). In other words, it's not like the "Harry Potter" movies.
  • You can watch the musical and read the books in either order. They have so many differences that you will not spoil the pleasure for yourself (well, even if we omit all the small details and minor storylines, it's enough to note that books and musical end in completely different ways). Maybe, you'd better watch the musical in the first place because this way you'll find more surprises. 
One more source to consider is the history of the musical (which originated at the late 90s and featured plenty of dramatic moments since then). Almost twenty years have passed from the idea was born till it materialized on the stage. Stories told by the authors explain why the musical is so different from the books.

Although the stage version of the musical is more than two years old, it's under constant refinement. You can watch parts of the 2014 year version online. This April, multimedia stage sets were much better (I especially liked the way they used two semi-transparent screens, one behind the other, combining the images on them and putting the actors in between, as if they leave the stage and enter the digital background), acrobatics was much more advanced, and the goddess was able to fly above the stage at she should be. Unfortunately, several previously existed scenes (which you can find in 2014 year version) were cut off. However, the show duration was almost 2.5 hours even after that.

Besides the great stage sets, this version showed a minotaur (!) walking on stilts (for the first time ever). Also I enjoyed the aria of Kingpriest very much (the aria itself starts at around 1:05): church-style music of pipe organ with proper visual accompaniment (sadly I failed to find it) and understandable text can be fascinating.  

Adding a fly to the ointment, I should mention that

  • An actor playing Caramon Majere (one of the main characters) was more likely yelling than singing.
  • I was disappointed not to see barely any stage sets in the second half of the performance. It looked as if they didn't manage to complete them in time.
  • During the duet with Crysania, Takhisis's microphone suddenly refused to work. As later the actress, who was playing the dark goddess, confessed, the mic wire (!) was accidentally cut during backstage costume change.   

Got interested? Even though you cannot watch the musical now, why not to listen to the free full audio version? You can find it in the middle part of that page on the left.

суббота, 18 июня 2016 г.

Finding gems in rubbish piles

Part I

Recently I came across a brilliant website for language learners and music lovers. Pick a song, enjoy the music video and fill in the blanks.


If you missed the word, press the UP key and listen to last five seconds of the song again. If you don't keep pace with the singer, don't worry, the video will stop on its own giving you time to type in the missing word. If you still can't catch it, you can skip. If you are afraid of typos, I have good news for you: the site won't let you make one because it ignores wrong letters. Words you have to restore are chosen at random but you can set the frequency of gaps. You're still not on Lyrics Training? Well, then I have two more arguments for you. Ten languages are available, such options as Japanese and Catalan are among them! Finally, to start using Lyrics Training you don't even need to sign up. As a guest, you can take advantage of all its features except for saving your statistics.

Part II

Are you back here? Do you know anything similar? If so, I wait for you in the comments.

Wonder what the title of my post stands for? Then read how I found Lyrics Training.

For more then a year I barely used my desktop for anything but watching TV and movies. More than a year ago I looked into the Downloads folder for the last time. There were hundreds of files there, both viewed but not deleted and just saved to look at in the future. Just accidentally I decided to clean up that folder. Luckily I looked into the MS Word document containing dozens of "useful links for English learners". Somehow I didn't close it immediately after encountering the lists of popular online dictionaries and news websites. Finally, I came across the paragraph devoted to Lyrics Training. But wait... I downloaded that file more than a year ago. Hence I could use that awesome resource for quite a while. But I almost missed it. How to avoid such situations in the future?

What about promising to view each file immediately after downloading, to make valuable notes and to delete the file on the same day? That's too strict. Sometimes you don't have enough time for that, some files are too long for reading them at one go.

What about automatic deletion of those files which reside in the Downloads folder for more than a week? But are you sure that after losing a couple of presumably valuable files you will not create a new folder Downloads2 as a backup for your Downloads? Next you'll feel quite safe to "lose" another hundred of files. The system never works unless you have a good discipline (or unless you stop being curious and saving everything what attracts you).

Your Downloads folder is empty? Good start. And how many articles that you saved using Pocket/Evernote Web Clipper/<put your option here> will you never read?

воскресенье, 12 июня 2016 г.

Learning languages: My approach to pronunciation

How do you learn to pronounce foreign words correctly when you start studying a new language? When I asked myself this question, I found out that for each of the four languages, which I tried to learn, I used a specific approach.

Approach 1. Do nothing, or Trust your subconscious mind, passive version (English). To be honest, I don't remember whether I memorized any pronunciation rules at some point (or, at least, paid special attention to them when I was reading the coursebook) or not. What I can state for sure is that if you ask me to tell you any of such rules now, I will remain silent. However, I rarely make pronunciation mistakes even with the words which I see for the first time. I believe this is because I have absorbed so many words in both written and audial forms that my mind has built its own system of principles. This system is hidden from my conscious. Subconscious mind applies it each time I come across a new word and returns me a result. Thus, I can't explain what makes me think the word is pronounced in that specific way. But I don't need to, because I trust the extremely powerful "tool" inside my head.

Approach 2. Memorize large set of rules (French). My first attempt to learn French which had lasted for one year (during the 7th grade) began with those thirty-some rules. That worked but had so many disadvantages... You know, all artificial rules have exceptions. This way you may even start to believe that languages have exceptions. Moreover, committing tons of imposed rules to your memory is just boring (and is far from effective if you're no longer a child). That's why when I returned to French four years later, I preferred to use Approach 1.

Approach 3. Learn the language which doesn't have pronunciation rules (Finnish). Well, certainly Finnish pronunciation does follow some rules but almost all of them are obvious, so if you have never learned Finnish and try to pronounce some word relying only on its spelling, you'll most likely be correct. However, don't become too enthusiastic: the language, which was a major source of inspiration for Tolkien when he was creating Quenya (one of the fictional Elvish languages), contains 14 noun cases. Enough compensation for the absence of difficulties with phonetics, don't you think?

Approach 4. Trust your subconscious mind, active version (German). When I was listening to Coffee Break German audio podcast, I wrote down each new word I heard. I started doing that from the first episode, when I knew nothing about German. After each episode I googled the correct spelling and compared it with my guesses. Eventually, I managed to avoid mistakes in most cases. That was the fastest way to grasp pronunciation principles. I believe, figuring that out was the main profit of my short attempt to learn German.

I'm curious, does the last approach work for the languages which use a non-Latin alphabet?

воскресенье, 5 июня 2016 г.

On origins of words

One of the things I like so much about languages is learning etymology. I don't mean that I enjoy reading etymological dictionaries page by page (believe me, I've never done this!). Instead, I accidentally pick random facts about certain words. These facts serve two goals: they revitalize my passion for foreign languages and help me memorize new vocabulary better.

How can learning a random fact encourage to study a language? It works as a time machine because etymology is about history. Diving into history can be amazing!

What is the link between etymology and memorizing? Etymology of a single word is often an interesting story. You can visualize stories in your mind. Sometimes these stories are weird. I heard many times: the more weird the association is, the better the mnemotechnic works.

Where to find awesome facts about etymology? Well, if you want them right now, just google and find tons of examples. However, I became an etymology fan in the other way. I didn't search for random facts, they found me instead. The first source of such knowledge was the audiocourse which I used four years ago to recollect my knowledge of French (just a note: the basic language of that course is Russian, so it may not work for you). During the fantastic course in French grammar last August which took place in the unique Saint Petersburg language anti-café, I heard many more stories about origins of words. Etymology opens the door not only to learning history of a single nation or a single language, it leads you to cross-language connections. Eventually you start noticing them on your own. You feel the joy of victory when your guess about the origin of some word is correct, you're slightly disappointed but still proud of your logic when your assumption turns out to be wrong. I'd like to share several real-life examples from my last two journeys abroad.

In Portugal, you often hear the word "obrigado" (or "obrigada" which sounds in pretty much the same way). There's no surprise in it because "obrigado" means "thank you" (by the way, the word in brackets is a feminime form of the same word because Portuguese thank each other using a past participle which means "obliged"). Now tell me, do you know any Japanese word? I guess, you do, and that word is "arigato". Feel the similarity? You're neither the first one nor the last one. Do Portuguese and Japanese "thank you" have any connection? I won't tell you for sure. Russian sci-fi and fantasy author Sergei Lukyanenko states that Japanese loaned that word. But read the comments to his post and you'll see that there's no single point of view. Here is an English-language thread presenting various opinions on that matter and referencing a book in linguistics, the first source worth paying attention to. Japanese has many loans from Portuguese, which is another argument for the western origin of "arigato". However, this explanation which mentions early Japanese literary works containing the word with very similar spelling and notes that they were written long before first contacts of Portuguese and Japanese. Thus, the question remains open for me.

When you talk to me for a long time, you won't be able to avoid language-related topics ;) Such a conversation (probably, inspired by the above-mentioned assumption about "obrigado" and "arigato") took place on the first Monday of November, 2015, in Lisbon. Step by step, language by language, my friend and I were telling each other various facts, posing riddles or just interesting questions. At some point, I was asked what the Belarusian word "кофр" means. You know what? I knew the answer even though there's nothing similar to that word in Russian. Well, to be honest, I just made a guess immediately after I saw how "кофр" is spelled but this guess was correct. How did I know this? Several years ago I played "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" in French. I remember "coffres" here and there in Tamriel. "Une coffre" stands for "a chest" (not the body part but the box), so does "кофр". Wiki approves that this is not a coincidence, Belarusian language borrowed a lot of words from French including this one.

I told you I know one Japanese word. In the end of April I learned my first Armenian word as well. Guess what? Certainly, the one with the same meaning as "arigato". Well, not this one, but the colloqial form - "mersi". Right, French is everywhere! I was very surprised by hearing this word many times during my first few hours in Yerevan. Only later I remembered that Russians sometimes also say "мерси" (even a literary example exists!) for the expression of gratitude. However, for us this is a rare case (and it implies an ironic situation) while Armenians use the colloqial word derived from French "merci" everywhere just because it's short.

The world around us is full of such wonderful examples. Just be curious and be attentive, you'll find many more of them.