Tag Archives: Russian

Where I’ve Been – Something that Scares Me

This week I was making this – a short blog entirely in Russian. I have no idea if the Russian is good – I don’t even know if it’s comprehensible for native speakers without the subtitles on. All I know is that it put me back into my Russian-studying game after a cold had knocked all the motivation out of me and vastly improved my vocabulary. Benny Lewis of Fluentin3months has always maintained that speaking is the number-one priority to learning a language that most bookworms tend to neglect and that we should make videos in our languages to encourage us to get used to both speaking and dealing with an audience.

It also ties in with another big part of my adventure-seeking mentality – doing one thing each day that scares you.

I quote that line directly from the bizarre but inspiring message of the video below.

It’s called Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreenand was adapted into song by Baz Luhrmann from an article written by Mary Schmich back in the 90s. It contains nearly every little piece of advice everyone knows but no-one acts on and can easily work up a man to convince himself to change his life entirely for the few minutes following hearing the song for the first time. Of course this wears off and people sink back into the hum-drum but it’s a good rabble-rouser none the less.

I first heard this song-poem-thing when it was played to us by our head of Sixth Form (a higher level of pre-University education in Britain) for the sole purpose of outfitting us with such advice as is found in the lyrics. Ever since then, though I remember most of the message, there was one line that stuck out to me personally and has come back to me in recent months as I look in my life more and more for adventure. “Do one thing each day that scares you“.

At the start of this year’s Lent I had just discovered that in Lent you don’t have to just give up things you like – you can also take on things you’d like to accomplish. A second New Year’s Resolution, I was told. Regardless of the theological validity of such a notion I decided to put myself into a small “yes-man” situation à la Danny Wallace and accept any and all offers that came my way. I soon discovered that in reality there aren’t all that many amazingly exciting opportunities we let pass by in the first place – my life didn’t change all that profoundly. But I was still thinking about doing one thing each day that scared me and, combined with my search for things to say yes to, I found myself in a situation where though my day-to-day actions were not much changed my attitude was very much altered. I found myself looking at the world around me – looking for things to do and exciting opportunities to take the world up on. I felt like I had opened my eyes, to quote a cliché, and seen for the first time all I could possibly do. I feel healthier for feeling so less constrained by what I was “supposed” to do. Knowing I had the willpower and ability to randomly go running through the streets made deciding to walk down them in a normal and leisurely manner feel like a freedom rather than a societal expectation.

My point, however rambling, is that it’s healthy to realise our potential and it makes your life that much better to just say “to hell with it” and do things. There’s a fad going around young girls in particular at the moment called YOLOYou Only Live Once. It’s a philosophy of sorts that suggests that since we only have one life we should do what we want with it. I agree with the idea but the problem with these YOLOers is that they don’t do anything. They sit there with this wonderful little phrase that says “the world is my oyster – I can do anything and be anything” and then they just end up getting drunk and doing the same thing they do every night. To know that the world is your oyster and the just settle for a cheap hamburger instead is all-too-great a shame. You Only Live Once – do something special.

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Discovering Things and Losing Them

You see this man? His name is Ivan Rebroff and yes, he looked like that ALL THE TIME.


I can’t help but wonder if that hat is actually his hair. Perish the thought.

I mention him and his fantastic choice in headgear because I only discovered him today. He’s a German singer (born Hans-Rolf Rippert) who claimed Russian descent and made a name for himself singing foreign songs – particularly French and Russian – as well as playing the part in Fiddler on the Roof that sung “If I were a Rich Man (diddle-diddle-diddle)” and he’s particularly famous firstly for his bizarre Russianesque fashion sense and also his incredible singing range. The average human can reach one-and-a-half whole octaves if he or she pushes themselves. A trained singer can hit two octaves reliably. Good opera singers can hit three octaves (but their parts often don’t go much beyond two octaves anyway). Mr. Rebroff, however, could sing four and a half octaves. That’s all the way from a Bass register up to Soprano. The guy was insane.

What makes this guy more amazing is that I’d never heard of him before. Many of you might read this and roll your eyes. The guy’s a legend! I hear you cry. Well – I’d never heard of him and now I’ve been listening to his amazing voice all evening whilst going about my online business. I was looking at Russian songs on youtube when I found him. I started learning Russian because I loved the sound of Russian and its beautiful singing so this guy was right up my alley.

But then when I checked his Wikipedia page to find out who the hell he was I found that he had died in early 2008. I can’t say I wasn’t suprised – the guy looked fairly old in the videos I’d seen of him that looked to have been filmed in the eighties or something. But I experienced that all-too-odd feeling you only really get with famous people. Famous people have that knack of hanging around after they’ve died – you can still see their faces and their words all over the place. So it can be odd when someone seems to be alive – they’re singing and speaking on videos you watch and writing on pages you look at – and then you find out they’ve been dead for nearly half a decade. You realise all you’ve ever known about that person and all you can ever hope to know is just a shadow – a footprint left in the soil.

Part of my love for History is the thrill of imaging “being there“. The idea that, years later when people are studying those events in classrooms or whispering of them with awe in hushed places, you can sit back and say “I remember it. I was there“. This can range from revolutions to raves, concerts to calamities. We all remember where we were when 9/11 came around – we all remember those historical moments we were part of, however small. But then there are the ones we miss. Things like the Egyptian Revolution which one of my dearest friends was caught right in the middle of. It can’t be said I would have enjoyed being in that enviornment but at the same time imagine being there as history was made. That’s something special.

Which is why as I look on the imprint Ivan Rebroff has left on planet earth I’m reminded of all the important things around us that one day won’t be here anymore. I have a sudden urge to attend a Stephen Hawking lecture just so I can say I saw the man with my own eyes. He was “supposed” to die in his twenties. He’s seventy now. Even without his condition he’s fairly old and one day he won’t be with us anymore. One day the Queen will die – one day they’ll actually close off Machu Picchu for good (the soil erosion is damaging the ruins, after all). We need to see these things and so much more before they go.

This sounds morbid but actually it’s quite the opposite. We need to live. We need to see as many places, do as many things, meet as many people and be part of as many events as humanly possible. Have as many adventures as you can as many times as you can. Because they only come round once. Because you only come round once.

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Russian or Bust – Learning a Language Online.

I have a confession to make. I’m quite a language junkie. I become as obsessed about learning a new langauge as others obsess over the newest fashion or phone or film coming out. I’m sitting happy with whatever I’ve committed myself to learn and then suddenly Swedish seems so appealing or maybe I could learn Old English… 

The result of this unhealthy addiction to learning how to say as many things to as many human beings as possible means that I never get very far in my languages. If you were to ask me I would say that I could speak Hindi but if you put me in a room with a native speaker I’d be absolutely baffled by whatever came out of their mouth. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

At the moment I’ve committed myself (insofar as I can commit to langauges) to Russian. I adore Russian. Я люблю русский язык. I could eat, sleep and drink Russian. I love Russian music especially. The Red Army Choir almost makes up for the fear of thermonuclear war that hung over the latter half of the entire 20th century in my mind. Almost.

So when I want to learn Russian I know to learn from the mistakes of the past. I need to speak to people. As many people as possible. I also need to stop speaking English. Whenever I find myself with a Russian I’ll spit out a dozen or so phrases I’m comfortable with saying and I’ll flip straight back into English thereafter before I even realise it. 

Tonight I had a delightful conversation with a chap named Vladamir in Belgorod Oblast, Russia. How did I do this? Through the wonders of SharedTalk, Rosetta Stone’s online language exchange. You can text chat and voice chat with a multitude of speakers in most languages around the globe all eager to meet up with you and practice their English.


This does of course mean part of your conversation will be in English but it does mean, to look optimistically, that part of your conversation will be in the language you want to learn. These aren’t just people in the street who don’t care for your fumblings and confusions – these are fellow language-learners who understand your plight and want to help you just as much as they want you to help them. It’s a perfect enviornment and fosters a great learning atmosphere. I highly reccomend it to anyone out there looking to practice a foreign language. 

Одного языка никогда недостаточно!

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