language practice

These days a lot of my time is dedicated to childcare and my dissertation, but since we are currently living in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I’m also finding time to work on my German. I returned to LingQ, a website that I previously reviewed, and haven’t been disappointed. The site provides free content (text and audio) that is organized by your language skill level and is able to track the progress of your vocabulary in order to highlight only unknown words, based on your progress. Recent additions that I like are an automatic link for new words to google translator as well as a free iphone app that automatically creates flashcards for practice on the go.  The free membership level allows you to create 100 such cards, so you need to delete them as you go, unless you upgrade to a paid membership.  My only concern about upgrading is that once you do so, [EDIT: you can’t go back to the free membership without deleting your account, you have to be sure to delete your accumulated flashcards before you downgrade, because at the free membership level they can only be deleted one at a time–Thank you to Alex Ristich from LingQ for clarifying this.  There are certainly other benefits to the paid membership, which I haven’t explored.  One is an iphone app that allows you to read and listen to your lessons on the go.  Unfortunately the app is not compatible with my “old fashioned” first generation iphone.]  I look forward to seeing what kind of content for German is available as I advance, because the Russian materials were quite good.  There are a lot of other features of the site for those with more time, but as a basic resource for working through the eleven offered foreign language texts and improving your vocabulary, LingQ is excellent.  So far Russian is the only post-Soviet bloc language offered.

I also wanted to mention a site that might be interesting for intermediate and advanced Russian learners, or those with such students, as well as those who are fond of Russian pop culture. It is called RUSSIANCHAT, a videopodcast for learning Russian. The site uses a variety of audio-visual materials to introduce learners to a wide range of Russian language and culture. Each entry consists of a few introductory paragraphs and a clip of 3-10 minutes. Beginning with elementary language scenes, it includes a wide range of great clips from youtube, from a 1944 cartoon rendition of Kornei Chukovsky’s Telephone to a TV special about Yury Kuklachev’s cat circus. The most recent post presents an excerpt from Leonid Parfyonov’s take on the Chernobyl meltdown from his show Намеди. What will probably be most helpful for students and useful for teachers (as well as interesting for both) are the author’s terrific introductions that provide both linguistic and cultural context. In some cases these include key phrases or complete translations. The author of the site is Dr. Svitlana Malykina.

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May 21, 2011. Language, Students, Teaching, Web tools. 1 comment.

Reading Stalin

If you’re thinking of spending an afternoon reading (or skimming through) the works of Stalin in Russian, I would recommend taking a look at Библиотека Михаила Грачева, an on-line library since 2001.  Although I cannot guarantee that his collectionof Stalin’s published works is comprehensive, it is very impressive.  My specific search led me to three separate editions of his collected works: one from 1951, the second from 1997 and the third from 2006.  Professor Grachev’s library also includes related books like Сто сорок бесед с Молотовым.  As far as I can tell, there is no built in search engine.  But with Google’s advanced search function you can limit your searches to his site.  Or just add “site:http://grachev62.narod.ru/” to your search.

October 24, 2010. Biography, Full-text, Primary Sources, Research, Stalin Era, Web tools. Leave a comment.

DiRT and Archives Wiki

One of my considerations as I begin keeping this blog, a forum for exploring online resources for Russian scholarship, is whether or not a blog is in fact the best medium for my project. An alternative- the wiki, the content of which would be shaped by a much larger group of editors, potentially anyone.

One such site is the Digital Research Tools Wiki, affectionately known as DiRT. The site promises to collect

information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively. Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you’re looking for. We provide a directory of tools organized by research activity, as well as reviews of select tools in which we not only describe the tool’s features, but also explore how it might be employed most effectively by researchers.

Despite the fact that the site is very new (there was a sneak preview in May, 2008), it is packed with information, especially lists of software. For those seeking to move way beyond microsoft word, mozilla, google mail and excel, this is a very useful site.

This wiki is a very effective “directory of tools.” It provides immediate access to comprehensive lists of the many resources out there to accomplish whatever task you might be interested in (выполнить и перевыполнить!). But the site, at least at its current level, is not such a convincing “reviewer.” The reviews come last: that is, you first choose a category of interest, then a resource, and only then do you find out if it has been discussed in a useful way. Clicking on a number of the items simply took me to their websites, which I could just have easily have found by searching.

Another wiki with a lot of potential is the American History Association’s Archives Wiki, “intended to be a clearinghouse of information about archival resources throughout the world.” I think it was created in 2007, and at least judging from the section on Russia, the wiki is just getting started. Only RGASPI has been included. Success will depend on more of us getting involved. As for me, there’s something a little too impersonal about the wiki format when it takes on such grand tasks. We have yet to see if, as a brief article from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog suggests, the Wiki has run out of steam.

In any case, I’m happy with the blog format for now.

April 30, 2009. Archives, Research, Software, Web tools. Leave a comment.

Need a Russian phone number?

A couple years ago I signed up with a local company here in Toronto, vbuzzer, to get myself a virtual local phone number.  It’s a local 416 number which rings on my computer, and if I’m not available goes to an online voice mail service.  The message is sent to my regular email account, attached as a simple sound file.  I found this especially useful when I was abroad in Russia, as I was able to keep my local Toronto phone number for the small fee of $2.50/month.

Now that I’m back in Toronto, I began to wonder: would it be possible to get a local phone number in Russia, with the same sort of voice mail service, or with over-the-internet call forwarding.  Lo and behold, such services exist.  The most affordable service that I came across is TelphinUSA.  For a small fee they will give you a number in the city of your choice (I chose St. Petersburg) and allow you to automatically forward the call to any number in North America.  The service worked.  The only problem I had was that every once in a while I would recieve calls by mistake.  Because of the time difference, these often came in the middle of the night.  Therefore I would recommend using a local number that can go directly to voicemail, such as a vbuzzer number.

September 29, 2008. Web tools. Leave a comment.

Train tickets online (almost) and a Moscow Mapping tool

There are a few very useful tools now available on the internet to make life easier in Russia.

The most exciting resource is that you can now order Russian train tickets on-line at RZD.RU and pay by credit card.  This is very reliable way to beat the lines at the stations.  All you need to do is set up an account on their website and have the resources to type in cyrillic in order to enter your departure and destination.  The website allows you to check availability for various trains as well as classes of travel, and to compare cost.  After you have selected your train you can also make seating requests (For platzkart, it helps to know that seat #1 is closest to the conductor, while the highest numbered seats will put you either near the bathroom or along the aisle seats – 5-30 is usually safe.)  After purchasing the ticket you can print our your “e-ticket” that includes a barcode or just write out the confirmation code of your ticket.  There’s one trick: you must pick up the ticket at a station, any station.  I have also picked up tickets for someone else and I have also picked up my own ticket without my passport, but I don’t think this is possible as a rule.  The larger stations have special booths where this can be done, where I have never seen a line.  If there is no booth, you apparently have the right to cut in the regular lines, but you must do this at your own peril.  I’ve done it, but wouldn’t think twice about trying again.  People who’ve been waiting in line for 30 minutes to an hour have little sympathy for your excuse that “the instructions say that people with “e-tickets” can cut.”  One man threatened to clobber me if I went ahead of him, in the next line a mother with a baby pleaded with me not to go ahead, at the third they cried out: the window is about to close, go to another line! and so on… Apparently there are two websites that offer this service, but I’ve only ever used this one.

There is also an excellent mapping/directions called Marshruty Moskvy website for looking up addresses as well as transportation schedules for Moscow for looking up bus schedules in Moscow.

September 17, 2008. Living in Russia, Web tools. Leave a comment.