Political Slogans

I think we can all agree that the slogan of Obama’s presidential campaign, Betting on America, is very unfortunate. Let’s gamble some more, really? After the debacle of 2008? The slogan sounds like the President isn’t taking us all very seriously and thinks it is all just a game.

This made me start remembering all of the unfortunate political slogans I have seen over the years. In the late nineties, Yeltsin ran his campaign under the slogan “Vote with your heart!” Which sounded like an admission that if one turned on one’s brain, one wouldn’t vote for this candidate.

The Russian semi-fascist party famously ran under the slogan of “We are for the Russians, we are for the poor.” The suggestion was, obviously, that this was not a party of those vile rich Jews. The fact that the party’s leader is Jewish made the whole thing even more hilarious.

The coalition of the right-wing parties in Russia (where the right-wingers are the good guys) ran a very expensive and a very unsuccessful campaign called “You are right!” That was such a heavy-handed pun that nobody took it – and the coalition – seriously.

Language Learning

I’ve been asked to write about language learning, so I’m honoring that request.

Back in Ukraine, one of my professors of English shared with us the story of his recent trip to the UK. (This was in 1995, and people were starting to travel.) Professor Sergueyev had 18 years of experience teaching English at the university level. He was a published scholar who was considered one of the best professors of English linguistics at our prestigious university.

“I was alone at the hotel,” Professor Sergueyev told us, “and I decided to go out for a pack of cigarettes. But I didn’t manage to make the purchase. At the store, I had no idea what to say, and I didn’t understand a word of what was being said to me. There has to be something wrong with the way we teach languages around here.” He looked very sad and almost broken as he was saying that.

The method that was used exclusively to teach foreign languages in the USSR is known as “the grammar-translation method.” The way it works is as follows:
the teacher lectures students about the grammar of the target language, the students memorize grammar rules, and then translate separate sentences into the target language. We spent a lot of time talking about the language, but never speaking the language itself. As a result, our vocabulary was completely passive, and our knowledge of the idiomatic expressions was non-existent. The difference between “go out”, “go by”, “go without”, “go against”, “go after”, for instance, was unknown to us.

When I started my methodology of foreign language teaching workshop in Canada, I discovered that languages were taught in a completely different way in North America. The instruction was conducted on the basis of the communicative method. Its central tenets are the following:

– only the target language is spoken in the classroom from Day 1.

– the teacher doesn’t lecture but, rather, let’s the students speak.

– the time dedicated to explaining the grammar is reduced as much as possible. You learn the grammar AFTER you learn to speak, not before.

– the teacher needs to spend as little time as possible pontificating behind the lectern. Instead, s/he approaches the students who work in small groups and speaks to them individually (in the target language.)

– a language doesn’t exist outside of a culture. This means that the instruction materials should be as culture-specific as possible.

– at least 80% of class time should consist of students communicating in the target language.

The methodology seminar was a little like a sex workshop. “You’ve got to learn to relinquish control,” the instructor kept saying. “Stop trying to control everything, just let it go. Don’t keep correcting the students all the time, relax, have fun, it will only start working when you stop worrying whether it will work.”

All of this sounded completely unbelievable to me.

“No,” I said to my methodology professor. “No, no, no, no, no. I will feel like a total idiot, marching into the classroom and speaking nothing but Spanish to the students who don’t know a word of the language.”

“Just give it a try,” the prof said with a kind smile.

I tried the method even though I was convinced it would be a disaster. The results shocked me: by the end of the semester, my students spoke the language. Of course, their speaking skills were quite basic but even the worst students would have no trouble making purchases in a Spanish-speaking country. After just 4 months, they were more comfortable with the language than my professors of English back in Ukraine.

If you want to learn a foreign language, I have the perfect recipe for you: speak and read. Use every opportunity you have to communicate with people in the language. And try to read something in it every day. Put on music in the language as much as possible. If you have a TV channel that broadcasts in the language, leave it on in the background.

And remember: speaking a language is like achieving an orgasm. You have to lose the fear and relinquish control. Forget how it will make you look, forget about making a mistake, just enjoy the process.

A Romantic Surprise

The people who work at this resort really like me and N. I think that’s because we are polite, always happy about everything, treat the workers with respect, and don’t condescend. Also, I’m a Spanish-speaker.

To show their appreciation, the workers decided to give us a romantic surprise. Of course, the butler asked me in advance if we wanted the surprise (imagine organizing something romantic for a couple that is in the midst of a fight, for instance), so it wasn’t really a surprise for me.

The romantic surprise consisted of a drawn jacuzzi with mountains of foam, champagne, candles, flowers everywhere in the room, and beautiful decorations. I will post a photo when I get normal Internet access.

Since N doesn’t speak Spanish, he didn’t understand what the butler was saying to me. I told him there would be a romantic surprise, but I didn’t say what it was. For some reason, N decided that the surprise would consist of a mariachi band that he thought I invited to our room. I’m still puzzled as to why he thought that my idea of romance is to have 3 men in huge hats in our hotel room. He is not a hugely sociable person, to put it very mildly, so he spent the entire evening haunted by the fear of having to interact with people for romantic purposes.

P.S. The fear of a mariachi band was not completely unfounded. Such a band performs in restaurants at this resort.


This is exactly how I feel:

I know that whatever date we pick in late 2013 won’t be the day I think of as our anniversary. We were joined for life the moment he asked me out on July 7, 2007. Will we be “newlyweds” next year? I think not. We’ve already been newlyweds. On our anniversary in 2014, when people ask how long we’ve been married, I’ll probably say “six years.” Because that’s much closer than the truth than “one.”

It was a really good day when we went to the courthouse and had the funny judge make a speech. And the trip to St. Louis after that, emailing people that we’d eloped as we rode on the bus, that was fun, too. But it was just another fun day among many other fun days. It was in no way a momentous occasion. The day we met, however, was. We started living together almost immediately (on the second date), so we knew from the start that it was big.

Paper-signing, however? I don’t know, I see it like giving the Caesar what’s his but not investing this tribute with my soul. The government likes people to sign stuff, so whatever. Real marriages are contracted differently. And they are dissolved differently, too. I know that only too well given that I divorced my first husband officially four years after leaving him and never seeing him again.