The perks of taking skype lessons

In the course of my language learning „career“ I have tried the most varied forms of language acquisition: classical classroom settings in school and university, autodidacticism, private lessons, tandem partners, language-immersion abroad and … skype lessons!

I have met quite a few language learners who are hesitant about taking skype lessons, and while they may make you feel isolated, distanced and lacking face-to-face interaction in some cases, I have found that they offer at least as many advantages!

1) Flexibility

Depending on your teacher’s availability, you may be able to choose the most comfortable time frame for yourself – be it before breakfast, during the lunch break or after work – skype lessons are great for fitting your language activities into your busy schedule. You can enjoy a language class wherever you want and you don’t have to miss it when you are travelling!

2) Reduced stress level

Providing your internet connection does not challenge your patience too much, skype lessons might actually be less stressful than face-to-face classes, especially if you are a shy language enthusiast. The screen creates a barrier between yourself and the person you are speaking with. This might help you express yourself more freely and feeling less intimidated.

3) Seemingly endless possibilities

Skype lessons provide you with a vast amount of learning possibilities you might never have tried before. You could schedule lessons with different teachers all over the world to find the right fit for you or you could incorporate material like online-assessment and youtube videos into your lesson!

4) Less paper – less hassle

Online lessons usually provide you with digital material: texts, grammar exercises, tests etc. While working with physical material certainly has its advantages as well, I have found that the paperless version facilitates effective archiving and makes it so much easier to find that vocab sheet you thought you had lost for good 😉



The twin tigers*

The title of a book may evoke memories and associations. It can make us curious of frustrate us as we realize how little it corresponds to the actual content of the book. But surely it lends a sense of identity to the book and determines its destiny.

Considering the importance of the title, the phenomenon of “twin books” with the same title becomes even more interesting. They make us ask ouselves the following questions: can we identify a connection between the two texts? Do they make us of a common symbolism? How is the title referred to in the two books?

In order to analyze the phenomenon of twin books I chose two literary texts, both bearing the title “The White Tiger”. The first book was published in 1987 by the American writer Robert Stuart Nathan, the second one was written by the Indian writer Aravind Adiga who received the Man Booker Price for the book in 2008 .

Adiga tells the story of Balram Halwai, member of the very lowest Indian cast and of his social and professional advancement, while Nathan’s thriller focuses on the Chinese world of burocracy and corruption.

The white tiger appears as a symbol in both texts, yet the authors emphasize different aspects of the motive. Nathan’s white tiger is powerful, invincible and courageous and is embodied by the director of the investigation department.

Adiga, on the other hand, puts emphasis on othe characteristics of the majestic animal, namely its being extraordinary and different. In his book Bairam was dubbed “The White Tiger” by a school inspector who noted the teenager’s intelligence and finesse.

Both twin tigers are smart and tenacious, be it the indian driver who eavesdrops, robs and murders to move up the social ladder, or the calculating Chinese commissioner who creates a network of all the useful contacts she needs to reach her questionable goal.

Despite the differences in atmosphere, tone, content and cultural contexts there is no doubt about the existence of resemblances between the twin tigers.

*This article is the shortened English version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago for the blog “Postlitdasliteraturmagazin”, which unfortunately is not being updated anymore.

4 ways "A Clockwork Orange" messed with my head

Some of my friends read this book way back in school or are die-hard fans of Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I, however, despite having known about it forever, only had a very vague idea of the plot and never could make sense of the title.

One day I decided to finally read “A Clockwork Orange”, got my hands on a copy and cracked it open, not knowing in how many ways this magnificent piece of literature was about to mess with my head.

1. Forever wondering about pronunciation 

I skipped over the introduction to avoid any spoilers, which multiplied my surprise when I stumbled upon the first manifestations of nadsat, a slang used by teenagers in Burgess’ fictional world that is primarily a mix of English and Russian. Part of its comedic qualities the book, however, draws from the elaborate, old-fashioned expressions and language structures popular among youth.

In the cases in which you immediately and unmistakably identify a mixed-in Russian word, such as moloko, ptsitsa, korm, etc., you feel the insatiable need to pronounce the word in “proper” Russian in your head. But how did the author intend it to be pronounced?

This question becomes particularly pertinent considering Russian words, which were transcribed in an altering way. While there are no long vocals in Russian, we often come across the nadsat words “slooshy”, “shoom”, “govoreeting” etc., which indicate elongated vocals.

2. Reading and re-reading

While reading „A Clockwork Orange“, from time to time I would come across words I did not know. In many cases, checking an English dictionary cleared my doubts immediately, but in other cases I could not be sure whether I was faced with an English or a Russian word I was unfamiliar with.

Other times I would stumble across unfamiliar words which I could only identify as Russian once I re-read the sentence several times or read it aloud.

3. New (and very weird) associations 

Next, I came across a small group of words which obviously are Russian, but the way they are transcribed makes them homonyms to English words, such as “starry”. When reading the words “starry veck” for the first time I stared at these words for a couple of seconds before I started making sense of them. Yet I could not help imagining not only an old man but also a starry night …

The frequently used word “horrorshow” is, in my opinion, an example of the brilliant way in which the author construed connections between Russian and English words. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that “horrorshow” is merely the nadsat version and/or transcription of the Russian хорошо, which means “good”.

4. It takes over your brain

I experienced this phenomenon already with many other books, such as “Go Ask Alice”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “Oh Schimmi” and other books using a very distinct and unique narrator’s voice.

The nadsat slang got stuck in my head and for several days I would find myself going almost bezoomny from having  all these veshes in my mozg, always ready to govoreet like a nadzat, Oh my Brothers.

What to read as a language learner: Intermediate level

As well as at beginner level, also at an intermediate level, reading is an extremely language learning activity which hardly even feels like you are studying. As long as you grab the right material!

At this particular level, reading can help you to develop a feeling for different styles and language registers. Apart from that, it will familiarize you with more vocabulary and you can pay attention to common collocations and frequently repeated expression.

What to read?

Apart from skipping through the reading material you used at a beginner level you can go for something a bit more challenging since you are already an intermediate.

1. Short stories

Reading short stories is a very rewarding way of improving your language skills – for a number of reasons! First, they are, by definition, so very short. Which means they will hardly overwhelm you with pages and pages full of idiomatic expressions and high-profile vocabulary. You could even choose a linguistically complex story and re-read it until you mastered the grammar and the vocabulary the story contains. Second, as long as you choose an original text, it will give you valuable cultural insights. Third, since the short story is a literary genre, it will provide you with a sneak-peek into literary language. Of course, you could also go for a bilingual edition or simplified reading for your specific level.

2. Learners’ magazines

Learners’ magazines represent didactic material especially for language learners. While most learners’ magazines also contain articles suitable for beginners, I think at an intermediate level you will benefit most from them. I still read the Italian learners’ magazine Adesso from time to time since the issues are beautifully laid out, it is fun to read and I always learn something new flipping through the pages.

3. Functional texts

This strategy is most easy to apply when spending time in a place where your foreign language is spoken. But of course you will find an unlimited supply of functional texts on the internet as well! Be it the nutritional information on a juice container, a manual, the menu in a restaurant, the bus ticket or the informational folder in the botanical garden: Grab it and read it!

4. General newspaper articles

If you feel like branching out, you should consider authentic newspaper articles written in your language of choice. At an intermediate level, I would suggest choosing articles on general topics, or topics you are already quite familiar with. Remember that it is ten times easier reading about a topic you are actually interested in!

Study with me: Russian edition

Today I would like to show you how I complete one of my most effective language exercises: transcribing. This exercise took me a bit over an hour to complete – bonus points if you follow along with me 🙂


Due to my love for popular science I more or less randomly chose a video I found on youtube by typing in the key word “science” (наука). The topic intrigued me right instantly: 5 mysteries science has not been able to solve. I would suggest videos up to eight minutes for this exercise (unless you have a higher frustration tolerance than I do).

First step:

Let the fun begin! I listen to the video in segments, pausing it whenever it is comfortable or necessary. When I come across I word I do not know or I cannot make out how it is written I don’t worry about it too much in this first round. I just mark the position of the word with a blank space.

Second step:

In the second round, I listen to the problematic segments again, trying to find out which word fits into the gap. A good dictionary will be necessary to complete this step as is how you learn new vocabulary (plus it is fun solving these little riddles you stumble upon ;-))

Third step:             

Now I highlight all the new words in my transcript and list them for easy access.

Mission completed 🙂