February 1st, 2008


February Books 1) Take Off In Russian

1) Oxford Take Off In Russian

One of my New Year's resolutions was to try and brush up my Russian, so I returned to this coursebook which I had bought several years ago and not quite finished. I found it really suited my current commuting habits: I ripped the CDs provided and was able to get through each of the 14 lessons in one or two days, listening on the MP3 player and ensuring I had a train seat with a table where I could scribble the answers to the written exercises. At first I was a bit worried about getting funny looks from fellow commuters as I muttered the responses to the spoken bits, but you stop caring after a while.

The structure of the course is decent enough; the most difficult bits for an English speaker - the dative, instrumental and prepositional cases of the nouns and adjectives - are introduced in the middle with the start and end being a bit easier (as long as you can cope with the alphabet, that is). I still would have liked more drilling on the declensions, and feel that is the one area where I was left feeling more aware of my inability to produce the right answer rather than confident that I would be able to do it eventually.

I was surprised and relieved to find the verbs really not very difficult, especially the past and conditional; I have bad memories of trying to get those right learning French, German and Latin! There is a distinction between perfective and imperfective verbs but I found that not too mind-bending (or at least easier than the nouns and adjectives). On the other hand, one unexpected pitfall in Russian is that the spelling is not always phonetic. Sure, compared to English or French it's pretty civilised, but I cut my Cyrillic teeth on Serbian and Macedonian and so am used to words being spelt the way they sound. I can't quite forgive the letter г for its treachery.

Anyway, it doesn't make me a Russian speaker by any means but does give me a solid foundation to build on. My next steps are to work through the New Penguin Russian Course for the written language, and the software I got from Transparent Language last year for speaking.

February Books 2) The Year of Intelligent Tigers

2) The Year of Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman

This had been recommended to me some time back by purplepooka, so that's the second good tip from her that I have followed up this week.

I enjoyed it. The amnesiac Eighth Doctor, with companions Fitz and Anji (who I previously encountered a few books later), is on an artistically inclined colony world where the indigenous large tiger-like fauna turn out to be more intelligent than their human neighbours had thought. Multiple narrative points of view, both human and tiger, vividly and credibly portrayed background scenery, and a very Doctor Who-ish, humanistic resolution to the conflict between the two races. Will look out for more by this author.