Posted on | August 1, 2014 | No Comments

La reunión se cambió de 9:30 a 8:30 esta mañana. En lugar de llamar desde mi casa, me decidí a ir a la oficina temprano y hacer la llamada desde allí.

Llegué al estacionamiento a las 8:17 de la mañana, media hora antes de lo habitual. No he visto muchos coches allí, así que conseguí un lugar muy agradable. No vi a nadie, salvo una o dos personas que acababan de llegar. Todo era tan tranquilo. ¡Qué buena manera de empezar el día!

Luego yo entré en el edificio y fui al lugar del café. Había una larga fila con mucha gente. ¿De dónde vienen?

(Here is what I am trying to say in English)

Early Bird

Posted on | August 1, 2014 | 1 Comment

(Written on 2014-07-31)

The status meeting was moved from the usual 9:30 to 8:30 this morning. Instead of calling from home, I decided to get to the office early and make the call from there.

I arrived in the parking lot at 8:17am, half an hour earlier than usual. I did not see many cars there, so I got a nice spot. I did not see any one except one or two people who just arrived. Everything was so quite. What a nice way to start my day!

Then I went into the building and hit the coffee place. There I saw a long line full of people. Where did these people come from?

Украинский кризис

Posted on | July 25, 2014 | No Comments

В начале года, я начал следить за развитием украинского кризиса. Меня поражает то, что, западные и российские СМИ противоречат друг друга очень сильно.

К моему моему разочарованию, большинство западных СМИ предвзяты и не говорят правду. Российские СМИ делают постпуают не лучше, но по крайней мере я не ожидал многого от них. Чем больше я заинтересован в правде, тем больше времени и энергии я потратил на её поиски.

Однажды, я захотел узнать, что в среднем украинец или русский думает о кризисе. Тогда я спросил у одного украинца и один русского в моем клубе по настольному теннису. К моему удивлению, они согласились в одном. Они действительно не хотят думать о том, что происходит в их странах. Они пошли в клуб, чтобы насладиться игрой в настольный теннис.

(Original English version of what I am trying to say).

The Ukrainian Crisis

Posted on | July 25, 2014 | 1 Comment

Early this year, I got hooked onto following the development on the Ukrainian crisis. I have been amazed on how much the Western and Russian media contradict each other.

To my disappointment, most Western media are bias and not telling the truth. Not that the Russian media are doing any better, but at least there is not really a high expectation on them. The more I am interested in knowing the truth, the more time and energy I spend on digging them out.

At one point, I was also interested in knowing what an average Ukrainian or Russian would think about the crisis. So one day I turned to a Ukrainian and a Russian in my table-tennis club. To my surprise, they agreed pretty much on one thing: they didn’t really care about what is going on back in their countries. They went to the club just to enjoy some table-tennis games.

Introducing Langscript

Posted on | March 6, 2014 | 1 Comment

I have recently created a simple browser-based synchronized audio-text reader for language learning purposes. I have checked out some other synchronized audio-text readers available on the web, but none of them seems to have sentence-level synchronization and at the same time support multiple translations. Out of frustration, I wrote my own.

LangScript synchronizes the audio and text at the sentence level, and it supports synchronization with multiple translations. It can display a single script/translation, or two translations side-by-side. You can click on any phrase on either side and the player will play the corresponding audio part. You can make it stop at the end of each phrase, repeat it, or continue with the next phrase.


LangScript is useful to language learners who want to:

  • Work on conversations / dialogues
  • Study transcripts / subtitles / lyrics
  • Read / listen to parallel texts / translations

Currently, the tool does not accept input from users, but I do have plan in the future to provide this feature. Meanwhile, I am adding materials by myself. The current repository is still small but growing. Here are some links for a few quick demos:

1. Transcript – Mr Putin answering a journalist’s question on Crimea (4 March 2014)
2. Basic conversation practice – FSI Cantonese Basic course
3. Audiobook – Around the World in 80 Days (by Jules Verne)
4. Paraellel translations – Psalm 23 in 9 different translations

If you find this tool useful by any chance, please let me know. I would also appreciate any comments you may have.

The Cost of French Tutoring

Posted on | January 25, 2014 | No Comments

In the past few months, I had the chance to organize tutoring sessions for some French Immersion students, and had been contacting and interviewing a lot of French tutors. I was amazed to learn how expensive many of these tutors were charging.

As a point of reference, the average tuition fee for an experienced English tutor with an Certification of Education would be about $20 per hour for a school-age child. How much would it be for French?

A Quebecker recently obtained her Certification of Education and moved to Toronto offered me $25 per hour, and she insisted that I would be the one who would prepare the material for her. Another person also offered me $25, but she was only an undergraduate. Yet another undergraduate told me she got paid $17 per hour by the tutoring agency, who charged their clients $40 per hour. I even encountered tutors asking for as high as $50 and $60 per hour. The final tutor I hired offered me $30 per hour and French was her second language.

Of course, all these high tutoring costs stand because of the high demands. Parents are willing to pay as most of them hardly know any French. Despite being told by the teachers at school that their kids are doing fine, somehow they still believe their kids need more help.

The irony is that the schools these kids go to already offer a well-developed French immersion education environment for free (public schools paid for by tax-payers).

Conversation Summary: Russian #5

Posted on | January 20, 2014 | No Comments

A new year has begun (and half a month is already gone). This year, I have made a resolution to simply speak more. For one thing, I am going to do more conversations with online tutors. I also think it would be a good idea to write a mini-summary after each conversation, if possible. So here comes my fifth Russian conversion with a tutor, the first one in the year 2014.

Date: 16 January, 2014
Duration: 22 minutes 44 seconds

I have not spoken to Evgueny for a month. I actually took a 3-week break from all my language learning, including Russian. So I had a slow start trying to get back to the language.

As in our previous conversations, we started with our complaints about the cold weather. Saint Petersburg turned out to be warmer than usual, so I was the only one agonizing about life in minus 15 degrees Celsius, and of course the recent ice storm in Toronto that left millions of homes without power for days (нет электричества).

This time, Evgueny wanted me to describe my typical day. This should be a very basic exercise if I have gone through traditional language classes, which I have not. So I struggled at the very beginning, searching for phrases like “I get up” (я встаю). I struggled until the end of my day, but managed to learn several phrases along the way, such as “work from home” (работаю дома), “after dinner” (после ужина), and “I go to sleep” (я иду спать).

The session lasted for about 23 minutes, a good time to stop before my tongue got completely tided up. Overall, it was a good start for the year ahead.

R Blends

Posted on | January 10, 2014 | No Comments

“Today, we went through some R blend words”, reported the English tutor. “Do you know what R blends are?”. I replied “No”.

One day last summer, my sister-in-law was busy and I was asked to pick up her daughter from a private tutoring lesson. My niece was going to enter grade one in a private school, which proudly claimed to push their students 2 levels more advanced than the normal schools. My sister-in-law was so worried that she arranged daily private English and Maths lessons for her daughter throughout the whole summer, including Sundays.

Fast forward a few months. Today, my niece came to my home after school. Her mother had some important things to do (again). So my wife took care of her and went over her grade-one homework with her.

Soon my wife cried to me for help. She was stuck in a crossword question on adverbs:

How owls act in stories? (a 6-letter adverb).

We gave up. We then quickly found the answer from Google. Then from the next exercise:

Unscramble the word ‘aptrusis’.

We gave up. We found the answer again, thanks to Google. The 6-year-old stared blank at us as we struggled through her exercises.

During this time, my 8-year-old daughter was quietly sitting in a corner reading an English book she just borrowed from the public library. It was from one of her favourite series. She enjoyed it very much. Then for her homework, she read a few chapters of a French book she borrowed from school. French was less appealing to her, but she still liked the story as it was her pick. She probably did not know what R blends or adverbs mean, but surely she had been enjoying great time with her languages.

Russians Do Smile

Posted on | December 21, 2013 | No Comments

Russians are known not to smile much. In particular, they do not smile at strangers or people who are not close to them. They consider this as impolite.

I and my wife witnessed this culture-shock first-hand when we dealt with the Russian parents in our after-school program. For a while since we took over, they just looked hostile to us, as if we had offended them in some way. Although we knew this was a cultural thing, still we found it difficult to get along with them. It was much easier to get along with their kids though, who were very much ‘Canadianized’.

Since the start of the new school year, the number of students dropped to a point that we decided to close down the program for good. This was sad enough. Even more sad, those who remained in the program were the ones who liked our program and wanted it to continue.

It was during this period that I began to get to know the parents better. One parent, who used to be mad at us with a lot of complaints now became very talkative and friendly to us. Another, who never smiled at us, started to smile when I greeted her. A dad who used to look ‘cool’ now started to make small jokes when we chatted. When the Russians know you better, their behavior toward you change dramatically.

Today was the last day of our program. I feel sad to bit farewell to the staff, the parents, and the children (although there were not many left). All the parents showed their appreciation to us, some even gave us Christmas gifts. We all felt that we were going miss each other, in particular, the children. At the end, we all promised to keep in touch.

My time with the Russian community seems to be ending here, and I hope I can still keep my motivation going in learning the language. I have certainly learned a lot about the Russians and their culture, but still there are a lot that I cannot understand.

Language Learning and Insanity

Posted on | December 10, 2013 | 1 Comment

Yesterday, I came across a post in one of the language learning forums. Someone asked for advice on improving his Russian accent. Despite clearly stating that he had been trying for a long time to listen and repeat but did not improve a lot, he was advised by a few others to keep listening and practicing.

Some people in the thread did not think phonetics was useful. My personal experience tells otherwise. My English accent improved a lot after attending an accent reduction course (which taught phonetics), and this was years after living in English speaking countries. Ironically, I did not even notice my accent was that heavy before attending the course.

My main point in this post is not about the usefulness of phonetics in accent reduction. I just want to point out that if some method is clearly not working well after trying for a while, it could be time to explore other methods.

Someone (most likely NOT Einstein) once said that ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Do you feel your language learning is reaching a plateau and not going anywhere despite all your hard work? Is it time to try something different?

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