Archive for June, 2011

OF TWO ILLS…

June 26, 2011

While browsing through the Internet I visited several websites which listed classroom phrases in English. Training teachers of English has the theme “Classroom Language” as its indispensible element. Back in  my olden days, every time I entered the classroom, I used to solemnly thunder: Stand up! Stand straight! Good morning! To which the class chanted: Good morning, teacher dear, we are glad to be here! and sat down. The next stage of the “organizational moment” (that was the name in methodology-speak) began with my question Who is on duty today?  The character of the “duty” was never specified because it was the same all the years when English was being learnt: a pupil rose to his/her feet and made a “report”: I am on duty today. Today is …(the date). The weather is fine. The sun is shining brightly (as a variant: The weather is not fine. It is cloudy/it is raining). Peter Ivanov is absent. He is ill. During the lesson the teacher’s commands filled the room like bursts of machine-gun fire: Open your books! Go to the blackboard (the boards were always black!). Take your seat! Why haven’t you done your homework? Tell your mother/father to come and see me tomorrow. Go out! There was something grotesque in that use of the language and, definitely, off-English.

The phrase lists I see on the Internet nowadays have a different spin. Instead of Stop talking! a teacher is supposed to politely find out: Why are you talking? An undisciplined pupil is reasoned with Be sensible, please. Copying isn’t cut short with the teacher’s Stop cheating!, but in this situation the perpetrator is anonymously addressed by Everybody work individually! or Work by yourselves! Should it happen that a student answers well, the teacher may react with Bravo! Great stuff! Fantastic! (it’s not said, however, whether the teacher should also jump with joy or not). If a student’s answer is wrong, the teacher is expected to say Good try, but not quite right, or There’s no hurry, you’re halfway there.

The final phrases that broke my “teacher back” were the recommended Don’t worry about your pronunciation! and Don’t worry about your spelling!

Frankly, I don’t know which choice is better or worse: the “goose-step English” of 50 years ago or the “don’t-worry” principle of today.

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HISTORY TIMELINE

June 24, 2011

Today I was making an inventory of my home library. The process included climbing a ladder, taking piles of books down from the shelves, wiping dust off the books and entering the titles in the “library list” – just to keep track of them (although I must confess that when needed the list is never to be found). Among re-discovered things there was a roll of white paper which I used for taking notes some fifteen years ago when I was studying History of Ukraine. At that time I marked the earliest registered date of the Ukrainian history (some 3,000 B.C.) at the very beginning of the roll and then drew a time-line all along the roll, chalking up every centimeter as 10 years. Thus, a century turned out to be as long as ten centimeters and a millennium of the known history stretched for one meter. The whole of the civilization was placed on the paper strip five meters long. This time I spread the strip on the floor, put a volume of Magosci’s “A History of Ukraine” on the Cucuteni-Tripillya culture and 11 books of Hrushevsky’s “History Of Ukraine-Rus” on the modern times and snapped a picture of it all.

Interestingly, human beings are fighting deadly battles (military, political, social, economic) on a segment of a few millimeters only – thinking that length to be the most important and making it the most inhuman.

CUL-DE-SAC

June 24, 2011

My friend told me once that the best variant for the study-work interrelation is to study in the capital and to work in the province. In the 1990s my wife and I lived in a small town and our children studied at universities in Kyiv. Our son and daughter had been talented enough to compete for and win places at prestigious schools. Besides, education was free. Nowadays it looks that a young person from the province will be doomed to stay in where he/she has belonged from birth.

These days universities are announcing tuition fees for the next academic year. The annual fees in Kyiv range from the equivalent of $ 1,500 to $ 4,000 depending on the school and the demand for a specialty. For example, to study at the foreign languages department at Kyiv National University will cost more than $ 3,000. If a student comes to Kyiv from elsewhere in Ukraine, this amount will have to be increased by the cost of residence, transportation, etc, which are much higher in Kyiv than in the province. The tuition fee must be paid immediately in cash: there are no bank credits for university education.

Of course, a part of university places are the so-called “budget” places, which means that a student’s education is financed by the state. However, the number of budget places for the coming academic year has been reduced. What is more important, however, is that the results of the universal national testing are not the only criterion for winning such places. Inner university interviews and “oral” tests conducted by university-appointed boards contribute to possible machinations which, as a rule, prevent talented students from getting what they merit.

The long and short of it is that if a lecturer of a provincial university has two talented children, today he can hardly afford to “send” them to the capital to study. I admit that the son or daughter may be the same highly qualified even with a degree from a provincial school, but there is something else that matters here: what if the child is eager to see new horizons, to listen to interesting people, to feel the “fresh and free wind drunk by the sails”?…

UKRAINIAN HUMOUR

June 22, 2011

I love the words of the type representative, characteristic, typical, global, emblematic, classical, etc. They seem to reflect a person’s natural desire to bring some pattern into the chaos aka LIFE. There follow two jokes which I would classify as typical Ukrainian humour. In a way they are interconnected because the second joke is a kind of reply to the question asked in the first one.

1)      The U.S. President Obama: “The average salary of an American is $ 1,500. They pay $ 500 in taxes. I have no idea how they manage to survive on the remaining $ 1,000.”

The Russian President Medvedev: “The average salary of a Russian is $ 500. They pay $ 200 in taxes. I have no idea how they manage to survive on the remaining $ 300.”

The Ukrainian President Yanukovich: ““The average salary of a Ukrainian is $ 300. They need $ 400 to survive.  I have no idea where they take another $ 100.”

2)      The Ukrainian police are taught English as a preparation for the forthcoming 2012 European football championship EURO-2012. After these introductory words in Ukrainian there goes the content of the topic for a policeman (told in English with a strong Ukrainian accent):

“Hello! My name is Serjant Петренко. Twenty dollars, please.”

SUMMER SOLSTICE

June 21, 2011

In less than an hour (at 17:16 UTC this afternoon, to be exact) the Sun, as viewed from Earth, will reach its northernmost extreme and will stand still before it starts to appear lower and lower above the horizon – till December 22, 5:30 UTC, when the winter solstice occurs.

I like “milestone dates”: they make our thinking large-scale and put us in the context of social events or natural processes, which helps us realize our own “littleness” and makes us think about how much of a midget a human being is.

We are children of the Universe. With the lengthening daylight hours we keep growing too. We accumulate something of the energy we are receiving from space. When the clocks turn for winter (as it’s going to happen in another six-seven minutes) we, by the sheer knowledge of it, will become more prosaic and down-to-earth. I do not know which state of soul — pre- or post-solstice  –is better, but I feel a bit sad that something grand lasts only a fraction of a second to disappear in eternity and to make us less romantic and more sober-minded.

P.S. With Coordinated Universal Time  (UTC), which roughly corresponds to what earlier was Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), you add three hours in summer to get the Ukrainian time.

P.P.S. The windows and balcony doors in our flat are all open. Our daughter rose from her computer and stood in the draught for a moment. She observed that it had become less warm. “No wonder”, said my wife and I in chorus, “it’s twenty-one minutes as we have been into winter already.”

P.P.P.S. Another point of humour: the British media reporting the welcoming of the sun at Stonehenge this morning quote the police as saying that “the event has passed peacefully, with just 20 arrests.” A typical English understatement 🙂

A SCOTTISH BANKNOTE

June 7, 2011

During my stay in England in 2006 I had a talk with a Scottish person from Edinburgh. He was very proud of his country and its past, and when we started speaking about literature he asked me if I knew something of Robert Burns’ poetry by heart. I recited a couple of stanzas from “John Barleycorn” (at that time we were sitting in a pub sipping beer 🙂 ), “Auld Lang Syne”, and, as far as I remember, “Coming Thro’ the Rye”. Alan was positively impressed by my presentation and asked if he could present me with a five-pound Scottish banknote featuring Robert Burns on one side and an illustration to one of Burns’ poems (“To a Mouse” – Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie) on the other. I accepted the present with gratitude — Alan was a great lad!

When Alan left, my English friend who had been listening to our talk, remarked in a good-humored way that I should treasure the gift because it’s not so easy for a Scotsman to give away five pounds.

I keep Alan’s gift as my most treasured possession. Of course, for reasons different than the Scottish thriftiness. One is our shared love of Robert Burns, another is the intensity of love each of us has of his own country. And also because Alan is just a great lad.

SIMPLE AND SUFFICIENT

June 1, 2011

During an interview a basketball superstar was asked by the radio reporter about his skill to make the game-winning shot in crucial situations. The sportsman’s answer was that he always tried to simplify a difficult situation. “You have to make only one shot”, said he. Yes, you may think about all sorts  of combinations in the game, about modern schemes of attack and defence, about when to replace players or how to use them most effectively. But, eventually, you forget all that theoretical accompaniment and  make a shot. Decisively  and accurately. Some players may run about the basketball court and never make the throw so much needed.

There’s something to learn from this metaphor. We must always keep in mind what is number one in this life and how we deal with it. There are many nuances about people’s behavior and their character, but one feature  (you make ONE SHOT if you judge about that feature!) is determinative and essential. And then a person you know becomes either good or evil, faithful or treacherous,  hard-working or lazy, intelligent or stupid, well-wisher or ill-disposed, etc.

The ability to see things in a simple way enables you ask “simple” questions — just as a child might ask them. And then the world  starts shining anew, because it’s more important to ask questions than to answer them. In this regard I remember a poem which I particularly like :

I wonder about this,

I wonder about that,

Why’s a dog a dog,

Why’s a cat a cat?

What’s the most a dog can do?

What’s the most a cat?

Can they wonder about me?

I wonder about that.


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