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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 129 of 297
11 October 2014 at 9:58pm | IP Logged 
SERBIA DAY 2

So. The first day of the conference is over, and it has been a very busy day. Today there have been lectures
in two different halls, in hall B they have had mostly lectures concerning Serbia, and in hall A they had the
more general ones. I have been most of the day in hall A, but the first lecture of the day there was called
"Neural representation of sound symbolism and conceptual organisation", which was too theoretical for me,
so I opted for "Interpretation, techniques, options, risks, dangers" instead. The lecturer was Nataša Šofranac
from Serbia, and she was really good. Very direct and to the point, and she told us about the challenges for
an interpreter with humour and lots of examples. She was also refreshingly open about some culture specific
challenges.

I joined Iversen for that lecture, and could not help smiling over how different people can be from what we
expect after knowing them only through the Internet. I knew what he looked like from his videos, and he has
the same wonderful wit and humour, and attention to detail and lists that I expected. However I had thought
he was an introvert, but I found out that he was extremely sociable, and when he, Professor Arguelles and I
were talking, I was in fact the one who ended up sitting quietly in the corner, which really does not happen
that often :-) I guess part of it is that I generally like chatting about everything and anything, but in the
company of these two legends of the polyglot community, I exercised a considerable self restraint as to the
amount of small talk I would allow myself to do. Sometimes it is preferable just to listen.

I then went to hall A for the more general programme, and next were talks by two teenagers from Poland and
Croatia about their language experiences, and it was quite remarkable what they had achieved at such a
young age. One of them quoted a guy at the gathering in Berlin, who said that 'If you really want to learn
languages, no one can stop you, and if you don't then nobody can help you.' Well put.

I had lunch with a very nice Russian girl, Tania, and of all unlikely things we bonded over our love for Jane
Austen and James Bond. Yes. You read correctly. We were both huge Jane Austin fans, and slightly more
moderate James Bond fans, so between that and our respective language journeys, the two hours for lunch
just flew by.

After lunch Carole Westercamp from the Netherlands was on, about storytelling, and she was a great
storyteller and very entertaining, but I have no idea how that was supposed to tie in with languages.

The next lecture was on language coaching. I heard some people criticising that lecture afterwards, but it
inspired me to go home and think about my goals and how to achieve them. I did not quite know what
language coaching was until today, anyhow, so I did not have very high expectations, and in my modest
opinion the lecturer did a good job.

The last lecture of the day put me in a bit of a spot, because I really wanted to hear the lecture on 'Acting and
humour in a foreign language: inter cultural challenges of creative work'. The problem was that it was at
exactly the same time as Iversen's lecture on 'Vocabulary acquisition - word lists, the role of context, and the
number of words you need to learn'. After a hard struggle with myself, I ended up on Iversen's lecture, and
apart from the room temperature, I did not regret that. It was however sauna like conditions, and how Iversen
survived wearing a fleece jacket which I would only have worn on a very cold winter day in Norway, when we
must have had 35 degrees in the room is beyond me. The rest of us were sweating like pigs and fanning
ourselves even if we just wore T-shirts. Talk about being a cool customer!

I was a tad worried when Iversen seemed to scientifically prove, by research and statistics, that the Super
Challenge is a waste of time, (not that he sad THAT, but he might as well have) but eventually he also proved
that the studies had considerable weaknesses, which was a relief.

I could never have used his system, but he did inspire me to go home and work more on learning vocabulary.
He underlined that learning 4000 words does not make you speak a language, but it does provide you with a
fantastic base once you are ready to start talking :-) And Lord have mercy on the interpreters' souls, because
between the speed he talked at, and the amount of text he had on his foils, I would have had a nervous break
down if I were to interpret that, but I guess that is when you can tell the pros from the amateurs.

I thought it was a great lecture. At the end of the day what you want from a lecturer is inspiration, and tools
for improving your studies, and he provided both, even though I may be doing it a bit differently from how he
does it.

I'll tell you more about tomorrow when I get a chance, but since I'll be going straight to Belgrade after the end
of the conference tomorrow, it may take a couple of days :-)



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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 130 of 297
12 October 2014 at 10:19pm | IP Logged 
SERBIA DAY THREE

So then the conference is already over. I cannot believe how fast it went. After breakfast at the nice hotel
Zenith (which I am so going to stay at again if I ever come back to Novi Sad) the day started with a talk by
Alex Rawlins, famous British polyglot, on how to maintain many languages. I thought his presentation was
amazing, and enjoyed all his practical advice on how to do immersion from home. There was not exactly
anything new for me, but it was interesting to see the different possible measures put together. He was funny,
well spoken and down to earth.

The next talk was by Professor Arguelles, and was also extremely interesting. The topic was reading, and he
made the case for reading as much high quality literature as possible, since you never get as many words in
a normal conversation as you would in a book, and how important it was to get longer texts, in order to get
the same words repeated often enough for you to learn them. (I already see some precisions in the new
Super Challenge 2016 coming up :-) I did not quite agree with him (and Iversen) that you need a 98%
understanding of the words in order to read extensively, though. When I read Russian books I am perhaps
down to 15-20-30% comprehension. The argument was that with less than 98% comprehension, you would
get too bored, and give up. Well, yes, it is hard, but it is not impossible. I also agree that it is important to read
quality literature, but I think a case can be made for trash literature as well. It is much simpler, and much
more likely to be a vocabulary which is close to what people actually use.

We then had a nice lunch, provided by the cultural centre, in which I made the acquaintance of 5 Serbian girls
who were studying French. I sat down with them and spoke French with them for the next two hours. Most of
them were a little shy to speak, but one of them was really, really good, so we had a great chat. The last hour
(we had a really long lunch today) I first sat down with some Russian friends who were speaking Russian
among themselves. They offered to switch to English, but given that the acoustic situation was fine here, I
urged them to continue in Russian, as I was perfectly content just sitting and listening and catching whatever
bits and pieces of the conversation that I could. They started out talking about a medical conference, and the
guy who did 98% of the talking talked so fast that I did not catch much, but then we turned to the talk given by
professor Arguelles, and at that point I could actually join in and speak a little. In the end we moved into the
shade (it must have been 30-35 degrees today, and it was even warmer in the sun, where we were sitting)
where an Italian was holding court, and giving a speech in how to attract girls. It was followed with more
interest than the lectures :-)

Then we had a talk called "Towards an ontological theory of language: Radical Minimalism, Memetic
Linguistics and Linguistic Engineering". And I have no idea what kind of mushroom the organizers were on
when they put that particular gem on the program, but it consisted mainly of quotes from different linguistic
theories which gave me absolutely zilch. It was a horrible opportunity lost, as the lecturer, who was a really
nice Peruvian, had registered a non scripted indigenous language in Peru which used to have two speakers
(now one) and he could have told us so many interesting things from that experience, but chose to be an
academic parrot instead. So sad. He would have been Clugston's wet dream though. A linguist who had
registered a non scripted language.

In the end we had a lecture by the director of Novi Sad culture centre, which was a polyglot in his own right
(he gave his lecture in English and French) and gave a very interesting lecture on how to deal with new
words, and he actually did comment on the development with Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian turning
into/considering themselves new languages. He was an utterly likable guy, and I would have loved to talk to
him.

In the end Emanuele Marini gave a speech in Serbian (of which I obviously did not understand that much) but
I could catch a little bit here and there. At some point it got a bit embarrassing, though. One of the speakers
had mentioned that he had a very distinctive laugh, and even imitated it, something I found incredibly rude.
However once he started giving the speech it got a lot worse, because first Emanuele would make a joke,
then people would laugh at his joke, then he would laugh at his own joke, and then everybody would laugh
double as much of his laugh. And this got repeated 10-15 times.   I understood why his laugh was a thing,
because it was somewhere between a horse and a 4 year old girl, leaning towards the 4 year old girl, and it
went on and on, but in my culture you do not laugh no matter what, so listening to the whole room laughing at
his laugh was almost physically painful to me. And then he started crying because he was speaking of the
bombing of Serbia. Richard got up and hugged him and held around him, and after a little while he was able
to continue, but my heart really went out to him. I cry easily myself, and I know how embarrassing it is to cry
in front of a full audience. A few years ago I had to be the voice of my best friend in her husband's funeral,
giving very personal addresses to her family and friends and to the body of her dead husband in her name in
Spanish, English and Norwegian. I do not think I could have cried more if it had been my own dead husband I
was talking to, and I still cringe at the memory. However women in funerals are expected to cry; men giving
speeches in cultural centers not so much.

I must say he did an amazing job with the conference, and I told him so a couple of times. At large events,
there is usually heaps of things that go wrong, but Emanuele is very detail oriented, and he followed the rule
that if you want to be sure that a job is well done, you should do it yourself. Richard called him the "duck's
feet that work under water" and himself "the duck that flows on top of the water". That is not entirely accurate,
as Richard did a lot of work too, particularly regarding the different speakers, but Emanuele did an amazing
job, so he really deserves nothing but the highest praise.

Then Richard Simcott gave a closing address, and we went out for a group foto. I said goodbye to Professor
Arguelles, who I had enjoyed talking to several times during the conference (and following my new rule of no
kissing or hugging unsuspecting men, I simply shook his hand :-). He is one of the few people that I am
absolutely unable to use the informal form with, so whenever we spoke in French or Spanish I would be
strictly on a vous/Usted basis and 'Professor Arguelles' in stead of Alexander. For him that is probably
perfectly normal, but I never, EVER use titles, and very rarely last names, so for me that is an anomaly. I
also said goodbye to my Russian and Serbian friends, and gave them my card so they could add me on
Facebook, and met a really nice Ukrainian guy who had seen the video I did with Richard Simcott, so he said
'you're famous' and wanted a picture with me and also said he wanted to add me on Facebook. I also in the
last minutes of the conference met a Serbian girl who was fluent in Norwegian, and who had seen more of
Norway than I have. Unfortunately I did not get to say goodbye to Richard (too occupied) or Iversen (he had
disappeared). I'll give him another Norwegian bear hug the next time I see him, as he will then have moved
out of the "unsuspecting" category, being hereby forewarned :-)

Going back to Belgrade I decided to take the train, something I was really looking forward to. I had a free
ticket to any first class wagon on any train in Serbia, so I looked forward to just sinking back in a quiet, clean
environment and make this update. Relax, put my feet up, have a little nap. Enjoy the air condition after a
long, warm day. Little did I known which train ride I had in front of me.

The train did not carry a first class. I would have had to wait for an hour and a half more if I wanted that, and I
figured that there probably was not that much difference. In Norway you get free coffee and newspapers on
first class, but the seats are just as comfortable in second class. However when I saw the train, I realized that
I was not in Norway anymore. I have not seen a train like this since Spain in the seventies. The seats were
designed to give lots of work for chiropractors. I had not had a problem with my back for a long time, but after
exactly 18 minutes on this train I was already in deep pain. The fact that the train rolled like a sailing ship in
the middle of a storm did not exactly improve matters either. Also there was a kid who run around yelling,
and then his father would shout at him and punish him, and he'd yell blue murder for the next 10 minutes. I
would have given anything for a pair of ear plugs. And when the train started to run I realized that I was sitting
with my back towards the direction we were running in. Brilliant. And it stopped at every little stop along the
line and consequently took forever.

But this was not the worst. The worst was the smoke. When I first sat down (in a non smoking wagon) I could
sense that smoke was coming in from the back of the wagon, so after checking that the wagon in front was
also a non smoking wagon, I moved to the front. Once we had started running, I understood that people
were using the space between the two wagons to smoke, and since the door was half open and lots of smoke
was coming in, I might as well have been sitting in a smoking wagon. Deciding that there was probably no
point in asking them to stop smoking, I went over to the door to close it, but the wheel of a bicycle was in the
way, so I could not. I therefore asked the people there if they could be so kind as to go into the smoking
wagon, as I was sitting in the non smoking wagon because I was allergic to smoke, and it was not possible to
close the door. They just looked at me like I was some special kind of stupid, and the people around just
laughed. Evidently the idea of not smoking in spite of the large signs which said 'No smoking' was absolutely
hilarious. And it was obvious that smoking in the corridor was considered a normal thing, because as soon as
some people stopped smoking and went back to their seats, new smokers kept pouring in. At this point I was
starting to have problems breathing, and cursed the day that I had decided to take the train. There was
nowhere I could move to, as the train was so full that people were standing. And the air condition consisted
of the windows, some of which you could even open a little to get the heat and the smoke and the foul smells
out. In the end I had to close my eyes, think of fiords and the Norwegian mountains, with total quiet and fresh,
cool, Norwegian mountain air which I tried to tell myself that I was breathing in. The mind is a powerful tool.   



After what felt like an absolute eternity (but which was 'only' two hours - double as long as the taxi took) we
arrived in Belgrade. The trip ended by the taxi driver ripping me off, charging three-four times the right price. I
insisted on getting a receipt, and consider filing a complaint. The last thing Serbia needs are taxi drivers who
rip off the tourists, so I hope someone will give him an earful.

I am now resting on soft pillows in my nice, quiet hotel room. Perfect bliss. I have also ingested an overdose
of chocolate. Death and taxes are about the only things that cannot be fixed by Norwegian milk chocolate.
Irritation after a bad trip can. My hotel, fortunately, is adorable. I do not know whether Serbian hotels in
general are great, or whether I have just been very lucky, but both the hotels I have stayed at have been
really good quality, really friendly and helpful staff, and really inexpensive - and that is a combination which is
hard to beat :-)       
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daegga
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 Message 131 of 297
13 October 2014 at 12:03am | IP Logged 
Quote:

I did not quite agree with him (and Iversen) that you need a 98% understanding of the
words in order to read extensively, though. When I read Russian books I am perhaps down
to 15-20-30% comprehension. The argument was that with less than 98% comprehension, you
would get too bored, and give up. Well, yes, it is hard, but it is not impossible.


The studie(s) giving the 98% figure have some flaws. Anyway, their results also say
that 95% would be enough for most (the 98% on the other hand would work for pretty much
everybody) and some gifted individuals even get an adequately high comprehension with
only 90% of known word tokens. It's only a prediction by other authors that you would
need this high amount of known word tokens for extensive reading to work for language
learning, because you need to understand what you read in order to incidentally acquire
vocabulary from it. But just because you don't understand a lot doesn't mean that you
can't learn from the little you do understand. So I'm with you on this one.
But keep in mind that the quoted figures refer to known word tokens. Even with only the
top 100 words of a language, you get almost 50% in that measure. So your 15-30%
"comprehension" probably amount to 75-80% (or even more) of the word tokens. Just for
the sake of comparability of the numbers.


And now I long for Freia melkesjokolade. This stuff is addictive. I don't understand
why they don't export it.

Edited by daegga on 13 October 2014 at 12:06am

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Jeffers
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 Message 132 of 297
13 October 2014 at 2:25pm | IP Logged 
Solfrid Cristin wrote:

The next talk was by Professor Arguelles, and was also extremely interesting. The topic was reading, and he
made the case for reading as much high quality literature as possible, since you never get as many words in
a normal conversation as you would in a book, and how important it was to get longer texts, in order to get
the same words repeated often enough for you to learn them. (I already see some precisions in the new
Super Challenge 2016 coming up :-) I did not quite agree with him (and Iversen) that you need a 98%
understanding of the words in order to read extensively, though. When I read Russian books I am perhaps
down to 15-20-30% comprehension. The argument was that with less than 98% comprehension, you would
get too bored, and give up. Well, yes, it is hard, but it is not impossible. I also agree that it is important to read
quality literature, but I think a case can be made for trash literature as well. It is much simpler, and much
more likely to be a vocabulary which is close to what people actually use.


I have to say, for me the % needed for enjoyable reading depends so much on the book. When I first read Le Petit Nicolas, I probably missed 20% of the words on a page, and there were cases where I understood every word in a sentence, and yet the meaning of the entire sentence was a mystery. Nevertheless, I was able to understand what was going on, and the stories often made me laugh out loud. Now I'm reading a policier, and I feel like I'm missing something important if I don't know what one word means.

It sounds like you had a wonderful experience at the conference. Thank you so much for sharing with us in exactly the right amount of detail.

EDIT: In defense of trash, Krashen's article on narrow reading specifically recommends trashy novels for learners. He likes to read Star Trek novels in various European languages. http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/narrow.pdf. At the top of page 3 is a section titled "Lower Your Standards".

Edited by Jeffers on 13 October 2014 at 2:28pm

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Ogrim
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 Message 133 of 297
13 October 2014 at 2:57pm | IP Logged 
I agree with Jeffers that it depends on the book. Right now I am reading a book in Romansh with a rather complicated language (because the story takes place in the 17th century and it has a lot of vocabulary related to old-fashioned farming methods etc.) so I guess my comprehension level is at about 75%. However, the story is so interesting that I do not get bored at all. And most of the words I do not understand don't seem to hamper my global understanding of the story. However, I do agree that pure extensive reading (without a dictionary at hand to look up words you don't understand) is difficult and will be very boring if you only know 50% or less of the words. I am also doubtful about whether it is effective learning.

Cristina, you seem to have had a very interesting language-year so far. Kiev, Moscow and now the conference in Novi Sad. I am very impressed and slightly envious:0
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Solfrid Cristin
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Studies: Russian

 
 Message 134 of 297
14 October 2014 at 9:14am | IP Logged 
@daegga: I don't know why we don't export it either - in my humble opinion it is the best chocolate in the
world.

@Jeffers: Yes, I did have a great time. Thanks for the link!

@Ogrim: Yes I have had a great year, but after four really
horrible years in a row I feel that I deserve it. And if you are envious now, wait until you have seen this next
entry :-)

SERBIA DAY FOUR

Have I mentioned that I love Belgrade and absolutely want to come back? Today I had the opportunity to see
the city, and it has a marvelous feel to it. A little Greek, a little Italian, a little Viennese, a little Turkish and a
little uniquely Serbian. And lovely warm weather. I would be hard pressed to say which language I speak
when I ask for directions here. A little Russian, some pidgin Serbian - or perhaps mostly pidgin Russian :-)
Anyhow I get what I want and find my way even without using English. I had managed to find my way to the
tourist information centre, and was recommended a "free walking tour". They are actually free, but they are of
such high quality that you end up tipping heavily anyway. We learned lots of interesting things, and she talked
quite a lot about Serbian history/politics.

As a preparation to our visit to Novi Sad we were told never, ever to discuss politics in Serbia, and I must
admit that I disliked going to a country where it would be so unfree, but of course, like in most cases, it is not
half as bad as people make it out to be. I avoided any directly provocative questions, but as long as your tone
is gentle, polite and understanding, most Serbians are quite happy to discuss politics. I must say it is the first
time that I have been in a country which Norwegian soldiers have actually participated in bombing. And in my
own lifetime, to boot. I still recall what must have been the most heart wrenching telephone call I have ever
listened to. It was between the new Secretary General of NATO, who was at that time Prime Minister of
Norway, and who had grown up in Serbia, and his Serbian nanny. You could literally hear the bombs falling
in the background and she was sobbing on the phone, asking him why he was doing this, why we were
bombing them, what they had done, how we could do this to them? Explaining to the woman who raised you
why you are part of a team who is bombing her country is an exercise I do not wish on my worst enemy. I
have a very sweet Serbian colleague, who always showers me in compliments for my work and my
personality, and at one point he said that our two countries had always had a special contact. I just smiled to
him and nodded, because the only comment which was at the tip of my tongue, and which was that the last
contact had been my country bombing his country, was absolutely unsayable.

The guide gave us lots of tidbits about everything. Evidently statutes were a major cause of controversy. The
one of the prince who chased away the Ottomans, and which is located in the main square, Trg Republike
caused such a scandal that the Italian sculptor committed suicide. The reason for the scandal? The prince
was depicted without his helmet. Yes. That threw me too. Another sculpture, which was of a Victory statue,
showing a young man, and which was intended for the centre of the town, was put on top of a huge pedestal
up at the fortress. The thing is, that the statue is nude. And huge. So the argument was that since - eh -every
part of the anatomy of the statute is also huge, it would have a negative impact on the Serbian women's
expectations and morals. Quite. I am happy that there are almost no Serbian tourists in Norway, because I
cannot imagine their reaction to the Vigeland sculpture park with about 600 sculptures which are all - you
guessed it - nude.

We then went first to Skadarska street, which is absolutely adorable, with lots of small nice restaurants, and
then to the fortress which had a magnificent view over the two rivers. In front of the National bank we were
told tat you could get a funny souvenir: a one dinar bill with your own picture at the back.

It was a lovely guided tour, and I also got to speak to people from Argentina, Quebec (and their French were
not difficult at all - when I have listened to Québécois before, it has been difficult to understand) from Italy,
Brazil, Switzerland, the US and Australia. Oh, and I heard the most stupid question of the day from the
Australian. The guide had been explaining how the Serbians used two alphabets, the Serbian one, which is a
Cyrillic alphabet, very close to the Russian one, and a Latin variant. And I was fascinated by the fact that they
had a strict - one sound - one letter - policy in both alphabets, so in many ways theirs are the perfect
alphabets. They also had a - read it as you write it, and write it as you read it- rule. I think I fell in love with
Serbian right there and then:-). Anyhow, the Australian goes: "So if you write in the Latin alphabet, you also
all speak Latin"? The guide just looked at him in disbelief for a second, before she answered that no, there
might be a few scholars who spoke Latin, but in general they did not. I just looked at him and said 'Dude, your
alphabet is also a Latin alphabet'. I could not believe that he could be that ignorant that he would think using
a Latin alphabet meant that you should speak Latin. Seriously, what do kids learn in school these days!

And to make a great day absolutely perfect in every way, this afternoon, I received a call from professor
Arguelles who had a few hours before boarding his plane, and who wondered if we could go sight seeing
together. We had loosely discussed the idea in Novi Sad, as we were both going to be in Belgrade today, and
did not know the city, but since he was detained there having lunch with the director of the cultural center, I
did not think it would happen, so I was of course delighted to have him on my own for several hours, so I
could pick his brain at will. He is extremely insistent on not using English, so we have spoken mostly in
French and Spanish, but we also ventured into my weaker languages, so during the afternoon we have talked
not only in French and Spanish but also in German, Italian, Swedish and even Russian. I usually go into full
panic mode when I have to speak Russian with other non Russian Russian speakers, particularly when it is
someone who speaks it a lot better than I, but he was so gentle and understanding, that before I knew it we
were happily chatting in Russian. I had listened to his talk on "Assimil: Le Perfectionnement Russe and
understood the comments about his Russian being a tad stiff, but that was probably just because he was
speaking alone to a camera, because in actual conversation his Russian was very smooth and natural. So
now I have said vous/Usted/ni/вы/lei/Sie to him in six different languages. He should only have known how
uncommon it is for me to be this formal with anyone, but I must admit that even though he could not have
been kinder, I still find him slightly intimidating. He has been a forum legend for as long as I have been on the
forum. I never thought I would get to ever meet him, or speak to him, so I am actually amazed that I did
manage to say anything at all in any language, let alone speak to him in a total of eight languages.

His German accent is so beautiful that I think I could have sat at his feet all night listening to him speaking
German. Unfortunately I get inhibited by my own inadequacies in German, so we did not talk German as long
as I would have liked to, something I deeply regret now. And of course there are a hundred more questions I
would have liked to ask him, but the time flew by so fast. We spoke extensively in Spanish and French
though, as those are both his and my strongest languages. He could not help laughing when I said 'Да' a
number of times when I should have said 'si' or when there was a word I did not remember in Spanish but
which I curiously enough could remember in German or Russian. It was the same comfortable back-and-
forth-between-languages, that I have so far only experienced with Richard Simcott, and Luca Lampariello,
and as we sat at the fortress, looking out over the city of Belgrade, watching the blood red sun go down,
changing every now and then between languages, discussing languages, language learning and language
experiences and watching the bats fly around close by, I could not help but think that for a polyglot, life could
not become much better than in this very moment. I could not have dreamed up a better end to the polyglot
conference, or my stay in Belgrade.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 14 October 2014 at 9:16am

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rdearman
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 Message 135 of 297
14 October 2014 at 10:52am | IP Logged 
Wow <-- only word I could think of! Jealous = Me.
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 136 of 297
14 October 2014 at 12:29pm | IP Logged 
@rdearman: :-)

Serbia - Epilogue

I really must visit Belgrade again. It had a vibe unlike any other city I have been to, and it was amazing to see
streets full of people at 10 on a Monday night. I also read that Belgrade was the cheapest capital of Europe,
and in the other end of the scale you find: You got it: Oslo. So it is a bargain:-) Of course even a bargain
costs money, so saving money will be by main activity in the near future. This city is really worth a visit,
though. We had dinner on Skadarska street last night, and it felt almost like being in Seville, it was so
picturesque. The only two things which actually bother me in Serbia, are the smoke and the noise level.
Particularly the music level. When you speak in a foreign language, you need to hear the other person well,
and when you have loud music, or even a full blown musical group blasting into your ear, that becomes very
difficult. And the smoke is KILLING me. In most other countries I go to smoking laws have been passed, and
are respected. Sigh. I do not see either happening here very soon.

On my way to the airport we had to stop for a red light, and within second two men were washing the front
glass and received a small note for their efforts. They screamed and yelled at the driver in front who had
evidently refused to give them anything, and my driver just shrugged his shoulders and said 'Tsigani'. Out of
curiosity I asked him how much he had given them, and he answered '2 dinars'. Which is virtually nothing.
We don't even have a coin of that low value in Norway. Our smallest coin is the equivalence of 10-12 dinars.
But with that they had been content, so if I am ever to drive a car in Serbia (which I pray to God that I will not)
I will be sure to bring some small notes with me. I doubt they would have been doing that kind of work if they
had had a better alternative.

In the airport I picked up the English speaking newspaper 'Belgrade insight' which is a very good newspaper,
but it had disturbing news. Investigative news shows are shut down, or risk being shut down, a lot of people
do not get proper work contracts or benefits because their employers do not want to pay taxes, students are
protesting because of restrictions in benefits, teachers threaten with strike as they are facing salary cuts. It is
not signs of a well functioning society. And Putin is coming for a visit which is interpreted as a test of his
power over Serbia, while the newspaper said the country is playing the EU and Russia up against each other.
In a city which has been in a 115 battles, plus the NATO bombing, and which has been destroyed 44 times,
and is still a vibrant society, I would have hoped for more positive prospects.


Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 16 October 2014 at 5:06pm



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