Duolingo Milestones

When started my blog, nearly a year ago, one of the first posts I wrote expressed my difficulties learning Swedish. After many months of toiling my way through the Duolingo lessons I recently hit a fifty percent fluency grade. There’s still a long way to go. I need to fully internalise the lessons; practice with strangers more frequently; and dedicate more time to my second language. Naturally,  my development will flourish with the more I learn but I’d like to highlight some of my favourite aspects of Duolingo so far.

Firstly, you can learn at your own speed. The amount of time you want to dedicate towards your language is set by you. There’s five levels to choose from, which require you to achieve a set amount of daily experience in order to reach your desired goal. Experience is earned through completing lessons and the better you score the more experience you’re rewarded. Initially, I set myself on the second highest tier (serious) but after a while I felt more motivated and increased my aim to INSANE. I pursued this difficulty for about three months until I faced some personal problems and began to feel my ambition dwindle. Everyday the app bleeped a reminder to acheive my daily goal. After a while the cute owl mascot felt less of a coach and more of a reminder of my failings. I probably shouldn’t have had such an emotional response to a bird cartoon in gym clothes. I should have just knocked my difficulty setting down to something more manageable and start climbing the mountain again.

Another benefit to Duolingo is how the lessons are structured. I recall German, French, Russian, Polish, Welsh and Chinese lessons from school. They all started with learning the alphabet, basic numbers and explaining how many siblings you have. Duolingo on the other hand throws you straight into conversation, giving you vocabulary and slowly building the phrases of previous lessons into fleshed out sentences. Grammar is no longer my German teacher scratching on her ancient chalk board and screeching when the computer set on fire. Instead, it becomes second nature and the rules are immediately applicable to new scenarios. I find this particularly useful because I visit Sweden every fourth weekend. From school I learned how to describe all the subjects an educational establishment can impart, now I can actually ask for the bathroom in a restaurant.

One of the best things about Duolingo’s approach to teaching is that it keeps the lessons interesting. Admittedly, not every aspect of Verbs4 is a thrill but they do sneak in choice phrases that keep you engaged, such as:

“Det finns en man med en kniv bakom gardinen!”

There is a man with a knife behind the curtain!

or the Weather Girls classic song

“Det Regnar Män”- It’s Raining Men

As a result of my efforts with Duolingo learning Swedish is no longer as intimidating as it was a year ago. I have become more eager to both strange Swedes and find myself translating the information on packets of crisps. It’s a development I hope to maintain in my aim for native fluency.

 

 

 

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Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)

Misanthropic Guide to Autumn

As the nights start to stretch longer and summer slinks under the sunset, my social media is starting to sneak in posts about Autumn. People are eager for the ‘Fall’. The Americans are awaiting Thanksgiving and sickly Pumpkin spiced lattes. Their anticipation for the season is starting the clog my Instagram; their optimism is starting to grind my teeth. I am by no means immune to Autumn’s charms, I cannot scroll past a wooded scene with burning carpet of leaves without leaving a like. In truth, I believe that Autumn is the most picturesque of the earth’s cycles. I think that the focus on the ghastly holiday Halloween and what hot milk a shop is passing as coffee detract from some of the more subtle beauties of the season.

The Weather

For three months it has been either too hot or devastating thunderstorms. Every weekend somebody wanted to make “the most of the weather”. By the end of summer day drinking, obligatory barbecues and cramming yourself around overcrowded public places has become boring. Autumn saves us from these torments. Your weekends are your own again. There is always a cloud in the sky: potential rain. So, if you don’t want to be social you’ve got “it looks like it’s going to pour down” as a template text. The summer guilt of no longer effectively using your weekends can be washed away with the first Autumn rain.

Clothes

The weather is great again and so are the wardrobe. You can begin the slow drift into hibernation shape. No more beach wear or tight tees you have to skip meals to look appealing in. Under two or three layers you’re snug and secure. Am I chunky or is the jumper? They’ll never know because it’s the season to wrap up and it’s too cold to be taking off your clothes.

Bonfire/Guy Fawkes Night

Halloween is dreadful. Who agreed that strangers and their children can knock on your door, demanding you’ve spent money on candy? If you wanted to see eight Spidermans in one evening you’d probably book tickets for comic con. Even if you choose not to participate the horde doesn’t stop knocking. Yes, you’ve turned off all the lights but you didn’t go out on any other Tuesday this year and they can see your television glow through the curtains.

November the Fifth has nothing but social benefits: Firstly,  firework displays ensure people keep their dogs at home, so you can frequent the public park without the usual fear of having your genitals smelt by a stranger’s Alsatian. Secondly, there’s the huge bonfires, which provide warmth and a purpose for unwanted flammable waste. Occasionally, a homeless person makes camp within them, reducing a social problem. Finally, the holiday glorifies the destruction of government. It’s not about peace or Jesus but about scaring people in power. If a small group of men can conspire to blow up parliament then how much destruction can all these people do with their giant fire festivals do? Remember, Remember, you can end up in the embers.

School Has Started

It’s quiet. So much quiet. Mothers look peaceful. During the day the public places are nice and quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Day Yoga Challenge

Anyone who has ever  joined a yoga class knows that it’s a fairly expensive exercise to start. To begin, you have to dedicate yourself to purchasing at least six weeks of classes. Then you need to buy a decent mat; an outfit that doesn’t fall down and expose your undeveloped middle during downward dog; and that’s before the instructor is spouting the necessity in buying yoga blocks and belts. During the  shavasana of week six you begin to wonder if it is worth dragging all this equipment to office for the twice weekly class. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and make you happier to spend the money on wine?  Getting up from the mat I agree with my thoughts. I quit, commit myself to my correct decision to choose alcohol, avoid the instructor’s “where are you” emails and never walk past the studio again.

Thankfully the internet has changed my usual exposure to yoga and allowed me to pursue an interest without leaving my bedroom. A plethora of instructors are now online producing introductions for beginners that are slowly developing my abilities. It’s a whole approach to exercise in which I don’t have to talk to anyone or worry that I can’t straighten my leg as well as the others.

The choice of instructors online is huge, so through a little trial and error you can find one producing content that appeals to you. Don’t like the grating tones of a thirty something Californian? Not a problem when there’s whole families of Indian yogis instructing in many styles. Is your instructor too attractive and it’s hard to bend without being aroused by the computer screen? Also not a problem because the internet is for everybody, including ugly people.

Currently, I’m on Day Ten of a thirty day challenge and I’m starting to feel more flexible. Taking the time out of my day to focus on breathing and slow movement is a great boost to my mood. The only downside to yoga at home is not being able to walk past people with your mat. Strangers no longer know how healthy I am or productive in my personal life. I’ve had to find new methods of communicating how fantastic my lifestyle is, such as being photographed in my most pretzel like posture or writing blog posts about yoga…

 

Reading List

Through the mystery, whim and mercy of our great universe I have been gifted with the rare three day weekend. I have no doubt that my fortunes will shortly run out. Tuesday will be rife with torrential rains, cancelled public transport and home invasions. In spite of the horrors next week has in store I shall whittle away my days of rest reading as much as possible and placing a book order. I thought I’d share my long weekend reads with you. Hopefully you’ll get one yourself or leave a suggestion.

Amélie Nothomb– Hygeine and the Assasain

My Canadian friend recommended this next book by the Japanese born, Flemish author. Written in French it was Nothomb’s first novel and for all the searching in the world I cannot find an English language version of the text apart from on Amazon. I’ve tried two e-readers, four book shops-I can’t even download it onto my Kindle. The plot is a mystery but I’m going to have to place an Amazon order just to get hold of it. I confess dear reader, I am only writing this blog post because I want more book suggestions to pad out my online basket.  Free shipping is essential.

Plato- The Symposium

I started my journey into philosophical texts in random places. Firstly, I dove into Simone de Beauvoir and Camus. Then I  stepped back into as much Nietzsche as possible. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated their lessons I had the feeling I started in the wrong place. To fix this I went to Youtube and found a series of lectures that intended to be a rough syllabus to a first year undergraduate course.

The videos sent me back to Plato and over the past year I’ve been making my way through many of his writings. I’d recommend Plato as an accessible introduction to Philosophy. His Socratic dialogues are easy to follow with their conversational structure but still contain fresh ideas to ease open your thinking. Finally, I have reached the symposium. I’ve saved it for last because it sounds the most entertaining: slightly liquored people making speeches about love- an ancient Greek gay wedding reception.

Agatha Christie- To Be Confirmed

There’s no need for panic my confused Agatha fan. To Be Confirmed is not the secret Christie title you never read. I just haven’t decided the exact book to settle down with yet. I’m open to suggestions except The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Everyone knows the policeman was the killer all along and if you didn’t it has been spoil for you just as it was for me. But I can hear you dear reader querying through your screen, “Why Agatha Christie?” The reasons are numerous and complex: I’m English, she’s apparently pretty good and my favourite episode of Dr Who centers around her.

 

Civ V: My Favourite Sink Time

I have a terrible habit with video games of restarting half way through. I haven’t finished the main story line in Skyrim due to wanting to create a new character. Similarly, whenever I play Sid Meyer’s Civilization V I find myself starting a fresh game after an hour of playing. As soon as my capital city begins to approach glory my mind drifts to all the other empires I could be ruling and I’ve exited to the main menu to find a new great leader to role play.

My desire to want to be all available Civilizations means that after playing for five years I have only recently finished a game. Completing a game was partly hampered by my laptop’s processing limitations, which was solved by Steam offering a less intensive touch screen option. However, the technical barrier was far less of an inhibitor than my itch to restart. After defeating both problems I have finally succeeded at all victory conditions and am able to recommend CivV as one of my favourite games.

The appeal of CivV is largely in the level of choice available. You’re offered over twenty Civilizations to choose from, allowing you to pick your favourite current or historical faction. You can resurrect The Vikings or Bablyon and continue their journey into the modern world, defying the ruling of time. Most current countries are available as well. America can be made a scientific beacon for the world again and Trump doesn’t have to be President.

In order to win a game there are several options. Naturally, war is an option for those who want to rule the world with a sword or a nuclear bomb. You can be Genghis Khan and trample cities under a Monglian war horde but it affects the happiness of your population and is a large economic drain. If you’re like myself then and war isn’t always the way then you can win through Diplomacy, Culture or Science instead.

Ultimately, CivV is a unique offering among Turn Based Strategy games. There are a myriad of intriguing mechanics to be considered such as Religion, Tourism and voting in the United Nations. Civ has given me some of my fondest gaming memories and hardest won victories. It’s not every day you that you can launch India to the moon as President Ghandi or be voted Leader of the World whilst role playing the King of Sweden.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.