Writing Short Ukrainian Pieces

Over the weekend I had my first Ukrainian lesson in a few weeks (both me and my teacher have been busy over the last few weekends and hadn’t been able to connect). She asked me if I’d learned some vocabulary on art and theater like she had asked. Unfortunately I completely forgot! But it was okay, she said to just learn it for next time.

I struggle with learning vocabulary in Ukrainian A LOT. I find I have a hard time getting new words to stick (I think in part because they’re often so different from English, unlike French words). I tried using Anki flashcards for awhile, but I hated it. I’m pretty sure I made the flashcards wrong (I put only one word on each flashcard, rather than a phrase or sentence which would have been easier to learn). But I also felt like I was making the same mistakes with the same words day after day, which was frustrating. The flashcards I needed to review were also growing exponentially each day; after a few weeks I needed an hour + just for Anki reviews, which was completely unsustainable. And boring. I tried cutting back the new cards and reviews, but I still just hated the time I was spending with the app, so eventually I gave up with it.

So this time around, I thought, why not try writing a short story in Ukrainian incorporating the words I’m supposed to learn? My original intention was to create some sort of character and write about their adventures dealing with the art world. But when I actually sat down to write something, I found myself writing about my life. The list of words I’m supposed to learn is fairly long, so I broke it up and wrote a few short pieces on half of them (literature, music, and musical instruments – I’ll work on the other half of the list later this week). The first piece. on literature, was extremely short; it ended up being a paragraph about interviewing authors because that’s what the vocabulary seemed to most easily reflect. The second piece, which was around the same length, was a paragraph about me enjoying singing along (badly) to some songs by Скай. Then the third piece was about musical instruments. I started what I thought was going to be another short piece, but as I wrote it, it grew until it quadrupled in length (it’s still fairly short at four paragraphs, but much longer than the other pieces I wrote)! I ended up deciding to post it on Journaly, Robin McPherson’s Journaling platform for language learners (he’s a polyglot Youtuber I follow – I read his book a few months ago). I signed up for Journaly back in July, but this is the first thing I’ve posted anything on there. Hopefully I’ll get some feedback on my grammar soon (but there aren’t a lot of Ukrainian posts, so it may be a bit before anyone comments on it). 🙂

A day later I wrote another Ukrainian post on Journaly. I was working on the art and museum vocabulary from the list, so I decided to write about visiting the ROM and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. I wasn’t able to fit a couple of the words in though (specifically the words for “icon” and “guide,” as well as phrases for hiring a guide and asking how much an entrance ticket costs), so I’ll have to see if I can either learn them another way, or incorporate them into another story.

Full disclosure: to write these posts, I used Google Translate for help with some words and spelling. I also don’t have any nice pictures of musical instruments, so I snagged this one by Firmbee from Pixabay to use as the banner for the post. I do however have pictures from the ROM, so I used one of those for the second Journaly post. 🙂

While it’s only been a few days since I wrote these pieces, I’ve found that I’m able to recognize the words I set out to learn! I don’t think I can produce them yet on my own, but this is really promising! Hilariously, all of the words I am having trouble with are verbs I needed to tell the story (mainly in the longer piece about musical instruments). I’ll need to work on those as well. 🙂

I’d also like to add that this is two weeks after I was working really in-depth with Eileen’s Ukrainian cover of “The Dragonborn Comes” and I still know what the lyrics from the first two verses mean (I didn’t work on the last verse because in the original it’s in Dragon Tongue, not English). I’m even getting better at singing along with her, although I do still stumble in a few places.

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Interviews 83-86

Oh geeze, I’ve missed posting the author interviews I’ve done on TBPL Off the Shelf since April! So here’s a list of all four, including yesterday’s interview. 🙂

In May I interviewed Elle Andra-Warner about researching historical subjects, travel writing, and the most interesting facts she learned about the lighthouses of the North Short of Lake Superior.

In June I interviewed Eleanor Albanese about what drew her to fiction writing from theatre, how her fiction writing process differs from her theatre process, and the role of midwives in rural Northern Ontario a century ago.

In August I interviewed Roy Blomstrom about writing a wide variety of forms and genres, what drew him to science fiction for his newest novel, and writing a multiverse.

And this month I interviewed Martha Wells about where she got the idea for Murderbot, writing engaging AI characters, and her newest book, Fugitive Telemetry.

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Learning Songs in Another Language

Last week, I was thinking about Rammstein. Back in high school, I loved Rammstein, and listened to them all the time. But the interesting thing is, even though I don’t know German (I wanted to learn it back then, but never actually sat down and did so), I was able to sing along to the songs (I’m a bit rusty, but still can!), and I actually understand a lot of what they’re saying.

So that got me thinking: why is this not the case with, say, the music I’m listening to in Ukrainian? I have a big playlist of songs in Ukrainian that I love and listen to quite often. I also have some specific songs I listen to more often than others. And while I can sing along (badly) to them, I don’t know what is being said, outside of a few words here and there that I know.

I will admit though, it’s been interesting seeing how periodically words I didn’t understand before are suddenly clear as day from listening to these songs over and over again while simultaneously learning more of the language.

But yes, what’s the difference between then and now, German vs Ukrainian? At first I thought, maybe I listened to the Rammstein songs a lot more than the Ukrainian ones. While that may be true, by this point I’ve listened to a few Ukrainian songs, particularly my favourite few from Скай (Skai), an awful lot, so that can’t be the reason. I even started to get a bit sad thinking that maybe it’s because I’m coming at this a little later in life (even though that doesn’t really make sense because I wasn’t actively learning German the way I’m learning Ukrainian now). But then, I remembered: I used to look up the meanings of the song lyrics all the time on one particular website (oh my gosh, I found it! It was on https://herzeleid.com/en/lyrics!) I remember spending a lot of time on that site years ago looking up the meanings of their first five albums, and even printing out my favourite songs!

With a few exceptions, I actually haven’t looked at translations on most of the Ukrainian songs I like (and I haven’t looked up translations or even just the lyrics of any of the French songs I listen to either). And the ones that I did look up, I didn’t really study them the way I did with the Rammstein songs; instead I was waiting for the meanings to become clear to me through study.

So I decided to test this out on Friday with “The Dragonborn Comes,” a short song from Skyrim that was popularized by Malukah on Youtube. Even though I’ve never played Skyrim, I used to listen to (and sing along with) this song a lot, along with a few others she did because they’re really pretty:

A few months ago, a friend sent me a video by a Ukrainian singer named Eileen who makes covers of English songs in Ukrainian. Looking at her videos, I discovered that she made a Ukrainian cover of “The Dragonborn Comes”:

I only focused on the two verses Malukah sings in English (the final verse is not English, but Eileen translated it into Ukrainian anyway). With the help of the lyrics in both versions (Eileen very helpfully posts the Ukrainian lyrics of her songs in her video descriptions), along with Google Translate to confirm certain words and phrases (they’re not word for word translations – the Ukrainian version is a little different but it conveys a similar meaning), I was able to get a fairly accurate idea of what the words in the Ukrainian version meant after just one evening. It took an hour or two and lots of repetition to get to that point though, listening to both versions of the songs while reading the lyrics (mostly listening to one language and reading the other so I could mentally map the words to each other).

But more importantly, most of the words I learned in the lyrics were still in my head the next day! Even now, a few days later, I can listen to Eileen’s version and understand what she’s saying! I can even sing along with her fairly well for most of the song (except for a couple of phrases where I’m stumbling over the pronunciation – they’re a bit hard for me to pronounce normally, never mind at this singing speed). And some of the words seem to now be in my “usable” vocabulary – those are the words you not only recognize, but can actively produce. 🙂

After my success with “The Dragonborn Comes,” I decided to give this a try with one of the songs I really like by Скай, “З Мене Досить,” (that translates to “I’ve Had Enough”), which I found the words to on pisni.org.ua. It’s going to take a bit longer because it’s a longer song than “The Dragonborn Comes,” but it helps that I looked up the chorus awhile ago so I at least have a starting point with it. There also isn’t an English version as it isn’t a cover and the English translations do not work along with the rhythm of the song because some of the phrases are shorter syllabically (yes, I was trying to make them fit but it didn’t work). Here’s that song if you’d like to check it out:


A translation of the chorus is: “I’ve had enough believe (me)/I’ve had enough, I do not want (to)/I’ve had enough, sorry/I’ve had enough, it’s better not at all.”

Surprisingly, there are a few words in these lyrics that were also in “The Dragonborn Comes!”

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August 2021 – What Are You Reading?

covers of the 6 magazines I read in August
The magazines I read this month!

I had a great start to August with reading.  I even managed to only read books that I own, which was great as that is one of my goals for the year.  But then the Canadian election was called, and I decided I need to put reading books in English aside until the election at the end of September.  Instead I’m going to be reading through the many issues of Maclean’s Magazine that I’ve been putting off reading for over a year (I started off with 13 and my brother says he has 2 or 3 more) in an attempt to be more informed prior to the election, so that’s going to keep me busy!

But I will continue reading books in French and Ukrainian as I go through all the Macleans back issues. 🙂

Nonfiction books:

  • Narrative Designer: Fabulator Ludus by Stephen E. Dinehart IV

Fiction books:

  • An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
  • Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire
  • Dungeon Desolation by Dakota Krout

I also read two local magazines (Northwest Nosh from 2019 and a copy of The Walleye from earlier this year) and 4 issues of Maclean’s.  I really hope I’ll be able to keep up my momentum with reading them in September!

I think my favourite book this month was An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire.  I really liked the idea of where Blind Michael, the master of the faerie Hunt, gets his new hunters and their steeds from.  I do wish the book had upped the horror factor a bit though.  The story revolves around a childhood bogeyman and the main character gets turned into a child – this just screamed horror, or at least a much darker vibe, a la Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

So what have you read over the last month?  What was your favourite book?

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My Current French Reading

As promised, today I wanted to look at the things I’m reading in French. 🙂

My French is a fair bit more advanced than my Ukrainian, so I’m able to read short stories for French learners fairly well. I’m a big fan of the books by Olly Richards (the first French book I finished was his Short Stories in French for Beginners). I’ve attempted to read French Short Stories for Beginners by Lingo Mastery a couple of times since last summer. The first time I had a hard time with the first story, so I put it aside in favour of the Olly Richards book. I’ve since made it through the first story and have attempted the second story a couple of times, but I still can’t really follow it. So I’ve put it aside once again and gone back to books by Olly Richards.

I ordered a copy of Short Stories in French for Intermediate Learners, as well as 101 Conversations in Intermediate French. 101 Conversations in Intermediate French came first, so I gave it a try. I was a little skeptical about the book because I thought the conversations were going to be just random conversations between random characters. But I was pleasantly surprised – the 101 conversations in the book are all conversations within a larger story! The book is basically a novel with all the description removed (there’s just a paragraph at the beginning of every conversation to give some context). I absolutely love it! I made it through the first three conversations with little trouble, able to follow the just of what’s going on, which was really exciting because it’s a book for intermediate learners, not beginners. I had a harder time with conversation 4 though because it deals with a lot of vocabulary I’m not familiar with (revolving around art crimes). I’ve read it a few times, and am following it a bit better, but I’ll still need to work on it a bit before moving on.

It was at this point that I decided to get the book 101 Conversations in Simple French. Some of the characters from the Intermediate book appear in the beginner book, and it sounded like conversation 4 revolves around what happened in the first book. So I decided to grab the first book on my Kindle to give it a quick read. That way I’ll know exactly what happened in the story (and hopefully pick up some of the words that are giving me trouble in the Intermediate book!) 101 Conversations in Simple French has been a super easy read for me – I’m on conversation 63 already, and have only needed to reread maybe two of the conversations so far to better understand them (everything else I just read once and moved on). It’s been a lot of fun because it really does feel like I’m just reading for pleasure and not having to work at it. 🙂

The other thing I did was purchase the audiobook versions of a lot of these books (the only one I haven’t bought is 101 Conversations in Simple French because I was planning on just reading it quickly). I’ve heard that if you read and listen at the same time, it will greatly help your listening comprehension in another language. I even bought the audiobook version of Short Stories in French for Beginners and started working my way back through that book while listening to it. I’ve made it about halfway through the book reading and listening, then started listening to some of the stories on my iPod while walking to work (I was super excited to discover that the file on my iPod had chapter selections! The file on my computer looked like one big 4 hour file with no chapter breaks). I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the audiobook version so much, so a big thank you to the narrator, Louis Bernard, for making them so engaging!

And that’s where I’m at with French. I’m hoping in the next week or two I’ll finish reading 101 Conversations in Simple French so I can get back to 101 Conversations in Intermediate French. I’ll probably work my way through that book before starting Short Stories in French for Intermediate Learners.

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My Current Ukrainian Reading

cover of Хто живе у Лісі - Who Lives in the Wood

Hey everyone, how’s it going? Today I thought I’d talk a bit about the Ukrainian books I’ve been reading lately: Хто живе у Лісі – Who Lives in the Wood? and Я Люблю Читати – Ukrainian Reading for Kids: Ukrainian–English. Both of these books are bilingual books written for kids. I found Хто живе у Лісі first and thought it was adorable, so I went looking for more books by Chatty Parrot and found Я Люблю Читати (along with another book of winter words that I haven’t really looked at yet because it’s summer).

a random page from Хто живе у Лісі
A Random Page from Хто живе у Лісі

I love how the story is laid out in Хто живе у Лісі. Every page talks about a different animal and the things they like to do; key words are in a different colour, so you can very easily understand what each word in the sentence means. I found it a great vocabulary booster for both new verbs and different animal names (I knew a few of them, like the word for “bird,” but have learned a whole bunch more thanks to this book!) Plus the pictures are just so darn cute! (And having the cute visual is helping me remember the different animals in Ukrainian!)

cover of Я Люблю Читати – Ukrainian Reading for Kids: Ukrainian–English.

Я Люблю Читати is a very generic title for a book with four bilingual fairy tales (I personally would have called the book something more like Я Люблю Казки – I Love Fairy Tales instead). The four fairy tales are the Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, The Princess and the Pea, and the Ugly Duckling. So far I’ve just read the first two – I’ve read the Three Little Pigs several times, and have just read Hansel and Gretel once so far. I’m finding I’m now recognizing words better the more I read the tale. As a bonus, some of the animal words I learned in Хто живе у Лісі are in the Three Little Pigs, too!

random page from a book of Ukrainian Fairy Tales that I have
A random page from a book of Ukrainian Fairy Tales that I have

My hope is that these books, which are fairly easy, will help me build my vocabulary so I can eventually attempt to tackle another, harder book of fairy tales (I took one look at the pages of that book and felt a bit overwhelmed by it (take a look at this random page from that book, you can see it’s a *little* harder than the random page from Хто живе у Лісі). I’m also nearing the end of 100 Easy Ukrainian Texts (I think I have about 15 texts left to go), but that’s been a little slower going because the texts aren’t super engaging. They’re not really stories, but more like little passages of explanation. They’ve been helpful for vocabulary building though, and I’m really happy that the author, Yuliia Pozniak, made audio versions of all the texts so you can read and listen at the same time! But I wish they had been more like a series of dialogues rather than paragraphs of description.

Next time I’ll take a look at the French books I’m currently working with! 🙂

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July 2021 – What Are You Reading?

Well, I am proud of myself: this month I finally finished reading Patrick DeWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor,  I started reading it back in March (!!!)  At that time I read about 10 pages because I really wanted to start it on that particular night, then promptly put it aside and didn’t touch it again for almost four months!  I even had to reread those first few pages to make sure I remembered what had happened.

Nonfiction books:

  • How to Maintain Languages by Robin MacPherson

Fiction books:

  • Championess by Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas, and Amanda Perez Puentes (graphic novel)
  • Goddess of Vengeance by Jackie Collins
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Lost Chronicles Volume 1 (graphic novel)
  • He-Man: The Eternity War Volumes 1 & 2 by Rob David, Dan Abnett, and Pop Mhan (graphic novels)
  • Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt

I’m not really sure what my favourite book was this month.  I enjoyed How to Maintain Languages.  It was a really fast read that was interesting.  But it also said a lot of things I already knew (a lot of the book reminded me of Atomic Habits, but not as meaty of a read).  Of the fiction, I think Undermajordomo Minor was my favourite.  I enjoyed it for the most part, particularly the quirky characters, but I didn’t feel like the story came together in a satisfactory whole for me.

So what have you read over the last month?  What was your favourite book?

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My Current Language Learning Routine

Hi everyone, how’s it going? I can’t believe July is almost over already! I’ve got a week off from work coming up in August that’ll be here before I know it – I’m quite looking forward to the break! I’m already trying to decide what books I want to read while I’m off! 🙂

Right now I’m still slowly but surely working on the editing project. I keep calling it that because I was originally contracted to edit it, but it has morphed beyond that and I’m now working on writing several of the chapters. I’m quite excited to be getting near the end of one that I’ve been working on for awhile now. Like I said, slow but steady progress!

I was very happy to fit in some reading over the weekend (and not graphic novels, but a nonfiction book!) I read Robin MacPherson’s How to Maintain Languages (that’s a non-affiliate link to his shop). Robin is a polyglot Youtuber that I watch quite often. I enjoy his videos, and was really excited to give his book a read. Robin maintains I believe 8 languages at a high level, and I was very interested in hearing how he maintains them all, as languages do atrophy if you don’t use them. Reading this book got me thinking about my current language learning routine, and whether it’s working for me.

I usually try to study one language at night and during the morning of the next day, then switch to the other during that evening, so I end up with a week that looks like this:

I started using this pattern so I have a longer chunk of time with each language (being able to sleep with one and wake up using it). Plus this way, I vary the amount of time I spend with each language. I am not a morning person, so generally whatever language I’m working on in the morning has little work done on it; I just listen to it on my way to work. Then the evening language gets a little more time as this is when I can watch something or read. It’s also the time I work on Duolingo (just after midnight, so all the time counts for the next day!)

I do have to change my schedule slightly every week though because I have a couple of language related activities that almost always happen on particular days (I almost always do French on Thursday nights because I attend a French language meeting on Zoom, and I almost always have a Ukrainian lesson booked on iTalki on Saturday afternoon), so I end up having two nights in a row of one language/two mornings in a row of the other language. The days of doubling up aren’t always Sunday and Monday though. Sometimes I will work on the same language Monday and Tuesday nights, or Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I try not to double up Wednesday and Thursday nights though, because that would have to be French, and often feels like a bit too much all at once with the Zoom meeting on top of the more intense regular evenings.

In his book, Robin talks about using dead time for your language learning. Dead time refers to the periods of your day that you’re doing other things that don’t require a lot of concentration. For me, the biggest use of dead time that I make is when I listen to podcasts or music in other languages when I walk to work (and quite often walking home from work too – this is especially important on Thursdays, as listening to French on the way home helps get my brain ready for the Zoom meeting). I have another period of dead time that I would love to add into my language learning routine: my afternoon coffee break. But that rarely happens because my iPod, which has my French and Ukrainian content on it, is locked in my purse in a closet at work during the day. I haven’t been bringing the books I’m working on with me to work either because right now my Ukrainian reading still requires a lot of concentration (and I am now used to reading at home where it’s quiet!), and for French I started doubling up by listening to the audiobook while reading. I could work on flashcards on Anki, which is on my phone, but I really don’t enjoy that (it feels like a chore, plus I think I built my deck wrong – I didn’t know what I was doing and just put in individual words, but I’ve since heard that phrases are more helpful for your brain). I do sometimes listen to music on the computer at work, but more often than not I end up just playing a game on my phone. I’ll have to see if I can come up with some sort of solution for how to better utilize this dead time more consistently (maybe having books I specifically read at work in both languages? Or use that time to write a little something in one of the languages?)

I do have other periods of dead time, like when I’m making and eating supper, but I don’t want to mess with that right now. When I started on this language learning journey (and added French on top of the Ukrainian), I always kept a period of time in my day between the two where I stayed in English and wasn’t worrying about either of them. I wanted that separation to help my brain make the distinction between them, and to help me keep from mixing them up. Sure, my brain still “helpfully” supplies a word in one language when I’m looking for it in the other. But overall, I find I can switch fairly easily from “French Brain” to “Ukrainian Brain” with little problems with this English time separating them.

Plus I need to maintain my English! That’s where I do my major writing. 😉

Thinking of writing though, this week I took the plunge and signed up for Journaly, Robin’s blogging platform where you can write in other languages to help improve your language skills. I really like the idea, because native speakers of the language you write in can offer suggestions for spelling and grammar on your post. I haven’t written anything on there yet (I didn’t know what to write about!) but I’m going to give it a shot soon and see how it goes.

So yeah, that’s my current routine. It’s not perfect, but overall it seems to be working alright for me as I learn these two languages. Do you have any routines in your life, whether for language learning or other interests? What are they like? 🙂

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One Year French Video!!!

Here it is: my one year of French video!

I shot the video 3 weeks ago (so I’ve now been learning on Duolingo for 387 days!), and managed to shoot the whole thing in one take. There are some places where I pause to try to come up with the word I’m looking for (and most of the time find it). I thought about cutting those pauses out, but thought this would be a good benchmark so I can see how badly I’m still doing that in the future. 🙂

The video almost got delayed AGAIN because of technical difficulties. My computer kept crashing when I tried to export the video from Movavi Video Editor, but thankfully restarting fixed the problem. 🙂

In the video, I ended up saying “Je ne connais pas” for “I don’t know,” rather than “Je ne sais pas.” I’m not sure if I used the verb “connaître” correctly, or if some of those instances I should have used “savoir” (although I do believe I got it right in terms of “I don’t know this word”). I tried to annotate the video where I used it, but I’m really not sure if I got those right, either.

This was hands down the longest video I have made speaking in another language though, so it’s pretty exciting that I was able to make this, even with all the pauses (and the couple of times I speak in English because I don’t know the word). 🙂

Other French updates: over the weekend, I actually did start reading French Short Stories for Beginners by LingoMastery (that’s the book I mention wanting to start in the video). I got the audiobook version of it as well on iTunes because I need to work on my listening comprehension. I also had another French lesson on iTalki on Sunday, which I really enjoyed. I’ll be booking more. 🙂

Finally, I took a French listening test online last Thursday as well. I need to score at a certain level to enroll in a local French program. There’s both a written and oral comprehension test; I tried them both back at the end of May and scored really well on the written comprehension test, but not high enough on the listening comprehension test. When I took the listening test again, I scored better (but still not quite high enough to enroll in the program). It was nice to see that progress though – the test itself seemed a bit easier after a few more months of working on French. 🙂

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One Year French Video Still Coming…

Hey everyone, how’s it going? I’m still plugging away at putting the subtitles onto the one year French video. I’ve got less than one minute left to go, so I *should* have it posted before this time next week!

In the meantime, I realized that I never did share this video from work. It was put together for this year’s International Mother Language Day, which is February 21st. As I’d been learning Ukrainian, which is the language of my forebears, I was invited to participate as well. It was a lot of fun filming this (although it was brutally cold that week – we had to shoot outside because of covid restrictions).

I just wish more people had participated. We have many people who speak different Mother Tongues at the library, including Finnish (which would have been great to hear – Thunder Bay has a large Finn population), Polish, and French.

But that being said, I still love watching this video. It’s super fun hearing the phrase “we hear you” in all of these languages! 🙂

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