New Language Challenge: Russia Here I Come!

Dubai AirportG’day from sunny Dubai! :)

Today I’m finally able to share my exciting new language challenge with all of you. I’ve been dying to tell everyone actually but had to make sure the visa was going to come through this time (which it did! :)).

I waited about 2 months to get news on my last visa application for one of the most difficult countries in the world to visit but unfortunately it never came through after all that waiting.

I was really disappointed!

Let me tell you that as a blogger nothing is worse than going long periods without producing new content.

So I’m in Dubai now on a New Years vacation for two weeks at the Palm Jumeira (the man-made island in the shape of a palm tree) with an interesting new host family from Russia.

After our two weeks here I’ll travel with them to Russia where I’ll begin intensively learning the Russian language to fluency. I aim to be very fluent in Russian by the time I leave (not sure exactly when that will be yet).

Apart from the insane cold that I’ll have to adjust to I am really excited about my next move!


Starting Russian all over again

I studied Russian for a few months about 9 years ago and apart from a small bit of exposure I had to it back in Georgia, I’ve not studied it since.

Apart from the alphabet and a few basic expressions, I feel like I’m starting from scratch on this one.

I’ll be using the Assimil Russian book and Earworms Russian to get started, and when I arrive in Russia in the first week of January I’ll start my lessons through a private teacher and of course italki.

I’ve already started getting to know the maid and other staff of the family too who don’t speak any English so I’ve been able to pick up quite a bit of Russian in the two days I’ve been here which has been great.

As in Korea, being around the kids a lot is enormously helpful as well.

Of course as always I’ll produce progress videos and get video of the people I meet and the interesting part of Russia I’m moving to (far from Moscow and St. Petersburg) after I get settled there. This is as much a cultural mission as it is a language mission for me as I want to really connect and assimilate with the community I’m moving to.

In the meantime, if you have any recommendations of resources for learning Russian or suggestions on places to see/things to do in Russia I’d love to hear it!

Since I don’t have a lot of free time to blog here in Dubai I have to make this short but stay tuned for more updates soon.

Merry Christmas! :)


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What’s The Best Gift You Could Give A Language Learner This Christmas?

Foreign Language Gift Ideas

UPDATE: I highly recommend this online resource which is excellent.


Is Christmas seriously here already?

I know I said I’d have news for you by now as to where in the world I’m moving to next (a country where Christmas is totally illegal in fact!) but because of massive government crackdowns on foreign workers in that country causing delays (it’s been on the news) I’ve decided this week to give up on the idea for a while and go for my plan B instead.

Plan B is also a difficult country to visit but at least I’ll be able to celebrate Christmas. :)

Fingers crossed I don’t have any more problems with immigration red tape! Hopefully I’ll have positive news to share with you in a week’s time.

So thinking about Christmas led me to want to share a few inexpensive, last minute ideas with you if you’re shopping for someone who’s learning a foreign language or planning to.

I realize this post may be coming a little late as most of you have probably done all or most of your Christmas shopping already but if you’re like me and leave everything till the last minute then this might help.

If there’s anything you’d like to suggest, comment below! :)


A funkier and more effective alternative to a phrasebook: Earworms Musical Brain Trainer

Earworms MBTI reviewed Earworms MBT here a while back if you missed it.

For people who love music and use songs to learn a foreign language I’m sure they’ll be very impressed with this.

Earworms is one of the most innovative and promising concepts I’ve come across this year and it’s based on solid research into how a certain part of the brain causes songs to get ‘stuck’ in our heads, applying the same process to foreign language memorization.

I got myself the French edition last year and found it really effective in reactivating my French.

The music’s very catchy and enjoyable to listen to as well so you don’t feel like you’re studying at all. It’s a brilliant alternative to a phrasebook for someone who’s about to travel.

It only costs a little over $15 for a hard copy or about $8 to download the MP3’s.

The following languages are currently available:

Arabic, Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Cantonese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Polish, Russian, Spanish (European and Latin American) and Turkish.

Check it out here.


One of the best things you could possibly get as a gift for a friend or loved one learning a foreign language this Christmas: italki credits

Are you familiar with services that offer experience gifts?

In Australia, we have a great website called RedBalloon where people can buy experiences for people, as opposed to a normal wrapped gift.

It’s a fantastic concept in my opinion and a great last minute option for Christmas shoppers who run out of ideas or don’t have enough time to fight the chaos at the malls.

Well, italki is the ultimate language learning equivalent of this.

Think about this scenario for a second:

Your friend tells you that she’s planning a vacation or an immersion stay in Paris, so you have this great idea to head out and buy her a book for learning French.

You wrap it up all nice and hand it to her, she thinks it’s a lovely thought and gets through a chapter or two, then starts to find it boring or overwhelming and eventually loses the motivation to continue.

Within a few weeks that expensive book you bought becomes just another ornament on her bookshelf.

It may even turn your friend off the language altogether.

italkiI’m convinced that a real life, face-to-face session is one of the best presents you can buy your friend or family member if they’re learning a foreign language. It’s so easy to organize and will ultimately give them a very tangible experience that’ll help them improve and connect with the target culture.

Of course, you could go out and pay for some lessons with a teacher who lives locally (provided there is one) but it will most likely be a heck of a lot more inconvenient and expensive.

I’m currently using italki myself to organize additional lessons for Korean (as well as practice partners for other languages).

My Korean and my Arabic in particular have improved hugely by having additional lessons via Skype which I organized through italki.

I’ve had online lessons before which were organized through other sites, friends and so on, but I must say I’m very impressed with the convenience that a system like italki offers in connecting people, orchestrating times and facilitating payments.

It costs me about $9 a lesson which is pocket change (to give you an idea of the price difference, my one-on-one French teacher back home used to charge me $50/hr, plus all the fuel money I’d spend driving to see her each week).

A lot of teachers also have the option of packages, so you could buy say 10 lessons at a discounted rate and give that to someone as a present.

I encourage you to consider it as a Christmas gift alternative or even try it out yourself if you haven’t already.

Click here to register free on italki and browse the teachers/speaking partners that are available.


You could also use Glovico as an alternative to italki and help people in developing nations at the same time


A brilliant, fairtrade alternative to italki is Glovico (introduced by the Everyday Language Learner blog here a while back).

Glovico basically works the same way as italki but it differs in its purpose by aiming to help people in poorer countries earn an income teaching their language online.

It’s a great gift idea AND you’re helping disadvantaged communities at the same time.

Though there aren’t as many options on Glovico as there are on italki, it’s a great place to find teachers, not only for popular languages but languages that are more obscure or less mainstream (e.g. languages like Quechua, Amharic, Mongolian and Kurdish have teachers available for roughly $9 an hour).

Glovico’s one of the best concepts I’ve ever come across and has serious potential to help not only people, but language conservation efforts as well.

If you have experience with Glovico teachers please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!


More inexpensive gift ideas for language learners

Is the person you’re shopping for a bit of a grammarphile?

I personally find the Schaums Outlines series to be excellent. I bought the Shaum’s Outline of Russian Grammar a while back and found it to be very comprehensive and clear (plus the pages have perforated lines so you can easily tear out different sections if you need to).

For a less comprehensive and more easy-to-follow grammar series, I also like the Collins Easy Learning books which are usually under $10. Rather than just getting someone a phrasebook, the Collins Easy Learning books are like a grammar/phrasebook/dictionary in one and nicely laid out.


Are you looking for something with more of a focus on dialogue material?

The Colloquial and Teach Yourself books are hit and miss for some languages – some of them are excellent and some aren’t good at all in my opinion.

You can’t really go past the Assimil series for quality dialogue material though. Detailed explanations are in footnotes and the books focus on getting you to repeat useable chunks of real language with good quality audio.


Just after something fun and silly?

Two book series that are perfect silly gift ideas for language learners or travellers are Dirty and Making Out books.

You can usually pick them up for under $10 and they’re full of slang, swear words, pick-up lines and so on. I actually found the Dirty Korean book very useful when I was living in Korea this year. :)


A few gift ideas for Arabic, Irish and Korean learners specifically

A huge amount of the people who visit this blog come here via search engines looking for learning material in Arabic, Irish and Korean (since I write a lot about these languages).

It would take me weeks to write recommendations for all the other languages so I’m just going to make a few suggestions for these three in particular which some of you might find useful.


Irish language gift ideas

The Hobbit as GaeilgeFirst of all, I highly recommend Litriocht which is an online Gaeilge bookstore.

It’s a good place to order books in hardcover or paperback but they also have some good ebooks too which would be a perfect gift for those with a Kindle.

There’s also run by Gaelchultúr which is another good source of books (they stock an Irish version of Scrabble :)).

Gaelchultúr recently sent me a few review copies of their superior Gaeilge Gan Stró books and access to their courses at which I think would be a great gift idea for someone you know who wants to learn Irish (I’ll put up a review of these over the coming weeks).

My friend Eoin over at Bitesize Irish Gaelic (it’s had a lot of improvements since I reviewed it a while back) has put together a great 2-hour, conversational MP3 course called Learn Irish With Eoin which is available on iTunes for about €9. That’s definitely worth checking out for anyone wanting a good place to start with Irish.

Finally, I reviewed the Irish edition of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien earlier this year and would highly recommend it as a gift to an Irish learner.

It’s good timing considering all the interest that The Hobbit 2 has sparked. :)


Check out for Korean language gift ideas

My Korean Store is a fantastic place for any Korean language-related gift.

For quick, inexpensive gifts related to Korea or the Korean language there are so many cool options on this site. I recently reviewed one of the TTMIK books that they have.

You can also find some bilingual readers, posters and keyboard stickers that are really inexpensive and fun gift ideas.

Dirty Korean (also available for other languages) is a fun little book I picked up too that doesn’t just teach you swear words, but lots of slang expressions that you hear a lot in everyday conversation.


What to get Arabic learners for Christmas

As well as italki lessons, there’s another platform that I personally haven’t used but friends of mine have and assure me it’s fantastic – Arab Academy.

It is a lot more expensive (about $100 a month) but my friends who have learned Arabic to fluency swear by it, saying that they’ve had a very positive experience with its teachers. I can’t personally confirm this but it’s an option you can look into (if you’ve used it please share your experience with us).

I always recommend the Kalimni ‘Arabi series for learning Egyptian Arabic which is the best book series currently available for this dialect. Nothing on the market beats it in my opinion.

Also check out my post on Levantine and Iraqi Arabic books.

Another website that I’ve used a lot to buy Arabic movies, music and even food is BestArabic (it used to be called Arabia Tower). Sometimes it’s hard to find specific titles elsewhere like some of the old Egyptian classics but this site has pretty much everything and they deliver promptly.


Are there any Christmas ideas that you’d suggest for a language learner?

Share your ideas in the comment section below.  :)


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