It’s a dreaded phenomenon that happens to the best of us–a foreign accent. No one, no matter how rich, privileged or educated is immune.

It happens to world leaders:


It happens to even the most creative and brilliant of us:


And it most definitely happens to Americans who try to learn Russian:

If you started learning a foreign language anytime after puberty (see The Critical Period Hypothesis), chances are, you will have a foreign accent in your second, third, fourth and all subsequent languages. Language learners everywhere dream of the day when they can have a fluid conversation with a native and not have the native visibly straining to understand what they are saying. And for the dreamers and linguistic perfectionists like myself, we lay in bed at night fantasizing of interactions where people automatically assume we’re native and don’t charge us double for souvenirs or taxi fares.  I’ve only had a handful of such interactions, after which I, rest assured, was so beside myself I had to quickly slip into a bathroom stall or empty corridor to do a triumphant happy dance.

Although native-like pronunciation can be hard to achieve, there are strategies that can be employed to improve pronunciation. I’ll share with you some things that have been proven through research in the field of Second Language Acquisition as well as my own personal experiences as a learner and teacher of Russian.

  1. First try to hear the difference: It stands to reason that if you can’t even hear the difference between the Russian ы and и, or English ‘l’ and ‘r’ it is going to be hard for you to produce the difference yourself. Surround yourself with the language, preferably with audio and visual cues given at the same time. Listen to a song and read the lyrics as you go. Listen to isolated words that contrast the two sounds you are struggling with and test yourself to see if you are perceiving the difference correctly. You can find one such video I did for Russian palatalization here.
  2. Get DETAILED instruction on pronunciation: If your school offers a Phonetics and Phonology of (insert your target language here). TAKE IT! A good, trained linguist should be able to give you explicit instructions about where your tongue should be when you pronounce certain consonants and vowels. What’s interesting here is that natives are not always necessarily aware of what is happening in their mouth when they speak.
    A diagram of th

    A diagram of tongue placement to illustrate palatalization in Russian

    I’ve gained some of my most valuable insight by talking to other non-natives who have achieved excellent pronunciation and asked them for insight from their own personal experience. One of my ah-ha moments as a student in a Russian Phonetics and Phonology class was when I learned that ‘t’, ‘d’, ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘n’ are dentals in Russian, meaning that they are pronounced with the tongue against the back of the teeth. I had, up until then, been pronouncing them as alveopalatals (meaning my tongue was up against the ridge behind my teeth), as we do in English. So this had probably been contributing to an accent in my Russian for many years. I feel like once I made this change, it majorly improved my pronunciation. When I taught the class years later I tried to incorporate fun (I guess only fun for a language nerd) visuals of where the tongue should be placed, accompanied by audio and even conducting experiments with our own pronunciation using PRAAT.

  3. Listen to music and try to sing along: This comes strictly from my own experiences. I’m not aware of any empirical research that conclusively supports this, but I feel that music improves language learning ability. As a teacher I have found that, consistently, some of my best students, with the best pronunciation are trained musicians. It seems that having your ear tuned in to the nuances of music also, in turn, tunes your ear to the nuances of language.
  4. INTONATION : The importance of intonation SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. In fact, recent research is starting to suggest that suprasegmentals (the sounds that happens at the sentence level), such as intonation, could play more of a role in sounding native than do pronunciations of vowels and consonants.One study, for example, took audio recordings of native and non-native Dutch speakers. The researchers blurred the actual words so that all that was left was the intonation of the sentence. Native dutch speakers were able to accurately pick out who was native and who was non-native simply based on their intonation.   So how might these samples have sounded? Watch this amusing video entitled “How English Sounds to non-English speakers” They are speaking complete gibberish and yet it sounds like English. Why? Intonation. Moreover, intonation is crucial, in many languages, in conveying that you are asking a question or communicating inquiry. Many learners of Russian, for example, try to ask a question in Russian but, without using the proper intonation, receive only blank stares. Using correct intonation improves communication ability and leads to more of what you’ll find in the next tip.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.49.42 PM

    An example of statement versus question intonation contours in Russian

  5. Confidence and speed: In most things in life you can fool a lot of people about how well you can do something if you do it confidently. The same goes with speaking a language. Try to speak at a normal pace. If you’re constantly stuttering and pausing to think a native will get frustrated and you will seem more accented. I teach my students to improve their confidence and speech rate by having lists of questions that they should be able to understand and quickly respond to. I try to help them anticipate what kinds of questions a native will ask them based on context. Even at the end of their first semester of Russian I have students who report that they met a Russian and, sure enough, the Russian asked the questions that we had been practicing and, as a result, they were able to respond confidently and fluidly.
  6. Mimic:  The other type of student I find to consistently have excellent pronunciation are the thespian type who are able to do impressions and mimic other accents. If you’ve ever watched someone do an impression, you’ll notice that they don’t just mimic the sounds being made, but they also mimic facial expressions and gestures. donald-trump-jimmy-fallon-tonight-show-interview__oPtThis can also be incorporated in language learning. Study the natives of the language you are speaking: How are they holding their mouth? Do they slightly pucker their lips when they speak? How widely do they open their mouth? As you look around at native speech (or watch it in movies) try to mimic the physical characteristics of the people speaking that language and you will find that it helps get your face and mouth in position to better pronounce the target language.


Ultimately the fact is that some people are born with different talents for different aspects of language. Some have endless memory capacity for vocabulary. Some have pronunciation so native-like they could pass as a spy. Some intuitively understand grammar structures. Some make up for in determination and hard work what they lack in talent. The last and final tip is perhaps the most important:

7. Don’t give up!  Learning another language is no small task. And as Russians say        about great things that take time: Москва не сразу строилась! Moskva ne srazu stroilas’! Rome was not built in a day (Lit. Moscow was not built all at once)

Foreign Accent Bravery

WarAndPeace_2D-largeI have a confession–a guilty secret that I’ve been concealing for many years. I risk losing all credibility as a russophile if I confess, but I can’t live with the shame any longer: I’ve never read War and Peace. As someone who has devoted every day of my life for the past 13 years to learning and teaching about the Russian language and culture, this has been something I’ve been secretly castigating myself for. Granted, my job description is language teacher, not literature teacher. I only think of myself as a literature lover, but maybe I shouldn’t even call myself that, considering this dirty secret. The fact is, I know the basic plot. That was enough to get me through my literature exams at Moscow State but I’ve never sat down and read it. Recently the BBC has come out with a new adaptation of the book. I had been seeing articles about it everywhere and my desire to read this Russian classic has flared up again.

11 years have passed since my time studying literature at Moscow State and if I thought I was too busy back then, oh boy, I had no idea. I now have three small children. I work. I run a household. My husband is gone on weekends working on an MBA. This beast of a novel is 1300 pages long with easily over 100 characters (I didn’t even count, just glanced at this). So with a life like mine, I’ve had to get creative to break this daunting novel down into bite-size pieces while still making the read a rich and enlightening experience.

But again, no small task. I knew that I would only be able to move through the novel a bit at a time. So I had to do something to keep the plot fresh in my mind. In addition to reading the actual text, I have created a way to be magically whisked away into that living, vivid and magical universe that one finds in the pages of Tolstoy’s works. Here’s how I’m getting through War and Peace piece by piece.

War and PEace audiobookSTEP 1: Abridged audiobook while doing housework: I first listened to the abridged audiobook. I know abridged is a curse word for literature lovers, but with three kids and CONSTANT distractions, I felt that I had to first get a feel of who is who and what to expect. This way, if I can’t read the book for a few days I don’t forget completely and have to backtrack. The audiobook took me about 5 hours and I was able to zone out and listen to it while doing housework. Hooray for multitasking.

STEP 2: Nightly reading: I then, of course, started reading the unabridged book. I have a goal of 15 pages a night, but I usually end up doing more. So the math on that is that I should be finished with the book in 86.6 days! I’m using the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.


My book. With tabs to mark important moments/character descriptions, because I tend to forget what I’ve already read.

STEP 3: Supplemental Materials in Audio form while driving: I have been listening to and watching all information that I can get on Tolstoy and War and Peace. While I commute to work (45 minutes each way) I listened to Dr. Irwin Weil’s lectures on Tolstoy and War and Peace. I’ve also enjoyed the following:

    • BBC Documentary “The Trouble with Tolstoy Part 1”  and Part 2 on Youtube.
    • Lectures/presentations from Professor Andrew Kaufman (Professor of Russian Literature at University of Virginia, author of Give War and Peace a Chance, which I plan to read and review this summer). I love how Professor Kauffman brings Tolstoy to life and makes him and his works relatable even to our generation 150 years later.
    • Listening to the unabridged version in Russian on the drive home. I typically cover what I read the previous night in English, so I don’t have a hard time understanding the Russian. This is a strategy I teach my students: first get a feel for what you’re going to be hearing in Russian, so that when the Russian starts getting dumped on you you don’t have to stress about what’s happening in addition to what’s being said–you already know. If needed I come home and go over what I just covered (Russian text available here), to make sure I understood everything correctly and to get my grammar nerd on.

BondarchukStep 4: War and Peace Movies While at the Gym: Lastly, I have been watching the screen adaptations. When I’m exercising on the elliptical at the gym I watch the classic Soviet adaptation by Sergey Bondarchuk.  At night, time willing, I crash on the couch and watch the most recent BBC adaptation. I have yet to get to the BBC 1972 version with Anthony Hopkins or the American one with Audrey Hepburn as Natasha, that will come next.




I’m not a student anymore but when I was my Russian literature classes were my happy place. It has truly been magical to escape to the universe of Tolstoy and Russian literature for a few moments here and there during my day. I’ve tried to enrich the experience with all sorts of supplemental readings, documentaries, podcasts and Youtube videos. I will share them in a future post. For now, wish me luck that I will once and for all be able to stand a little taller in my Russian classes knowing that I have conquered the great Russian classic!


Hello Everyone,

After over a year of intending to start a Youtube channel, a summer of sitting around thinking, “Oh, I really should start working on that Youtube channel now while I’ve got free time” I have finally done it (On the first day of the semester, ha ha).

When I teach I find that there are things that some students just need a little extra help with. I don’t always have the time to address students’ individual needs in class and so I’ve scoured Youtube lookingCollege Russian for videos that I could give to my students to supplement their learning experience, but I rarely find any good videos. So I just decided to make the videos myself.

The channel is called College Russian and it’s ideal for people who are in a Russian class and want additional help, or people who’d like to learn Russian as if they were in a Russian class. So far I have uploaded a lecture on the alphabet and on hard and soft consonants.

The videos introduce a concept and then give you lots of opportunity to practice and test yourself. They very much differ from most language videos on Youtube which just dump a whole bunch of information on you but give you no opportunity to loop back around and practice what you learned. Again, the idea of these videos is to teach you as if you were in my classroom.

So I hope you enjoy/share/like them. I would also love any requests for topics you’d like to have me cover.

Happy learning!


Sample Video

GreeneSummer is the time when I do (or at least have aspirations of doing) all the things I don’t have time for during the busy school year. So this summer I managed to read a book! and do a blogpost!

I had heard an interview with David Greene on the Diane Rehm show (here it is if you’d also like to listen), in which the author shared his stories and insights that he gathered as he traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway(in 3rd class, by the way!). The book is divided up into chapters named for a person he met in his journey, each story giving more and more insight on the Russian approach to the world. This book/podcast came at a time when tensions were escalating in Ukraine and Putin and Russians’ seemingly unconditional support of him was becoming more and more difficult for the West to understand. Midnight in Siberia, in David Greene’s own words, is “a journey and an adventure, a wild ride on one of the world’s epic train routes, 6,000 miles from Moscow to far East Asia, taking us into the heart of a country and into the lives of its people.”

The audience I think this book would be great for is anyone who 1) loves Russia and is looking for an easy read that will just warm their hearts and bring back fuzzy memories about why they love Russia. Or 2) Students or people who are slightly new to Russia and Russian culture, who have maybe visited briefly and want to learn more about the way Russians see the world, especially in order to make sense of the Russian approach to current political goings on.

David Greene is currently a host of Morning Edition. He lived in Moscow as NPR’s former Moscow bureau chief. He doesn’t necessarily know Russian and doesn’t consider himself a scholar on things Russian. Which is why his perspective and experience on Russia is one so many foreigners can relate to.

The audience that may find this book somewhat dull and redundant are those who already know a lot about Russian culture, who have read the likes of Orlando Figes, Tatiana Tolstaya, or other scholars, and are looking for something to richly broaden or deepen their understanding of Russian culture. This book is not necessarily a scholarly work. Although Greene does pull from literature and other scholars here and there, it’s by no means an in-depth scholarly analysis of Russian thought. It did have its insightful moments. For example, I enjoyed his synthesis of Mikhail Shishkin’s thoughts on the Russian mentality and how it was reflected even in Pushkin’s interactions. He quotes, “Pushkin saw that in Russia, the choice between dictatorship and democracy was beside the point: the only choice was between bloody chaos and ruthless order.” And indeed this very mentality and willingness to tolerate an authoritarian government is reflected in the mentality and opinions of many of the people Greene meets while traveling the rails.

I enjoyed this book. I love any read on Russia. I loved the format of this book, meaning, that he is just recounting the fascinating stories of the people that he meets as he travels across Siberia. He asks them to share their opinions on different matters and what’s fascinating is the somewhat consistent portrayal of the Russian character that begins to emerge. As he meets these people they all have tragedies, some small, some large, and yet as one of the men he meets explains it, “surviving tragedy is the way the soul of a Russian person is built.”

But the idea of Russians’ ability to suffer is not a new one, but it’s there. I too was dumb-founded and humbled by so many of the stories I heard about people who lost their entire life savings when the ruble crashed in the nineties. People who saw their grandma beaten up, almost to death, right in front of them. Another who was so poor his family ate nothing other than potatoes for a year straight. And yet they talk about these things so nonchalantly. There is no self pity or victimhood, if anything it gave them a sense of identity and strength.

So while the idea of Russian suffering is not some new idea proposed by the author, what David Greene did capture in this book is what many of you might have experienced(obviously if you’re reading a blog entitled “Russophilia) is that experience of being a foreigner in Russia and having moments that are so utterly baffling and irritating and yet, at the very same time your heart is swelling with love for the place. So I’ll share with you one of the moments from the book that had me grinning and violently nodding my head in agreement, because I had had so many moments just like it.

There’s nothing like a Russian babushka.

Russia can be so maddening. The day before, I listened to Alexei describe the horror of being tortured at a police station, then ignored after being fully exonerated, living his life without the use of his legs and with no one seeming to care but his sweet mother. This country’s system of justice–this country–is so deeply flawed. 

And then there are these poetic moments–a poetry that grabs you and touches your heart in ways I rarely experience at home, or in any other country.

I remember one day in Moscow that especially struck me. I waited for a city bus outside my office in the bitter cold. The bus arrived and creaked to a stop. The door opened, I boarded, and reached into my pocket for rubles to pay the driver. He was in an angry mood and kept speaking to me sternly in Russian. I used the little Russian I knew at the time–“Ne ponimayu [I don’t understand].” He was cold and mean and aggravated with my lack of Russian, or my being American, or both. I finally found the change, but he refused to give me a ticket, which you need to scan in order to pass through a turnstile and reach the seats. I was trapped there, with him, at the front of the bus. He pulled to the next stop and opened the door, fully expecting me to surrender and disembark. That’s when a voice came from the back of the bus. “Malchik!” (I had just been addressed as a “young boy.”) A large woman, bundled up in a maroon overcoat and maroon fur hat, was approaching me holding up a card with a bar code. I saw two other older women, babushkas, in their seats, also holding up cards. They were monthly bus passes. The first woman handed me her card. I scanned it at the turnstile and walked through as the driver grunted. The woman then yelled at the driver in Russian (I don’t know what she said, but I liked it.) Her generosity, and the generosity of the other women who were ready to lend me their passes, filled my eyes with tears. I returned the pass and held out the change from my pocket, but the woman refused to take it. “Nyet, sadeet-yuh [No, just sit down]!”

Did that bring back any fond memories for you? It did for me. And if you haven’t yet been lucky enough to go to Russia yet, just wait, once you do, you’ll have many warm memories just like it.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am continuing to get followers and comments even when I haven’t had time to write much in the blog lately. But this just shows me that there are, in fact, lots of people obsessed with Russia all throughout the world. And the great thing about Russia is that it is a never-ending pit of intrigue, so there will always be something fascinating to write about.

So here’s an update of what I’ve been up to. I am working as adjunct faculty in two universities. I now have THREE children which means free time is especially scarce. Last fall I taught advanced Russian for the first time and it was just heavenly to get to discuss Russian history, politics and literature all in Russian. This semester I’m teaching a Russian Phonetics and Phonology class which is also right up my nerdy alley.

But my next endeavor is hopefully starting a Youtube channel(once my crazy 12 credit semester is over) that helps students learn Russian. I find that many of my students either 1) need extra help beyond what they’re getting in the classroom and/or 2) want to go above and beyond and learn more than what we have time to cover in the classroom and 3) need basic help on HOW to learn ANY language (such as using flashcards, listening to music, etc.)

So today I’m writing YOU to ask for your feedback. Please provide your feedback to the following questions:

1. What activities help you learn a language?

2. What do you find yourself wanting more of but not getting when it comes to language learning?

3. What aspects of Russian are particularly hard for you? What would you like more help/practice/explanation on?

This will help me to start coming up with what my videos on Youtube should cover first and foremost.

While you think on the above questions, here is a playlist I made of great Russian songs that are great for Russian learners. They all represent various grammatical concepts and they’re very popular songs in Russian culture as well.

I look forward to your feedback and can’t wait to have more time to start posting more. Keep learning Russian and keep loving Russia!

So this summer I had the opportunity to take my husband and my parents to Russia and Ukraine to see my favorite places on earth and meet all of my friends from those places. I’m only now getting around to writing about it because immediately after I got back from my three week trip I started teaching Russian at two different universities. So life is busy. But I will start writing about this dream-come-true trip as the time arises.

In front of Спас на крови the Petersburg version of St. Basil's.

In front of Спас на крови the Petersburg version of St. Basil’s.

I’m not a fan of Petersburg. Let’s just get that out first and foremost. I don’t know why. I didn’t like it, okay, I wouldn’t say I don’t like it, I just don’t feel the awe and adoration for it like I feel for Moscow and Kiev. People are always baffled by this, but I like the parts of Russia where Russia looks RUSSIAN and not European. But it’s a very important place in Russian history, I understand that. I wasn’t super impressed with it the first time I went there in 2003 and I wasn’t super impressed with it when I went there 10 years later.

I took my parents to all the must-see places: The Hermitage, the Peterhof, The Bronze Horseman, Nevskiy Prospect. But I felt kind of underwhelmed by all of it. Which was unfortunate because it was our first stop on our journey and I wanted to feel my heart swell with love and joy.


At the Peterhof with my muzh.

Anyway, there were two things I liked in Petersburg: The Russian Museum (Had lots of RUSSIAN art and folk art, which I just love) and the monument to Anna Akhmatova across the river from Kresty.

Since my parents didn’t really know who Anna Akhmatova is I just made my husband come with me to the monument. I printed off directions about how to get there from a website and made my way there. I had been reading about this monument since it was first erected in 2006. I can’t even describe what I felt to finally see it in person. Even my husband, who only knows what I’ve told him about her poetry and her life, said he got major chills as we stood there at the foot of the monument.

Anna Akhmatova has a very special place in my heart. You can find a previous post I did on one of her love poems here. She was actually the first Russian poet that I fell in love with, yes, even before Pushkin.

1003186_10201487894017063_1901509735_nHer poem Реквием, or Requiem in English is about a very interesting time in Russian history that we didn’t study when we studied history in my classes in Russia. It is about the Stalinist repression or Большой террор (Lit. Big Terror) of the 1930’s when artists, scholars and anyone that was considered a threat to the regime was sent to prison, gulags or executed altogether. The infamous prison Kresty in Petersburg had housed many political prisoners since 1730. Akhmatova’s husband, Nikolay Gumilev, a fellow poet had been executed in 1921 by the Cheka.

Then her terror continued when, in 1938 her son, Lev Gumilev, was arrested and imprisoned in Kresty in addition to her second husband, Nikolay Punin (who later died in prison). If anyone could be considered a victim of political repression, it was she. Requiem talks of the terror of the people who waited outside that prison hoping to speak with their loved ones.

Her poem captured the struggles and despair of the people who were living through this terror and she wanted this to be her legacy. She held onto this poem until after Stalin died before she even brought it out for anyone to read. It wasn’t officially published in Russia until 1987. What makes this monument so powerful is its location and how it is the perfect embodiment of this part of her life. In a section of her poem Requiem she writes:



And by “here” she means outside of Kresty, which is just across the river. And sure enough, in 2006, marking the 40th anniversary of her death, they made this monument to her. This site is so haunting, the statue is so powerful, she stands in despair looking helplessly at the prison that has her son locked in and her locked out.

Closer down near the river bank there are a few more vague monuments to “Victims of Political Repression” This is the only such monument I’ve seen of its sort. Interesting that no specific mention is made to Stalin himself.


“To the victims of political repressions” Through the small window you can see the dome of the infamous Kresty prison.


This was my favorite place in Petersburg, hands down. Perhaps 
because there were no tourists. It felt like a little treasure 
that I had found. It really is in the middle of a bunch of
apartment buildings and a parking lot. Someone who didn't 
know about Akhmatova or her poem would never know just how
powerful this site is. And maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much.

Perhaps good ideas and peaceful approaches can come out of Russia. I’ve been trying to tell people this for years. In fact, that’s what this blog is all about. So, with the recent issues on policy, I’ve been very proud to see Russia step up and take a peaceful stand on things.  Their suggestion that Syria turn their chemical weapons over to the international community is a sign that Russia can be more than just ‘America’s competition’ in the international community. The leftover sentiment from the Cold War is that the Americans and the American press is hesitant to give Russia credit for any good thing it does. So the fact that I’m hearing everywhere talk about Russia actually having the best approach and that our politicians are open-minded to it, gives me hope that maybe we can come to see Russia as a viable international partner.

I’ve said in the past that I have issues with Putin. There are definitely many shady areas in his past. But this letter is a huge gesture on his part. Not only is his argument true, it’s rational and reasonable. Two words that the American press has not associated with Russian/Soviet leaders for many years.

I don’t claim to know a lot about politics. But I’m happy to see the role that Russia is playing in this. And I hope that we can find a peaceful solution that strengthens our relations with Russia. 

What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria
Published: September 11, 2013 3556 Comments

MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

You might have read my previous post about my experience taking the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) in Russian. It’s an official test administered by ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages).

Taking the OPI in Russian (read about how I thought I bombed it)

Well, in my blog post I talk about how I felt it went HORRIBLY! But I got my results. And I’m pleased. All’s well that ends well(that’s what the title of this blog post means, btw)!

DSC_0155 DSC_0156


And I’ve already got two different jobs lined up at two universities for teaching this fall. So I’m feeling good. I hope to still be able to post every now and then.

Hooray! Today is the day I get to write a happy post! I love Victory Day. I love those sweet old WWII veterans that walk around Moscow carrying flowers and getting kissed on the cheek by pretty young girls.  If I were in Moscow today I would be kissing them all! On days like this I remember why I love Russia and Ukraine(and I’m sure I would love Belarus too) so much. Because they have been through so much–tragedy after tragedy and they are still the most wonderful, loving and open-hearted people you will ever meet in your life.

They deserve this day. They deserve a day to celebrate after all that they’ve been through.

Here are a series of happy photos to lighten your mood after my previous two posts(on the Destruction of War and the Faces of War. The modern pictures come from this awesome article from about Victory Day. There are many more beautiful photos. I didn’t include them all in my post. They made my heart swell with love.

Please push play on this song and listen as you look at the pictures.

Поздравляю всех с Днем ВЕЛИКОЙ Победы!!!

Victory Then and Now

Raising the Soviet flag over Berlin on the original Victory Day

Raising the Soviet flag over Berlin on the original Victory Day

These beautiful present day pictures come from this article from The Boston Globe.

Victory Day parade in Minsk, 2011





A Soviet lady giving the ‘fig’ to German POWs



I hope this day will continue to be a celebration for people of all ages for centuries to come. May we always remember these heroes’ sacrifice!


The Faces of the War

May 7, 2013

Лица13It’s easy for us (especially in America) to think of war as something that happens far away with tanks and soldiers. But for Europeans, and specifically the Soviets during World War II, it was by no means something that was happening far away.

Today I’ve compiled several pictures from World War II from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to help us remember the human part of war.  As I look at these pictures I just can’t imagine what it would be like to have to be a mother or a wife during this war.

Today the focus is on the faces of the people who lived in the middle of this terror. I purposely want today’s post to be depressing so that tomorrow when I post about the victory and the celebration you can really understand why May 9th is such a joyous day in these countries now–because it meant an end to this…