Culture: 318 posts

Art, travel, books, history

How I Learn Languages 3 : How to Pick a Tutor on Italki

When I shared my tips on learning languages, I received many letters and comments from you with your own experiences, and above all, with questions. I apologize if I wasn’t able to answer every letter or with as much detail as I would have liked, and so I’ve decided to separate all of the questions into  categories and address them in a series of posts. One topic in particular was finding a tutor on Italki, a website that I use to learn languages. Italki is a platform that offers a chance for students to find tutors, conversation partners, and help with grammar or word usage in dozens of different languages. It works on a referral system, so if you want to join and get an automatic $10 discount on your lesson, be sure to get referred by another user (they will also get a referral credit). My Italki profile is here.

Italki has grown tremendously over the years, and today it has so many options that newcomers may feel overwhelmed. Should you choose a professional teacher or a tutor? How do you know that the tutor is trustworthy? How do you plan your study? Finally, how do you select the ideal tutor for you among hundreds of profiles? OK, you won’t have that problem if you want to learn a less common language like Uzbek, since there is only one Uzbek tutor on Italki, but let’s assume that you want to learn Japanese and there are around 400 people offering their language teaching services. Where to start?

I’ve written this article using the example of Italki, since that’s what I rely on, but these tips can be applied to other other language tutoring service.

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On the Japanese Incense Trail with a Paris Detour

I’m sitting in front of smoldering joss sticks trying to determine whether they smell of the milky sweetness of sandalwood or the raspy sharpness of cedar. A young woman with a glossy black bob lights one stick after another, blowing each out with a gentle wave of her hand. I’m unused to kneeling for so long, and I feel the crunch of tatami mats through my thin wool trousers. The back of my head throbs slightly from jet lag, and I am being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo and the strain of trying to remember Japanese covered by layers of other languages I’ve learned since my university days. I also feel anxious that I may not be able to guess the scents correctly, but then I remember my perfumery teacher’s words “don’t think, just smell,” and I let myself go.

I’m inside a Shoyeido incense store hidden in the elegant Aoyama district of Tokyo. Nearby are the glittering avenues of Harajuku, lined with fashion boutiques and populated by some of the most stylish people on the planet, but inside the earth toned store, there is only serenity and incense.

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Postcard from Uzbekistan : Desert in Bloom

Every spring the Kyzylkum Desert lives up to its name, which means red sand, by turning crimson. Except it’s not the sand that gives it its vibrant hues, but the wild poppies. Located in Central Asia and shared between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, it encompasses the region historically called Sogdiana or Transoxiana. Traveling in Uzbekistan for my new research project into the cultural history of aromatics has been full of such discoveries. This land may be associated for many people with its recent Soviet past, but what are 70 odd years of Soviet rule in a place that counts its history in the thousands of years. Even if the recent past left deep scars, from social to environmental, the more ancient traditions and customs remain.

As do the scarlet flower fields of the Kyzylkum Desert. Alexander the Great crossed it. And so did Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. The remnants of Alexander’s fort still stand in the desert, their ancient ramparts still imposing enough. And the lines of the Persian poet Ferdowsi came to my mind.

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Wind Through Green Leaves Aoarashi

Imagine right now standing under a tree and hearing the wind rustling through its leaves. If you enjoy this vision, I would like to share a Japanese poem with you.

Wind blowing through green leaves
I see a shrine
And I pray

青嵐神社があったので拝む
Aoarashi Jinja ga atta node Ogamu

Japanese haiku are full of seasonal words, which serve as a guide to the reader. For instance, this charming poem by Ikeda Sumiko (池田澄子, born in 1936) contains the word aoarashi.  It means wind blowing through green leaves and it’s a seasonal word for the fifth month.

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Frida Kahlo and Shalimar

“They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality,” Frida Kahlo once said. An artist is inseparable from their art, and this idea is particularly dramatic in the case of Kahlo, whose body of work is based on the explorations of self. Of the 143 paintings Kahlo left behind, 55 are self-portraits, brutal, honest, startling. What’s more, Kahlo was conscious of the power of the image, and she also fashioned self through her choice of clothes, colors and accessories.

I admit that I didn’t appreciate the importance that Kahlo assigned to her clothes, jewelry and perfume until I saw the exhibit of the artist’s possessions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The image of the Mexican artist—the colorful skirts, the flower-decorated braids, the unibrow—entered pop culture to the point that we risk forgetting the artist behind a fashion icon. In order to understand her art, is it necessary to know that Frida Kahlo wore Guerlain’s Shalimar and Schiaparelli’s Shocking and draped herself in Mexican dresses and Chinese silk?

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  • John Luna in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: There is that wonderful line in the mesmerizing opening sequence of Paolo Sorrentino’s movie, The Great Beauty, when the narrator mentions his childhood fascination with, “the smell of old peoples’… June 19, 2019 at 1:26am

  • Jennifer in Guerlain Jicky : Fragrance Review (New and Vintage): Muriel, I too am answering an old post, but since I have been wearing Jicky since the 1960’s I’m somewhat familiar. Over the years there have been several reformulations. The… June 18, 2019 at 9:12pm

  • delia jean in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: as i read these descriptions, i kept wanting to click a “like” button. thank you June 18, 2019 at 12:09pm

  • Muriel in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: It’s a bit strange, but I have some sharp olfactory memories of my grand-parents’s (and even great-grand-father’s) houses, but not so much of my own childhood house… On my father’s… June 18, 2019 at 8:09am

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