Books: 84 posts

Books and reading lists

How I Learn Languages 2 : What Languages To Study

I didn’t anticipate the interest that my first article on my language learning strategies would generate. Your comments and emails sharing your experience with studying were fascinating and full of great tips. Above all, many of you asked me questions such as the resources I use for reading, writing, and listening, how I maintain all of my languages, how many languages one could study at the same time, and so on. I’m glad to reply to them all.

I learn languages for a variety of reasons. Some I’ve learned because I moved to the countries where they were spoken. Some I’ve studied for my degree in Political Science and to facilitate research. I’ve also learned languages as I traveled or wanted to understand better the cultures that fascinated me.  In the this article on the languages topic, I’ll discuss how to decide what languages to study. It may sound like a straightforward decision, but how you take it will determine your success and your ability to persevere with studying a new language.

Do Not Study a Language Just Because It’s Popular

Let’s bracket the real issue of needing to study a language for work or to adjust to a new country. Today I want to talk about a situation where you’re simply picking a language to learn and are not sure whether you should study French or Italian.  First, think about what language you would like to speak? Hearing what language do you feel your heart skip a beat? What language do you find beautiful? What language belongs to a culture (cultures) you find fascinating?

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How I Learn Languages

The KGB blacklisted my stepfather, making it impossible for him to travel outside the Soviet Union. He satisfied his wanderlust by reading and learning languages. I remember our bookshelves filled with self-study books and dictionaries: English, French, Italian, German, Bulgarian, Serbian/Croatian, Czech. I opened them at random and the more unfamiliar they looked, the more I wanted to learn and enter the universe of new languages. It felt exciting and liberating.

That exhilarating feeling of discovery has remained with me, and it drives me to learn new languages. I speak, read and write 11 languages and am currently learning my 12th. Besides English, these languages include French, Italian, Persian, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Vietnamese, Urdu–and German. Most of these I’ve learned in the past few years when I figured out a method that worked for me. I’m often asked by many of my friends and readers to put together my strategy for studying languages, and so I’ve jotted down certain rules and important elements that make my learning efficient. Once I started writing, I realized that I could come up with a whole book on the topic, but since my goal today is to summarize my approach in an article, I’ll leave the comment field for any additional questions and clarifications. Please feel free to ask your specific recommendations and share your experience with learning languages.

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Perfumes The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Every year brings us a few thousand new perfumes. When I stand in front of a perfume counter, I’m reminded of something I learned in my university psychology course – too much choice leads to anxiety. Thankfully, there are people who work tirelessly to make sense of the fragrance market and save us from experiencing choice overload. One such individual is Michael Edwards, whose Fragrances of the World, aka The Fragrance Bible, has been cataloguing and classifying perfumes since 1983. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are the other brave souls. Their Perfumes: The Guide 2018 includes more than 1,200 reviews of fragrances, along with tips on navigating that overwhelming perfume counter.

I’ve reviewed Perfumes: The Guide 2018 for my FT Magazine column (please click here to read it), but after I finished the piece, I had more to share from my interview with Tania Sanchez. Such as what were the authors’ favorite fragrances as they were working on the Guide, what perfumers do some of the best work today, what would Tania & Luca recommend to someone new to fragrance as well as some of their own favorite reviews.

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Fall Reading : Odyssey, Celestial Bodies and Obsessions

Autumn can be described as “golden,” “melancholy” or “rainy,” but I like the Japanese epithet of autumn as “the season for reading,” dokusho no aki. There is something particularly inviting about the image of sitting down with a book and a steaming cup of tea on a rainy day. Or I like to take a favorite book of poetry to a park and read a few stanzas as I wade through the fallen leaves. This fall, however, I’ll more likely be reading at train stations and airports as I have several trips lined up. Whatever the circumstances, I made a list of books to read. For the Bois de Jasmin fall reading list, on the other hand, I want to share the books I’ve read and enjoyed. As always, I look forward to your lists and recommendations.

Homer, The Odyssey

I’ve decided to re-read The Odyssey after I finished Mary Beard’s Civilisations: How Do We Look/The Eye of Faith. Beard observes that certain works of literature influenced our culture to such a great extent that we take it for granted. Two of the most important books in the history of Western literature, as well as the oldest, are Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey. I’ve selected The Odyssey, because it was my favorite when I was a student, and the copy we had at home was a French translation by Leconte Lisle circa 1860’s. It’s a translation in prose, but I found it beautiful and suspenseful.

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Empress Nur Jahan by Ruby Lal : Power and Roses

One doesn’t often see empresses portrayed loading a gun, but among the many representations of Nur Jahan, the 17th century Mughal sovereign, the most famous shows her doing just that. She’s standing against a leafy landscape, dressed in a man’s turban, orange trousers and a transparent silk coat. The musket is long and unwieldy, but she handles it with ease. Her posture is confident, bold and self-assured. When the painting was presented to Nur Jahan’s husband, the emperor Jahangir, he proclaimed it perfect and named the court painter Abul-Hasan, Nadir uz-Zaman, the Wonder of the Age. But as the historian Ruby Lal notes in her book, Empress : The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan, the true wonder was the subject of the painting herself.

Nur Jahan (1577-1645) was born Mihr un-Nissa, a daughter of Persian nobles who left the repressive conditions of Safavid Iran for the greater freedom–and wealth–of Mughal India. She became Nur Jahan, the Light of the World, when she married Jahangir in 1611. She was an unconventional imperial spouse, because she was not only past the nubile age–she was 34 at the time of their betrothal, but also a widow and a mother. Records don’t tell us exactly how the meeting between Mihr and Jahangir happened. What we know for sure is how much the emperor esteemed his wife, describing her bravery, archery and shooting skills, her wisdom, and her generosity at length in his journal, Jahangirnama.

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