Russian Keys

Natural born linguists: what drives multi-language speakers?

Get out there and chat to native speakers if you want to learn a language, a group of multilingual speakers tells the Guardian.
Susanna Zaraysky, 36, speaks seven languages and has lived in nine different countries. With Russian as her first language, she now lives in California. Being multilingual is fundamental to who I am because I think in different languages. My mind starts a thought in one language, then finds a particular word in another language that fits exactly what I am thinking and then may switch to a third language by the end of the paragraph.

Each language resonates with me in a distinct way, bringing out a different part of my character. Russian makes me more melancholic because of its minor tone. In French, I am super pensive. Brazilian Portuguese is a very flirtatious and sweet language.


Is fairness untranslatably English?

GEORGE W. BUSH didn’t actually say “The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for ‘entrepreneur’.” (Wouldn’t he, just, though?) But Ronald Reagan did actually say “I’m no linguist, but I’ve been told that in the Russian language there isn’t even a word for ‘freedom’.” His critics seized on the howler. Of course there is: svoboda.

But what if Reagan had been right? What if no Russian word corresponded exactly to the English freedom? Statements of the “no word for” type have two potential implications. One is that “Society X has been without item A for so long that it has no word for it.” Language reflects society, in this view. The other possibility makes language the cause rather than the effect: “Because society X lacks word A, its members are unable to understand A.”


Give me 10 good reasons to study Russian

1. Do business. Russia has the largest online audience in Europe with 61.3 million web users, or 15% of Europe's total of 408.3 million. In March 2013 it was announced by Wikipedia, W3Techs that Russian is used on 5.9% of all websites, very slightly ahead of German and far behind English. Russia is now among the 10 strongest economies in the world and the market continues to grow. Thus, Russia has a great number of work and business opportunities.
2. Make new friends. Learn the 6th most spoken language in the world, one of the UN official languages. With over 285 million speakers, the Russian language is among the top 10 languages in the world.

3. Be first to read about new discoveries and inventions. Russian language also ranks with English and Chinese as one of the three most significant world languages as 28% of the world’s scientific literature is produced in Russian.


Top Internet retailers launch Russian-language sites

Web sales in Russia will grow from US$12 billion in 2012 to US$36 billion by 2015, forecasts investment bank Morgan Stanley. Russia has the largest online audience in Europe with 61.3 million web users, or 15% of Europe's total of 408.3 million, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. And, after Italy, it boasts Europe's fastest-growing online population, up 15% in 2012 from about 53.3 million in 2011.

Amazon-owned women’s apparel retailer has launched a Russian-language site. The announcement marks the latest in a string of e-commerce companies moving into Russia in an attempt to gain major market share early in a country where online shopping is rapidly picking up steam.

Shopbop, which launched in 2000 and was purchased by Amazon in 2006, launched the site at The site offers free shipping to Russia for orders over $100 and a customer service e-mail address specifically for Russian shoppers where they can receive help in their native language.


Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer's and boost brain power

Research suggests that bilingual people can hold Alzheimer's disease at bay for longer, and that bilingual children are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking.
Learning a second language and speaking it regularly can improve your cognitive skills and delay the onset of dementia, according to researchers who compared bilingual individuals with people who spoke only one language.
Their study suggests that bilingual speakers hold Alzheimer's disease at bay for an extra four years on average compared with monoglots. School-level language skills that you use on holiday may even improve brain function to some extent.

In addition, bilingual children who use their second language regularly are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking compared with monolingual children, said Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto.
"Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system," said Bialystok on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.


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