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March’22 – VK Group, Organising Notes, LOTR, Inspiring Podcasts and Speed Reading

March was busy. I continued writing posts for my channels. I played the piano about once a week. Plus books, movies and podcasts. All of it created a nice variety. For some details see below.

VK group

Initially, I thought that I’d be able to produce texts for my channels in under one hour. But soon it wasn’t the case. A more realistic scenario turned out to be 2-4 hours per one post. Soo long… Difficult to say why it was so.

Maybe, because I’m a very fast thinker, what seemed to be a couple of paragraphs turned into three posts as soon as I started expressing my ideas in as much detail as I wanted. Maybe I was tired so I got stuck with the phrasing and details. Maybe I needed a different approach to the whole thing and to have more breaks between posts… Anyway, I really wanted to publish my texts regularly and kept pushing forward with them.

Soon I realised that I wanted more people to read my creations but with Telegram it’s mostly done through advertising and promotion. I decided to create a group on VK and put my texts up there as well because there my posts would circulate freely and maybe attract some people. (Come and join if you like, I’ll be happy to have more readers.)

Here, it turned out that it wasn’t that simple and just “copy and paste” procedure. I had to divide my texts into articles (with text formatting, pictures inside and so on) and just posts (no formatting), then to find pictures for my articles, then to choose a cover, to add information about my services… And it takes so much time! I’m not really a social nets person, so many things, especially the visuals, were relatively new to me. Now I better understand why a creator is almost a full-time job.

Anyway, now that I have two channels and a group, I’ll need to decide how to approach them. I have a suspicion that different approaches and types of texts are needed, but for now I’ll focus on just writing those texts. I’d like to write 10-15 of them in advance to take a break, but it seems a very difficult task to do…

I hope to use those texts as material for articles here, on this blog. Finally, it seems I’m creating my teacher’s profile online.

Notes on Data Analytics

As I was getting tired of texts, I thought more and more of going back to data analytics. It’s interesting how my mind works. If I focus too much on one thing (as it’s often advised), I either start getting stuck or bored. Or maybe overwhelmed by this one topic? It feels that I need to switch between different activities, I’m just not sure yet how often and how many activities I need.

Anyway, I finished a course on Joining Data with pandas and then sat to organise my notes. This is something that I hadn’t done much with teaching because it seemed too tedious and time consuming. Just think of a wordlist for one level based on a coursebook. I tried a bit and only one unit took 2 hours…

Now I decided I’d better move more slowly but prepare my notes for the future use. So I did (it took 4 hours for a 4 hour course, so, double the time), and chose Notion for it.

Previously I’d tried Google Colab, but I think it’s less convenient to use for notes. It’s for running code. I needed heading, subheading, example tasks and some code. Oh, and I really liked toggles – you easily create the structure of your doc with them. Plus you can download your notes as a pdf file and have a copy of it on your device. That’s some plan B.


I continued with The Language Instinct for a while, but then I put it off again and went to read the favourite trilogy of my childhood – The Lord of the Rings.

I used to be a huge fan of the books. At school I read them three times, but in Russian. Them I was into the movies and also watched all the parts three times each. Back then it was more of an adventure story for me, gripping and somewhat fast-paced. I wanted to follow the action and wasn’t much interested in the lore of Tolkien’s world.

Three years ago, while on holiday, I rewatched The Return of the King, and the impression it left wasn’t very favourable. It is undoubtedly one of the great movies of our time, but almost twenty years after its release some special effects look funny, as well as some of the character’s actions or lines. The piece lost its depth for me.

But In March, tired of the linguistic stuff I couldn’t make head nor tail of, I returned to the LORT to get distracted and enjoy fiction. I actually started with an audiobook by Rob Inglis but soon found it wasn’t easy to follow because of the rhotic r sound of the narrator. But I truly liked his performance of the songs – I had alwayd been difficult for me to imagine the tune.

Then I turned to the paper version and I finished the first volume, The Fellowship of the Rings. And I’m happy to say that my perception of the trilogy has changed.

This time I was much more interested in the lore and descriptions of Middle Earth. I remembered some details that had long slipped my mind.

For example, at the beginning of the book, Frodo is 33, but he starts his journey only 17 (!) years later (when he’s 50) after the disappearance of Bilbo. Sam is 38, Merry is 36 and Pippin is about 27. So they are friends, but, Frodo is still the oldest of them, Sam looks up to him not just as his master, but as an older, more experienced and knowledgeable hobbit, Pippin and Merry are just kids. In the movies, though, they seem to be of the same age and Frodo looks even younger than Sam. That means that the dynamics of their relationship in the book is different.

I was also surprised to see that Frodo has a highly intuitive personality, and at the beginning of the book he already predicts the outcomes of some events.

The pace of events is quite slow and Tolkien is very particular to notify the reader how much time passes in between (often in exact number of days or years). I wonder if there was any reason to be so particular?

I also enjoyed the parts that had seemed unnecessary diversions before, like staying at Tom Bombandil’s home and the hobbits’ adventures in the Old Forest and Barrow Downs. I downloaded maps of Middle Earth onto my phone and was looking at them as I tried to follow the hobbits’ journey or “two days to the north and then a week to the south-east” =)

The language was relatively easy but for descriptions of landscapes. I even compared them with the Russian translations and found two things:

  • in Russian they sounded much more poetic to me and
  • it was easier to picture them even if I could hardly imagine the difference between valleys, or doles, downs or types of hills, mires or mashes etc. (in Russian).

Well, I suspect it’s because I haven’t read (or heard) much of fantasy or folklore in English whereas in Russian I was a lot into fairy tales as a child. It is very likely that my fifth encounter with LORT will be through the audiobook =)


I finally got to watch A bras ouverts, a French comedy I’d decided to watch back in December when I found recommendations. I liked it. I’ve read that the film was critised for being racist and portraying the Romani in the wrong way. But for me this whole topic is mostly new and I watched for a good laugh, not to learn any lessons from it.

The film was difficult to understand at times, but it was expected and I got the gist. That’s the big difference between my attitude to my English and French listening skills.

Many years ago, when I just started watching films or series in the original, I panicked (and felt ashamed) when I couldn’t understand a sentence. I thought I was supposed to understand everything (I don’t really know why). With French, it’s a very different attitude. I get the gist, and I’m happy)

One of the characters is a Romani, and I probably heard broken French for the first time in my life. It seemed so true that I had to find that actor and listened to his normal speech. Well, it’s standard French. So Chapeau! for his acting)

Still, I’d like to find the subtitles and read them for better understanding and maybe some vocabulary work. I’ve done it in the past for my students. We were watching The Modern Family and I prepared topic vocabulary for them. I first read the subtitles, then highlighted interesting phrases and then watched the episode to clarify the context and who says what. Reading the subs beforehand did improve my understanding quite a bit. So I think it’s an excellent strategy for my future French movies.

Peaky Blinders Season 6 was another thing that stole my attention in March. I watched the previous seasons last year in the spring. I got so impressed that I decided to rewatch right afterwards. But, interestingly, season 6 didn’t seem so gripping. Only Ada was magnificent, and I really hope they will make a spin-off with her later. So beautiful, so powerful, and still so caring about her brothers. I can easily imagine her stepping in for Tommy and reorganizing the whole Shelby Company Limited in her own, very feminine fashion. I admired her =)


As I was doing my daily walks, I listened to some podcasts, some of them English, some French.

French ones

I finished A la recherche du temps perdu, an adaptation of the great novel of Marcel Proust on France Culture, which I started in January. There only 15 episodes, 20 minutes each, but they are very atmospheric, with added musical extracts, sometimes of old records, which I appreciated a lot. Now I think I’d like to read the books one day. I also noticed that my listening skills improved and it was easier to listen to longer podcasts like Autour de la question and Les villes du monde de A à Z on RFI.

From Autour de la question I listened to the programme about gemstones, their origins and importance (How gemstones tell our history and that of the Earth?) That is a new topic for me, whatever the language, so I was just able to follow the programme but retained nothing) At the same time I understood that maybe I’m not so eager to pursue the topic further.

I was much more intrigued by a programme about scents and their origins (At the sources of the perfumes of the world) I found more than a year ago. The programme was with Dominique Roques whose job is to find and work with local communities growing the source materials for scents like ylang ylang, sandalwood, jasmim, bergamote and so on. He was there to promote his book that goes under the same name.

I don’t use perfumes (I get headaches), only a bit of eau de toilette, but Dominique Roques was so passionate in his interview that I saw the world from yet another angle. We are often reminded of the communities that grow coffee, tea or cocoa beans, but there many more that have been serving the perfume industry for generations. I’d like to look more into this, read the book and maybe give perfumes another try =) That was the effect of the programme.

From Les villes du monde de A à Z I chose to listen about the Near and Middle East countries – Beirut, Abu Dhabi, and Sanaa. These are amazing podcasts, I think. They are short, about 20 minutes but you’ll hear a testimony of at least a couple of people who live in the city/ town in question (often accompanied by the sounds of the place) and have written a book about it plus a couple of songs that capture its atmosphere.

Every time after I listen to these programmes I want to find out more about the place, take a peek at the mentioned book and experience the city for myself. Also it would be really interesting to collect information about different cities in one place. I can readily picture a bookshelf filled with books, maps and guides on them…

English ones

In March the bbc website was blocked (or “left Russia”, not sure which) and I was left without my favourite Radio 4, which was sad and a bit unsettling. I tried VPNs but it didn’t work well. So I went to search for alternatives and found with lots of programmes freely available.

I enjoyed The Graham Norton Radio Show Podcast with Waitrose. I’ve seen extract from his TV show on YouTube and IG, and they are always a good laugh. Well, the show may be not that hilarious, but it’s interesting to listen how Graham changes his tone as the host according to his guest. True, he’s always in for a laugh, but some guests don’t really support it so he does show more seriousness or even compassion if needed. That’s the sense of humour I like and admire. Not the one that is there to devalue things (and people with their feelings) but the one to set light-hearted atmosphere and tone.

Another good find was Only Artists with Tom Hiddleston who interviews Nicholas Britell, an American composer, pianist, and film producer. I didn’t know that Tom Hiddleston was a big fan of film music, did you? It was a pleasure to hear them discuss what happens behind the scenes when a composer creates the score and how it is then fitted to the film. For example, sometimes the written piece of music doesn’t go well with the picture (!) not the action. That’s something I’d never thought of. So, the programme is highly recommended for music (and film) lovers.

Finally, I had some stock of downloaded podcasts of Word of Mouth and listened to the one about Turn Taking in Conversations. Interestingly, the practice of turn taking starts as early as between a mother and an infant. The average response time is 1/5 of a second and we are so sensitive to this that it the response take slightly longer we’re already embracing ourselves for a negative reply. Another cool fact was that if you want to control the conversation and hold the scene, tell jokes! The others are then busy laughing (=breathing out) and can’t find the breath for managing the conversation. Just think of it! Genius, isn’t it? =)

Speed Reading

I’ll probably finish with Speed Reading. I know that my reading speed is different. In Russian I think it’s almost twice as high. So I decided to measure them (don’t remember how I came up with his idea). In English it’s 210 words per minute which places me among “average readers“, in Russian 370 wpm (“good reader”). But “excellent readers” can make up to 700 word per minute! Do you know such people? Or are you among them by any chance? I wonder what it feels like to be reading so fast.

I haven’t had any training in speed reading (and now I started considering it) but I think a lot depends on what you’re reading. One of the steps to speed reading is to stop saying words to yourself. But If it’s fiction or poetry, I’d like to “hear” them to enjoy the beauty of the language. If it’s a scientific article, then yes, you scan it to see the methods and the results.

Then it also depends on how familiar you are with the topic (and terminology or the language like archaic words, for example). If it’s all new, what’s the point of reading it fast and not understanding half of it?

Anyway, I guess it makes sense to learn some of speed reading techniques (and memory ones as they usually come together?). But I think it will be after I get used to reading books for at least 10 hours a week every week. It doesn’t sound much, does it, but I don’t seem to be making more than 5 now. I wonder… how long will it take? A year or less?

Or it is better to at least start learning some techniques and, as I begin reading faster, it’ll be easier to read more? That’s a good question.

That’s it for March. I’m all curious what April will look like =)

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