Sunday, 24 June 2018

Taking minorities seriously

I recently wrote an article for the Cambridge student publication Varsity about being a multiple-minority student and the frustrations that this brings, particularly from well-meaning people who don't quite get it. As ever, articles are toned down for the student press, making the original message more palatable, and being a white British student makes my message somewhat more relatable for readers who have no point of reference for systematic issues. Even though my favourite 2 sentences of the article were taken out in editing*, I would still love it if you would take a look at it here!: As minority students, we don’t always want your sympathy.

*Those being the tongue in cheek article title "Have you tried yoga?" and incredulous comment from a friend "They are rounding up the working class students? How horrible!"


And I'm not the only one who has had enough. The following article was written by a fellow student: Anna Ward, 21, a French and Italian student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who is about to leave for a year abroad in Milan:

I wrote this article after a discussion about the difficulties disabled students face in sitting their exams in an already pressurised system, something I brought up at CUSU Council, the University’s democratic discussion forum which is held twice monthly. I actually was asked to write this for the student press, but was refused publication as it was seen to be “too defamatory”, which I found amusing, given that I went pretty easy on the university having had a pretty horrendous experience here as a disabled student and wheelchair user.

Last week I spoke at CUSU Council to bring to light the issue of how recently, colleges and faculties have been failing to properly provide exam arrangements for disabled students. Some students have complained of faculties trying to pressure them into giving up their right to sit exams in college as faculties have noted that those who sit exams in college consistently get lower grades than their peers.

The issue here is twofold: firstly the university is failing to realise why our exam grades are suffering (the reason is not alternative exam arrangements), and secondly comments such as these perpetuate the harmful stereotypes that we are somehow getting special treatment during exam term. The truth is, disabled students’ grades often suffer due to the university’s widespread failings to provide an accessible education. As someone with both physical and mental health issues I notice these failings on a daily basis, and often I feel that I spend more time attempting to fight for access to my education than actually partaking in it. 

There are a number of issues with the university’s provision for disabled students — some easier to fix than others. As a wheelchair user, I can sometimes excuse the lack of physical accessibility within the university — it is only understandable that in an 800 year old institution that some buildings will simply be impossible to adapt. However, more often than not the university uses this an excuse to neglect their responsibility to disabled students. I’m not asking for full wheelchair access throughout, but simply sensible adaptations where these are possible and reasonable. The fact that the bookshelves are too close together in the UL for a wheelchair user to fetch their own library books is something which frankly could be easily addressed. 

A large barrier which could be easily fixed is the lack of provision for lecture capture. The Disabled Students Campaign have spoken to the university about this before, and they argue that having lectures recorded and readily available online will discourage students from actually attending class and therefore lecturers will be speaking to empty halls. Notwithstanding the fact that it is shameful that the university thinks we are all lazy and avoiding work, this is just another excuse to under provide for disabled students, who are regularly at the bottom of the list of priorities. Those who have chronic pain, mental health problems, or who simply can’t physically access the buildings their classes take place in, regularly miss classes through no fault of their own. I rely heavily on friends to take notes in the classes I’m too sick to attend, but students shouldn't have to rely on the goodwill of friends to be able to access the education we pay for.

If provision isn’t made for people like me to access education, then it is unsurprising that we do worse overall. The university has a legal responsibility to provide reasonable adjustments to disabled students and I think it fails in this duty on many fronts. 

When people like me are struggling to keep up with work and get to classes due to disability and chronic illness, the first solution often presented to us is intermission. Whilst this is helpful for some, it isn’t a one size fits all solution. I have a chronic illness, and taking a year out is unlikely to solve any of these problems as there’s no way to know when, or if I will ever recover. The university seems keen to exclude us from our education to make the problems we face go away, rather than tackling issues face on. 

Cambridge is progressive in that CUSU was the first students union to have a full time paid Sabb role of Disabled Students Officer, and having engaged heavily with the Disabled Students Campaign, I’ve seen the amazing work that has been done in the past two years. It feels however like we are in a constant fight against the university, and the DSO is spending her time tackling problems that the university should have solved years ago.

As Disabled Students Officer for Emmanuel College, I’ve had multiple students complain to me that they are being asked not to take certain elements of their exam adjustments, seemingly because they are simply inconvenient or costly to the college. I think this feeds into the stereotype that somehow we are being given special treatment by the university at points, and that we should be grateful for every allowance we are given.

People often joke about how lucky I am to get extra time and use of a laptop in my exams, and how much they would love to have this. This isn’t a ‘disabled perk’; I literally can’t hold a pen for more than a couple of minutes, so using a laptop is simply putting me on the same level as other students. Taking adjustments such as these away from disabled students sets us up to fail from the beginning.

The disdain shown by the university for the needs of disabled students however, leaves us feeling like we are already expected to fail, so why should we even try? Sometimes it doesn’t even feel worth finding solutions to the problems we face, because so many structural barriers are put in our way that just the physical and metaphorical journeys we take to get to classes leave us exhausted before we even arrive. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

Dealing with Money

Of the countries I've lived in, I have to say that the one with the best financial system for the student consumer has been Russia.

Setting up a bank account in the UK, Germany, Belgium and Russia was a similar experience overall. Every time, I needed to do some paperwork in a branch, and wait for a card to be delivered by post. This was pretty simple, even with the language barrier. But it's the whole system itself that really makes a difference - I was with ING in both Belgium and Germany, and my experiences were completely different.

Paying by cash
UK: very variable - sometimes only cash is possible, sometimes only card
Belgium: also very variable - many machines only take card or there is an extra fee for cash
Germany: often cash-only
Russia: usually they accept cash and card/ contactless everywhere, even small shops, though they are reluctant to take big bills for small amounts

Withdrawing money
UK: easy, most machines are free
Belgium: some machines charge
Germany: astoundingly, you face a 6 Euro charge for using a debit card, or free from the same machine if you use a credit card (in my case this was for the very same account but many do not have credit cards)
Russia: easy, I've not found a machine that charged yet

Online banking
UK: a pain - little to no option to override blocked transactions and now no opportunity to tell the bank you are abroad so they stop automatically blocking suspicious foreign transactions
Belgium: a bit annoying, you have to use a card reader to gain access
Germany: usable
Russia: objectively a joy to use - you get texts to confirm that payments have gone through, as well as immediate verification for online purchases via text. You can also pay all manner of bills easily via app. I have not had any problem with foreign transactions either

Here in Russia I've not had to use cash for months, which I couldn't imagine in the UK, and which would be painfully unimaginable in Germany - it's going to be a shock going back!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Bringing Cambridge out of the Dark Ages

As you might imagine, there are many pages on Facebook about life in Cambridge and the goings on within the university. One that has become particularly prominent is the page Grudgebridge, where people can post anonymous complaints. This page recently declared that it had a particular opposition to the "drinking societies" that many students feel to be intimidating and encouraging of abusive behaviour.

This has prompted a flood of anonymous submissions giving people's direct experiences of this behaviour in Cambridge, with some responses excusing the drinking societies, and some encouraging the victims of this behaviour to register official complaints. In particular members of the college Trinity Hall were allegedly sent the following message from their administration (source):

Image may contain: text

I shouldn't need to explain that it is the system that defends alleged perpetrators at all costs rather than helping alleged victims that "reflects poorly" on the situation.

From my discussions with friends at university, everyone seems to have at least one story of experiencing harassment, and it is very common for female or female-perceived students to have experienced harassment and inappropriate behaviour on more than one occasion.

Whilst minority students do have some well-meaning support, they still overwhelmingly face low-level discrimination, if not explicitly abusive acts, and attempts to maintain this status quo should be taken as the affront to social progress they are. Even small matters such as acknowledging people's pronouns or taking people's particular requirements into account when planning an event are seen as an imposition, or else a huge achievement if these small matters are remembered.

It is high time that the people of Cambridge realised that we are not an imposition. Disabled students, LGBT students, female students, working class students, students of colour - anyone who is made to feel that they don't fit the typical Cambridge narrative and is made to feel that their inclusion is a step too far:

Our existence is not an imposition.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Baku

I'm used to being the one who can communicate, who sorts things out and makes sure that the trip goes smoothly. Even in Russia, I often take the lead and try to make things clear for people when I could have just left it. This normally goes relatively well, and I've never really felt that my status as "proper adult" has been put into question when I've tried to assert it. The most I've felt belittled to date has been men looking confused when I open a door for them, or insisting on carrying my things when that really was unnecessary.

Me and a friend recently took a trip to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which used to be a part of the USSR, bordering modern-day Armenia, Georgia, Iran and Russia. (pics from the trip are below!) The Azeris speak Azerbaijani, a Turkic language that is mostly mutually intelligible with Turkish. Similarly to Turkish, Azerbaijani is written in Latin letters, so I was able to at least try to decipher some of the local signs. Tatar, a related language, has been written in Latin, Arabic and Cyrillic at various times for political reasons, and I can't help wondering whether the Tatars would have closer links to other Turkic peoples if Tatar were not currently written in Cyrillic.

There was definitely a mix of people there - from the locals, to more decidedly Middle Eastern people, to Russians and Europeans. While I found it difficult to see the differences between the Azeris and visitors from other Arab states, a female shop assistant joked to me about how the city's visitors made Baku look "more like Dubai" than Azerbaijan. I was left a little confused by that statement but I decided not to follow it up, instead thinking how the average UK citizen wouldn't think twice about asserting that people from Baku or Dubai were essentially very similar.

Highlights of the city include tasty food, historical sights and the Heydar Aliyev Centre, a gallery and museum with many interesting exhibitions. A personal favourite was also the local hat, designed to keep you warm in winter (scroll down for a picture of my fashionable modelling!). Their currency, the manat, has also been specifically designed to look like the Euro, and that was initially very confusing to say the least.

We got by a lot easier speaking Russian than English, as there is still a lot of tourism from Russia, so it is a language that the locals have been keen to maintain. Being a white European gets me mistaken for an "authentic" (whatever that means) Russian more often than I would like to admit, especially since I normally have to ask for clarification when addressed in fluent Russian!

The one sticking point for me was that, when I addressed women, I was treated as I have come to expect in most places. But when I tried to interact with men, they instead addressed my male friend and, even when answering my question, made a point of not talking directly to me. I found this incredibly awkward, and struggled with not taking offence. We reasoned that, since these were otherwise perfectly polite people, they were addressing the male out of politeness and not as an attempt to ignore or deride my contribution.


That said, I don't think I could stay for any length of time in a place where it is more polite for me to be excluded - it didn't feel very fun at all.







N.B.: This is by far the warmest hat ever created, ever, for all of eternity.







N.B. Street dogs are the best - I never see them in Western Europe and in many ways it is a shame that they are not better taken care of. On the other hand, seeing a dog merrily wander around town makes any trip much more enjoyable!


The Linguistic Landscape of Tatarstan

I'm currently living in Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, in Russia. Tatarstan is one of 22 republics, which is a type of region in Russia that is named after the non-Russian people that live there. So, Tatars live in Tatarstan, Bashkirs in Bashkortostan, and the Mari people in the Mari Republic. So far, so good. Tatarstan is shown in the following 2 maps in relation to the rest of Russia and the surrounding countries.




Using European logic, which dictates that just as the Germans speak German in Germany, and Bulgarians speak Bulgarian in Bulgaria, it would make sense for the Tatars to speak Tatar in Tatarstan and so on. But if we look at the statistics, we find that the residents of Tatarstan are approximately 50% Tatars and 40% Russians, where ethnic Russians are unlikely to speak any Tatar, and nearly all Tatars are fluent in Russian. There is an economic and educational incentive to learn the majority language, and the regional language policy has a big impact on whether the regional language is maintained, especially where the majority language is the common language for different ethnic groups.

As is described in "Ethnic Tatars in contention for recognition and autonomy: bilingualism and pluri-cultural education policies in Tatarstan", 'the mother tongue proficiency level of minorities is higher in Tatarstan than in the titular national republic'. This roughly means that non-Tatars (such as Bashkirs, Mari etc) in Tatarstan speak their own language better than people in the corresponding republic, partly because language policy in Tatarstan has put an emphasis on non-Russian education.

A paper that I've been reading for my dissertation entitled "Identity change in Bashkortostan: Tatars into Bashkirs and back" describes how the official identity of these 2 different peoples has changed according to government policy and social advantages. Because the culture and languages of the Tatars and Bashkirs are similar to each other, when one ethnic group had an advantage in a particular region, it was possible to "switch" over officially, and in many cases was encouraged to make the region seem more unified. This could have been, for example, because Bashkirs had more rights to own land in their own republic than other ethnicities did, so even in the countryside, where families rarely moved village, the demographics could change sharply as a result of legal reform. This would not have been possible for example for the Mari people, whose language is not mutually intelligible with Tatar and whose culture is very different (Paganism as opposed to Tatar Islam or Russian Orthodoxy).

The map below (click to enlarge) is an excerpt from the linguistic map available at MuturZikin. It shows that, for the Volga region, there are a few main language families: Turkic (Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash, Kazakh), Slavic (dialects of Russian and Ukranian) and Uralic (Mari and Udmurt). 




Other members of the Uralic family include Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian, which are not related to the languages surrounding them, which shows just how isolated individual languages can become once a people is on the move. 

But how long will these languages last? We are moving towards a time when it is economically and politically beneficial to focus on the majority language, as the expense of a people's cultural heritage. I believe it should be up to the people themselves to decide, and not to feel obliged to either abandon or prioritise their language. Only when a minority group feels empowered to make the changes they want will we get a language system that truly works for the people living in it.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Getting what you deserve

"I know I'm in debt but I really feel like I deserve a holiday"

"I bought myself another yacht, I deserve a treat"

"I really think I deserve the afternoon off today"

Humans, for all the good they have done, have also developed the frustrating habit of explaining treats or inevitable behaviours as having been "deserved" or "earned". Consider for example how the idea of "deserving" excuses a whole range of behaviours in the quotes at the top of this post. For those of you who don't realise what categorical nonsense this is, let me give you a brief overview:

1. The nice things you have are not proportional to the nice things you have done
2. The bad things that have happened to you also are not a reflection of your nature
3. Most of your life is luck, and you have had relatively little say in it

This might not be immediately obvious to people who remain in a small social environment, where levels of inequality are often low between group members, but anyone who travels or who moves between groups can see just how much inequality is embedded in our every day lives.

Take, for example, someone who works overtime on minimum wage. Let's say that they earn £16k, and spend nearly all of their waking hours working or surviving to work. They likely perform tasks that most of us wouldn't want to do, because they are often physically intensive or not respected.

Does a person who earns £48k work 3 times as hard? Are they 3 times more deserving? It would be physically impossible to work 3 times as much, or as hard. They may be applying more skill, and they may have undergone more training for their job, but this too is a matter of circumstance. Of course, financial differences are more extreme between countries and currencies, but let's focus on the UK for now.

Take, for example, the effect that your geographical location has on the probability that you will go to university.

According to the 2018 Widening participation summary from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, low participation areas account for 20% of the young population (see definition) but accounted for a much smaller percentage of those joining university. Officially, the graph below shows the percentage of young UK domiciled entrants to full-time first degrees from low participation neighbourhoods by academic year. Over the past 8 years this percentage has increased from 9.6 to 11.4%, and represents the bottom 20% of UK areas.



The trend is broader than individual areas and wards, though. Here is an excerpt from the report Young participation rates in higher education from the Higher Education Funding Council for England

With the exception of London and the South East, all English regions have participation rates which are below the national average for England. ... 34 per cent of entrants to higher education ... are from these two English regions.

Of course, this is magnified in top universities. I can think of very few people I personally know at Oxbridge who, if they are from the UK, are not from London or the South East. The very idea of London and the South East being the only of England's 9 regions to be "above average" makes me feel a little sad, but it does show what an effect your area has on your outcomes.

So, if we agree that there are factors out of your control that influence what path your life takes, can we agree that your wealth is not directly correlated to what you have "earned" in life?

According to predictions by the House of Commons, the world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030. (Read that again. And again.) But, before you get outraged, and indeed during and afterwards, let's think about what the top 1% even is.

The top 1% by income globally earns €30k and by assets has €720k (source). This means that many Europeans with modest jobs and a property find themselves in the top 1% for both income and assets. Incidentally, the average UK salary is almost exactly €30k. If you consider that the world's richest 1% should be responsible with their majority share of the world's wealth, it is the responsibility of you and people you know to make sure this is done.

Even though we have established that the top 1% of global earners includes a large proportion of UK adults, that does not mean that our economy itself is in any way balanced. If you look at statistics provided by the United Nations Development Programme, which allows us to compare for each country the ratio of the average income of the richest 10% to the poorest 10%, the UK comes way down the list, after supposedly less equal countries such as Ukraine, Russia and India. This means that there is a bigger difference in the UK between our richest and poorest than in many other countries. In other words, if your life circumstances are such that you are a lower earner, you may well earn proportionally less in the UK than in other countries.

This has dramatic effects on the lives of the working class, as detailed by a report that describes how one in four UK parents has skipped meals in order to make ends meet, with food insecurity described as going hungry or being at risk of going hungry due to not being able to afford food. According to Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck:

We’ve got record levels of in-work poverty, and the United Nations estimate there are 8 million people in the UK who are food insecure; there are up to about 2,000 food banks now – and that’s just the ones we know of. Malnutrition is costing the NHS £12bn per year.

It has become fashionable to begrudge images of council house tenants in newspapers and on TV, who are living a supposedly luxurious lifestyle with their cheap beer and their cheap cigarettes, and to imagine that these people somehow don't even deserve that low level happiness, while these same begrudgers, in houses with more bathrooms than people, plan their next, fully-deserved holiday away. Most ironic in my view is begrudging 25% of parents their very existence, as if the upper echelons did not structurally rely on the working class producing more cheap labour for them to feel disdainful about.

But enough of me being poor and bitter at you, what do the richer of us think? A study by the London School of Economics set up a study to find out.

The LSE study found that a majority of the [UK top 1% by income] participants believed market-determined incomes were a fair reflection of talent and economic contribution. Of these participants, two-thirds disagreed with the survey statement that “the government should reduce income differences”. (The Guardian on a working paper by LSE).

I cannot stress this enough: I do not understand the mindset of someone who is in the top 1% of UK earners (and therefore is earning a minimum of £100k), who quite possibly employs people for minimum wage, and who considers this difference in opportunity and standard of living to be a "fair reflection of talent and economic contribution". In the south of England I have many times been explicitly mocked for being from the "impoverished North", more specifically Grimsby, by people who claim that inequality can't be stopped, whilst making exactly zero effort to stop it. It is my suggestion that the talent these people claim to own may have more to do with ignoring the world outside of their bubble than doing any tangible good in the world.

If you are looking for a way to reduce your impact, why not visit the effective altruism website Giving What We Can, which has a Wealth Calculator to show how much you could donate and still remain well off. The world would also benefit from your generosity towards food banks, other charities, and your general benevolence towards those in more precarious situations than your own.

For further reading I would recommend the short article If "work is the best route out of poverty" why are so many poor people in work?, which is prefaced with the following quote:

Every time you hear a Tory going on about "work being the best route out of poverty" don't forget that under Tory rule the rates of in-work poverty have absolutely skyrocketed.

(It's almost as if people find it easier to believe anti-immigrant rhetoric than believe the benevolent leadership they elected has an interest in suppressing them?)

As much as people on my travels marvel at how living in the UK must be like in a fairytale, they haven't realised that that tale is more of a dystopian Grimm tale than the utopia of olde that they have been told about. There is still so much work for us to do!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Thoughts about Intermitting

A problem that many students who are disabled or with long term health issues face is whether they are going to be well enough to continue their studies. Cambridge is known for fostering an environment where health is seen as less important than studying, and as such has developed a system called 'intermission' for students who need to take a year out to recover.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky one, because it won't necessarily get better over the course of that year, and you may find yourself just as overwhelmed when you come back. Ideally I would plan to come back to Cambridge part time, as my year abroad has been much less taxing than a year back in Cambridge and it has still been very tricky for me health-wise. But part time just isn't an option for courses like mine, unfortunately, so I am left wondering how long I will be able to last.

The problem with intermission, practically, is that it is a huge financial burden. Socially and physically it can also be devastating. I know students who have many intersecting barriers to their well being, like health issues, lack of support from family, limited financial means, and the impact of discrimination they face day to day over these and other issues. Some students can rely on their family to absorb some of the challenges of intermitting, and some can't at all, which has led to some students with similar situations to mine being stuck in an indefinite cycle of not being well enough for university or a full time job, but also not being able to claim benefits or get support when it is needed.

I personally think that a university with such massive assets could focus a little less on hoarding their wealth and a little more on supporting those who are in difficult circumstances - it's getting better, but the rate of change is still frustratingly slow.

Victory Day

Happy Victory Day! This holiday marks the surrender of the Nazis at the end of WWII, and is marked throughout Russia with parades and festivities.

The ceremony seems to be roughly equivalent to the UK Remembrance Day services. If you check the image below you can see that those marching are holding images of their loved ones who were involved in the conflict. This is very visually striking, in my opinion much more than simply wearing a poppy as is common in the UK.



Also striking was the volume of Soviet insignia visible today. For example, the below flag was outside an official government building here in Kazan. It is the Victory Flag that was raised on Victory Day to mark the end of the conflict. I have otherwise only seen such insignia in museums here, and as such I was a little surprised to see it being celebrated so openly.



I was curious as to the political feelings of people here, and the general feeling that I have gotten is that, as in most places, older people would rather stick with the devil you know, since they have experienced worse times, whereas young people have hope for the future and do not fear political upheaval. As ever, misplaced rhetoric from other countries often backfires and leaves people sticking by their guns, whatever the cost - diplomatic influence has got to be taken seriously if we are to get this right.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Helsinki and (yet more) Cultural Expectations

I recently took a short trip to Helsinki with my favourite travel buddy, my long suffering mother. The city was perfect - direct flight from Kazan and Manchester for us, and weather slightly warmer than that in Kazan. It is also well known that the Nordic countries speak English reliably enough, and that vegetarianism has caught on enough there for me to be able to eat something at least.

Unfortunately my first plane was cancelled, meaning that I had to get a different flight via Moscow, where I was greeted by the following presumably tongue in cheek display from Russian news site Russia Today:

"
Missed a plane? Lost an election? Blame it on us!"


Our first stop was of course the city's free walking tour, which was as enjoyable as ever. Hearing about the history from a local is always much more interesting because they cut straight to the bits that impact on the locals and their sense of identity the most. Walking around the city, it became immediately obvious that most things were available in Finnish and Swedish, if not English too. This meant that with my knowledge of German, things would always be at least partly comprehensible! What I hadn't realised, however, was how much conflict there had been between the Swedes and the Finns over their history, and how the Finns were essentially passed between the Swedes and the Russians at various times. The fact that they managed to retain their own sense of national identity and their own language through this is no mean feat!






Our visit to the island of Suomenlinna was an excellent day out. The fortress there is a wonder to behold, with the warm museums complementing the bracing wind outside. Our particular favourite was the Toy Museum, which must have scarred many a guest with the dolls' eerie stares. The island is very easy to reach from the city centre and you can quite easily spend a day there, especially I would imagine in nicer weather.








We also visited the Orion cinema for various foreign films with English subtitles. The Hungarian film 1945 was a particular highlight, dealing with guilt among ordinary people in Hungary for what happened to their Jewish population. The cinema itself is very charming, and though it is not too far out of the centre, it is cheaper than some of the more central cinemas which can charge 14 Euros a ticket, much to my dismay.

I would recommend the Helsinki City Museum, right by the cathedral in the city centre, to those who appreciate a well-organised, calm and free(!) visit. Accessibility, plentiful seating and facilities such as wifi, phone charging and free lockers make the museum even more of a joy to visit, and the exhibitions that I saw were very engaging and available in English.

The thing that I was most excited about, however, was the bounty of dogs available in the city. For some reason the only dogs available in Russia are street dogs, who are very lovely but not always safe to pet. In Helsinki, however, there were many dogs walking alongside their humans in the city centre, enjoying the local parks and seaside views. It cannot be overstated how much of a positive impact the presence of dogs makes! But I digress.

The more I travel, the more I see in other people that convinces me that your home culture shapes you much more than you could imagine. Recently I have dealt with other people having what I would consider unreasonable behaviour or views on many topics, which they considered completely reasonable, not limited to the importance of respect for other people and animals, the notion of racism, of temperature and personal space, of the value of religion or language learning.

One of the fundamentally challenging but necessary parts of travelling is realising that people are as convinced of their opinion as you are of yours, and that that doesn't mean that they are wrong or less informed.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The "Quick as a Shot" Method by Rensa Gaunt: How to Improve Fluency by Being Tipsy

It is with great pride that I, like many other language bloggers, reveal my own method for learning a foreign language, customised to the areas that I think are the most difficult for English native speakers. This package will set you up for linguistic confidence in any country that you choose!

The "Quick as a Shot" Method by Rensa Gaunt: How to Improve Fluency by Being Tipsy

My programme will introduce you to the fundamentals of any language in 5 easy steps:

1. Pronunciation
As everyone knows, the key to great pronunciation is feeling comfortable and breaking down the initial barrier of shyness. As studies have shown, the first unit (or "shot") will take you there:

Their conversations were recorded and their foreign language skills rated by native speakers, who didn’t know which participants had consumed alcohol. The researchers found that those who were slightly intoxicated had better pronunciation than their sober colleagues. (source: The Independent)

2. Conversational Fluency
Ever felt too hesitant to being able to consider your conversations truly fluent? The second shot will help you to overcome any residual apprehension or inhibition, and will help you to say whatever you want, when you want! Sources at the University of Maastricht have explained that "One possible mechanism could be the anxiety-reducing effect of alcohol. But more research is needed to test this", and we couldn't agree more. Cheers!


3. Cultural Understanding
Other cultures are weird, right? We at Quick as a Shot can guarantee that after your third drink, you will not only have a greater appreciation for other ways of life, but also those around you will become your close friends, like, really, you guys, it means so much to me that you are here, you know? Like, you guys are the best. Really.

4. Grammar
After your fourth shot, any hesitation to just say whatever grammatical endings come into your head will have dissipated into the warm, fuzzy glow that surrounds only the best foreign speakers. Thanks to the new found bond you will have created with your interlocutors, mere trifles such as adjectival agreements or the concept of agency or time will seem less important than just saying what you can, however you can say it, and isn't that really what language learning is all about?

5. Vocabulary
Those who have reached the final step of the programme will find that their vocabulary in their foreign language will be similar to that of their native language: that is, they won't remember many words, but, really, just being with you guys is the greatest; this is the only communication that really matters.

Side effects of blurred vision or physical instability pale in comparison to how much you just "get" the new language, and how you feel that your new friends really "understand" you. (Disclaimer: this understanding is limited to the emotional realm and in no way suggests that your speech is comprehensible to other humans)


Reserve your "Quick as a Shot" package through A Linguist Abroad today and get a free Babelfish (or "April Fish" if you will) with your delivery! We wish you the best in your foreign adventures!