Biblitz delivers advise

ASK Biblitz about English as a Second Language (ESL)

A Gambler's ESL Guide ... he slowly printed in English, '... He cured his wife of the spleen with a good fucking.'

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Blast it, Biblitz, if I haven't reached a plateau in my English language studies. I have no idea how to advance yet advance I must if I am to convince some blighter to give me a decent job. How to proceed?

Biblitz replies:

Study poetry, the pride of every culture, the magical key to language - verbs. Read selections aloud to obtain the full flavor:

The Truro Bear


By Mary Oliver

More of Mary and the book.

Two of the top Advanced ESL primers, in Biblitz's view, were written by Mary, too.

The Chance to Love Everything

All summer I made friends
with the creatures nearby --
they flowed through the fields
and under the tent walls,
or padded through the door,
grinning through their many teeth,
looking for seeds,
suet, sugar; muttering and humming,
opening the breadbox, happiest when
there was milk and music. But once
in the night I heard a sound
outside the door, the canvas
bulged slightly - something
was pressing inward at eye level.
I watched, trembling, sure I had heard
the click of claws, the smack of lips
outside my gauzy house --
I imagined the red eyes,
the broad tongue, the enormous lap.
Would it be friendly, too?
Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
shambling tonnage.
Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it?
Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope --
the dark heart of the story that is also
the reason for its telling?

(-- pgs. 1-2)

Apply the Voltaire Method - English in just three months with the bard:

Passionate Minds

The great love affair of the Englightenment, featuring the scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the poet Voltaire, sword fights, book burnings, assorted kings, seditious verse, and the birth of the modern world.

By David Bodanis

More of the bard.

More on Voltaire and his extraordinary mistress, a charming young, gambling math whiz who master-minded a scheme equivalent to modern day financial derivatives.

... As he later admitted to the one to whom he was always honest, Nicolas Thieriot, "I was without a penny, sick to death of a violent flu, a stranger, alone, helpless, in the midst of a city (London), wherein I was known nobody. I could not make bold to see our ambassador in so wretched a condition."

It was at this point that Voltaire's luck turned. In Paris the year before, he had met a passing English trader, Everard Fawkener, back from several years in Syria trading silk garments between Europe and India. Most educated Frenchmen had snubbed Fawkener for being a mere tradesman, but not Voltaire. He'd chatted with Fawkener about his business, and the archaeological sites he'd poked around in Syria, and now, in England, seemingly by chance - or with a little help from Voltaire - they met again. Fawkener had a mansion in the bucolic wonderland of Wandsworth, a country town with its own windmills outside of London. Voltaire needed a place to stay. He knew that there were a number of French-speaking emigres in London, and with his literary reputation he could probably find one among them to stay with. If he did that, though, he wouldn't learn much of England: he'd stay immersed in emigre politics, and emigre arguments, and an emigre's ever more out-of-date language. He was too proud to do that, yet he was too proud to scurry back to Paris and beg to be accepted by the French authorities again.

Why couldn't he learn English well enough to become a great author in England instead?

Fawkener had no idea what he was letting himself in for. Voltaire invited himself over and stayed for a week, and then another week, and then another, and yet another: he was transforming into that horror of the English countryside: The Guest Who Never Leaves. But he had one goal - to learn English perfectly - and he'd found the ideal place to do it.

He began ("thirty and one of july a thousand seven hundred twenty and six") by keeping a journal, carefully noting down verbs of interest. "Mr. Scuttlars history," he slowly printed in English,"... He cured his wife of the spleen with a good fucking." Then Voltaire struck out the word fuking and above it thoughtfully wrote the shorter variant fuk, to be sure he got the spelling right. When he needed help in pronunication he made his way to the theatre at Drury Lane, where the prompter loaned him a copy of that night's Shakespeare script, so he could mouth the words to himself while listening to the actors speak them.

He kept on going to the theatre, and he kept up his journal, and just three months after moving in with Fawkener, the no longer indolent Voltaire had it cracked. By October he casually wrote a firend the following note, in English: "I intend to send you two or three poems of Mr. Pope, the best poet of England, and at present, of all the world. I hope you are acquainted enough with the English tongue, to be sensible of all the charms of his works." ... (From Exile and Return, pgs. 54-55)

Gifted students may apply the Nabokov Method for Advanced Study - applying one's superior skill in the mother tongue to English:

Natasha's Dance

A Cultural History of Russia


By Orlando Figes

Nabokov's switch from writing in Russian to writing in English is a complicated story intimately linked with his adoption of a new (American) identity. It must have been a painful switch, as Nabokov, who was famous for his showmanship, always liked to stress. It was, he said, 'like learning to handle things after losing seven or eight fingers in an explosion.' Throughout his life Nabokov complained about the handicap of writing in English - perhaps too often to be totally believed (he once confessed in a letter to a friend that his 'best work was written in English') Even at the height of his literary prowess he argues, in his 1956 afterward to Lolita, that it had been his 'private tragedy' to

abandon my natural idiom, my untrammelled, rich and ifinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses - the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions - which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way.

But even if such claims were a form of affectation, his achievement is undeniable. It is extraordinary that a writer who has been hailed as the supreme stylist of the modern English language should have written it as a foreigner. (emphasis added) As his wife Vera put it, not only had he 'switched from a very special and complex brand of Russian, all his own, which he had perfected over the years into something unique and peculiar to him,' but he had embraced 'an English which he then proceeded to wield and bend to his will until it, too, became under his pen something it had never been before in its melody and flexibility.' She came to the conclusion that what he had done was substitute for his passionate affair with the Russian language un marriage de raison which 'as it sometimes happens with a marriage de raison - became in turn a tender love affair. (From Russia Abroad, pgs. 551-552)


Steady on, old girl! Your determination to master the English language is indeed admirable but do watch where you put that tender young footling of yours. That skull you so blithely kick about your pile of reading matter may be wanted by Sir Someone or Other for a performance of Hamlet you'd do well to attend if you wisely follow the Voltaire Language Method helpfully described below. It's all here at ASK Biblitz!

Improve oral English the Lenin way at London's famous Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park:

Vanity Fair

England Made Them

Meet Garech Browne, the Guinness heir whose father raised pigs in their drawing room. And Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. And the Marquis of Bath, with 64 mistresses he calls "wifelets." Tim Walker captures a cross-section of proud standard-bearers in Britain's long tradition of eccentricity as Christopher Hitchens explains why his native land often seems like one big one big Monty Python skit.

January, 2008

More on Lenin and his - gulp! - successor.

Yes, and try the Holly Golightly Method to lose that unsightly accent - even if English is your first language!

You might well think that it is easy to write about eccentric English people. "An embarrassment of riches" is a phrase that leaps to mind. After all, "England is the paradise," as George Santayana wrote, "of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies and humors." But before making one's selection, one has first to appreciate that the entire place has something batty, squiffy, potty, and loopy about it. For a start, Santayana's remarks on the English appear in his work entitled 'The British Character.' So, what is this country actually called? If you come from France or Sweden, you can say so when asked, and that's it. But if you come from an odd-shaped and rain-lashed little archipelago in the North Sea, you can answer "England" (unless you are Scottish or Welsh) or "Britain" (unless you are from the six counties of Ulster). The actual title of the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is really the name not of a place but of a distinctly odd 17th-century political compromise.

... I used to go to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon (once or twice with my own soapbox on which to stand) and inhale the pure air of unfiltered British raving. There they all were: the group that could prove that the English were the lost tribe of Israel, and the rival sect that could explain the secrets of the middle pyramid. Of course there are nut-bags like this in every society, but rarely are they offered such a special piece of prime real estate - just by Marble Arch in this case, and not far from Buckingham Palace - specially dedicated to their soothing recreational needs. During his sojourn in London, Lenin would go there to help perfect his English: I d give a lot to know how he sounded, having learned from this crew, when giving a speech in that language.

Embrace second childhood in the concise, imaginative world of kids'books:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book IV of VII


By J.K. Rowling

'Everyone,' Mr Weasley continuted, 'this is Ludo Bagman, you know who he is, it's thanks to him we've got such good tickets--'

Bagman beamed and waved his hand as if to say it had been nothing.

'Fancy a flutter on the match, Arthur?' he said eagerly, jingling what seemed to be a large amount of gold in the pockets of his yellow and black robes. 'I've already got Roddy Pontner betting me Bulgaria will score first - I offered him nice odds, considering Ireland's front three are the strongest I've seen in years - and little Agatha Timms has put up half shares in her eel farm on a week-long match.'

'Oh ... go on, then,' said Mr Weasley. 'Let's see ... a Galleon on Ireland to win?'

'A Galleon?' Ludo Bagman looked slightly disappointed, but recovered himself. 'Very well, very well ... any other takers?'

'They're a bit young to be gambling,' said Mr Weasley. 'Molly wouldn't like --'

'We'll bet thirty-seven Galleons, fifteen Sickles, three Knuts,' said Fred, as he and George quickly pooled all their money, 'that Ireland win -- but Viktor Krum gets the Snitch. Oh, and we'll throw in a fake wand.'

'You don't want to go showing Mr Bagman rubbish like that --' Percy hissed, but Bagman didn't seem to think the wand was rubbish at all; on the contrary, his boyish face shone with excitement as he took it from Fred, and when the wand gave a loud squawk and turned into a rubber chicken, Bagman roared with laughter.

'Excellent! I haven't seen one that convincing in years! I'd pay five Galleons for that!'

Percy froze in an attitude of stunned disapproval.

'Boys,' said Mr Weasley under his breath, 'I don't want you betting ... that's all your savings ... your mother --'

'Don't be a spoilsport, Arthur!' boomed Ludo Bagman, rattling his pockets excitedly. 'They're old enough to know what they want! You reckon Ireland will win but Krum'll get the Snitch? Not a chance, boys, not a chance ... I'll give you excellent odds on that one ... we'll add five Galleons for the funny wand, then, shall we...'

Mr Weasley looked on helplessly as Ludo Baman whipped out a notebook and quill and began jotting down the twins' names.

'Cheers,' said George, taking the slip of parchment Bagman handed him and tucking it away into the front of his robes. (From Chapter Seven, Bagman and Crouch, pgs. 81-82)