Consciously reducing the effort you put into language learning can actually improve your ability to retain new information

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I’ve been both a foreign language teacher and a foreign language learner, and my biggest takeaway from both is you need human contact if you want to make any genuine progress. That isn’t particularly easy when you’re working from home and have been ordered to socially distance.

It’s even harder if, like me, you live between three very different languages and lack the natural talent that most linguists and polyglots possess in abundance.

Many of the scholars in my department at the University of Tübingen face a similar problem, between the same three languages — German, English, and Chinese. Back when our world was normal and working meant a physical presence on campus, we were able to find and interact with at least one person in our target languages most days. …


Not all pain is considered equal. Period.

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Giving birth is perhaps one of the only occasions in a woman’s life where she is permitted to feel pain. It is universally accepted that childbirth is an abhorrent experience — in the Judeo-Christian worldview, it is literally a punishment from God. Some don’t even survive it.

Note: The word woman is here used to describe someone who has been socialised as female due to being born with the reproductive equipment associated with childbearing. Not all women have wombs, not all those born with wombs are women.

I went through a stage towards the end of my pregnancy where the mere mention of giving birth would make me cry. It wasn’t so much that I was scared or upset by the prospect — if anything, the thought of an end to what had, until then, been an appalling pregnancy was more than welcome. …


And, if not, is it worth saving?

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Democracy, as we know it, is dying. And, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that might not be such a bad thing. It has taken a global pandemic for us to fully realise it, but something is broken and it goes far beyond who we voted for.

In Great Britain, decades of playing dirty politics have left us with only two political parties, whose politics — the last election aside — are depressingly similar. …


And other reasons for women to lean left.

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Though it is always amusing to see people — particularly Americans— throwing ‘socialist’ around as an insult, I can see why those who have benefited from the subjugation of women under capitalism might find socialism threatening.

Keeping women firmly under the thumb of oppression makes it easier for emotionally and physically under-qualified men to attract intelligent, beautiful women who would be otherwise out of their league. It also allows men — who have, until only very recently, dominated professional spaces — to maintain an unfair advantage over their female competition.

“Competitive labour markets discriminate against those whose reproductive biology makes them primarily responsible for child bearing.” …


Rejecting the capitalist trap of always needing more.

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I’m far from the only freelancer to find herself the target of business development managers promising to triple my client-base in six months. Despite now being on maternity leave, my LinkedIn inbox is full of free consultation session offers, free trials for client management apps or requests for a Zoom meeting to discuss “collaborative potential” — which here means me paying for services I don’t need.

It’s not that I don’t respect the growth and strategic management industry; they can and do work wonders for small businesses wanting to scale up to become profitable. I get that. …


And what it taught me about value.

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Two weeks after graduating from university in England, I hopped on a plane and moved to China. It was obviously far more complicated than this, but it certainly felt as fast as a two-part sentence. I’d landed what I thought was a prestigious job with the British Council — the application and interview process was pretty gruelling considering we were being shipped out to teach English at well below minimum wage.

I’d fallen in love with the country as a teenager, reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans and thinking that there was no where on earth where I could learn so much, so fast as in China. I was right. …


I’m fighting for my daughter’s daughter’s society, but is that enough?

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Looking back on more than a century of feminist activism, it’s incredible to think about how much we have achieved. Those socialised as female are now permitted to attend university, to vote regardless of race and class, to divorce without losing their children. We have won ourselves the right to financial independence and property ownership. Our career choices are now only somewhat defined by what we hide between our legs and we’ve become more than adept at smashing through glass ceilings.

The day we found out I was pregnant, my partner and I attended a Pink concert in Stuttgart. In case you are too young to remember, Pink made being a tomboy mainstream back when Arya Stark was still toddling around the west country. For those of us who spent the 90s flushing Barbie heads down the toilet and shunning dresses, Pink validated our gender non-conforming existence. …


We need to learn to separate history from the past

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For those of us who studied history to degree level, separating ‘history’ from ‘the past’ seems fairly elementary. The past is what happened and history is how people have written about it. When I first began my training as a historian nearly ten years ago, I saw history as apolitical. At the time, I hated politics and saw having opinions on equality as an issue of morals and philosophy rather than governance. Within weeks, my entire worldview shifted.

Not only is the study of history decidedly political, its very existence is defined by power, its “facts” defined by those wielding it. If the past is what happened and history what people wrote about it, politics is why people wrote what they wrote about it. …


A three-step guide from someone who gets paid to read.

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If I have to read one more article telling me “How to read XX books in a year”, I might have a nervous breakdown. It’s not that I don’t admire the people writing them, and their remarkable ability to fit reading so cleverly into everyday life. The problem is that, for me, making reading a to-do-list item opens up the possibility of failure. And the idea of being able to underachieve at reading makes what should be an enjoyable pastime suddenly stressful.

Psychologists have found that increased stress impairs our ability to retain and process new information. When we put pressure on ourselves to achieve more in the books department, we are denying ourselves a chance to relax and reset. More than that, if you are trying to read more for the sake of self-development, you’re likely doing more harm than good by upping the stakes with a quantitative goal. …


From a political science perspective, the seeds are certainly being sown.

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The academic literature on civil war is overwhelmingly produced by white men from North American or Western Europe. As such, the knowledge produced in this field is often tainted by the in-built assumption that white peoples’ wars are civilising while the wars of the racialised Other are driven by greed — either that of the rebels or an oppressive dictator. However, this literature, when reversed and applied to white-majority countries like the United States, paints an interesting picture.

From this literature, an argument emerged around ten years ago suggesting that, rather than being driven by greed, civil wars occur wherever and whenever victory is materially feasible. Feasibility here means that those rebelling have the human, financial and material resources available to instigate and win an armed conflict. …

About

Abbey Heffer

China specialist, feminist, political scientist in progress. Reviews, socialism & everyday academia. Low-brow, no jargon/acronyms. Editor of The Open Bookshelf.

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