Reading with Interlinear Books

Linas Vaštakas is an avid language learning enthusiast, and he currently runs a project InterlinearBooks.com which aims to make literature more accessible to language learners. He wrote this guest post about learning languages with Interlinear texts.

If you have been reading some of the posts about language learning in this blog, you probably know that learning a language requires constant practice. While reading books could be a good source for such practice, doing this is often difficult because the process of translating unknown words is bothersome and often unsuccessful. Today, I would like to talk about my project, which attempts to change this with Interlinear translations. First, however, let me tell you about Interlinear translations.

Example of an Interlinear book from InterlinearBooks.com Example of an Interlinear text from InterlinearBooks.com

What are Interlinear translations?

Interlinear translations are translations of the kind, where the translation is provided below each concrete word and phrase. So, for example, you would have a Swedish translation like this:

Example of Interlinear translation from Swedish Example of Interlinear translation from Swedish

In the Swedish example, you can see how perfectly everything translates. Now, does everything always translate so perfectly in all texts and all languages? Not entirely. But Interlinear translations still aim to preserve the original syntax as long as understanding is possible. If understanding is not possible anymore, a little bit more figurative translation can be used. See this example:

Interlinear Russian text sample Example of Interlinear translation from Russian

In this example, you can notice that not everything is translatable as directly. Translating that Russian sentence literally, you would get something similar to “To Peter Ivanovich was not destiny to play bridge today evening.” Such translation, although probably still understandable, would quickly become clumsy. So, an Interlinear translation would connect some words to be translated together. It would do so for dogmatic expressions, too. Yet, even in languages like Russian, a lot can be translated literally.

How can Interlinear translations help you?

Interlinear translations can help you learn languages by reading books in your target language without the need of dictionaries, software or teachers. Ever wanted to learn Russian? Why not read some Tolstoy to do that? How about some Selma Lagerlöf, the legendary Nobel prize-winning Swedish writer, for Swedish? Interlinear translations can allow you to read such authors without a dictionary (and we all know how annoying constantly looking up a dictionary can be).

Reading Interlinear books offers a couple of advantages:

  • fast reading: Interlinear lets you read fast: you save time by not needing to look up the dictionary, you don’t need to analyze the same sentence in two languages (like you usually need to when reading ordinary bilingual books) and you don’t have explanations inside the text, which would distract you from the original;
  • accurate translation: Interlinear translates words precisely and in their context. If you have ever tried using some automatic translation services to help your reading, you must have noticed how, while many translations work alright, some are a little bit off, and it  quickly gets annoying. Interlinear translation avoids this problem, because each word is carefully chosen by a human being to have the most accurate meaning for its context;
  • selectivity in learning: by being highly literal and corresponding to each word and expression, Interlinear allows  you to focus your attention on the important phrases and words you need to learn when reading. Don’t feel like learning terms for nobility in XIXth century Russia? Skip them and just quickly look at the translation! Find that you still can’t remember the word for “create” in Russian? Well, pay more attention – or add it to Anki if you prefer.

Where can you get Interlinear translations?

InterlinearBooks.com has been focusing on translating fascinating books in various languages in the Interlinear format and selling them. We have currently released the following e-book translations:

InterlinearBooks is still in the beginning phase of the project and its mission is to bring literature closer to language learners. What translations we make and how we make them can still be largely influenced by our readers, and we are more than willing to hear feedback from you.

Even if not with Interlinear translations, have you ever successfully used reading for language learning? We’d love to hear your story!

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Exporting Terms to Anki from Learning With Texts

If you’ve been keeping up with the language learning scene online, you have probably heard of Learning With Texts (LWT), which is software to assist you in studying foreign language text. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, then I recommend checking out Benny’s excellent introduction to Learning With Texts, because the rest of this post won’t mean much to you if you are unfamiliar with it.  This article also assumes you are aware of Anki, so if you’re not then you should read this introduction to Anki and Spaced Repetition and forget about forgetting ever again.

So, you’ve been using LWT, and it’s great, but you want an easy way to take the brand new words you are learning in LWT and put them into Anki so you can retain them, right? I have made a video that shows you exactly how to do that!

These are the websites and other software I mention in the video:

For quick reference, these are roughly the steps to export terms from LWT to Anki:

  1. In LWT, go to Terms in the menu
  2. Set Text to the name of the text you are getting words from
  3. Set Status to Learning/-ed [1..5]
  4. Set Tag #1 to UNTAGGED
  5. Set All x Terms to Export ALL Terms (Anki)
  6. Open LibreOffice Calc (or OpenOffice or MS Excel)
  7. File -> Open
  8. Set filter to Text CSV
  9. Select the file you downloaded from LWT and click Open
  10. Select Tab Separated and Unicode
  11. Look at opened document
  12. Note which columns you want for the front and back (in the video I choose columns E and B)
  13. Open Anki, and open the deck you want to import into
  14. File -> Import
  15. Select the file you downloaded from LWT
  16. Set the fields (which correspond to columns in the spreadsheet) to map to the Front and Back
  17. Click Import. Your LWT terms are now in your Anki deck! Rejoice!
  18. Go back to your browser window with LWT open
  19. Set All x Terms to Add Tag
  20. Type in “anki” so that these terms won’t appear in future exports. All done!

Where to find me if you have questions:

You may of course leave a comment here on the blog, but you can also find me on these social networks and contact me anytime:

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Tadoku – Read More or Die – April 2011 Edition

The Tadoku contest, also known as the Read More or Die contest is about to start again. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a twitter-based contest designed to motivate you to read more in your target language.

For one month, you try to read as much as you can. You read on your own and then tweet your page counts to a bot on twitter. At the end of the month, whoever read the most pages is the winner. There’s no prize except for bragging rights, but really the contest isn’t about winning at all. It’s about improving your literacy in your target language by reading as much as you can, and sharing your experience with other like-minded people.

The last contest was in January and it was a huge success. Ninety-nine (99!) people participated and read a combined total of 65,131 pages! That’s awesome. I placed 25th with 649.97 pages of Japanese read, which is the most Japanese I’ve ever read in such a short period of time. Said simply, the contest works.

If you are learning a foreign language, I highly recommend participating. You have nothing to lose. It doesn’t matter what your level is either. Read whatever is appropriate to your reading level, whether that be novels, comic books or children books.

It’s easy to sign up. All you have to do is tweet “@Tadokubot #reg” minus the quotes. Be sure to mention what language you will be reading in the tweet.

The contest starts at midnight on April 1st, your time. It ends April 30th at 11:59pm, your time.

The deadline to sign up is 11:59pm on March 31st! Don’t delay. Send your registration tweet!

For information about the contest, check the official blog: Read More or Die blog

Here are a couple of other blog posts I found that mention the new contest:

  1. The Power Of Reading
  2. Tadoku 2011, Round 2
  3. Tadoku contest
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The Wonder of Critical Frequency

About two weeks ago, in an effort to increase my Esperanto vocabulary, I signed up for lernu.net’s Vorto de la Tago (Word of the Day) service, which sends a daily email with, you guessed it, the word of the day. These emails are great for SRS because they include quite a few example sentences. The definitions are also monolingual (Esperanto-only, no English translations), which I think is a good thing because I notice that when I read Esperanto text I translate it to English mentally, thus slowing me down. So now I have these great daily reminders to add some new sentences to my SRS, and they’re forcing me to use the language to describe itself rather than using the crutch called English. And what did I do with these fantastic reminders?

I let them sit in my inbox unread.

Why did I such a thing? I did it because I procrastinate; because I was busy; because I didn’t have time right now and I’d come back to it later. And these emails continued to come in daily, reminding me that I need to get to them. This was not good for me, mentally. These emails were becoming an itch in my brain that I could feel constantly but couldn’t scratch. I didn’t want to unsubscribe from the emails either. That would be admitting failure, admitting that I’m not truly serious about learning this language.

Yesterday, I intended to do something about these emails, but realized that I didn’t look forward to going through the dozen or so emails that have built up and copy-pasting sentences into Anki. That would take time that I wanted to spend elsewhere. I then remembered reading about Critical Frequency from the great Khatzumoto, which is the concept of only doing a couple minutes worth of a task at a time, but doing it many times a day. Before going to bed last night, I setup some events in my Google Calendar, at 5 minutes before each hour from 8am to 5pm, which last 5 minutes a piece and repeat daily. These sync up with my Android phone to create a device which beeps at me at 5 minutes before each hour to remind me to do a language task of some sort, whether that’s doing my reps in Anki, or copying sentences from an email into Anki.

This system worked perfectly. I did my daily Anki reps during these times, then copied the sentences from the emails. I only cleared half of those emails, but my mind is at ease. Using this system, I know that I will clear those emails in the next day or two, and will be able to keep up with them, stress-free. And that is the wonder of Critical Frequency.

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January 2011 Tadoku contest will start very soon

The first Tadoku contest is set to start at midnight on January 1st (your time). If you haven’t signed up yet you only have a few hours to do so, so if you are interested in participating, jump on it!

What’s Tadoku?

Tadoku (多読 – Japanese for “read a lot”) is a foreign language reading contest. You try to read as much as you can in your target language in one month. You record your daily progress by tweeting your page counts to a bot on twitter. At the end of the month, the person with the most pages read is the winner. I don’t think there is a prize other than glory, but it’s a great way to motivate yourself to do more reading.

To register, you need to tweet “@TadokuBot #reg [insert hilarious quote]” (minus the quotes). You need to do so before 2011, so hurry up. Next Tadoku contest won’t be until April!

For more information, see the official blog at Read More Or Die:

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Jes, Mi Lernas Esperanton – Yes, I’m Learning Esperanto

Consider this an admission of guilt. I am learning Esperanto. Esperanto has both its critics and proponents in the language learning community, which initially bothered me. Nobody has criticized me for wanting to learn Spanish, nor has anyone (including myself) felt the need to defend that desire. I expect that the same would be true if I suddenly decided to learn German, Hindi, Arabic, or Navajo. Yet, for some reason, Esperanto draws in critics and defenders. This has kept me from posting about it here, but now I’ve decided that my decisions don’t need to be defended, and criticisms are easily ignored.

I first heard about Esperanto from a friend in my high school German class. He didn’t know the language but he knew of it, and while the idea was fascinating, I wasn’t interested enough in languages at the time. In the past year or so I’ve become more and more curious about Esperanto but I didn’t want to sidetrack any progress I was making in Spanish. Just over four months ago, I decided that while I am not yet fluent in Spanish, I am comfortable enough with it to attempt to learn Esperanto using Spanish. So far, I don’t regret this decision at all. Spanish is established in my head well enough that I don’t confuse any of my new Esperanto vocabulary with it or vice-versa.

Learning Spanish is still my primary focus, but sometimes when I feel like I’m starting to burn out in Spanish, I switch to studying Esperanto. Esperanto is an exciting language for me, and studying it seems to help me regain my enthusiasm for Spanish as well. I feel that my Spanish has improved at a faster rate since I started studying Esperanto.

Resources

So far I’ve only been using online resources to learn Esperanto, but I have just recently purchased a couple of books as well. This is what I’ve been using so far:

  • lernu.net – I’ve primarily been using lernu.net in Spanish, so that my Spanish will improve as I study Esperanto. I spent a lot of time with this Esperanto puzzle tutorial, which appealed to my style of learning a lot. Lernu.net also has forums, reading material, a dictionary, and other useful materials to help you learn.
  • Tatoeba.org – This site is great to find sentences using a new word in many languages, including Esperanto. It currently has over 10,000 sentences in Esperanto. I take the sentences I find here and put them in my SRS. Many of these sentences are also translated to Spanish, and so if I find the Spanish sentence useful, I will copy it into my Spanish SRS deck as well.
  • A Complete Grammar of Esperanto – This is one of the two books I just purchased. I bought this to help expand my vocabulary, explain a few of the concepts I don’t quite understand just yet, and also because this book contains graded reading material. I wanted reading material in Esperanto, in printed form, but I also wanted something that would start at a simple level and build up from there. Since receiving this book, I’ve discovered that the text of it is in the public domain, and can be found for free from Project Gutenberg. I’ve downloaded the text version to make copying sentences into my SRS a simple matter of copy and paste.
  • Esperanto Learning and Using the International Language – This is the other book I purchased, and I bought it for mostly the same reasons I bought the previous book. This book is more modern, and also contains a section giving the history of the Esperanto language and community. I purchased two books because I wanted to see if there was one book I preferred over the other, and also to push my Amazon order over $25 so I could get free shipping. =)
  • Ek - If you are using Windows, this tool is handy for helping to type the Esperanto special characters: ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, and ŭ. The only problem I’ve had with Ek is that it doesn’t work correctly with Anki, which is why I built:
  • An Esperanto Support plugin for Anki – Simply install this plugin in Anki, configure your deck to use the Esperanto card model, and after that you can type in cx, gx, hx, jx, sx, and ux in your cards, which the plugin will automatically convert to ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, and ŭ.
  • If you are a Linux user, you can use an Esperanto keyboard layout that is usually already built-in with their distribution of choice. Unfortunately, I don’t own a Mac so I have no idea what tools exist for the Mac. If you know of one, please comment about it.

I’m curious to hear about other resources that people are using to learn Esperanto. If you have any, please leave a comment and tell me about it!

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Use tatoeba.org for mining sentences

Usually when I am reading in Spanish, and I find a word I don’t know and can’t figure out from context, I look it up in a dictionary. Often the sentence I originally found that word in is long and/or complex, which doesn’t make it a good candidate for entry in my SRS, so I will usually enter the example sentence in the dictionary into my SRS instead. But what if there is no example sentence for that word? This dilemma happens with at least half of the words I look up. Until recently, I didn’t have a good solution. Most of the time I would just let it go and later forget the word, causing myself to look it up again.

Now I take that word and search tatoeba.org for sentences containing that word. And most of the time (at least with Spanish), I can find a sentence with that word and copy it to a new card in my SRS. Tatoeba.org supports a lot of languages, with 1,000 or more sentences in at least 22 of those languages. As of this writing there are 10,140 sentences in Spanish, 41,850 in French, and 152,705 in Japanese!

I have noticed that there are audio icons next to the sentences on tatoeba.org, but very few actually have audio available. While you are mining sentences from there, take them over to RhinoSpike.com and find a native speaker to read them to you!

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French Pronouns: Subjective Case

Today we’re going to look at French pronouns. Specifically, the subjective case, the French equivalent of saying the following words:

  • I
  • You
  • He
  • She
  • It
  • We
  • They

In English, these are all the pronouns with which you start a simple sentence. Sentences like “You are speaking” and “He is listening.” We’ll look at all the basic pronouns that start a sentence, and even pick up a little extra vocabulary along the way!

For all of these examples, the text in French is in italics.

  • In English
  • en français

blame

I am the number one pronoun

If you’re like me, you like to talk about yourself. After all, I’m probably the subject about which I’m most knowledgeable. So what should I say about myself?

  • I have a computer.
  • J’ai un ordinateur.
  • I am talking about her.
  • Je parle d’elle.
  • I am thinking about vacation.
  • Je pense aux vacances.
  • I have to go to work.
  • Je dois aller au travail.
  • I am eating this cake.
  • Je mange ce gâteau.

Basically, the way to say “I” in French is “je.” Note how the “e” is dropped when the next word starts with a vowel. Another important thing to note is that “je” isn’t capitalized in the middle of a sentence. For example:

  • They are people that I don’t like.
  • Ils sont des gens que je n’aime pas.
  • The children I take care of are cute.
  • Les enfants dont je m’occupe sont mignons.
  • Amber is a girl I have feelings for.
  • Amber est une fille pour qui j’ai de l’affection.

You are the second person on my mind

Much like Spanish, French has two forms of “you.” There is a singular and a plural. However, the plural is also used to address a single person formally. First, let’s use some examples with the singular form:

  • You are speaking.
  • Tu parles.
  • You prepare it for us.
  • Tu nous la prépare.
  • You saw the children.
  • Tu as vu les enfants.
  • You are in your bed.
  • Tu es dans ton lit.
  • You are there.
  • Tu y es.

Let’s look at the plural form of “you:”

  • You don’t sleep enough.
  • Vous ne dormez pas assez.
  • You woke up.
  • Vous vous êtes réveillés.
  • You go to the movies.
  • Vous allez au cinéma.
  • You were studying.
  • Vous étudiiez.
  • You did not write to us!
  • Vous ne nous avez pas écrit!

Vous” is not only a different word from “tu,” but it also has a completely different way of conjugating verbs. We’ll get to that in a later post. I just want to point out that there is a difference, and thus you can’t just replace “tu” with “vous.”

It doesn’t exist!

Every noun in French is masculine or feminine. There is no French equivalent for “it.” They simply refer to everyday items as “he” or “she” depending on whether the item is masculine for feminine. What determines an object’s gender? It’s kind of arbitrary. You just have to make sure that you learn the gender as part of the vocabulary.

That said, “he” and “she” have the same verb conjugations, but the adjective forms change depending on the gender. Here are some examples with a masculine third-person subject:

  • He is the most serious student in the class.
  • Il est l’étudiant le plus sérieux de la classe.
  • He loves the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Il adore la Méditerranée.
  • He broke his leg.
  • Il s’est cassé la jambe.
  • He gave me flowers.
  • Il m’a offert des fleurs.
  • He always eats a banana in the morning.
  • Il mange toujours une banane le matin.

And some examples with a feminine subject:

  • She is brushing her hair.
  • Elle se brosse les cheveux.
  • She doesn’t have money.
  • Elle n’a pas d’argent.
  • She is an actress.
  • Elle est actrice.
  • She speaks to him/her.
  • Elle lui parle.
  • She is not interested in politics.
  • Elle ne s’intéresse pas à la politique.

Why not just call it the “first people” pronoun?

Ah, the first person plural: “we.” Or, en français, “nous.” Hopefully, when you go to the French-speaking locale of your choice, you’ll have a lovely lass (or perhaps a lad) of whom you can refer with yourself as “we.” Here are some things you might then say:

  • We admire you.
  • Nous t’admirons.
  • We are learning French.
  • Nous apprenons le français.
  • We are happy.
  • Nous sommes heureux.
  • We are afraid of him.
  • Nous avons peur de lui.
  • We have been married for four years.
  • Nous sommes mariés depius quatre ans.

Since this article is just about the subjective case, I’ll cover “us” at a later date. And since we’ve already covered the plural form of “you,” that leaves just one more pronoun:

They’re the last pronouns

That’s right! They are the French equivalents of “they:” “ils,” and “elles.” It should be noted that these are pronounced the exact same way as the singular version most of the time. Refer to the RhinoSpike recordings for the cases shown here.

Also note that “elles” is only used to refer a group that consists entirely of females or feminine objects. For example, if you were to refer the group of your door, your table, and your lamp (all feminine nouns in French,) you would say “elles.” However, if you were to include your bed (a masculine noun,) you would refer to the group as “ils.” Similarly, if you were to speaking about a gaggle of girls, you would say “elles,” but once that group has even one guy in it, it becomes “ils.” Let’s look at some sentences using “ils:”

  • They are intelligent.
  • Ils sont intelligents.
  • They love one another.
  • Ils s’aiment.
  • They listen to their parents.
  • Ils écoutent leurs parents.
  • They talk to each other.
  • Ils se parlent.
  • They have a dog that I can’t stand.
  • Ils ont un chien que je déteste.

And here are some sentences using “elles:”

  • They are tall.
  • Elles sont grandes.
  • They were sleeping.
  • Elles dormaient.
  • They wrote to each other.
  • Elles se sont écrit.
  • They’ve known each other since they took the same class.
  • Elles se connaissent depuis qu’elles ont suivi le même cours.

A personal subject

That wraps up the subjective pronouns. You can download an Anki deck with these sentences here. Additionally, I’ve posted an audio request of these sentences on RhinoSpikers_link.

Note: The sentences in this article have been pulled from the book “Correct Your French Blunders” by Véronique Mazet, Ph.D. I’m not affiliated with the book or the author in any way, and I don’t receive anything for mentioning it here. However, it is a good reference for French because it provides a great deal of full French sentences and clear explaination of French grammar. Most importantly, it highlights an incredible amount of errors a novice French speaker may make.

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Author Introduction – David

DavidMy name is David and I’m a new contributing author here at babelhut.com. Like Peter and Thomas both, I’ve realized my desire to learn another language later in life, though looking back at my life, it’s been a rather obvious result.

The first thing in my life I can remember involving a second language was when I was about 7 or so, in the faraway, but beautiful land of San Diego. My brother and I were trying to conceive a language of our own, not having any real knowledge of languages other than English. It was a short lived attempt, but some of the conventions of the language we came up with opened my eyes as to how different languages could also “taste” different.

Going to middle school, before I took any foreign language classes, I found myself interested in the language of Klingon. I learned what I could through the Klingon Language Institute’s website, but I simply didn’t know anything about learning languages at the time, so I didn’t really get far. Later, I eventually realized that the design of the language and the impracticality of it (there are very few actual speakers in the world) would have killed my motivation to learn it anyway.

Between the choice of Spanish and French, I chose to learn French in high school for two reasons. First, I thought of French as the more romantic language (not that I was really the romantic type,) and second, the large majority of students took Spanish. The French teacher I had for my first year was terrible, but when I had Mrs. Smith as a teacher, I suddenly found myself speaking French with the best in my class. Of course I was terrible at getting my projects done, so I only made Bs in that class.

After high school, my retention for French faded away, as did any desire to continue learning it. I was too busy focusing on other areas of study. It wasn’t until my brother got on this language kick a few years ago that I really started looking at learning another language again. Since I was into anime at the time, Japanese seemed like a logical choice, but as my interest for anime faded, so did my interest for Japanese. I’ve also looked into Lojban, which was probably the  easiest language to get into thus far, but my motivation was not strong enough. As it turns out, the mere appreciation of a language’s features is not enough to get me to learn the language. Instead I discovered that I really need a reason to learn the language, that the language is merely a means to an end.

I’ve begun learning French again with the primary intent of being able to travel to and, perhaps someday, live in a foreign country, perhaps one as strange as Canada. While I do enjoy the country I live in and the freedoms it provides, I feel I may be better suited elsewhere.

Motivation plays a large part in how well you do anything in life. What is your motivation for learning your new language? What are you trying to achieve with it? Let me know in the comments.

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I am starting to learn Japanese, not for fluency, but for travel.

Within the last few months, I decided that I am finally going to get some international travel under my belt. I’m going to save my money, and I’m going to Japan. The actual trip probably won’t happen until next year, but it’s going to happen, and I’ve already made good progress in saving up for the trip. Why Japan? Mostly because Thomas, my friend and fellow Babelhut.com writer, lives there with his wife and child. What better way to travel internationally than to get someone you know to show you around?

Because of this decision, my girlfriend and I have decided to start learning Japanese. Spanish is still my primary language of study, and that won’t change, so we plan to only study Japanese for one hour a week. We don’t intend to become fluent speakers, we just want to be able to get around. We just started this and have only studied twice now, but so far we have been having fun.

We are focusing mostly on learning to communicate verbally, and in our first sesssion we sampled both Carl Kenner’s free Japanese audio course, and the Michel Thomas Method Japanese for Beginners. Carl Kenner’s course teaches writing along with speaking, while the Michel Thomas course is focused entirely on speaking. We found that Carl Kenner moved a little to quickly for us to keep up, and decided to stick with the Michel Thomas course for now.

I was surprised at just how much fun learning a brand new language together with my girlfriend is. We both laugh at our silly mistakes, while simultaneously being very encouraging to each other. During our second session, we needed to say “kore o kudasai, ” which means something like “please may I have this?” My girlfriend couldn’t remember how to say it, so I held up a piece of mail and said “correo” which in Spanish means “mail”, but sounds very similar to the Japanese “kore o.” This got a laugh out of her and now she remembers that “kore” means “this” in Japanese.

I hope we continue to have this much fun with Japanese, because we are both looking forward to our next Japanese session!

One last thing. I know it’s been very quiet around here. Thomas and I have been working on something big, and soon we’ll be able to tell you all about it! I’m actually very excited about this, but I can’t say more yet! Stay tuned…

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