One aspect of learning Russian that is commonly accepted as difficult is Motion verbs. I already explored the basics of these a while ago via a book from Red Kalinka but I need to practise more and extend my understanding. So I was pleased to see courses on motion verbs on the Tips4Russian site, managed by Dr Curtis Ford, my YouTube hero and producer of the superb Russian grammar channel. I did the little test to gauge my prior knowledge (good) and signed up for Motion Verbs II. I’m working my way through the course now – not to mention along, forward, back, up and down… so here’s a personal review. (And no, I don’t know Dr Ford; I paid for the course myself and nobody asked me to review it. That applies to everything I review on this blog too.)
The course is interesting to me not only from a learning and teaching point of view (I’m learning a language as a language teacher myself) but also from the online teaching point of view: Tips4Russian seems to be a WordPress site with a simple learning platform plugin, learndash, allowing you to include video and quizzes. It is basic but has a clean look and is effective. In doing so much more, Moodle also has so much more complexity. Learndash looks a neat entry-level LMS, which displays nicely on a mobile as this screenshot shows:
I have to say though, I prefer to do all my learning on a computer or laptop!
So the course works in a very straightforward way: you watch some of the good doctor’s excellent videos (some from YouTube but many, as I understand it, new for this site) and you are then tested on your understanding.
One thing I appreciate about watching the videos is the little “comprehension check” feature you see every now and then, basically to check you’ve been paying attention 🙂
Every now and then on the Moodle.org forums we get people asking how they can make sure students have watched their videos all the way through (and not just put them on, gone out for coffee and returned later.) The response is – you can’t – but you can include questions from certain key points, either during the video or afterwards, which they can only answer if they have absorbed the materials. The comprehension check does this, as do the mini-quizzes after the videos.
The mini-quizzes involve you actually having to type in the answer – retrieval practice!! That’s much harder than simple multiple choice, but of course it also helps you learn the structures better. I find I am having to repeat the questions sometimes, simply because I missed out a soft sign (Ь) but I absolutely should be made to repeat them! With Moodle quizzes, you can set them up so that subsequent attempts retain your correct responses, so you only need to repeat the incorrect ones. However, as I discovered when doing the Russian quizzes from Red Kalinka’s virtual (Moodle) campus, it might be a drag having to repeat every single question, just because of a single missing soft sign, but it certainly makes you use your brain. So it is with these practice quizzes. I do like the fact there are only 7 or 8 questions though – not 10 or 20 🙂
Another aspect of the course is the audio reviews. Here you are told (in English) to say certain phrases, a pause is left for you to do so and then the correct answer is repeated in Russian by a native speaker. Nothing fancy, no gimmicks – just plain, accurate translation. Love it. I chanced upon this blog post: Top 3 worst tips for learning Russian, courtesy of a tweet from tips4russian, and it reminded me about all this hype about learning a language like a child, only speaking the language, immersing yourself in the language… sorry but no. Understand the structures, translate from your own language, practise and memorise – and then you’ll learn.
And again, although we don’t have a live teacher, we are made to generate the language, this time by saying instead of writing. It’s that retrieval thing I blogged about last year – very effective.
I like the tagline on the tips4russian site. It says “for people who really want to learn the language”. The “really” says it all. Well, I really want to master Russian. So I am off now to move forward with more motion verbs 🙂