This past week the Russian course at my local university started again. I’ve joined the Intermediate group along with a couple of students from last year’s beginners and some new students who have prior experience of learning Russian – a couple from Germany, interestingly.
I had a lovely time, I must confess – and not because I really learned anything new. The level is below that of my weekly private lessons but the benefits are more social and emotional: I get out of the house for a couple of hours (walking to the class in good weather is useful exercise) and it is nice to sit with others, know that the focus is not only on me but that others are required to put in an effort too and, occasionally, help my neighbours out by surreptitiously whispering answers. These classes serve as a welcome contrast to my private lessons by reminding me that I do actually know some Russian, rather than highlighting how much I still have to learn.
That said, if I am serious about making progress in Russian, my private lessons are 100% the Way to Go. I am very aware of how much more confident I have become in my speaking and understanding in the months since we finished the Beginners class in May and started the Intermediate course this week. All that by persevering with private lessons. Yes, I am on the spot for an hour and a half each Monday, yes I struggle to put sentences together and yes, I have to concentrate hard while my teacher speaks nothing but Russian for 90 minutes -and yes -I have literally hours of homework each week! It is a lonely and a hard life ( 🙂 ) but ultimately it is paying off.
Participating in both classes makes a good balance for me and I look forward to another year of studies.
As for an exam? I am aiming to do the Basic Level (A2) in summer, probably in London. But don’t tell anyone as I reserve the right to back out 🙂
A post shared by Christian Cooch (@socialistdisco) on
And yes , it’s not cheap, but we got it at a much reduced price (2 for 1) thanks to my son’s Russian language negotiating skills. And that was the other Up and Down…
Up, for me, in that each time I go, I understand a bit more of what I hear. For example, I learned that our taxi driver was from Uzbekistan, that hed been in St Petersburg for 10 years, his children liked it here, all his family are here…. I also managed to have a mini conversation with the housekeeper of my apartment, telling her it was my favourite apartment, that I understood why she’d got out of breath climbing up the 4 flights of stairs – it was like doing sport! – that I had already been to the flat in June and that I hoped to see her again in a couple of months…
but the Down is simply, realising just how much I don’t know, just how much I don’t understand. Yet. On the first day we went into a shop to get me a local SIM card. I explained what I wanted, said it was because my UK SIM was too expensive here, but as soon as the Megafon guy started asking questions I had to rely on my son to interpret. (Although I did understand the question the guy asked me in English “Do you want Big Internet or Small Internet“? 🙂 Big, every time!)
I had a two hour lesson with my wonderful teacher Lilya. We’ve been looking at motion verbs with prefixes – до, по, при, вы,во, у… and although I am slowly getting there, it does seem much more a struggle than my other languages were. Yes, Russian is harder, but I am suffering from my own excessively high expectations. Once again, I wish I could just chill out a bit. I’ve come a long way in a year – but it’s still not far enough…
For one year now I have been handwriting Russian in its simplest, printed form. At first, I was glad merely to have mastered the alphabet. Now I can hand write Russian (much faster than I can type on a Russian keyboard) but every time I diligently do my homework I feel as if I am a five year old child, laboriously pushing her pen into the paper, pen held in her fist, tongue between her teeth, and each letter looking different every time she writes it. That’s me! But if I am to take any of the higher level TORFL /TRKI Russian language exams, I really need to learn cursive (joined up!) writing. It is, however still much of a mystery to me. b looks like d,d looks like g, t looks like m – and m looks like m as well, which doesn’t help matters. But I need to Feel the Fear and write it anyway.
Our lovely language assistant from UCLAN last year (and next week I’m signing up to another year) gave us a children’s handwriting book which is great – and actually quite relaxing. I haven’t worked much in it though yet.
I also found a couple of helpful videos on Youtube where we simply watch the letters being written, upper and lower case. Here’s the first one of the two:
Unfortunately I realise that practising cursive writing is going to significantly increase the length of time I spend on my written homeworks (hours and hours already!) but – there’s nothing for it, if I want to master the skill.
I’ve written before about those “aha!” moments, or Threshold concepts when the “penny drops” and suddenly you can do something/understand something and there’s no going back. I’ve been dutifully soldiering on with Russian for some months now, wishing a few pennies (or kopek) would drop and, oh Joy, last week the realisation that I was no longer looking up adjective and noun declensions in my book but could remember them from the table in my head sent a shiver down my spine. I was empowered! I can do it! I can string sentences together without having either to stop halfway and check the ending in my book or stop halfway and look cluelessly at my teacher in the hope she’ll give me the ending so I can continue my utterings. Russian suddenly became a language I might be able to converse in with, if not the same ease as French, at least the same relative ease as German. And I was much pleased!
It didn’t last. No sooner had I experienced the satisfaction of being able to remember case endings than my teacher gave me 23 pages of a chapter on perfective versus imperfective in the future and I realised I had crossed one threshold only to stall at another..
But that’s how language learning goes -and how threshold concepts go. I’ll get there. однажды…
I’ve been learning about Russian numbers – I had to laugh out loud when I read back my notes:
If the number is 1 then use the nominative singular with nouns.
If the number is 2, 3 or 4 then use the genitive singular except for 11, 12, 13 and 14 in which case you use the genitive plural
If the number is 5 or more (including 0) then use the genitive plural
If the number is 1 and you have an adjective with your number, use the nominative
If the numer is 2, 3 and 4 and your number is masculine or neuter, use the genitive plural for your adjective and the genitive singular for your nouns – except for 11 12, 13 and 14, in which case you use the genitive plural for the adjectives and the genitive plural for your nouns
If the number is 2, 3 and 4 and your number is feminine, use the adjective in the nominative plural and the noun in the genitive singular – except for 11, 12, 13 and 14, in which case you use the genitive plural for the adjectives and the genitive plural for the nouns.
If the number is 5 or more (including 0 ) you use the genitive plural for both the adjective and the noun. (HOORAY!!!!)
I was reminded of this Monty Python classic sketch about a schoolmaster giving instructions. Now, whenever I think of numbers in Russian, I’ll always think of moving my clothes onto the lower peg…..
Yesterday I chanced upon a 14 short videos on Youtube called ДО СВИДАНИЯ ЛЕТО or “Goodbye summer”. They’re renderings of a TV series from a 1980 BBC series “Russian language and people” Here is episode 10 which is based in St Petersburg, then Leningrad, and therefore close to my heart:
I watched the whole series yesterday and learned quite a few helpful phrases. Although the rendering is quite poor, you still get a fascinating glimpse of Soviet Russia and 1980s life. I remember those clothes! I also smiled when, about three minutes into the first episode they discussed smoking. It used to be a “thing” early on in textbooks and TV series from the 60s, 70s and early 80s that you would learn how to ask for cigarettes, ask for a lighter, ask if someone smoked. There was some minor sexism in the programmes too – not specifically Russian; it existed everywhere at that time. And of course, a love interest. Interestingly, in this Soviet story they didn’t all live happily ever after, because (as the narrator explained) that might be sad but that’s life..
I did enjoy following a storyline though, in simple Russian. It’s a strategy that works well to motivate learners. A little bit each lesson – some new language, a new cliffhanger to keep you watching and learning.
A couple of years ago when I wanted to brush up my Spanish , I enjoyed Mi Vida loca again by the BBC. The episodes are archived and here is Mi Vida loca episode 1 This series incorporates a mystery, danger, excitement and reminds me of the 1968 TV series and books/records (yes I am that old!) I first learned Spanish with: Vamos a ver! That story involved bull fighting and extortion and taught me at the tender age of 9 how to ask if someone smoked and if they had a lighter I could borrow..
I’ve just completed a great book of exercises explaining motion verbs in Russian and at last, with motion verbs at least, I feel I’ve crossed a threshold. I first learned about motion verbs in Russian last autumn, where I discovered that in slavic languages it’s important to make the difference, not only (as with German) between travelling on foot or by a vehicle but also between travelling one way or more than one way, between travelling now and regularly -and more! I’ve watched the excellent playlist on motion verbs on the Russian grammar channel and I chanced upon a practice book on Russian motion verbs by Red Kalinka. (And no, I am not paid by them!) The book outlines the conjugations and uses of verbs such as to walk, to run, to carry, to fly, to swim/sail – and gives exercises after each one. Of course, retrieval is important when learning a language but so is repetition, drilling – and these exercises drill thoroughly! The exercises build on and build up your understanding as you go along. With each verb the exercises start with simple tasks for just that verb, then they mix up the tenses, then they mix up the verbs including previously practised ones. By the final exercises in the book you are presented with questions on any of the verb pairs studies in any tense. I loved it! But more than that, I feel, after doing the 900+ questions they offer, that I am getting to grips with motion verbs and can put this into practice in my other studies. AND – of course, practising the root verbs might also mean I have a chance with the many prefixed verbs of motion that I will come across, too. Thanks RedKalinka for helping me through the motion verbs portal 🙂
‘Threshold Concepts’ may be considered to be “akin to passing through a portal” or “conceptual gateway”that opens up “previously inaccessible way[s] of thinking about something” (Meyer and Land , 2003)
Alongside the Russian grammar channel, another Youtube channel I have been regularly ‘tuning into’ (1) is Antonia Romaker’s Russian (and English) online. She recently posted one of the most useful videos I’ve come across: what to say when you don’t know what to say! Those “filler” words, which, although pretty meaningless, do allow native speakers to think for a second before making their next statement.
So.. well.. basically.. anyone who is kind of serious about learning a language needs to be aware of fillers, for real 🙂
I used to share some with my GCSE French and German students, telling them to use some in the oral exams to add an authentic touch to their well prepared spontaneous conversations. I’m going to take my own advice now! I might be rather sparing though with my choice – some of these seem more suited to youth than near-pensioners such as myself…
I’m having a few weeks break from my weekly Skype lessons, starting again on 31 July, and in the meantime am setting aside an hour everyday to do my own learning and consolidation. I’m continuing with the excellent Red Kalinka materials. Having both the 25 texts at A1 level I am now reading and listening to the stories at A2 level (Russian books with audio link)
I’m still frustrated that I’m not progressing as fast as I would like to. I have it in my head to tackle the Basic TORFL exam this time next year, but as I am only still at A1 after eleven months, I am not so sure. This morning I had a go at the Higher writing sample paper from Edexcel for their new Russian GCSE course from September 2017. It’s useful having the mark scheme, because, although I can’t obviously know my errors, I can get a general idea. I think I would definitely pass, although how close to the coveted new “9” I would get, in Writing, I cannot say. I’m going to see if I can persuade my son, who’s coming home shortly, to try the speaking tests with me.
Doing listening and reading exercises on my own is easy but the Writing (without correction) and Speaking (without an interloctor) are harder. I intend to make the most of the next few weeks of July to practise everything I have done in my Skype lessons so far and get to grips with learning vocabulary.