Eсли у вас нету дома (If you don’t have a house…)

If you don’t have a house then it can’t burn down…if you don’t have a wife then she can’t run off with your friend… if you don’t have a dog then your neighbour can’t poison it … if you don’t have an auntie then you won’t lose her. If you don’t live then you can’t die..

Practical, albeit stoical, philosophy there in a song I’ve just encountered in my Russian lessons and which I remember from watching the film The Irony of Fate at a UCLAN Russian society meeting in the New Year. Here is the song on Youtube – and here are the lyrics and translation. I am going to memorise it because it gives good practice with Eсли and use of genitive case in the negative.

Thresholds – “Aha” moments – I need you!

This week my head has been tortured with understanding and using the different verbs for learning/studing/teaching:

Изучать / Изучить


учить / выучить

учить / научить

At the same time we’ve been delving into perfective/imperfective and my brain has been firing on all cannons (argh – dreadful cliché but it does express very well how I feel) Russian is a hard slog at the moment. I know from my studies that we need to pass through this barrier -cross this threshold – and I’ll get a sense of achievement. But I’m not there yet 🙁

Perhaps I need to take a step back and look at what I  have achieved: since starting “in anger” last September  I’ve reached GCSE standard and A1 on the Common European Framework for Languages. I can speak in the present, past and future and I can understand A LOT. I’ve reached a level in Russian in ten months which I took three years to reach in French and German, and I never got demoralised then. But that’s because it was never hard! Learning French and German I had plenty of time – and they were easier languages of course. Russian is a difficult language, even for the hardened linguist that I am, and to expect to reach a high standard in just a few months is perhaps a bit optimistic.


But wait until this time next year!!!

Hard slog – pushing through the barrier

I’m carrying on with my weekly Skype lessons – they’re very good, very intense and we are moving fast. I am also carrying on with my Red Kalinka readings and Moodle exercises. However, I am feeling a tiny (tiny) bit despondent at the moment. I think this is because it’s all just work, soldiering on, practising, learning. I still don’t feel confident when speaking that I will use the correct adjective or noun ending (verbs are OK) and I am still unsure of stresses of unknown words. I’m hoping a “threshold” moment to come and hit me so I’ll get a burst of inspiration 🙂


I am off to St Petersburg again in a couple of weeks. Each time I go – this will be my fourth time – I can speak and understand a little more. Hopefully this trip will give me that encouragement I need to persevere.

That said, I plan to take a break from regular weekly lessons in July – although to keep up the daily practice – with the aim of consolidating what I have been learning so far and coming back fresh in August to continue the battle 🙂

Learning Russian from Twitter

As every language teacher knows, it’s a good idea for students of a language to change their social media sites to the language they are studying – allowing certain words and phrases to be assimilated by stealth. I changed my Twitter account to Russian a few weeks ago and very quickly noticed that it was making it much easier for me to remember those complex rules about numbers:

One new tweet  = nominative case

Two/three/four new tweets = genitive singular

Five or more (or 14!) new tweets = genitive plural

Sorted 🙂

So what else can we learn from Twitter? Well I learned the phrase “what’s new?” uses the genitive too, (a bit like “Quoi de neuf?” in French:


In fact, Twitter is quite helpful with the genitive, because we also have:


“language of the tweet”.

Seeing these endings every time I visit Twitter, they are now embedded in my brain.

I’ve also learned  that, whereas we say “Follow” they say “Read” and where we say “Following”, Russians  say “I read”:


From that one, and from the number phrases, I have also picked up  that you can use the infinitive (читаь, пoсмотрeть) as an imperative So “to tweet” and “retweet” are твитнуть and  ретвитнуть, which are also the commands to do so, on Twitter.


This one is a bit tricker for me, at my basic level:


It’s Following and Followers – so I *think* we see the present passive “being read” and a plural noun  “readers” but don’t quote me on that; I am just guessing. I think we get a similar present passive here, in “being promoted”? (Correct me if I am wrong.)


And what about “like”?


A very popular expression that we all learn early on – similar to German “mir gefällt” or Spanish ” me gusta”.

And taking that further, we delve into singular and plural endings after the preposition ‘B’ with “likes a tweet in which you were mentioned/likes tweetS in which you were mentioned”:

in which mentioned

I must say, such sentences do make you realise in some ways, English is not so difficult after all 🙂

Of course, there is more. Or, as the Russian tweeters would say …


But that’s enough Twitter time for me today 🙂

Troublesome and Transformational

In one of my other lives I’ve been reading about Threshold concepts, a term I first learned about last October, via a book recommendation (Didau, 2015) by my daughter. Didau highlights some of the features of Threshold concepts:

  • Integrative
  • Transformative
  • Irreversible
  • Reconstitutive
  • Troublesome
  • Discursive

A threshold concept is sort of like a “penny drops” moment, a point of learning from which there is no return: you can’t unlearn it, and it changes you, moves you forward.

My recent four weeks of learning Russian with private lessons (I have had eleven now, four of those face to face in Peter) have certainly provided me with these experiences. ‘Troublesome” in that they “presented [me] with a degree of difficulty […] incoherent or counter-intuitive”. This is Good, because good learning should be hard!  Integrative, in that it brought “together different parts of the subject [I] hadn’t previously seen as connected.  Reconsitutive, in that it “may shift [my] sense of self over time” and it Transformative, in that, once understood it will “change the way [I] see the subject and [myself].”

It’s that last one which I hope gives me the impetus to continue my studies, which , currently are very troublesome, as we’re delving into imperfective and perfective verbs “in anger” for my first time.

On the one hand, I am frustrated because I can’t speak it fluently yet. (I should know better!) On the other hand, I am quietly pleased I got very high marks in the reading  and grammar parts of a sample Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (Elementary level) (as well as previously, the reading and listening elements of  a sample Russian GCSE paper) I managed to communicate – albeit falteringly-  with the housekeeper and her husband of the Airbnb on our last trip in April, as well as now  more confidently ordering food in restaurants.  But I’m still thwarted by not having instantly at my fingertips the case endings – I need to crack that as well as understanding verbal aspects.

I watched this video on Youtube, where the kind beardy guy suggests making up and memorising sample phrases to help with cases. I like the idea. Of course, you need to know the rules as well, and drill them, but as he says, some easily retrievable sentences you can refer to can provide a signpost at any given moment. It’s similar to learning songs, which I find very  helpful. We just need someone to make a good Russian song with orderly sequenced sentences in all cases and all genders, but with a nice tune:)

Didau, D. (2015). What if everything you knew about education was wrong?. Crown House Publishing.

501 Russian verbs – yay!

I bought this book in February, when I saw it in дом книги, the House of Books (Singer’s) . It’s Barron’s 501 Russian verbs (Amazon link) I use it almost every day now, to check verb conjugations and aspects. I’ve yet to find a verb I need which is not in the book – I guess I am still at that stage where I need the most common verbs!

I haven’t counted to see if there really ARE 501 verbs, but there are a hundred at the end in a separate section  ‘Verbs for the 21st Century’, so I might be getting a hundred extra free! That section is particularly interesting because so many of them are recognisable with their Latin roots and almost all of them end in овать or ировать.

Of the original 501, you get the imperfective and the perfective aspects, the full conjugations, plus some useful phrases. I find the book useful as a quick reference, especially for checking the forms of certain persons and it is much quicker to look up verbs I don’t know in this book –which only has verbs – as opposed to my Big Dictionary which has a lot other words in too 🙂

The book also has exercises to practise the verbs. They start with simple exercises and get gradually harder. There are also some wordsearches if you get tired of finding the endings, and a couple of ‘Fun with idioms’ activities as wel.

I also like the paper! It is quite thin and promotes itself as “printed on partially recyledd paper”. There are 686 numbered pages in the book (plus xxvi in the introduction) and I really get the feeling I am leafing through a major tome of knowledge and wisdom, of which it is a privilege to be a part.

однажды, One Day, I might just know more than a handful of the verbs in this book. One day, однажды..

Reading out loud in Russian

Way back in October I blogged about some of the materials I was using, including a Redkalinka audio book 25 Texts in Easy Russian. I finished the 25 texts last week and thoroughly recommend them. (And no, as I keep saying, I have no affiliation with the company. ) I can see my progress over the six months because when I first started with them I was doing one a week, struggling to understand them and the pronunciation. I remember taking forever to pronounce путешествовать and преподаватель, but by the end I was completing one every couple of days and finding it easy to recall the passages. I have used them  like this:

  • Listen to the passage a couple of times to ensure I know what it means, comparing with the English
  • Listen to each sentence, stop the audio and repeat. This takes three or four goes
  • Attempt to say the whole passage by reading the Russian. This also takes three or four goes
  • Cover the Russian and attempt to say the passage in Russian by only looking at the English on the right. This can work because by the time I have got to this stage, I almost know the passage off by heard anyway.

Each text is short and focused, with a storyline running through. I enjoyed learning about Anton and his Russian lessons and his finally obtaining a job in Moscow. I also enjoyed learning about  his sister Anna and her completing university and getting an IT job. (Good for her!) So when I had finished the book I was delighted to discover Anton’s story continues in Book 2 of the 25 texts with him getting off the plane in Moscow to start his new life  – so I bought it! Skimming through it, I see there is a new character, Olga but no mention of Anna. I wonder if Olga is going to make a connection with Anton or if I am just wishful thinking? We’ll see!




Russian play – Russian culture – Russian pancakes

My time at UCLAN in the Russian Beginners’ course has come to an end now, with the remaining class taken up by the exam which “real” students will be taking next week but which I and other “members of the public” are banned from. Never mind – it was a fun six months and I look forward to joining again in autumn for the next level up. I don’t know where my Russian will be by then as I plan to continue the private Skype lessons, but it has been a pleasure and educational experience going to university each week and learning with other people.

In addition to the classes and conversation class, I’ve attended some of the Russian society events, one of which took place last Wednesday. The advanced class – made up mostly it seems of Latvians and Lithuanians! – performed extracts from a Fedot fairytale by Filatov (You can see him performing this himself here on Youtube) However, two of us in the  beginners’ class got given (very) minor parts at the last minute the previous week, so we got to participate too! I was a servant who had two lines to say – which apparently are in archaic Russian, so my son’s colleague’s grandma said. You can see literally just my two lines here  spoken by the two identically dressed guys in the corner:

Sean, on the other hand, was given the part of the English ambassador which involved acting as if he didn’t understand anything and just agreed three times to whatever was said with “yes”. He played it perfectly!

There was also a lovely presentation about Malenitsa, followed by pancakes with a variety of fillings including cottage cheese which, apparently, is a “thing” there.

It was a lovely experience and one I look forward to repeating next academic year when the classes and societies begin again.

Why I love the Russian grammar channel

Here it is: The Russian grammar channel, on Youtube. It’s great. No, I don’t know the author, Dr Curtis Forde (although it feels like it, after watching so many videos) and nobody has asked me to review it. But as both a former languages teacher AND a prolific Youtuber (in my job), I feel somewhat qualified to give it the thumbs up. Here’s why:

The channel advertises itself as “what you need to know about Russian grammar – one step at a time”  and – like the old UK TV advert – it does exactly what it says on the tin. Don’t come here if you want flashy animations, songs, gimmicks (although there is a rather convoluted story about Jacques, the tsar and some shrimps..). DO come here if you want to have a complex point of grammar explained to you in simple sentences in a few minute, with no thrills. Well, except the thrill of the penny dropping at the end, which to me is thrill enough.

If you look at the whole set of videos, you see that the title page is a very simple background with the subject of the video in large black letters, making it easy to see what it is about. I will quite often scroll through them, pick one that looks interesting and watch it. When you start to watch a video you will  notice that it is nothing but a black background, with white text and the guy speaking over it. But it works!!! Most videos are around the three minute mark, the perfect length for our modern day concentration spans. And it is quite an achievement to be able to say what you need in such a short time. Believe me; I know.  I love how, at the end, he has a ‘summing up’ section which recaps the previous couple of minutes. Of course, this is simply good pedagogy, what all good teachers would do – but it doesn’t follow that all videos will do this.

I also like the occasional series of videos, where a complicated topic is split up into shorter parts making them easier to digest. You watch the first one and feel you are part way there, even though you’re not done yet. The Motion verbs series is one example.

The fact that they are short means they perfectly suit today’s nano-learning, sound-bytes, just in time teaching -whatever you want to call that aspect of modern life where we slot in focused learning in five minutes here and there, from our mobiles, on the train… That’s not to say they don’t merit revisiting, I have certainly watched some of the videos more than once until they stuck in my brain, but again, that is a benefit of their short length, that it is no inconvenience to do so.

Summing up…

(See what I did there? )

  • The Russian grammar channel is an excellent example of the art of précis: clear, simple diction, highlighting what is necessary and without extraneous entertainment
  • The Russian grammar channel is an excellent example of how to make good video tutorials – one single topic, short in length, articulate narration, no unnecessary animations.
  • The Russian grammar channel is in no way connected to me at all – I just felt it needed due praise from someone who appreciates what goes into it.


How much don’t I know

So this is the start of Phase 2! Weekly private lessons (along with everything else) I’ve made a timetable so I know which bits I am doing each day.

Just before our Skype lesson, Lilia sent me the textbook to download as a PDF. It’s a custom one, so I can’t share it, although it makes me smile because it is so remiscent of the GCSE text books I used for years. The lesson we did yesterday was about Cinema, TV and Theatre. How often have I done that in French and German? 🙂 There are accompanying audio files too, available online.

textbookOddly enough, for someone well used to online meetings, I was quite nervous for this first time -perhaps because I felt the distance across the internet would hinder my understanding? It was of course easier face to face, despite the online connection being very good. We both had our webcams on and she directed me to look at certain pages of the book and we went through the exercises together. Only occasionally did I struggle with the sound through her microphone, but on the whole the Skype lesson was excellent and I felt much less anxious by the end. I think I was also nervous in case I had forgotten everything we had done a couple of weeks ago in St Petersburg – and I didn’t want to make a bad impression! I want to be a good student!

Again the lesson was 98% in Russian and again it was tiring but extremely rewarding. Yet this time, I was much more aware of how much I don’t know, rather than how far I have come. Instead of being happy that I could understand and communicate for an hour and a half entirely in Russian, including correctly identifying and declining accusative nouns and adjectives, my mind kept going to the things I can’t say -the declensions and conjugations I can’t recall. I’m starting to see how big a job this is, learning a language to a degree of competency. In fact, I felt somewhat discouraged.

But maybe seeing the BIG picture is  a positive sign, rather than a discouraging one. ‘The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know’. Maybe I’ve reached a level of understanding where I know what I need to know, even if I don’t yet know it – and while that might be daunting, at least it means I know what lies ahead 🙂

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