Teaching yourself Russian: book reviews

I decided to start teaching myself Russian about six months ago, and, other than watching a few Youtube videos (more about them in another post) my initial inclination was to look online for a book with accompanying audio. My first choice was the BBC’s Talk Russian, a short, straightforward and easy to digest book for complete beginners. Navigating the audio element was easy, and I liked the size and type of font used in the book. I struggled (still do) with the Russian alphabet but found it simpler to access in this book than in other, later books. However, I confess I stopped at Chapter 6 (although I reserve the right to pick it up again at a point in time) because I was frustrated at the lack of grammar and – well – frankly – the lack of Verbs. Although I see the point in introducing your family, giving directions, practising your phone number, ordering a drink (вино anyone?) I wanted to be able to manipulate people more, talk about what  I do, what my children do, what we like  and don’t like, ask you about yourself. I’m sure this comes later, but I was too impatient. Equally, I was less keen on the way grammar points were quickly glossed over with no satisfactory (to me) explanation. I found myself frequently turning to the back of the book for clarification.

takeoffinrussianMy son then said he’d begun with this book but then moved on to the Oxford Take off in Russian, which dealt much more thoroughly with grammar. I bought this on his recommendation and then for a few weeks regretted it and neglected it. Why? Because it’s hard! My main issue with the book is that the print is small and I find the Russian alphabet harder to read than in Talk Russian. When you turn against the font then you’re already into a negative attitude towards learning.

HOWEVER.. I decided to persevere, particularly as I am well aware that Learning is Hard, and Learning a Language is harder than a lot of other learning. This book has a lot of merit: it moves progressively but quickly; it covers grammar in small chunks but does explain, and offers frequent tests. (Research shows the pattern of study test test test (break) test is the most successful in terms of retention of learning.) I got as far as Summary 3 before I went to St Petersburg the other week but I’ve decided to start again, with more effort, as I think, in my vanity, I was going through the book too quickly. Take off in Russian is not as much fun as Talk Russian, but I think it will get me further in the long run.

I chose to learn with books because that’s all we had in the Olden Days when I first took an interest in languages. Since then of course, we’ve had the internet and apps. So in the next post I’ll look at Duolingo, another tool in my learning kit.

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