Goodbye summer – TV serial language learning nostalgia

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.

When I taught French and German my students loved the  Extra! shows – based on the US TV sitcom” Friends”. Here is the archived (flash based) website for Extra French  and here is episode 1 of the French version as an example:

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..

Vamos a ver

On the Go with Motion verbs

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)MotionVerbs

Fillers – very important words in any language

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…

Catchup holiday

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.


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..

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