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How I’m doing with Russian

February 11, 2012
Cover of "The New Penguin Russian Course:...

Cover via Amazon

I meant to write this post yesterday daytime, when I really had very little to report, having up to then been focussed almost entirely on learning to read and write the Cyrillic alphabet (as used in modern Russian). That’s what was covered in the first two chapters of the book I’m using, The New Penguin Russian Course: A complete course for beginners by Nicholas J. Brown (1996, ISBN 9780140120417) as well the first material in a couple of free online courses I’d come across and used for the phonetic/audio support. (No matter how good a printed book is, it has to fall down there.) The BBC course is good for how the letters are pronounced, and then try this one for practising the sounds of short words.

However, last night I read through chapter three, which introduces real words and phrases, including some simple grammar. There’s a lot of vocabulary one is expected to learn, so I decided to get down a Vis-Ed flashcard set my husband bought once upon a time (probably around the same time he got the book, although he’s never really got around to learning Russian yet) and pick out the words in my book that overlap with the ones in the set. I’ve never really used flashcards before, largely because writing them out has always bored me to tears (and I was that kid in school who never saw the point in learning things by rote anyway), but having the cards pre-printed makes that a non-issue, and I’ve actually got on very well. I’m currently going through 30 cards, although I started last night with 8, then as I felt confident about those added in four or five more, and so on. There are some suggested words in the book that aren’t in this card set, but these are mostly either proper nouns or borrowings that are basically the same as the English, so I really just need to be able to read and recognise them. I think these cards will cover the words from the chapter, then, so once I’m confident with them and the grammar in the chapter I’ll be ready to move on – probably tomorrow.

Russian Vocabulary Cards

Russian Vocabulary Cards

As always when learning vocabulary, some comes easily, for a variety of reasons, and some is harder to make stick. I find there are three main reasons a word is easy to learn:

  1. it’s a borrowing or otherwise the same or similar to a word in English or one of my other languages. E.g. меню [men-yu] for menu; газета [gazeta] for newspaper; дом [dom] for house (think of domicile, domestic).
  2. it’s known in popular culture even by many who don’t speak the given language at all. E.g. да [da] yes; нет [nyet] no; спасибо [spasiba] thank you.
  3. it lends itself to very vivid and direct imagery. E.g. брат [brat] for brother. 😉

I admit it, I laughed out loud when I came across that last example. I love my brother dearly, and he’s a wonderful adult, but I defy any native English speaker who has or had a little brother to forget the word in Russian. Aren’t we all just wishing that when being told off for calling our little brother a brat, we could have claimed to just be describing his relationship to us in Russian? 😉

And yes, obviously the word is cognate with lots of other Indo-European words for brother (including the English one), so it could be in the first category, but, um, that wasn’t my first thought for it…

There are, of course, plenty of websites for learning with online flashcards. I’ve used Quizlet a tiny bit, and seen Anki highly recommended, but of course these do have to be used on the computer (or other such device), which isn’t always convenient, and they often do require you to type in the cards you want, if someone basically hasn’t done so before you, which is more or less the same as writing them out by hand for me, although of course the computer does the work of testing you.


From → Resources, Russian

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