After last week’s preamble, it’s time to examine some of the resources available to facilitate your introduction, improvement and (possible?) mastery of the Russian language. The “mastery” part is down to you, frankly, although good tuition, practice and resources are essential.
If it helps; it’s worth disclosing that I am still learning Russian and have tried variations of all the following learning styles, methods and tools – with serious study in mind and to varying degrees of commitment. Some worked (and still work) better for me than others, some I’ll probably revisit. Every method has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. My conclusions -on each- may not be the same as yours. Fundamentally: your task is to find methods that deliver quality, and also work for you as an individual. Finally, this isn’t about academia, moreover; independent study and practice; which may be all you have to rely on, or may assist a more formal, academic course. This is what I’ve found so far.
A copy of the modern Russian Cyrillic alphabet
“Get your basics down solid right from the start. With Russian, this means learning the alphabet”, – says Chris Miller on, Matador Network, speaking from his own experience. This is for those of you who think they’ll breeze through the English transliterations in a phrasebook and then be able to “speak Russian”. It’ll hit you sooner or later, so it may as well be now.
Acquiring a copy of the alphabet is easy enough; requiring little more than a web search (there’s one of mine). You’ll also need a “key” to show you how the characters are pronounced. This usually comes with the text itself. Examples of character pronunciation on YouTube are great, having a native speaker demonstrate them and correct your (inevitable) mistakes is greater still. There are 33 characters in all, two are unspoken (the hard and soft signs, -you’ll see!) but determine how the preceding characters sound, and a third is made up of two characters written side by side. The characters A, K, M, O, and T are similar to their English counterparts, so you know a tiny element of Russian already! Ok, in actual use; you’ll find many “O’s” at the end of words that are pronounced as sharp “A’s”. Welcome to Russian. If you think that’s complicated; consider the English words: rough, cough, dough, slough, through, though and thought.
An audio/video course
There are many of these available, ranging from free programs on the internet (plenty on YouTube) to extensive (expensive?) pre-recorded media courses for sale, costing 100 dollars upwards. I’ve tried both types, the latter by subscription/download. Both are useful and often feature a “repeat after me” style of practice. This is fine, but there’ll probably come a point when you realise that with all the repetition, you won’t have actually covered that much ground, -considering the amount of active audio-time that you’ve spent. However, unless you have a photographic memory, then a lot of learning-time (whatever the method) will indeed be repetition: a “slog” by any other name. I also have to say that much of this ‘drilling’ has resulted in words and phrases that have resolutely “stuck”. The slog was worth it, both in terms of verbal results and as an exercise in self-discipline.
Read some pro/user reviews of the various programs out there on various media, or via download, before spending your money. You may even be able to borrow a book/dvd combo (or similar) from your local library. It’s worth being aware though, that these products can – surprisingly – have mistakes or at least “idiosyncrasies” in them, such as using uncommon or outdated Russian words, -when something more appropriate and accessible will do, or by just getting it plain wrong (!) on occasion.
These are available in real or virtual varieties and are probably one of the simplest tools available to assist your progress, you can even create customised packs yourself. Literally, it’s a deck of cards each with a Russian word on one side and its English equivalent on the other. Read through them (a few at a time), starting with either language side, whilst checking that you can remember the equivalent words on the other. Reverse and repeat: easy. It’s more effective to practice recognising the words “both ways” of course. Practicing Russian-to-English does not automatically grant fluency the other way around, which may surprise you.
The cards are the most useful when you can already pronounce words in Russian (to some basic level of competency) – even if you don’t know what they mean. You could always create (or find?) a pack combining Russian Cyrillic characters with their pronunciations, of course, to start you off -or use/create cards with Russian words on one side and their phonetic English counterpart on the reverse. The options are very cheap, flexible and portable. Learning Russian words in isolation will only take you “so far” though; because root words are modified according to context and the appropriate “case” within Russian grammar. Even nouns are not inviolate! (Those two sentences will make more sense once you start making progress). So; design some cards to practice these very aspects, I suppose?
Motivation and invention often go hand in hand, right?
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