As something of a companion to last week’s article, rather than a second part, proper, I thought it may be useful to look at the various methods and tools available for those wishing to learn Russian. I have a special interest in this topic, as I’m currently embroiled in the (ongoing) learning process and have tried a lot of them.
Firstly, it’s really worth considering just what goal you are pursuing and what “being able to speak Russian” means to you in practical terms. Are you hoping to be an international translator? Are you looking to work/live in Russia for some or all of the time? Do you wish to escape the tourist bubble and get to know the people/culture, rather than just skim the surface with a few stock tourist phrases? I suppose that I am in the penultimate category, in spite of aspirations to greater. Although, goals can change – of course. The important thing is to keep doing something, somehow, as a “baseline”. In that regard, an hour a day is a good place to start; making the language part of your life, rather than something that you dip into occasionally.
Another important factor is the realisation that you are unlikely to exit a course, or any other single bout of study, fully equipped and ready to “tick off” the Russian language as “done”. How long have you been speaking English? How often do you come across new words, expressions, phrases, regional idiosyncrasies (including accents) and more? Do you think that you know all that the English language has to offer? Now reconsider all of those factors in the context of Russian.
Unless you have trained at the highest level for an extended period of time (which is of course possible) then the chances are you’ll drop off the end of any single educational conveyor-belt: knowing something, but needing to know more. A classroom isn’t real life, but everyday is still a school day.
For the most demanding requirements, paradoxically, the best course of action is probably the easiest to determine: an academic, internationally-recognised qualification at an appropriate level is surely desirable. Probably full time and intensive in nature or perhaps part-time over an extended period, if work and life also have to be accommodated. Naturally, these options are likely to cost serious amounts of money and may require relocation, or at least frequent travelling- to pursue. “Serious” money starts with a few hundred pounds and quickly heads skywards, incidentally. ‘Time to do a web search and see what’s feasible/worthwhile for you in terms of cost, distance and effort. If you live in a large metropolitan area then you may already be spoilt for choice and convenience. Out in the sticks? Not so much.
It’s really important to ensure that the course in which you will be investing your time/money will -on completion- deliver the desired quality, recognition and level of achievement that you need for your goal. Many of them offer “hobby” level instruction, which isn’t a criticism if the providers are honest about that fact, and if that’s what you are looking for, of course. The point is, do some research.
Excellence aside; the chances are that you are in with the rest of us, pursuing Russian under your own steam and for (relatively) modest requirements. Good news! Many options are available in this particular bracket, the cost could even be negligible and such introductions will stand you in good stead; should you decide to pursue a more formal qualification. The ubiquity of such language resources is a benefit of the information-age that we live in, but there are problems too. The most important consideration is one of self discipline and motivation when an imposed, formal study structure is absent. From my personal experience I have to say that learning how to study a language, in a manner that works for you, can be as much of an issue as the content itself. It’s important to identify methods that will keep you interested as an individual, -compared to those that are, arguably “correct”, objectively. We’ll be looking at a selection of methods, but bear in mind that there will still be aspects of study that you won’t enjoy, regardless. So, back to self-discipline again.
The RealRussianClub offer a great tip on their blog:
“Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do… It’s a huge mistake constantly to concentrate on what you lack. Sooner or later it will make you feel frustrated…”.
I’d add that, from a standpoint of success (however small) then you can gradually branch out.
Russian is considered to be a relatively hard language to learn (in the 3rd of 4 increasingly difficult tiers according to the Foreign Service Institute), and is considerably different in composition than English. There are a few pleasant surprises to be found, though – which we’ll discuss later. In short, there are many opportunities for disillusionment to set in and the temptation to let practice ‘slide’. No teacher is expecting you to attend a class according to their schedule, no one is going to expect/mark your homework or lay out a syllabus. It’s all down to you.
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