The struggle continues: an ongoing, cautionary tale on the road to learning Russian (or the road to somewhere else).
Searching on Google for linguistic tips and traps can be an experience that is enlightening, reassuring and depressing in equal or varying measures. It becomes apparent that there has to be something of a masochistic streak in most of us who choose to inflict a new language upon ourselves. It’s an interesting exercise to box-tick through the blind-alleys, mistakes and common failings & feelings that fellow learners blunder into.
What’s even more daunting – and darkly amusing is – looking for reasons behind your ‘issues’ only to discover other ‘issues’ that you haven’t even got to yet. Something to save for later!
Here are some of the moments that I have snagged myself on, presented in the hope that others recognise the commonality that binds us all. I may even roll out my own approach to dealing with some of these ‘issues’, but it’s all ongoing notes from the trenches. Note that my advice may be wrong, or merely right for me and not you. This brings me to my first point:-
“How do I learn Russian?”
Well it’s obvious: you get an audio language course (or phrasebook) and plough through it, right? Oh dear. We’ve all been there – and looking back, it’s embarrassingly hard to believe how idealistic and naïve we were! But take heart, because in the words of Lord David Cecil: “The first step to knowledge is to know that we are ignorant”. This “first step” will probably be achieved within the first few hours of studying your very first Russian language course or phrasebook. Oh, there’s so much more. Way down the track you’ll likely amass a solid fortnight’s worth of audio, several books, various software lessons/aids, several Russian language films, a few contacts for verbal practice, a wad of personal notes, some paid lessons – even a course – and numerous web resources. Some of these will work for you, others may not. It becomes apparent with time that you must put together your own Russian syllabus – even if that involves taking someone else’s course. It’s all about what works for you.
“Why do they have so many cases?”
There are six of them: nominative, accusative, dative genitive, instrumental and prepositional. These refer respectively to the sentence’s subject, object, indirect object, ownership, mode of action and place/position. On top of that, there are male and female genders plus neutral (ie non-gender specific). So it’s all about conveying extra meaning within the key words of the sentence without resorting to extraneous language to add context. But they still have a word for “on” and a modifier for the noun on which something is indeed “on”, with both used in the same sentence. Oh.
On the surface, it doesn’t make complete sense and/or I don’t yet completely understand it, however their method tends to produce language that is more ‘to the point’ than say, English. In one major respect, it doesn’t matter why, whatever the reason, you’ll still have to deal with it if you are going to speak Russian. It does help psychologically though to have some sort of understanding of why things are the way they are – just so you can deal with it! Aggh! Also, consider the Russians having to learn English, with our own bizarre burdens that we take for granted: through, rough, though, dough, tough and cough for instance. Madness. Every language has its oddball idiosyncrasies – not least the one we speak. So just get over it!
I resolved to learn a broad vocabulary (still ongoing!), rather than 9 words for the same thing (simplistically speaking). This is because:-
a.) I’d get bored and this would put me off; you do have to keep interested so let’s face up to the truth here.
b.) As a Russian language contact told me; it may not be case-correct but you are still likely to be understood. So it’s a bodge (‘jury-rig’ if you’re American) on my part.
Naturally, with hindsight (this features a lot) I’m probably “wrong”, because if I learned the principles behind the language then I should be able to apply them throughout, and there is some logic involved. Ah, the learning process continues.
More notes from the trenches next time.
[Photo by fmfm166]