This is the second part of a brief assessment of factors that make the Russian language so hard for English-speaking westerners to learn. There’s a few suggestions too (from my own experience) on how some progress (as opposed to no progress) can be made. Yes, it’s quite subjective in this regard, although subjectivity is a relevant point.
Learning to learn
Russian may always be a work-in-progress as I can’t envision myself being fluent any time soon. However, in order to achieve anything, I realised that I had to find specific learning methods that worked for me -even if they seemed awkward to others proffering advice from the outside.
The standard, “correct” methods ie: “get an audio course” or “hire a Russian teacher” resulted in slow/poor progress. For you, they may be the perfect solution of course, however. Information was simply not ‘sticking’ in my mind. Subjectivity was key for me and could be for you too, especially when trying to learn under your own motivation.
You may have to find your own tools and individual approach, unless you already know what they are of course. If you‘ve already learnt a foreign language, then perhaps you have something of an advantage: you know that you can do it and you know which method/s worked last time. ‘Going our own way’ is not an excuse to skimp on basic essentials incidentally. Some of it we simply have to grind through.
There’s no shortage of options (and I’ve tried most of them). Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.
Academic language classes:
If you live in or near a “decent sized” urban centre then you are likely close to educational facilities that are good – or at least good enough. Affording them may be a different issue of course although budget assistance or special dispensations/schemes may be available. I quickly discovered that relatively small provincial institutions tend to forego Russian in favour of the more usual French, Spanish and Italian “holiday” languages. We are in niche territory.
Private lessons: You may find a genuine Russian in your neighbourhood, advertising private tuition. If they are a qualified and practicing language teacher then they are worthy of serious consideration. Alternatively, they may be language students/others seeking to earn extra income, so standards (and even security) may vary.
Going private is invariably the most expensive option, with £20+ per hour being a “reasonable” figure these days. You can also go-private online through VOIP-based language entrepreneurs.
Although quality, one-on-one teaching should be the best, it just didn’t work for me.
At my sluggish pace, the cost to reach any significant level would have been brutal, and the sheer bottleneck of incoming information was overwhelming. I struggled ahead, playing catch-up over half-grasped concepts, while my teacher sailed onwards – no doubt used to more responsive pupils.
Audio courses: These are another staple of any language toolbox, arriving in disc or data form. The latter has usurped the former through the ubiquity of the internet. Prices vary wildly from near £0 to over £100 and such items represent an interesting middle-ground between solo and assisted study.
I found the course I purchased to be engaging in part and of some use, generally. The plodding listen-and-repeat style meant however, that the range of truly varied discourse covered was reduced in favour of repeating a limited range of material over and over again.
Phrasebooks: Historically, another classic go-to aid for any language and still relevant. This classic learning aid ultimately turned out to be one of the most useful.
After trying, and failing, to build a mental map of Russian language rules (good luck with that), it became very useful to simply have a list of phrases that “work” and that could be modified to address a variety of situations. What’s more, they could be built upon and chained together with a high degree of success. It’s not pretty but it works.
Software: There’s a wide range of options and styles here on a variety of platforms. Without a doubt, the online/offline audio translators are the simplest in operation, the most immediate and the most useful if you need a good result “now!”.
Others are course-based and often lock us on predetermined routes that may or may not be relevant to the current problems that we are trying to crack.
Even such predetermination can still be useful for general advancement, however. A great compromise (for me) between freedom and channelled progress is (still) Duolingo, where various aspects of language can be pursued by engaging in a plethora of exercise types.
Life and learning is surely about choices.