Why am I learning Russian?

A friend of mine emailed me today with a few personal updates. Also in the email was this:

Since you study Russian, I was wondering what actually attracts you to it and to the people and the country. I can imagine someone studying a language on a purely theoretical basis, but it makes more sense if you actually admire or like the culture behind the language. Just thought of this while watching the news actually: Putin, Yeltsin, the protests, the riots in Estonia… It’s all very fascinating.

He also mentioned that the answer to that could prove to be an interesting blog post, and I agree, so here we are.

While I’d love to say that I have a solid reason for wanting to learn Russian – admiration of their culture, preference towards a communist state, plans of visiting Russia in the future – I’d be lying if I said I had such a reason. I began studying Russian right around the beginning of 2007, when I received a copy of The New Penguin Russian Course as an early Christmas gift. That doesn’t really help much in regards to why I started studying the language, though, because I specifically asked for that book as a gift. Now that I try to think back and remember of any particular thing that said “learn Russian!” to me, I’m coming with a bank.

I suppose it’s just a variety of things that led to my studying it. For one, I’m just a language geek in general, and enjoy learning languages. I’ve been studying German for about 4 years now, and felt that it was time that I try to add a second foreign language into the mix. I know one influencing factor was my interest in World War 2. Due to the Russians playing such a large role in the war, I was interested in learning more about them in general (because I knew next to nothing about them). I guess this desire to learn more about Russia and its peoples simply bled off into the language department. When I decided to learn Russian, it wasn’t a thought out, planned course of action, but more of a “hey, what the hell, why not?” thing.

While I hadn’t thought of this reason specifically, I’m glad I selected Russian. As I progress in my study of it, I’m finding that I enjoy the language, particularly how it sounds. I’m also glad that it’s a Slavic language, because by learning it, I’ll have given myself a good base to learn other Slavic languages, if I were so inclined. I don’t know how knowing it will help me professionally, or if it will at all, but I can’t help but think that knowing even the basics of a fairly difficult language will help me at some point, somehow.

When I get a decent base down for my Russian, I’ll probably start working on Spanish. For that language, I do have a reason: it’s practical for where I live. Spanish is the most often spoken foreign language in the U.S., and I’d say knowing some of it would help me career wise. If nothing else, it would let me communicate with all of the Mexicans who have appeared in my town during the past 5 years or so.

So, to give a short answer to my friend’s question: no particular reason. I just kind of decided to learn Russian. (Regarding politics though, communism doesn’t look too bad, on paper, anyway. It’s never actually worked like the theory prescribes, though, so we have no historical example to judge.)

[This post was originally posted on my personal blog System13.org.]

By |2007-05-01T07:22:58+00:00May 1st, 2007|Language Learning|3 Comments


  1. WLB March 11, 2008 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I myself wanted to learn Russian for several reasons: Living in Alaska for quite a few years I’ve seen numerous Russians and Ukranians coming in our villages for the summer during commercial fishing season. I’ve had Christian reasons to seek these people out and try to be a friend to them.

    The sounds in the Russian language seem wide and broad and a bit complex, but intriguing. It’s not a harsh sounding language at all, and I love to hear the stress from natives and the tonal sounds. I’ve studied Russian now for a little over a year, and I’m afraid I bit off more than I can chew, but for some strange reason I keep forcing myself to try and learn.

    Another reason, Americans have been blamed for not knowing a second language, like numerous foreign people do. I’m mad at Mexico, so I refused to learn Spanish (though very practical). The Russian language also seemed a bit of a novel, and it’s history has be pondering and I wish to learn enough to start reading literature that had given Russia a good name before Communism.

    The alphabet came easy to me, and I’ve been having fun writing phoentic English using the Cyrillic alphebet.I’ve been building up a good vocabulary, however, I’ve been beat up so bad with the Declensions of the nouns that I still cannot form my own sentence! (Age!) I can phoentically read Russian and understand only a few scattered words…I don’t think I will ever master it though. Constanant clusters can be dangerous to the English tongue.

    Final reason for lmy desire to learn Russian (despite the interest after the cold war) is, I havn’t done well with English, I better try something else!

    For a final note from some of my Russian friends, though I cannot speak Russian, my imitation of Russian accent has them amazed, I do feel a little proud of that! And I was shocked to hear them refer to the German language as the ‘barking language’.

  2. Josh March 12, 2008 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Hi WLB: Indeed, the declensions in Russian can be overwhelming. I’m not very far along with the language, and I’m already struggling with the declensions.

    Why are you mad at Mexico?

  3. Rmss March 13, 2008 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    WLB; are you reading Russian books? Listening to Russian news? If not; that might explain the reason you can’t form your own sentences yet. I was studying Russian for about 2 – 3 months after which I was able to hold simple conversations with natives.

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