Russian reflections

During the past few months, I’ve really been trying to bring some balance to the amount of time I spend on my two current languages, German and Russian. My German is coming along nicely, as I add more and more vocabulary to my memory. I have, however, been a bit frustrated with the advances I’ve made with my Russian.

I first started learning Russian earlier this year, in January, when I received a copy of the New Penguin Russian Course book. It is now July of this year, and where am I? Chapter 7, 50 or so pages into the book. Not a whole lot of progress, when you look at it like that.

However, when I look at it in a different way, I feel a bit better:

I know a smattering of Russian words; the present tense conjugations of a few different types of verbs; and the basics of adjectives. I also know a bit about the nominative case, the prepositional case, and the accusative case. Furthermore, I can write in Russian script, and pronounce Russian with few problems (some of the big consonant clusters still make my English-speaking tongue wrap around itself).

I skimmed through my book earlier, looking far, far ahead, and at first felt rather daunted. A lot of the grammar looks very complicated, and for a brief moment, I even considered throwing in the towel. But then I thought back to how I felt when I first started working on learning Russian.

When I first started with the book, the Cyrillic alphabet looked like something from a different planet. Me? I’d never be able to make sense of that. Well, I can now make sense of it just fine. Later, I started trying to learn the words at the end of each chapter, in the vocabulary lists. When I first started, I felt that I’d never remember those slippery Russian words. Well, now I remember about 95% of them. I had similar feelings when I first ran into the prepositional cases of personal pronouns, but those have since been locked into my memory.

In other words, if I try to worry about learning all the grammar of Russian all at once, of course it’s going to appear daunting. Of course I’ll be overwhelmed. Anyone would be. But if I just keep chipping away at it, like someone chipping away at a large boulder with a small chisel, eventually, they will chisel the boulder down to nothing. It may take them quite a long time, and they’re certainly not going to pull it off in a day or two, but it’s possible.

It just takes a lot of steady, slow work. I need to keep that in mind as I chisel away at my Russian.

By |2007-07-12T15:57:28+00:00July 12th, 2007|Language Journal, Language Learning, Russian|3 Comments


  1. José F. October 4, 2007 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    You are right. When I started learning Russian (with the course from Princeton :D!) I was browsing through the first lessons and after… 20 pages, nailing the words into my memory seemed something impossible… However, I finished the first level (9 months) and completed 1/3 of the second one (3 additional months) ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY by trial and error, just like the way you learn your mother tongue 😉 The rules become something natural with no extra effort!

    My tips: Meet Russian-speaking people and pay attention to what they say, maybe more than to your book (you learn more useful things earlier and easier.) Listen to MUCH Russian music just like I do (it raises your self-esteem when you can recognize some words and eventually sentences :). Marry someone who speaks Russian so you have a bigger chance to hear the language (at least until he/she starts speaking in English only. For better results, think about a honeymoon to Красная площадь.)

    Ok, seriously, this is a nice site, I hope you keep it up 😀 Cheers!

  2. Diego October 6, 2007 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Russian is extremely difficult even for russian themselves and learning it represents a huge challenge.. In my effort to learn russian, I would not mind marrying classy russian woman!! Do you know how can I get this Princeton course? cheers,


  3. Josh October 7, 2007 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    José: Thanks for commenting. I’ve been trying to really focus on the dialogues in the Princeton Russian course, and not really “cram” the grammar rules.

    Your tips are good ones; interacting with “real” Russians, as opposed to just text / audio, is important. However, I’d say my current wife would have problems if I decided to marry a Russian. 🙂

    Diego: Yes, I do know how you can get the Princeton course. I’ve made it available through a bittorrent file. See my post here about downloading it.

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