Language Log #1 – active Russian translating, French word lists

The refreshing of neglected languages continues. Russian, French, I’m looking at you two, and you’re lovely; and I’m sorry for ignoring you so.


When I first started with Russian years ago, I used a few different books. My first book on the language was The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners. I made decent headway with it, but eventually quit using it; nothing wrong with it at all, I just have language wanderlust to a horrible degree. This was my first primary course, though.

Later on, when my Assimil obsession set in, I picked up a copy of Russisch ohne Mühe (the older version, not Russisch ohne Mühe Heute, which, by all accounts, is pretty horrendous). I worked through all of the passive wave phase, and started on the active wave, but then… dropped that course, too. I have a serious issue with sticking to one method, eh?

Since then, my Russian has kind of been at a very wobbly beginner’s level, at least in the passive regard. Active ability, however, was and is largely nonexistent, something I’ve desperately wanted to fix. Wanting to focus on active learning, I’ve started worked through Assimil’s new Russian course (with an English base), but not with their usual methodology (do first 50 lessons passively, start active phase with lesson 1, continue with rest of book passively). Instead, I’ve been using Luca’s method (Luca’s personal language blog is here). Definitely check out the pair of articles about the method, but distilled, it’s basically: read / listen to a few lessons; in a few days, translate the lesson(s) to your native language; a bit later, translate from your native language back to your target language.

The translating from native to target language is what intrigued me, as it’s not something I’ve ever really done very much. My methods have always been more passively focused, like with Assimil – “just read and listen a lot, and you’ll get it eventually.” Which is true, I think, but forcing oneself to actively start producing the language really kickstarts things. (I also think the whole notion of early errors “fossilizing,” at which point you’ll never be able to fix them, is more or less nonsense, so I’m not worried about mistakes.)

This active translating has helped quite a bit, especially in one area that I’ve long had trouble with when it comes to Russian: vocabulary. I’d learn words, and promptly forget them. Actively translating from English to Russian has helped cement the words a bit better in my mind. It’s also helped my Russian spelling. It’s one thing to recognize Здравствуйте; it’s quite another to spell it correctly, especially when how it’s pronounced doesn’t entirely match how it’s written.

One other note about this. Some people may wonder, why did you get the new Assimil Russian couse, if you already had the excellent Russisch ohne Mühe? Good question. I did it largely because 1) I’m addicted to buying books and 😉 and 2) while working through the passive wave of Russisch ohne Mühe was doable, the active wave was a great deal more difficult. While my German is decent, I think trying to learn Russian through German was just slowing me down. Particularly in the later parts of the book, I’d sometimes hit areas where I’d have to look up a German word / grammar construction before I could even attempt to understand the Russian. Not ideal.


My French reached a more respectable level, as I actually worked through most of the active wave of New French with Ease. My refreshing of this has focused on basically one thing so far: words, words, words. I’ve been working through lots of word lists (Iversen style), to nail down lots of basic vocabulary. I’ve been using Mastering French Vocabulary, which I’d heartily recommend to any French learners.

While that’s largely been my focus, I’ve also been bringing in a few texts into Learning with Texts. It’s a bit of work to get it set up, but worth the effort. It’s basically LingQ without the subscription fee. 🙂 I’ve mostly been grabbing transcripts from One thing in a French day.

By | 2013-05-22T17:43:25+00:00 May 22nd, 2013|Daily Language Log|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. J'Ouellette June 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    So interesting for me to see how people learn languages by relying on word lists.

    It is, of course, working for some, and not working for others (myself included), as my memory is logical and I’m also a visual/kinaesthetic learner – so I must understand it, experience it, and embody it – more of an organic approach.

    But it is so fascinating to me to see how other minds work – that’s why I love studying the way my students learn, in order to help them use their own skills to progress.

    Thank you so much for this post! Opened my eyes.


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