Assimil Russian

I’ve written many times about using the German Russisch ohne Mühe, as well as the relatively old Russian Without Toil. If you’re interested in learning Russian with Assimil and don’t speak German, and would like something a bit newer than the Soviet era, you’re in luck: Assimil has recently published Assimil Russian, a translation of the French Le Russe. It’s not available through, but I ordered it from Assimil, and received it within a few days (in the United States).

Searching for Russian books online

A quick tip regarding searching for Russian books online: when you’re searching, try the transliterated spelling of the title / author as well as the original Cyrillic version. I was recently trying to find a Russian history book for learners of Russian, Страницы истории by С.Н. Сыров. I had found a few copies from sellers in Russia, but payment methods were a problem. However, a few more copies popped up when I switched to searching for Stranitsy istorii by Syrov. I guess it’s logical enough that a book seller listing stuff on an English-based website wouldn’t list things in Cyrillic. Abebooks in particular won’t even accept searches in Cyrillic; if you enter Cyrillic into their search box, it comes up as having searched for a bunch of nonsense characters.

Grammar For Decoding

Geoff wrote a post a few weeks ago about the idea of learning a language without grammar, and I quite liked this bit:

I personally favor the use of grammar for decoding, but am more reluctant to use it for encoding. That is, it’s good to find out what’s going on with a language when you’re getting frustrated trying to “just take it in.” But the more I play with Assimil programs, phrasebooks and Pimsleur, the more convinced I am that the way you master grammatical patterns is to say a lot of sentences the right way and let your brain do the grammar processing based on habits formed rather than through deliberate conscious processing.

In learning Russian, I’m experiencing something like this. I’m using Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe along with the New Penguin Russian Course; Assimil is more packed with sentences, whereas the Penguin course is rather grammar heavy.

I’m finding it to this to be a nice blend. If I were just using the Assimil course, I really do think that I’d be frustrated due to not fully understanding all of the declensions. On the other hand, if I were just using the Penguin course (which I at first attempted to do, many moons ago), I’d be suffering from grammar overload and not enough real Russian content.

I’m finding that I grasp grammar more fully after learning the grammar points via the Penguin course, and then seeing the grammar in use repeatedly in the Assimil course. The courses are playing off of each other very nicely, and I’m not getting tired of either.

Language Geek New Year Intentions

I know, I know – you expected to see “resolutions” in the title. I decided to copy Geoff’s lead, by using intentions rather than resolutions. Every New Year resolution I’ve ever made, I’ve failed miserably at; and as Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The empirical evidence I have on hand (that is, my memory of years gone by) says that if I make a language resolution, it’ll fail, so I’m going to avoid stepping into the quicksand altogether, and just not make any resolutions. It’s intentions this year.

So, the intentions:

  • In general, I intend to continue working on my three current languages, German, French, and Russian. This may seem silly, but I think it’s important to have that base intention. I suppose giving up language learning altogether would be a possibility, so…
  • For German, I intend to continue increasing my vocabulary, and reading native materials. I also intend to work more intensively using Hammer’s German Grammar and the associated Exercise book; I’ve neglected them too long.
  • For French, I intend to finish up working with Assimil’s New French with Ease, and start on Assimil’s Using French. I also intend to continue getting a basic vocabulary under my belt, using Mastering French Vocabulary as my primary source. While I’m not going to do so just yet, as I don’t think I’m far enough along, I intend on getting a French language exchange partner sometime during 2009.
  • For Russian, I have two specific intentions: finish working through New Penguin’s Russian Course, and finish working through Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe. I’d like to make it through at least one of them by mid-2009, and both of them by the end of the year. Even with regular university courses and my other language pursuits, I think this should be achievable, with a bit of focus on my part.
  • And finally, I intend to display my utter madness, by perhaps starting a new language in 2009. I won’t be doing it right now, as with Russian, I still feel like I’m floating in a vast, turbulent sea, with no life jacket. Once I feel like I’m in said ocean with a sad little boat, then I may start a new language. If I do start a new language this year, it will be Spanish.

What are your language learning intentions / resolutions / plans for the year?

And of course – happy new year! I hope you all had nice holidays.

Cyrillic Handwriting – Take Three!

After reading the comments on my last post, along with Geoff’s blog post response, I wanted to clarify my position a bit on Cyrillic handwriting. I think learning the cursive form of Cyrillic is useful for the foreign learner – up to a point, depending on the personality of the learner. As many people pointed out, it only takes an hour or two to learn the cursive forms once you know the Cyrillic alphabet, and so to not gain at least a passive recognition of it would be silly. The passive recognition, though, is where I have stopped with my usage of it. The reasons are fairly simple:

  1. I have no real plans at this point of ever living in Russia, nor of having a snail-mail Russian penpal. That latter point isn’t me being a snob; I just know my personality. I’ve had many German penpals during my studies, and they’ve all been on the internet. It’s infinitely faster, and assuming each person already has an internet connection, email is free. It’s nice to get corrections the next day, rather than two or three weeks later.
  2. It’s faster for me to print. I know many people find that their cursive writing is faster than their printing, but mine is not. I long ago abandoned my English handwriting (excluding my signature) in favor of my printing. While the handwriting is different for Cyrillic and the Roman alphabets, there are many similarities between them in handwritten form, and so it would seem my slowness in writing English handwriting has crossed the bridge to Russian. I have to write it at a real crawl to make it legible, which brings me to my last point:
  3. I can read my printing much easier than my handwriting, whether it be English or Russian. The slowness and relative illegibility of my handwriting are the exact reasons which caused me to abandon it so long ago. While I can now quickly read my English handwriting (when I use it, which is practically never), due to the Russian words still being rather unfamiliar to me, I really struggle to read many of them when I write them in cursive. When I print them with block letters, if I know the word, there’s no struggle. I see it and I recognize the word; there’s no 5 minute process of peering at it, saying “is that 2 И’s, or a Ш?” I can actually see such peering and wondering as detrimental to my acquisition of the language, and Russian has enough hurdles without me adding more! 🙂

In short, for me, using the cursive form of the writing has no practical use for me, and I don’t gain any particular buzz of “Russian-ness” from making myself use it; on the contrary, I actually find it a bit uncomfortable, just as I find writing in cursive English uncomfortable these days.

Having said that, if you’re learning Russian, do learn the cursive, at least to a passive recognition stage; and furthermore, if you find it faster, more legible, or just plain more fun to use cursive over block letters – by all means, do so!

Cyrillic Handwriting, Take Two

I posted back in March of ’07 about some videos that Natasha at Spoonful of Russian had made, showing how to write each Cyrillic letter. These videos are still available, but if you’re wanting something a bit quicker, Brown University has a page with all of the Cyrillic letters; hover your mouse over each letter to see how it’s written. The “videos” are actually animated GIFs, so they’re much quicker to load than the QuickTime movies on Natasha’s site. They automatically loop, so you can quickly verify if you’re making the letters correctly or not. Now Has German and Russian Dictionaries used to have a German dictionary, but for whatever reason, they had to take it down. If I remember correctly, the publisher of the dictionary decided they didn’t want to offer it for free.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I went to the site yesterday to look up a French word, and saw that they have a German dictionary again, as well as a new Russian one. This makes it so that the site now offers translations for:

Pretty cool.

For those wondering, the new German dictionary being offered is the Pocket Oxford-Duden German Dictionary (2008 version), and the Russian is the Pocket Oxford Russian Dictionary (2006 version).