Jaered from Lang-8 sent me an email a few days ago, asking me to check out the Lang-8 site, and perhaps blog about it. So, what is Lang-8? It’s a bit like many other language exchange sites – you sign up, you can search profiles, etc. – but with one major difference. The main pull behind Lang-8 is that you can post directly to the site and receive corrections from native speakers of your target language. When you click on a journal entry, each sentence is linked, so that you can click on it and correct it, using buttons for red and blue text, as well as bold and crossout.

It seems like a pretty good idea to me, being able to post and get corrections from any native speaker who comes along. I love language exchanges, and I’ve made many good friends via them; but being able to just post something and get corrections without going through the ordeal of finding a partner, doing the introductions, figuring out how we’re going to correct, etc… that’s quite nice.

The site seems to be dominated by those who are learning East Asian languages (particularly Japanese), but there are European speakers floating around in the mass. I think the correction interface is a little clunky and could use some work, but it’s still usable; the site as a whole could use some decluttering, as it seems awfully busy. Overall, though, I’m quite fond of the overall idea. Do check it out.

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 – Should You Learn It?

I saw a forum post at How To Learn Any Language which caught my interest. Namely, Iversen (who’s word list method I’m still using, by the way) said:

I disagree with Chelovek on one point – his recommandation of cursive writing. You have to learn the printed version of cursive because it pops up in many places, not least in magazines where it serves to emphasize a section of the text. Some dictionaries also use the printed version of cursive for certain purposes. However you will see very little handwritten Russian unless you live in Russia (or certain other places in the former USSR), and there is absolutely no reason that you should care about it. Virtually everything you will ever see is printed stuff, and most printed stuff isn’t written in cursive.

He has a good point, I think. Before seeing it in my language books, guess how many times I’d seen cursive Cyrillic handwriting? Never, actually. Everything in Cyrillic I’d ever seen had been in block letters, as everything I’d ever seen in Cyrillic had been printed.

I think gaining at least a familiarity with the handwritten cursive is worth doing, simply because it doesn’t take much time – you can learn how the letters are made and joined together in an hour or so, two at the most. But after reading Iversen’s post, I question the usefulness of forcing oneself to use cursive Cyrillic in your studies, simply because you’re most likely practicing a skill that you’re not going to use. Now, if you live in Russia or somewhere in the former USSR, then it would be a different matter altogether. But for those of us who don’t live there, is there really any benefit to be had by using cursive Cyrillic handwriting as opposed to just writing with block letters?

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.

Setting up a phonetic Cyrillic keyboard in Windows XP

I wrote back in January about setting up my computer to allow me to type in Cyrillic. Setting it up was the easy part; the hard part was memorizing what English letters corresponded to what Cyrillic letters. The default Windows XP Cyrillic keyboard layout is the same one that is used in Russian-speaking countries – that is, there is little rhyme nor reason to how the letters are laid out on a keyboard based on the Latin alphabet. For example, the T key produces the Cyrillic Е, the Y key produces Cyrillic Н, and the W key produces the Cyrillic Ц.

Still having not mastered the Russian keyboard layout, I went hunting for a better solution – and found one. From this page, you can install a phonetic keyboard layout which makes a lot more sense. Instead of having to memorize the random (to English users) layout, with the phonetic layout, you only have to memorize the placement of 7 of the letters. The rest of them are fairly logical – for example, the D key produces Д, the U key produces У, and the S key produces С.

The fellow who maintains the site has a fairly complicated set of instructions, which I personally found to be too complicated. If you’re running Windows XP or Windows Vista, just do this:

  1. Download this zip file, and unzip it to an easily accessible (and findable!) folder.
  2. Go to the folder and double click setup.exe.
  3. Wait.
  4. That’s it.

You should now have, on your taskbar, a button that says “EN”. Click on it and click RU to switch to Russian. The keyboard layout that you’ll be using, when typing Cyrillic, will be this:


If, at any time, you wish to remove the phonetic keyboard, just return to the setup.exe file, double click it, and click Remove.

More Russian cursive writing videos

I posted back at the end of March that Natalia of A Spoonful of Russian was making videos of how to write Russian cursive letters. In the videos, she also sounds out the letters. I hadn’t checked A Spoonful of Russian for a while – until today actually! – but it looks like she’s finished up her series. Here are links to all of the videos, along with the letters that are covered in each one:

And of course, don’t just watch the videos and leave her site. She’s got a lot of good material there, both in her regular podcasts as well as in her Downloads section.