Attacking the Russian language on two fronts

Since starting on Russian a few weeks ago, I’ve been attacking it on two different fronts: book-wise, I’m using The New Penguin Russian Course. For listening and speaking, I’m using Pimsleur’s Comprehensive Russian 1 course.

As I expected, my progress with Russian is going much slower than my progress with German was when I first started with it. English and German are both Germanic languages, and there are a lot of similarities. Russian, on the other hand, is a Slavic language, and has (at least as far as I can tell at this point) very little in common with English. There are some cognate words here and there, once you pronounce them, but they obviously look nothing like their English or German counterparts; they’re in Cyrillic!

In my book, I was quite happy to read this on page 27:

If you know about gender from studying French and German, you will be glad to know that the gender of Russian nouns is much easier to learn since you can nearly always tell the gender from the ending.

While it’s easy to discern the gender of many German nouns, particularly based on their endings (-heit, -keit, etc.), many others are not so easy discernible. To find out that the system of noun gender in Russian is far more simple makes me a happy language geek.

My listening and speaking skills are moving along nicely. I have progressed up to Lesson 6 of the Pimsleur Russian 1 course. I’ve been doing each lesson 3-5 times before moving on. It doesn’t take that many times to grasp 80% of the material (which is what Pimsleur recommends before moving on to the next lesson), but I’m really trying to master the entire lesson before I move on. I’m doing lessons until I don’t have to think about a response, or how to say something. When it pops out of my mouth with very little thinking on my part, I consider it “mastered” material.

Some of the sounds were a bit confusing to me at first, particularly until I read the pronunciation guide in my book. One of the aspects of it that really gave me trouble was the soft sound, i.e. consonants with y blended into them. The pronunciation for the phrase that means “good day” is like this:

do-bri dye[ny]

When I heard this pronounced in Pimsleur, it sounded like they were saying:

do-bri jing

Now that I know about the soft sound (y), it’s gotten quite a bit easier to make out how to pronounce things.

Russian is the first language that I’ve tackled like this right from the start. With German, I started out (and continued for a LONG TIME) solely with written learning materials. After doing Russian like this for a few weeks, I must say, it’s exponentially better than just doing written material. I don’t like the idea of solely audio (i.e., Pimsleur on its own), but I also don’t like the idea of solely written. While the explanations in the book are quite good, I know that I wouldn’t have my pronunciation right based just on my text. Mixing the book and Pimsleur is a great blend.

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