A problem with visualizing Russian words

I’ve been working on my Russian some more. In particular, I’ve been trying to work on the vocabulary, since vocabulary has always been my weak spot, regardless of the language. I’m running into a problem: when I think of a word, I’m thinking of how it would be transliterated into English, not how it’s spelled in Russian. When I think of the word англичанкa, for example, instead of thinking of it with that spelling, what pops into my head is instead: an-glee-chanka, which is how it’s pronounced.

I’m not quite sure how to remedy this problem. I’ve been thinking via the English language, and thus, the Roman alphabet, for my whole life. I’m not sure how to tell my brain that, while speaking Russian or thinking in Russian, it needs to roll over to Cyrillic. I’m going to try writing more Russian to see if that helps.

Any suggestions?

5 thoughts on “A problem with visualizing Russian words”

  1. Josh, I have not learned Russian before, so please don’t take this as an expert advise.

    I personally think this is ok, and it should only be a transitional phase.

    When you learn how to pronounce a word, it is always helpful to have some tools handy. Many Asian languages have their own romanization systems to help foreign learners. I think your case is similar.

    In fact, I would recommend you to have the English transliteration written beside the Russian word on your flash card, or similar places.

  2. Edwin: Thanks for the input. I think you may be right; it may be useful to use as a transitional tool. I may start putting the transliterations of the words I’m learning on the flashcards.

  3. I can see how romanization would be useful in learning ideographs as in Chinese or Japanese, but for languages with alphabets (and nearly perfect ones, at that!), this seems like a silly idea. Surely you can already read Cyrillic – it’s not a matter of not being able to, but rather a matter of the speed with which you pick up on the patterns and start to recognize the characters. I think putting the transliteration would not be a good idea – it would just perpetuate your bad habit.

    However, I don’t think you that you need to actively work at breaking this habit: just continue to pronounce the word however is easiest for you, and eventually you’ll be able to read quickly and without thinking about how you’re interpreting the letters.

  4. If you learn by sound, not sight, you’re probably looking for a way to break down the sounds you hear instead of the sounds a Russian hears. In which case, it might help to build a stronger link between sounds and letters. Two suggestions:

    1) Read aloud, both passages you understand and passages you don’t, to tie together sound and character.

    2) When you jot down words in English transcription, use the characters for sh, ch, etc. for sounds that can’t be represented by one English character.

    These two approaches might help bridge the gap between your two systems.

  5. Thanks for the further comments, all. I sat down yesterday and spent a few hours writing out Russian words in Cyrillic. While it’s far from automatic just yet, I’m finding that just those few hours of work made it possible for me to see the Cyrillic spelling, instead of the English transliteration.

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