A progress update on my Russian

I set aside an hour this evening to work on my Russian with the book I’m using, The New Penguin Russian Course. I went through chapter 4 a second time, this time taking notes of things that seemed particularly important, like the present tense conjugations of verbs. I’m nearing the point where I’m “done” with this chapter; whenever I reach that point, I’ll roll on over to chapter 5. Things that I still need to do in chapter 4:

  • Memorize all of the conjugation patterns. I’m pretty confident with the conjugations of Type 1 verbs; Type 2, not so much.
  • Do the exercises. My brain was feeling a bit resistant to chugging along any further when I reached the exercises a little bit ago, so I’m saving those for tomorrow.
  • Memorizing the vocabulary. This is the one that I know is going to be the most time consuming.

As I work through the beginning chapters of this book, I’m really beginning to see what the author meant when he said that, while Russian grammar can seem like an awful lot to English speaker, ultimately, the real hurdle is the vocabulary. While there are words in Russian that were taken from English, and which sound similar, there are a lot of words (probably the majority of the words, but I’m not sure about this) that have absolutely nothing in similar to the English counterpart. After having studied German for so long, I’m used to many the words being similar: lernen / learn, denken / think, schießen / shoot (a gun, etc.).

On the flip side, the Russian word provided in my book for “to study” is изучать, which is pronounced roughly: eez-ooch-at(y). Do you see any similarities between that word and “study”? Yeah, me neither. I’d say that as I learn more Russian words, as well as become more familiar with sound patterns in the language, picking up vocabulary will become easier (but probably never easy).

I can happily say, on the other hand, that I’m becoming fairly proficient at writing Russian (i.e., the Cyrillic handwriting that Russians use). I have to pause and think briefly when it comes to a few letters (like ц, for example), but mostly, I can look at Russian text and write it down with little fuss. The only mistake that I find myself making is that I’ll occasionally write a lowercase “t” for the t sound, when in fact, in Russian handwriting, the letter that is used for the t sound is an “m.” I think such a mistake can be understood; I’ve been writing lowercase “t” for the t sound for.. oh, 16 or 17 years. 🙂

By |2007-03-23T19:35:36+00:00March 23rd, 2007|Language Learning|5 Comments


  1. Nils March 24, 2007 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I can distinguish most Cyrillic characters in their capitalized form, and have no trouble with such ‘classic tricky bits’ such as how CCCP was not pronounced as see-see-see-pee. LOL. Perhaps a remnant of studying ancient Greek. But it is with the regular, lowercase form that I get entirely confused. Not speaking a single word may also be a handicap there 😉

  2. Josh March 24, 2007 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    I didn’t know you had studied ancient Greek. Was that for schooling, or just an interest of yours?

  3. Nils March 25, 2007 at 6:47 am - Reply

    Ha! That’s a long story, which in short goes: I took it first year of secondary school and then tried brushing up my Sophocles a decade or so ago with a Teach Yourself book. In both cases I never got very far; at least, I wouldn’t be able to understand much today.

  4. GeoffB March 27, 2007 at 2:41 am - Reply

    The reason you don’t fall off your bike once you’ve learned to ride is that you know how to ride as a process, not as information. If you put your Russian vocabulary into sentences, practicing your 3rd person conjugations in the process (!), and then familiarize yourself with the sentences you’ve created, you’ll make something you use – active – instead of something you know – not so active. If you teach yourself sentences like “the cat eats the table,” you’ll have the nominative for cat, the 3rd person for eat and the accusative for table, all built into an image that will bring back the paradigms for you when you need them with a minimum of thought.

  5. Josh March 31, 2007 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Geoff: Thanks for the advice. Good idea. 🙂

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