Throttling Russian

I’ve recently throttled back on studying Russian, largely because I feel that I just don’t have enough time to continue enlarging my German vocabulary, learn the basics of French with my Assimil course, and learn the basics of Russian. I’ve not ran into any troubles in continuing with German and starting with French, probably because when I started French, I was quite familiar with most, if not all, of the grammar of German, and had a decent sized vocabulary. My German learning now consists of just learning more (and more) vocabulary; there aren’t any new concepts being added.

Trying to learn the basics of two drastically different languages has proven a bit more difficult. For French, I’ve been usually spending 30-45 minutes a day, doing one Assimil lesson a day. I don’t really have enough time in the day to spend a similar amount of time on Russian as well, and doing anything less, I feel like I’m making little to no progress. There’s so much to cover when starting a new language, and with the Russian declension system, it seems even worse. With the limited amount of time I’ve been able to give it, I feel as if I’ve done little more than learn enough to get things mixed up. 🙂

I think my attack plan at this point is going to be to finish the Assimil course, which, if reports from folks online are trustworthy, will give me a very good base in French on which to build. Perhaps at that point I’ll be able to continue with German and French, and start over with Russian. I’m going to continue peeking at my Russian texts, but I’m not going to try and set any real goals for myself with it right now, because I think I’d just be setting myself up for failure.

In short, I believe that, in jumping in with both French and Russian, I bit off more than I could chew.

As an aside (I’ll blog more about this soon), I’m nearing lesson 50 in the Assimil course, at which point I’ll start the second, or “active” wave. I’m looking forward to seeing how my understanding of the language progresses from that point on; thus far I’ve had a blast using the course, and I’m at least passively understanding everything. Most importantly, it’s been fairly painless work – the Assimil course is fun, which is not something I can say of cramming grammar tables. 🙂

By |2008-03-24T22:14:28+00:00March 24th, 2008|French, Language Journal, Language Learning, Russian|8 Comments


  1. GeoffB March 25, 2008 at 1:06 am - Reply

    The nice thing with the Assimil course is that by the time you’re consciously trying to master the language, you’ve got so much passive exposure that a lot of the lessons give the feeling that you’re just confirming things you already know.

    The problem with learning multiple languages, I’ve found, is that even if you can find time to actively study, your brain can’t find enough time to passively untangle it. That said, I’d recommend that when you take up the Russian again, you also skim through the Assimil French. Since you’ll already know it, there’s no conflict in absorption, but it’ll be nice for keeping you from losing your French.

    Enjoy the French.

  2. Josh March 25, 2008 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Hey Geoff,

    Indeed, I love how Assimil seems to be working. I have thus far not really “studied” French in any traditional way – I’ve not examined conjugation tables, I’ve not done conjugation exercises, I’ve not memorized any vocabulary. But I understand the lessons I’ve done so far, and I do seem to be picking up grammar and other pieces of the language simply through exposure. I received my copy of The Ultimate French Review and Practice yesterday from, and in flipipng through it, I found that, considering I’m only halfway through the passive wave of Assimil, I understood a lot of what was being explained.

    Agreed, also, on the lack of time for my brain to passively untangle things. After I’ve done a lesson of Assimil, I tend to listen to it many more times throughout the day; even if I don’t do that, however, I tend to think about it while doing chores or similar work. If I go from French to Russian, it feels like I’m actually short-changing both of them, rather than making progress with both.

    I think I’m going to start adding the Assimil lessons into Anki once I reach the active phase, or perhaps after I’ve reached the half-way point in the active phase. Hopefully that way I won’t start falling backwards in French when I start Russian.

    (And, try to keep it secret – I’m almost ashamed to say it! – but I’m thinking about learning Spanish at some point, too. I must find a way to make mroe hours in the day!)

  3. Jessica Sztaimberg March 28, 2008 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Josh!

    Your language learning is so impressive! I can imagine that these languages are quite different to learn… so focusing on German and French for now, and Russian later may just be the key for you! Just don’t give up!

    I do recommend listening to music and playing video games in another language, to keep up your language practice! If you are pressed for study time you can listen to language lessons/ music in that language through your ipod/mp3 player, or put them on in the car if you drive. Spanish readers always helped me a great deal, especially after class, when Spanish vocabulary was fresh in my head. I would read a few passages and do the questions and answers before I went to bed, as a nice way to relax. Language learning has always been really fun for me… You must love it too!

  4. Josh March 29, 2008 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Jessica: Impressive? My wife would call it insane. 😉 Thanks, nevertheless!

    I actually listen to a lot of stuff in the various languages I’m learning. With German, I listen to podcasts, and for now, I listen regularly to my French Assimil lessons. Each lesson is a dialogue, a few minutes long, and so they’re great for listening to repeatedly to really master the material.

    I’ve noticed that the longer I study languages, the more and more I make use of audio; I largely neglected it when I started with German. It allows me to “study” while not being tied down to a book. I quite often listen to my language learning material while doing chores, which don’t require a great deal of mental effort.

    And indeed, I do love language learning. My wife (and mom, and other family members, and most of my friends!) don’t get it. They say they can’t imagine studying a language could be much fun. Perhaps they’re linking “language learning” to their time in highschool language classes – which I also thought were on par with going to the dentist.

  5. Ryan March 29, 2008 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    I also would like to commend your language learning and your decision to leave Russian alone for a while. Generally, I think that it is best to only focus on one foreign language at a time until you have a high level of understanding. After that, go ahead and read in six languages a day.

    As cliche as it may be at this point, I still like to reference the similarities between learning to play an instrument and learning a foreign language. Once you get to a certain level of proficiency it becomes more fun and easier to keep up. Tackling the piano and the guitar at the same will probably take longer than learning to play one pretty well before and then learning the other.

  6. Josh March 30, 2008 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Ryan: Thanks, and agreed. I think it’s possible to plunge into two new languages at the same time, but only if you have a lot of free time to devote to both. If you’re relatively short on free time, I think it’s better to get to a decent level of proficiency with one, and then start the second.

    Nice analogy about the musical instruments. While it may be a little cliched, I still think it’s true. 😉

  7. Oisín May 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    I think the musical instrument analogy is incorrect. I learned the guitar while I was learning the piano (since learning the piano is not a 3 year thing; I’ve been learning for about 16 years and don’t expect to “finish”). My feeling was that picking up the guitar caused my piano skills to improve and vice-versa, because they’re both supported by closely-related skillsets, and when practicing piano develops a certain part of your brain, the benefits reach out to other musical instruments, and indeed, many other non-musical tasks. I suspect the same is true for languages, especially those with shared concepts and word roots.

  8. Josh May 13, 2008 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Osín: My main obstacle isn’t a matter of keeping the languages separate – as I find German, French, and Russian to all be quite different – but a simple matter of time. I could split my language learning time between all three, but this would obviously lead me to having less time for each, and thus making less progress with each language per day. I agree that being exposed to elements in one language can help build skills in another language.

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