Posts Tagged ‘russian’

The Worst Russian Language Course Ever

September 3rd, 2009

Let me tell you about the single worst course I ever used as I was studying Russian. It had one of those slightly hyperbolic statements like, “Become Utterly Fluent in Russian Before You Finish Reading This Sentence!” I don’t remember the actual name, but it was two cassettes in a small red plastic container, with an accompanying booklet.

Here are some phrases I do remember from the course. I actually wrote these down, simply for the laugh factor:

“I have six buckets!”

“The goats were running quickly along the sidewalk.”

“Uncle Vanya is sleeping. Don’t flush the toilet.”

These three were in a row, one after the other. Aside from the ridiculousness of the phrases, there was absolutely no organization to them. A compilation of completely random sentences, with no explanation. I’m amazed the speakers read them without laughing. Actually, I’m sure they probably did laugh. I’d love to hear the outtakes!

Whatever course that was, it was the worst, hands down. I actually had a similar experience here in Sevastopol as I helped the owner of an English language school create additional materials for his course. He wanted me, a native speaker of English, to record a list of words and phrases. It started well enough, with the names of foods, then body parts, and so on.

Then came phrases.

Mind you, I took home the sheet I was reading from, so I’m just re-typing. In this section, the phrases were “If/Why” constructions. The first few were reasonable: “If you’re hungry, why not have lunch?” and so. But the sixth one down was:

“If Fred is late, why is he singing?”

I couldn’t really concentrate after that. The question plagued me. I kept thinking about Fred. Like, what’s up with that, Fred? Here you are, late as always, you have people waiting on you, and you’re all happy and singing? I had to keep reading into the microphone, but Fred was always on my mind…

“If it’s dark, why are you reading?”

I bet they’re talking about you again, Fred. First you sing when you’re late, and now you’re reading without the light on. What’s gotten into you? It’s like I don’t even know you anymore…

“If it’s hot, why not let it cool down.”

Why not? Because Fred’s a rebel. I’m sure he likes eating food that’s way too hot. That’s how he rolls. Would you expect anything less from a singing late guy who reads in the dark?

I think I’ll mix those two courses together, and create a whole new one. That horrible course I bought to “Master Russian”, and this one where I was reading all those sentences. Make my own crazy phrases. I’ll call it:

“If Uncle Vanya is sleeping, why did you flush the toilet, Fred?”

Tips to Learn Russian Fast

August 19th, 2009

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just snap your fingers and BOOM! you could suddenly speak Russian?

The way technology progresses, I’m sure there will come a day when we’ll all be able to upload any language we want directly into our brain, like in the movie THE MATRIX. Sci-Fi musings aside, there still are things you can do to learn Russian fast.

First, learn to read Russian. If you think it’s too hard, think again. Given the right training, most people can learn to read in a few hours, and feel totally comfortable after a few weeks. If you haven’t already gotten started, be sure to watch this post on learning to read russian videos.

Meanwhile, boost your confidence by learning a slew of cognates. A cognate is a word which is very similar between languages. The words for television, computer, telephone, music, guitar, piano, doctor, etc are extremely similar in Russian and English, and require you only to slightly Russify your pronunciation. This is a way to acquire vocabulary fast.

Most people know about the benefit of using flashcards, where the English word is written on one side, and the Russian version on the other. They realize the cards are important, but few end up using them. Also, there are better ways to construct a flash card that lends itselft to learning Russian fast. Go to Target, WalMart, a grocery store go somewhere and buy yourself some index cards. Blank on one side, lined on the other. Cut them in half so that you have twice as many to work with. For 99 cents, you’ll end up with 200, and that’s a lot of new Russian words to add to your vocabulary. Once you start working with them, be sure to put a mark by the words that you miss. The more marks a word has, the more you need to review it. And finally, be sure to flip the deck over and test yourself on the Russian words as you search for the English meaning. (For a more detailed video of how to work with flashcards try this earlier post on Russian flashcards.

The timing, though, of WHEN you review words is as important as how long you study. Pretend, for a moment, that you only want to memorize a single word in Russian. For example, chicken, which is kooreetsa. You could write the word on your study card, with the English version on the other side. And you could sit and practice that one word for two hours straight. But that would be a monumental waste of time. Instead, spend one minute reading and pronouncing the Russian word kooreetsa. Then think about something else. Maybe read a page of something on the net, or watch a few minutes of TV. And then come back to your lone study card. What was the word? If you don’t know, try giving yourself only the first letter. K— Ahh, there it is Kooreetsa!
Then, go away from it for an hour. Watch a whole TV show, or go have dinner with the family. And then test yourself again. If you get it right, you’ll need to wait much longer the next time. Try it again in the morning. Make the gaps between review sessions longer when you get it right, and shorter whenever you forget it.

Finally, give up on listening to the radio in your car. Instead, make a commitment to making your drive time your Russian study time. Download Russian MP3s to your player, or find (or make) Russian tapes for an old-fashioned analog tape player. Whatever technology you use, the effect will the same: Quality listening time while driving. Don’t underestimate the value of this method. The time you spend in your car can literally be life-changing if you use it to full advantage. We may not have immediate upload capabilities like the characters in THE MATRIX, but all the same we have time-tested techniques which will help you learn Russian fast.

30a Review of Water

August 17th, 2009

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Power Phrases Lesson #1
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Lets take another look at the word for water in Russian and some other fun stuff!

One moment and now in Russian

August 17th, 2009

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Power Phrases Lesson #30
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This is a versatile word that you will certainly here every now and then. Seechas can be used to say, just a second, one moment, and even.. now in Russian. Take a look at the video where a few of the different ways to use it are explained.

Russian Word for Water

August 17th, 2009

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Power Phrases Lesson #29
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If you’re reading this, it means you’d like to know how to say ‘water’ in Russian. I wish I could just lie to you and tell you the word is ‘vaDAH’ and be done with it. Unfortunately, nothing in Russian is that simple. ‘VaDAH’ is ONE way you’ll hear it. The other two ways are:

VOHdu and vahDEE.

It just depends on context. If you’re walking along the street and want to point to some water and exclaim, “Water!” then you’d say, “VaDAH!”

If you’re in a restaurant and want to order water, you’d say, “VOHdu.”

Finally, if you want to offer someone some water — emphasis on some — you’d say, “VahDEE.”

This is typical of the Russian language, where the emphasis shifts depending on which form of the word you’re using. And it’s a bit of a nuisance. Imagine if English did that. Imagine if we said, “One baNAna. Two banaNAS.” But don’t sweat it too much. Make your best guess and hope for the best.

Getting back to water: No one seems to drink it straight out of the faucet. If the locals are afraid of it, so am I. This means you end up buying a lot of bottled water. I always make it my first task, after buying a map of the city, to go out and buy some jugs of purified water…

…if I can remember which word to use.

Russian word for Map

August 17th, 2009

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Power Phrases Lesson #28
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You might be thinking, “Why would I want a map? I can’t read Russian.”

Well, that just means you haven’t watched my How To Read Russian videos. The great thing about learning to read Russian — aside from the ability to read maps –is that so many signs are simply English words written using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Aside from the obvious use of maps, they have surprising side benefit: People approach you offering to help! And usually, since they know you’re a foreigner, they’ll actually speak to you in English. And if the person happens to be an attractive member of the opposite sex, so much the better, yes? So watch this video, learn How to say ‘map’ in Russian, and go out and buy one once you’re there. Who knows where it will lead you!

Let’s Go in Russian: Poshli

August 17th, 2009

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Power Phrases Lesson #26
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Strangely, ‘poshli’ (which means ‘let’s go’ or ‘let’s head out’ in Russian) is actually the past tense of the verb meaning “To head off on foot.” In other words, ‘poshli’ literally means, “We (or they) headed off on foot.” How can a word which is in the past tense indicate the desire to head off somewhere now?

Literal translations are often strange, until you fill in what must be the missing words. Here, for example, the missing words must be something like: “I want us to do what must be done so that we will have ‘headed off on foot.’”

We do this all the time, after all, in English. For example, when you are talking about eating and say, “I feel like a hamburger,” (which could easily be taken as a strange thing to say), we understand that the missing word is, “having”, as in, “I feel like HAVING a hamburger.”

Still, it’s important to translate things as literally as possible. Yes, it’s good to know that ‘poshli’ is the *equivalent* of the English phrase, “Let’s go!” but it’s also vital to know that, super-literally, it means, “We/They headed off on foot.” Otherwise, future phrases with the word ‘poshli’ won’t make much sense if understood only as ‘Let’s go.’ (Did they poshli, or go in a car?)

So, on your flashcards, try writing the super-literal meaning as well. It’s a bit more work, but very beneficial in the long run.

Good luck!