Planning your Language Learning

Whether you’re studying Russian, English or any other language, it’s always bound to be exciting and at times frustrating. Taking regular lessons with a teacher can certainly facilitate the learning process and give you more confidence while communicating in your target language, but, like with many other skills, the real magic happens behind the scenes – in other words, self-study is important and should be given a closer look, since sometimes it can be difficult to know how to approach it. In this post I’ll give some tips to help you planning your self-study – at the end of the post I have included an outline of how to create a study plan for yourself.

  1. Find something enjoyable in every task you do 

It goes without saying that we are more likely to spend our time on something we actually enjoy. Do you like reading? Then it’s time to go through some adapted books (ask your teacher for help if you don’t know what to choose) and read a page or two every day. That will not only expand your vocabulary and grammar, but also can help with your spelling and writing, since certain constructions and phrases will inevitably stick to your memory. You can then bring up the subject in class and learn some useful phrases that will help to share your impressions from reading. If you like films, you can enjoy watching some Russian movies on Youtube (there are quite a few with English subtitles). After watching, write a little review about what you liked/disliked about the movie and let your teacher read through it.

Some other possible things you can do include (I‘ll make a post later about different methods to study!):

  • Listen to podcasts in Russian
  • Use back-translation to improve your vocabulary and grammar (this is difficult and exhausting, so don’t do it too often!)
    • To do this, you need to:
      1. Find a text you can understand (from your textbook/adapted book/articles/podcast) and translate it into English.
      2. A day (or two-three) later you should translate the English text back to Russian, without looking at the original text
      3. Compare your translation to the original. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same! (There are many ways to say the same thing sometimes) Look at the differences and this will show you what you need to learn more about – this will especially show you where you have grammar issues (problems with cases/tenses/aspect etc.).
      4. Do it again with a new text from the same topic – this will help you learn the grammar/language of a certain topic.
  • Write a diary about your day
  • Write an essay about a topic you have read about (or record yourself speaking about it!)

 How do I incorporate grammar practice?

This is an issue that many people have. A lot simply don’t enjoy the grammar! Firstly, how often should you study grammar? In my opinion, you should spend most of your time on the activities above, and less time studying grammar. However, you can incorporate it into the more interesting tasks above. For example:

  • When you are reading a book, highlight the grammar feature you are studying with your teacher that week (or yourself). Just focus on one or two things. For example, focus on the verb endings in the text, and so some exercises about them in a grammar textbook during the week.
  • When you write, check your work for grammar errors. Focus on specific features (not everything – unless you are really keen!) as with above, like the verb endings, or a specific case. Do exercises for that one grammar feature too.
  • If you try back-translation, you can also see which areas of grammar you have problems with, and do some exercises related to them in a textbook.

In general, don’t focus on too many grammar topics at once. Focus on one case/type of verb at a time, but pay attention to it in the texts you read/listen/write/translate over a week or two, and make sure you understand how and when it is used.

2. Keep yourself motivated with daily practice.  

If you want to succeed, using your target language daily must become a habit. However, keep the first tip in mind: if you had a bad day, take it easier on grammar and just read or watch something. Or maybe record a little audio talking about your day in your target language. Listening to yourself is fun and can actually help improve your mood.

3. Integrate the culture of your target language in your daily life

The language doesn’t exist on its own, it’s strongly connected to the country and people who are speaking it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, because as a rule people start learning a language after getting interested in its culture. But if this isn’t the case with you, make sure you find something appealing about the culture. In my experience, listening to music or watching movies really helps. Also, try combining it with cooking some authentic food.

 Some other things to consider: 

  • Choose a place and time to learn Russian that is free from distractions
  • Language learning takes a long time, and your progress depends on how much effort you put in. Remind yourself it is okay to move slowly,  and set goals accordingly.
  • Make sure you have a clear weekly plan, with materials ready to study each time. This will make it easier for you to keep studying.
  • Repeating things is important.
    • First, for a new language feature, you must notice it – then “learn it” – then “use it” over and over in different contexts, slowly increasing the strength of the brain networks – eventually it will “stick”. That’s why it is extremely important to revise previous materials, but not in the lazy way (i.e. reading the textbook/rule) – you need to actively “retrieve” and use the language feature without looking at the answer/translation – this is the way our brain grows and adapts to new information.

How do I make a study plan? 

Using the advice above, you can create a weekly or monthly schedule for yourself to study. There are many different ways you can plan your study. Follow this link for an example study plan. You can copy it and create one for yourself.

Here is a procedure to help you create a study plan:

1 – Goals: Set a specific goal you want to achieve in the language (e.g. improving writing)

2 – Tasks: Using the advice above, create a plan with daily tasks. They should be achievable and effective (e.g. writing a short diary daily, and checking the grammar using a grammar textbook to help)

3 – Materials: Make sure you have all the materials you need to study, so you don’t have to spend time every day searching for them – this wastes time and demotivates! (Here is some more advice about materials)

4 – Monitoring: Keep track of progress, and write down any questions or problems

5 – Test: Plan a short test each month (e.g. write an essay for my teacher)

Good luck with your study! If you have any questions or want some advice, feel free to send me a message.

 

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«какой, какая, какое»?

The question words «какой?/какая?/какое?» are used in relation to adjectives. They can be translated to English as «which» or «what kind/sort» and are often used to qualify the quality (or adjective) of a noun:

  • I saw a cat on the street. – Я увидел кошку на улице.
  • What kind of cat? – Какую кошку?
  • A crazy cat! – Сумасшедшую кошку!

Like other Russian parts of speech, these question words change their endings depending on the gender, number and case of the main word. In the example above, it is related to the feminine accusative case.

Let’s look at an example with the nominative case, which is always the easiest:

Это дом– this is a house.

If we want to ask a question about a quality of this house, we’ll do it like this:

  • Какой это дом? – What sort of house is this?
  • Это большой дом. – This is a big house.

The question word какой is used in masculine singular form, because the object we’re describing (дом) is of masculine gender and is singular. With a feminine word, for example, квартира (flat), we’ll go with a feminine singular ending:

  • Какая это квартира?
  • Это красивая квартира.

As you can see from these two examples, the endings of the question words какой/какаяfully match the endings of the adjectives, which makes it much easier, when it comes to dealing with other cases. The trick is to memorize the endings for each. Let’s look at them more closely.

 

 

Nominative    
  • Какой фильм (nominative case – masculine) тебе понравился?
  • Новый русский фильм.

 

  • Какая твоя любимая еда (nominative – feminine)
  • Русская еда.
Genitive какОГО какОЙ
  • У какого (genitive – mчеловека много денег?
  • У богатого человека.

 

  • У какой (genitive – fактрисы много поклонников?
  • У талантливой актрисы.
Dative какОМУ какОЙ
  • Я подарил сестре (dative – f) книгу.
  • Какой сестре?
  • Старшей сестре.

 

  • К какому решению (dative – neuter) вы пришли?
  • К простому.
Accusative Какой(for inanimate objects)

 

Какого(for animate)

какУЮ
  • Я подарил сестре книгу (accusative – f)
  • Какую книгу?
  • Интересную книгу.

 

  • Какой фильм (aссusative – m) ты хочешь посмотреть?
  • Русский фильм.

 

  • Какое блюдо (accusative – neuter) вы рекомендуете?
  • Я рекомендую наш фирменный суп (accusative – neutral)
Instrumental какИМ какОЙ
  • С каким соусом (instrumental – neuter) ты любишь есть пасту?
  • С томатным соусом.

 

  • Какой ручкой (instrumental – f) нам нужно писать тест?
  • Черной ручкой.
Prepositional какОМ какОЙ
  • О какой проблеме (prepositional – f) он хотел поговорить?
  • О серьезной проблеме.

 

  • На каком этаже (prepositional – m) живет твой друг?
  • На пятом этаже.

 

As you can see, most of the feminine adjectives have the same type of ending – ОЙ, with the exception of Accusative Case. Memorizing masculine adjectives is a bit more of a challenge, but the good news is that the ending for neuter adjectives are exactly the same – so, once you’ve learnt these five, you’ve basically mastered them all.

Practice Exercises

1 – Translate the dialogues above into English. 

2 – Ask a question which is connected to the words in bold below:

  • На улице девушка увидела мёртвую кошку – ________________________?
  • Он хотел поговорить с тобой о серьёзном деле – _____________________?
  • У Тани нет дорогой машины- __________________?
  • Я позвонила моему хорошему другу – _________________?
  • Дима всегда хотел быть известным человеком -______________________?

3 – Translate the following dialogue into Russian:

  • Hi Vadim! How are you?
  • Horrible, actually. I was walking home and I saw a cat on the street…
  • So? What type of cat?
  • A dead cat…
  • A dead cat… that is not surprising. Anyway, I’m going to the cinema. Do you want to go with me?
  • Sure.
  • What film do you want to see?
  • A comedy without dead cats.

 

  • Do you want to go to a cafe with me?
  • Yes!
  • Okay. What’s your favourite food?
  • My favourite food… Italian.
  • Italian? Okay. What dishes do you recommend?
  • I love them all!
  • Hmm… okay. Which sauce do you like to eat with the pasta?

 

 

Interesting Russian Books

While studying the Russian language, it’s impossible to avoid meeting with good old classics. Most of you probably have heard of, or even read, the great and sizeable «War and Peace» by Leo Tolstoy, and equally famous «Crime and Punishment» by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. You can also add Anton Chekhov and his witty short stories, as well as Mikhail Bulgakov’s devilish «Master and Margarita» to that list. These are the first names that come up whenever I ask a non-Russian person about Russian literature.

Don’t get me wrong, these authors are great. They are the true jewels on the crown of Russian culture, and their writing style and ideas have had a great influence not only on the contemporary writers, but on the Russian people as well. However, I have always found it a little puzzling that most of contemporary Russian books remain largely unnoticed on the world literature stage. Especially since a lot of people from my generation have grown up reading those books and they affected the way we see the world and how we interact with others. So, in order to gain a better understanding of what modern Russians are like, it’s highly recommended to get acquainted with the books they read. Not to mention that the books I’m going to talk about are all extremely well written and entertaining.

** Language Learning Note: Some of these books are available in adapted versions. Here is the main publisher of adapted Russian books for language learners. These are e-book version, but you can also buy them online at amazon.
1)  «Adventures of Erast Fandorin» by Boris Akunin. The series has been the detective classics for at least few decades now and still haven’t lost their popularity. Imagine something in the lines of James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes in 19th century Russia. Awesome, right? Many of the books are translated into English. Boris Akunin is a tremendously talented author, known for his elegant and witty writing style.

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2) «The Night Watch» series by Sergei Lukyanenko. The books have become very popular in Russia thanks to the movie adaptation of the same title which came out in the early 2000s. If urban fantasy is your thing, you’re going to love this. Meet Anton, an ordinary Russian guy, who one day finds out that there is much more to our world that meets the eye. By more I mean opposing supernatural organizations, the shifting balance between Light and Darkness, vampires, witches and sorcerers. Oh, and there is plenty of personal drama, good dialogue and fantastic plot twists.

11-the-night-watch

3) «The House, in which…» (or «The Gray House») by Myriam Petrosyan. The book tells of a boarding school for disabled children and was published in Russian in 2009, becoming a bestseller. It was nominated for the Russian Booker Prize in 2010 and received several awards and nominations, among them the 2009 Russian Prize for the best book in Russian by an author living abroad. I read this book last autumn and still haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s rather challenging to try to explain the plot, and I think that it’s much better to let you see for yourself. The experience is simply incredible. The English translation will be coming out in April 2017.

Dom,_v_kotorom..._(2009_cover)

4) «The Roadside Picnic» by Strugatsky brothers. This short novel is a must read to all the lovers of science-fiction. In fact, many people are familiar with Andrey Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker, which is loosely based on this very novel. Despite being written more than 40 years ago, the story keeps firm position on the top of all-time favourite sci-fi list. If you enjoy the story, make sure to check out more of Strugatsky novels. I especially recommend «Monday begins on Saturday» and «Hard to be a God», all available in English.

Roadside-picnic-macmillan-cover

5) «Generation P» (translated to English as «Homo Zapiens» and «Babylon) by Viсtor Pelevin. A rather bold and controversial read, if you ask me, but very interesting. The book deals with such themes as heavy drug use, philosophy of consumerism and even Mesopotamian mythology, all taking place in the post-Soviet Russia. The narrative style is rather playful and at times straight out hilarious.

I could have added a lot more books to this list, but unfortunately, they haven’t been translated to English yet. Let’s hope it will be fixed in the nearest future. As for now, I’ll be very happy if one of the books I’ve mentioned above will pick your interest. After all, there is nothing like reading a good book for the first time. Enjoy!

Astana’s Pyramid

Today’s blog is a bit unusual – it’s going to be not about Russia. For the last 4 months, I have been living in Kazakhstan and I would like to share some of my impressions and observations.

First, I’d like to point out that I’ve only been in one Kazakh city so far – Astana, the capital city. There is a belief that a capital is the face of the country – and it’s very true in case of Astana. The city has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Back in the 90s there was nothing but steppes for miles around. Now it’s without doubt one of the most impressive cities on our planet.

When I first arrived to Astana, I didn’t know much about it – only that apparently, it has impressive architecture and that many people go there for work. I also heard some good and bad things about the attitude of the locals towards Russians, and, I must admit, I was a little bit anxious about that upon arrival.

However, I soon discovered that people in Astana are very friendly, and on multiple occasions I’ve enjoyed the famous Kazakh hospitality. For instance, this New Year we were invited to the apartment of one of my husband’s students where we had the chance to meet his large family and try delicious traditional food that he cooked for us. Also, plenty of alcohol that day – I guess, in some ways Kazakhstan is pretty similar to Russia. Not that I complain.

One thing I’d like to talk about today is architecture. Yesterday I finally had the chance to see one of the most impressive buildings in Astana, whose official name is «The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, although the locals prefer to call it simply «the Pyramid». The building is impressive in many aspects. As you have already guessed, it is shaped in the form of a giant isosceles pyramid and it reaches 62 metres in height. It might bring associations with Egyptian pyramids, but it gives quite a different vibe.

For a relatively small fee you can get inside and the guide will take you through three different levels of the pyramid. On the first level, you will see a very elegantly designed opera theatre: soft velvet seats, the amphitheatre and breathtaking ceiling.

To reach the next floor, you’ll need to take an elevator. It moves diagonally through the pyramid, which feels a little bit strange. On the second stop you get to see a small, but very interesting exhibition of various traditional costumes belonging to some nationalities living in Kazakhstan.

And, finally, the top floor. Walls there are made of glass, so you get to see the panoramic view of the city. To be honest, on a gloomy winter day it doesn’t look that impressive, but I’m sure it looks spectacular in summer.

On the other side, across from the Pyramid you can see many other interesting buildings. I was especially impressed by the University of Arts that looked like it came straight from the pages of a sci-fi novel. Also, there was a giant, beautiful mosque and a museum, which I’ll be sure to visit on my next visit to that part of the city.

I’ve been living in Astana for more than 4 months now, but the city never ceases to impress me. This year the government is staging an international event called Expo 2017, which will attract tourists from all over the world. Thanks to this, the interest in English language has increased significantly.

Having said that, I can safely recommend Astana as a travel destination. However, if you decide to go here, make sure to come in summer. The winter weather here is rather hellish. Oh, and be prepared for a weak Internet connection. Mobile Internet seems to work fine, though, and it’s not very expensive. If these problems don’t scare you, then Astana is definitely a place for you. Also, many nationalities can now visit without a visa for a short time, thanks to the Expo, making it easier.

Russian Humour in films

Contrary to what many might think, Russians are quite cheerful people. Although our sense of humour at times can be quite strange. Perhaps it lacks the flirty finesse of English humour or funky directness of American one, but it’s humour nonetheless. At times it can even be funny.

Most of the jokes these days can be found on the Internet. They exist in the form of memes and usually involve photos of certain individuals who were once unfortunate enough (or fortunate, depends how you look at it) to put themselves on YouTube. Yeah, Russians love laughing at others. That’s probably the cornerstone of our humour. You’ll rarely find a Russian who likes to laugh at himself/herself, but when it comes to others…oh, that’s another story.

It’s quite interesting that Russians of previous generations like to claim that young people are spoilt and have a stupid sense of humour. I tried many times showing my mum things I found on YouTube that I thought were downright hilarious. However, the only reaction I would get was a confused look on her face. Then she would ask when exactly she was supposed to laugh.

True, humour changes from generation to generation. What our grandparents found funny usually makes us shrug and elicits at best a wry smile. But some things never change. One of them, as surprising as it may seem, is so-called black humour. Maybe this is so, because life for an average Russian is not always sweet and light. So, in order to survive, you’ve got to learn to laugh in the face of hardships that life throws at you.

Actually, Russian humour can be put into 3 major categories: Soviet humour, post-Soviet humour and modern humour. Let me briefly introduce you to these categories:

All three are still watched in many Russian homes on a regular basis.

  • The situation changed dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union. People literally went crazy, which took its toll on all forms of contemporary art. Humour became less sophisticated and you would often watch comedies touching the previously taboo subjects, such as sex and politics. One of the perfect examples of such movies is Ширли-Мырли/Shirli-Mirli by Vladimir Menshov, which shamelessly mocks the reality of Russian life (unfortunately, no English subtitles for this one).
  • The term modern Russian comedies can be used to describe all the comedies that came out after the year 2000. Since it’s nearly been two decades, this is quite a broad topic to discuss. In brief, modern comedies have their ups and downs, and one can find his share of good and bad comedies. However, let’s be honest, good Russian comedies are hard to come by these days. Usually they are filmed by independent studios and aren’t always shown at cinemas. I would recommend you something, but I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling your mood. So, I’ll leave it up to you.

What is the situation with comedies in your native country? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

Challenge#4

Всем привет! ^_^

Наконец, Рождество и Новый год позади, и после долгих двух недель переедания мы можем вернуться к нормальной жизни.

Сегодня наше задание будет немного необычным. Мы будем писать отзыв на фильм или сериал. Честно говоря, я очень люблю кино и могу говорить на эту тему бесконечно. А вы? 🙂

Но прежде всего давайте посмотрим, какие слова обычно используют в отзывах:

Я посмотрел/ла – I saw/watched…(a movie, TV-show, etc.)
Просмотр
view (as in viewing the movie)
Жанр
genre
Сюжет –
plot
Режиссёр
director
Актёры
actors
Бюджет
budget
Спецэффекты
special effects
Мне понравилось/не понравилось…
I liked/disliked
Меня впечатлил/ла/ло
I was impressed by….
Меня разочаровал/ла/ло
I was disappointed by…
По-моему...-
in my opinion…
Я рекомендую
I recommend

1) А сейчас я хочу рассказать вам о своих впечатлениях после просмотра фильма “Звёздные войны: Пробуждение Силы”.

Я очень люблю “Звёздные войны”, поэтому нового фильма ждала с нетерпением. По-моему, это один из самых крутых фильмов в жанрах “фантастика” и “фэнтези”. Я слышала, что у фильма есть новый режиссер и очень большой бюждет. Мне было интересно посмотреть, что получится. И результат меня не разочаровал. 

Фильм получился динамичным и интересным, с хорошими шутками и правдоподнобной драмой. Спецэффекты впечатляют!

Актеры замечательно сыграли свои роли. Мне особенно понравился нестандартный антагонист. Также было очень приятно увидеть персонажей оригинальной трилогии.

Правда, одна вещь меня разочаровала: сюжет этого фильма слишком уж похож на “Звездные войны: Новая Надежда”. Надеюсь, следующий фильм удивит нас необычным сюжетом.

Я рекомендую этот фильм всем, кто любит подобный жанр, да и просто тем, кто любит хорошо провести время. 

2) А какой фильм вы посмотрели недавно? Напишите небольшой отзыв о нем.

* Более продвинутым ученикам предлагаю посмотреть и написать отзыв на первый эпизод русского комедийного сериала “Как я стал русским”. Вы можете это сделать вот здесь.

Успехов! 🙂

How to read in your target language

There are many ways of improving your language skills, and reading in target language is definitely one of them. It’s a perfect chance to expand your vocabulary, while at the same time experiencing the beauty of original storytelling. After all, certain things will always be lost in translation.  Some people claim they don’t like to read, but it’s very possible they just haven’t found their book yet. Here are some tips on how to choose a perfect book in your target language and make your reading experience as fun and useful as it can be.

Selecting the book – quickly skim a couple of pages to make sure you can understand at least half the words present. Be aware of your level, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. For instance, being a beginner with little or no previous reading experience, you could aim for adapted books or children books that mostly consist of short and simple sentences. That will boost your confidence and help you to distinguish the basic sentence structures. However, once you’ve reached intermediate level, you could try your luck with something a bit more tough, but infinitely more enjoyable.

General tips – Read aloud to practice pronunciation and intonation. Not only it will develop your acting skills, but it will also make your speech flow more naturally in a normal conversation. It’s a good idea to have an audio narration of the book you’re reading, as it will help you avoid some pronunciation mistakes.

How to read and what to do with unknown words

1 – Read a section

2 – When you come across unknown words, try to understand their meaning from the context

3 – If  you fail to understand the meaning or need to check your wild guess, look up the word in the dictionary and establish some emotional connection with it (e.g.: игла – needle -pinch yourself- ouch!)

4 -Another thing you can do if you are being stalked by a certain word, write the stubborn thing down. As you do it, include the context you saw it in. A graphic illustration can also be of help, but don’t get carried away – it’s reading we’re after, not painting! Maybe include 2 or 3 examples of the said word. The more often you notice it, the more likely you will remember it.

5 – Go over your list of words before you read next time.

How to use reading to improve grammar

Focus on a specific grammar rule you want to learn. For example, genitive case in Russian – notice where this occurs and the context it is used. Reward yourself every time you get it right with an affectionate pat on the shoulder. You can also use this technique for recognizing specific constructions such as esli bi…, etc. Works every time!

Now, for those of you who’re interested in Russian books I recommend this site: http://loveread.ws/
The site has a great collection of Russian books or those translated to Russian, all of them presented online. Fiction, non-fiction, novels, psychology, thrillers, erotic stories – you name it.  No registration is required. The search button is at the bottom right and is called “Поиск по сайту”.

Hope I was of some help. Thank you and see you soon on our next challenge! 🙂