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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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! 🙂

Recipes in Russian

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, it is very important when learning a language to interact with it as much as possible. If you like to cook and do it often, why not use recipes (рецепты) that are written in Russian? You will learn the names of different ingredients, as well as verbs like “to pour”, ” to add”, and many others that can be useful in other situations. This is the website I often use to find recipes. There are different categories (категории) in which you can search:

  • You can choose the dish you want to cook. Luckily, the site offers pictures, so that shouldn’t be a problem. For example, you find yourself obliged to cook a tasty dessert. Press on the picture of those delicious pancakes that says “выпечка и десерты” (pastry and desserts) and feast your eyes on thousands of mouthwatering options.
  • You can choose the”кухня“, a cuisine. Which cuisine do you prefer? (Какую кухню вы предпочитаете)? Китайскую (Chinese), мексиканскую (Mexican), индийскую (Indian)? А, может, русскую (Russian)?
  • You can also find a recipe based on your diet or preference (предпочтения): vegetarian food (вегетарианская еда), menu for children (детское меню), low-fat food (низкокалорийная еда).
  • Or maybe you already have a main ingredient (ингредиенты) and don’t know what to do with it? Это не проблема! Simply type in the name of the ingredient into the search window, and you’ll get many interesting suggestion
ПРИЯТНОГО АППЕТИТА! (Bon appetit!)

 

Using Translators

There are many different apps, extensions for browsers like chrome and firefox, and websites that can be used to translate text. In a later article, I’ll write about how I think it is best to read in a foreign language, and what to do when you meet an unknown word or phrase. In this post, I will give some suggestions as to which translators/apps etc. work best.

Firstly, it depends on the device and web browser you are using. For android and iPhones, as well as any browser, I suggest using Lingvo Live. I especially like that it has a section with examples and collocations! This is perfect for fully understanding the meaning of a word.

However, if you are just reading an article in your web browser and want to quickly understand the sense of a word, there are other options. You can use various extensions that allow you to get a translation immediately, simply by highlighting the word or phrase. I find this very useful, as I don’t always feel like copying and pasting a word to a translating, and reading all the various possible translations. Here are some examples:

  • Google translate for chrome – Simply highlight the word and press the little translate symbol
  • An add on called “Google translator” for safari, opera, firefox.

In addition, the google translate app for phones can now translate text in photos, which helps if you are travelling and want to read a menu or street sign.

Despite being useful when reading texts, don’t rely on google translate for your important documents!

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A little bit of Russian every day (Resources and ideas)

 

Some people think that spending an hour a week studying a language is enough, and then wonder, after several months, why they only know how to order a coffee at a café. Learning a language is a time consuming, and sometimes frustrating, adventure. If your goal is to simply learn some “travel” phrases like “May I order a coffee?” or “Where is the toilet?”, then studying an hour enough may be enough. However, if you want to become fluent in the language, then you must interact with your target language several times a week. Ideally, you will spend an hour a day (or more!) interacting with your language. This requires a lot motivation.

Now, I use the word “interact”, because simply studying lists of words, or doing grammar exercises will not get you fluent. Yes, they are still a part of learning (especially in Russian, with the various cases and endings), however they can be boring, frustrating, and you aren’t using the language as you would in real life. For this reason, I strongly advise students to interact with the real Russia, through listening to Russian music or radio, watching TV shows/Movies or YouTube clips, reading articles on popular websites, books, poetry and more. In addition to consuming material, it is vital that you write and talk!

As I mentioned, to do this every day can be difficult, and you need a lot of motivation. If the work is fun, then it will be far easier, which is why I think that always doing grammar and vocabulary exercises is a bad idea. Even if you only listen to the Radio for 30 minutes a day, or read a short article, it is better than nothing. So, here are some ideas and resources to help you interact with Russian every day:

  • Listen to a radio station while you are driving/cooking/studying (of course, it is better if you concentrate on what they are saying). A great app for this is TuneIn (You can also record the radio to listen again later).  Search by Location. Some suggested stations (The talk shows will usually be between 6am-10pm local time):
    • Radio Nashe – Only Russian Music, FM radio shows with interviews, competitions etc. (My Favourite station!)
    • Radio Mayak – A talk and music station. There are many podcasts and interviews about a variety of topics, from music to science.
    • Echo of Moscow – Talk station. Covers political issues, as well as interviewing different artists. Also have a great website with recordings of their interviews.
    • Russian Hit – Pop music, mostly Russian.
  • Read news, articles etc:
    • Adme – Short articles full of pictures about various topic. Light and usually easy articles to read quickly.
    • Lenta and Gazeta – Latest news from the Russian press. Includes not only news, but articles about art exhibitions, science, sport, business etc. (For intermediate learners and up)
    • Meduza – Excellent news website with independent news from and about Russia, and around the world.
    • Travel adventures in Pictures – A blog of a person who travels around Russia and the world. Has many pictures with a little bit of text talking about the destinations. (Good for any level)
    • Psychology – A nice website with articles related to psychology.
    • Esquire – Russian version of Esquire
    • Afisha – Gorod – Articles about restaurants, cafes, fashion, art and life in Moscow
    • N + 1 – A science and technology website, quite difficult language.
    • Sib.fm – A local news website from the “Capital of Siberia”
    • BBC Russia – BBC Russia news site. It also has a nice blog section with some interesting topics.
    • Lifehacker – Russian version, with advice and guides about many topics.
  • YouTube channels
    • Radio Mayak – These are recordings of talk shows on this radio station. There are a wide range of topics from cars to music to science.
    • Nayuk 2.0 – A collection of short science experiments and documentaries.
    • Daily top 5 – A new video every day about the “top 5” of something.
    • Mosfilm – Russian movies with English subtitles
  • Write something in Russian. Some ideas:
    • A diary of what you did during the day (what you ate, what time you got up, what you wore, where you went, etc.)
      • Make a blog and upload your diary there. Get someone to check it for you.
    • A story using vocabulary you have to learn (try to write one part every week, no matter how short)
    • Translate an article you read, that you thought was interesting, into your native language.

 

 

Why reading in target language is a “must”?

First of all I’d like to say: bookworms, you are awesome! And it’s not just a random statement. There is no doubt that certain books can have an enormous influence on our mind and make us smarter. Apart from making you seem educated, reading a lot of books also teaches you to think differently. After all, any written work is the author’s mind on paper, and while reading we absorb his way of thinking, directly and without any intermediaries. If anything, reading is a closest thing to telepathy we’ve witnessed yet.
In my childhood I read many books. They were my teachers, they showed me how to act in certain situations and provided me with priceless knowledge on different matters. They’ve also taught me many fancy words and expressions that a child of my age normally wouldn’t be familiar with. At school it really helped me to get the highest marks for essays. When I became a bit older, my teacher suggested I started reading books in English. To be honest, I didn’t really want to. I had a good grasp on spoken English and I knew my grammar. If I were, let us say, traveling abroad, I would have enough language proficiency to ask for directions and maybe buy a meal at the local cafe. Did I really need more? If I wanted to read a book, I could always find one with Russian translation. I thought there would be too many new words and it would discourage me from reading. However, it was quite the opposite. Reading in English was a challenge, but it was never impossible. To my surprise, I soon realized that I could read in English rather effortlessly. As a bonus, my mental vocabulary got updated with a few hundreds new words, which I remembered effortlessly, no ROTE learning needed.

My point is – you should really try it, it’s worth it! Take it easy, though. Don’t start with a thick volume of Shakespeare or Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, unless you are pretty confident. I suggest something light and entertaining at first, so that the story keeps you tuned in even if you’re meeting plenty of new words on every page. Reading should always be a pleasure, not a labour. Some people like to keep a glossary and it can be very helpful, but it’s not mandatory. Once you’ve encountered a new word in your story and looked up its meaning, your memory will obligingly present it to you next time you see it in the text. It’s much easier to remember something when you have an emotional connection with it. For example, take the word “убить” – which means “to kill” in Russian. It’s unlikely you will remember it if I just told it to you. Your memory will disperse of it, since it’s not particularly useful, unless killing is your true passion. Now imagine you’re reading a book, and your favourite character is about to get a final death blow! “Убить его!” orders the bad guy to his henchmen. Uh oh, our hero is in a great trouble! Let’s hope he survives. So, next time you stumble upon this word it will again create some turmoil in your emotional state and you will know exactly what it means. Creepy, right? But very effective!

So, if you haven’t done it yet, grab a book in your target language and plunge yourself into this new and exciting world. I double dare you!

In the next post I’ll give you a list of Russian books suited to different levels.

Skype lessons: good or bad?

Hi everybody! Vsem privet!

The last 2 weeks have been very busy for me, because I’ve signed up to the online tutoring site. It’s a lot of fun teaching online, but also very challenging at times. The main problem is the Internet, of course. You never know how it’s going to behave. Plus it’s funny listening to someone when they are frozen on screen. Have you heard that noise? That’s what a wounded dinosaur would sound like! I really envy people who have a stable Internet connection. Here in Australia everything seems to affect the wires – from hot weather to violent storms.

But enough complaining! Today I want to share my experience of teaching Russian online and tell you the pros and cons of it. In fact, this doesn’t only apply to Russian, it’s about teaching any language online. Are you ready? Let’s go!

So, firstly, like I said before, you will need a reliable Internet. This goes for both teacher and student, because a failure to communicate on one side destroys the whole point of the session (unless one of you can communicate telepathically, which is great, of course).

Secondly, you need a lot of materials. I usually go for pretty-looking PowerPoint presentations – they are entertaining and help to hold the students’ attention for the whole session. In addition to that, it’s good to use colourful flash cards for introducing and learning vocabulary and even small objects like souvenirs and toys. They bring an element of surprise and work well as the means to start a conversation.

For me Skype lessons are a big challenge, because I’m that type of teacher who moves around a lot. I believe in the kinesthetic approach to learning and in my offline lessons I often play active games with my students, so being unable to do much in that area makes me feel restricted. I compensate for that by playing different verbal and gesture games, which can be as fun as the physical ones. I also think online vocabulary games can be quite helpful, but it’s a bit difficult to use them during the lesson. They can be a great as an additional home task, though.

In the end, there are three main benefits of Skype lessons that absolutely beat all the disadvantages for me:

  • You don’t have to travel anywhere. It saves you time and money for petrol or a bus-ticket.
  • You can always look good. For what it’s worth, you can even teach lesson wearing your old sauce-stained dressing gown and you don’t have to brush your teeth! Nobody will be able to tell the difference. How amazing is that? :Ь
  • You can have lessons with people from all around the world, any time of the day! It is always interesting to talk to people living on the other side of the world)

Do you agree with these arguments? Let me know what you think! 🙂