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.
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:
- Find a text you can understand (from your textbook/adapted book/articles/podcast) and translate it into English.
- A day (or two-three) later you should translate the English text back to Russian, without looking at the original text
- 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.).
- Do it again with a new text from the same topic – this will help you learn the grammar/language of a certain topic.
- To do this, you need to:
- 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.