Initial Thoughts on Learning Russian, & Languages in general


Having enrolled in the University of Russia's Academy of Education (URAO),


and planning to go to Moscow in late Spring of 2008, I am studying Russian.

I have obtained seven books on learning Russian, and as many audio tapes and CD’s. I will compare them, and evaluate them, as well as evaluate my own learning process, and how my language acquisition, and how language acquisition tools in general can be improved toward optimal efficiency.

At the moment, I am reading Basic Russian, Book One, by Mischa A. Fayer. I chose this book specifically because it had diagrams showing how to draw the letter forms. According to Fayer, “Russians ordinarily do not print,” and a glance at the printed Cyrillic alphabet shows why.

Need for printing large enough for a novice to distinguish similar letter forms.

Many of the printed letters (and the written letters) are quite similar, and I found that, as a novice, the type in the books was too small, especially the Phrasebook, and the dictionaries. I enlarged an alphabet chart from a book for easy reference. On-line (browser-based) and e-book language tools have the advantage over printed books in their ability to be viewed in a larger font.

Need for a ‘Complete’ Alphabet Chart.

Each book showed the alphabet in a chart that, by comparison to the others, was incomplete; I wanted a ‘complete’ alphabet chart that would show the printed upper and lower case, the script upper and lower case, as well as the pronunciation of the letter (e.g. “ess,” “Teh”), and the approximate English sound.

Fayer’s book, for example, rather arbitrarily breaks up the alphabet into seven groups; he gives the script upper and lower case letter forms, the name of the letter, the approximate English sound, and an example word, then repeats the charts with the printed form. The chart of the whole alphabet then only shows the relationship between printed and script forms.

Need for explanation of the derivation of the alphabet.

The Cyrillic alphabet is attributed to Saint Cyril, who fashioned a phonetic alphabet from elements of Hebrew and Greek. My small familiarity with these two languages is somewhat helpful, I need to have charts of these alphabets at hand, so that I can compare them and learn them better as well. Many of the letter forms are identical to their English counterparts, with similar sounds. Others are similar with different sounds, and some letter forms are not found in English.

The Cyrillic alphabet was further modified subsequently and I would like to know the exact derivation. Berlitz in Teach Yourself Russian suggests that learning the alphabet is no harder than learning shorthand, which, in a sense, it is.

I have the following audio courses: Teach Yourself Russian, © Daphne M. West (2 cassettes); Russian Language/30 © 1989 Educational Services Corp. (2 cassettes); Focus on Russian, © S.F. Rosengrant & E.D. Lifshitz; Barron’s Travel Wise Russian; Quickstart Russian (2 CD’s); Russian Lessons (unattributed) (four cassettes).

Advantages of Granularity and Non-Linearity of Digital Media & Cds on I-Pod

Of these I expect the CDs to be most useful because I have loaded them onto my I-pod and they have the advantages of any non-linear medium, that I can easily access any part without rewinding or ‘fast-forwarding’. Certain parts of audios are nearly useless, since I don’t expect to need “my hair cut, waved and set,” etc. Ability to conveniently skip the less useful bits makes any presentation much more useful.

Need for Visual Channel with Auditory Channel

I am a visual learner, and so I find myself wanting to be able to see how words are spelled when I hear them spoken. For this purpose, I enjoy watching movies that have a French language track and French subtitles. I would love to have some familiar movies with Russian language and subtitles. A few of the audio courses also come with the written script (Quickstart Russian, Barron’s Travel Wise, and Language/30) and these will be more useful than those without.

Need for a Tutor who is a Native Speaker

To best learn a language, one should have a tutor who is a native speaker of the language, to correct one’s pronunciation, and to answer questions, etc. Where can I find the community of Russian speakers in Seattle? I contacted a social services agency to see if they could refer me to any resources. Do Russian √©migr√©’s have a place to gather in Seattle? Where do they buy Russian foods, books, etc.? The Magus bookstore in Seattle’s University district has a many shelves of Russian books; I pored over the language learning books there.

Need for Russian computer keyboard

I am one who also learns well kinesthetically, by writing, or even typing notes. For this, a student needs access to Russian computer fonts at least, and at best a Russian computer keyboard.

Need for a list of cognates

The romance languages (in particular, English, French, and Spanish, with which I am familiar in descending order) have a large number of words which are essentially the same in more than one language. I found it very useful to my French comprehension to have such a list at hand. I found a list of Russian-English cognates at:


I anticipate with great enthusiasm my time in Russia, and know that the better I know the language, the more I will appreciate my time there. I will continue to develop this line of inquiry into Techniques and Technologies of Language Acquisition as part of my PhD studies into Communication Theory. Your collaboration is invited. Please contact me with your suggestions.




No comments: