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12 Things Learned About Russian Language Learning

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My month of November sits in my memories as one big jumbled mess of thoughts, some that don’t even seem real anymore. I tried to decompress when I got home, but let’s face it, a press trip to the Gold Coast for 3 days the day AFTER I got home, followed by dealing with the anxiety involved in taking part in a blog forum and then finally a weekend away for Travel Massive… they all haven’t really provided the time.

I’m sure my thoughts about my month in Kyrgyzstan will become clearer in the coming weeks, but for now I at least am able to focus on some of the specifics that went along with my attempt at learning Russian. Here are some of the things I learned about Russian language learning (for me):

Young Eagle Hunter on Horse

Young Eagle Hunter on Horse

1. I cannot say the Russian word for eagle and have people understand me until I say it at least 15 times.

On my first weekend in town, I was invited by Kirstin of Ivory Pomegranate to head out to Bokonbaeva to watch the eagle hunters perform. Well, when I got back to class on Monday and tried to explain what I saw, my teacher could not for the life of her catch my drift until I said the word about 15 times. Same goes for when I was trying to also explain the experience to the toe-stepping taxi driver.

2. I know more than I think and should just trust my instincts.

I guess I have an issue with self-doubt. I mentioned at the end of my 4th week how I was saying all the right things but questioning myself afterwards. Not cool, Brooke… not cool.

3. I’m far too shy with my language learning practice.

Again, no one likes to fail. I hate being put on the spot and failing, or drawing a blank, but that shield has to fall or no gains can ever be made.

4. Russian is… not easy.

It has 6 cases, a strange alphabet, funky sounds and more exceptions than you can shake a stick at. Obviously, you will not master this language in a short period, and I need more time (hopefully in the spring!).

the london school

The London School in Bishkek

5. Intensive language lessons in Kyrgyzstan are still one hell of a deal.

Did you hear? I got 80 hours of 1-on-1 language lessons, two text books, a room for 4 weeks at the school’s dorm (with weekly maid service) and a private transfer service on arrival for the whopping price of $515. B-A-R-G-A-I-N.

6. Speaking Russian is just as much about the attitude.

I’ve sat and watched people change their posture and their tone when switching to Russian. You can’t speak the language properly without getting into its rhythm. I will be writing more about this in the future with tips from the awesome polyglot Susanna Zaraysky of Language is Music.

7. Forcing yourself to take a taxi solo is some of the best street practice you can get.

It may not be enjoyable at times, as I have clearly learned (here and HERE), but I was only ever in speaking situations with my drivers when I was in the car alone.

8. There is an initial spark of extreme satisfaction when your immediate response to a situation is to respond first in Russian.

Talk about conditioning! When you get to the point where you’re confused as to which language you should be talking in, that’s progress people.

foyer

Foyer Coffee House in Bishkek

9. When you don’t use it, you lose it twice as fast as it was learned.

I often felt that if I went a weekend with only speaking English, Monday was twice as hard as the other days of the week.

10. Other languages don’t always have a word you might have in your native language.

They also may not describe or explain experiences in the same way (and lets not forget about sentence structure).

11. Russian has like 18 different verbs of motion. Kill me.

There are words for if you travel somewhere one way, go there and come, you just started your journey or if you are going by vehicle or by foot. It is one confusing mess of words, and I just don’t get it.

12. Learning Russian needs to go beyond text books and a couple teachers.

It’s a big world where people say and explain things in different ways and use different words. You have to expect any of them.

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14 Responses to 12 Things Learned About Russian Language Learning

  1. Kirstin December 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    I don’t know the word for eagle! I’d probably know “bird” if I heard it, but I don’t know it off the top of my head. And I think I nearly cried when I finally had a decent understand of the verbs of motion, only to learn that the verbs for “to carry/bring” each have a prefix to match the verbs of motion. Whhhhyyyyyy!!!!

    • Brooke December 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

      Hahaha. Why indeed! And the word is ΠΎΡ€Ρ‘Π» — but I cannot pronounce it correctly I guess!

  2. Susanna Zaraysky December 14, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    I’m a native Russian speaker and I can’t remember the word for eagle:)

    The words for motion in Russian are confusing, even for me sometimes! At times, my parents will use the wrong verb for motion (like the one for pedestrians) when referring to motion in a vehicle and I laugh!

    Yes, you do have to trust your instincts.

    It took me a while to decompress after Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Heck, I am still writing about Turkey and I’ve been back for a month! I had to isolate myself and write my heart out to get it all out of me.

    SUSANNA

  3. Kelsey December 14, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    This was great to read, especially since I’m really interested in learning Russian (my family is Russian).

    If I may ask, how much did your whole trip cost? The $515 was for the lessons and the housing, but what do you think the rest cost?

    • Brooke December 14, 2011 at 6:47 am #

      I have to do a final tally, which might be hard because I did eat at the nicest restaurants in Bishkek on several occasions and went shopping to buy lots of souvenirs/gifts and the like. I would say $700-ish dollars a month is not out of the picture for someone more budget conscious (+$70 for the visa). Of course, moving around and the flight there will cost more. I hope to go through my expenditures and get back to this topic πŸ™‚

      • Kelsey December 14, 2011 at 6:54 am #

        So, would you say that minus airfare, $1000 would cover the trip pretty easily?

        • Brooke December 14, 2011 at 11:22 am #

          I think so πŸ™‚

  4. Katie December 14, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Ah, once again you capture my experience learning Russian as well perfectly. πŸ™‚ I’m starting up classes again when I get to Kiev – looking forward to it and slightly dreading it at the same time….

  5. Roy Marvelous December 14, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Wow, $515 is an amazing deal. How did you find the school? I feel like I’m the worst traveler in the world – 7.5 years of perpetual travel and all I’ve learnt is how to speak English without a strong accent…

    • Brooke December 14, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      It’s the same school I took lessons at back in 2008 – found their website and went for it. Loved it and decided to do it again πŸ™‚

  6. Steve Kaufmann December 18, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Interesting article. As someone who has been learning Russian on my own, in Vancouver, in my spare time, these last 4 years or so, I can sympathize. I have no taxis to take, however and rarely use the word for eagle. Instead I focus on reading and listening, moving from Tolstoy and Turgenev to Echo Moskvi, using resources available on the web which I can import into LingQ, and, of course, the occasional audio book.

    I tend not to let the cases or different verbs of motion bother me. I review them occasionally in a small grammar book, sometimes notice them when I listen and read, but don’t expect to nail them down at any particular time. I can’t make too many mistakes when listening and reading, and my vocabulary and familiarity with the language just grows.

    I find that doing this my accuracy in using the language improves naturally. I had no trouble discussing a wide variety of subjects when I visited St. Petersburg and Moscow last June, and this included verbally fending off an inebriated Russian in a bar, who blamed me (and the west in general) for the loss of Constantinople to the Turks and every problem Russia has faced since.

    Echo Moskvi provides an inexhaustible source of audio and text interviews available for free download, and it is a great introduction to the hurly burly of Russian politics and arguing in general.

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