Russian is the most recent of the foreign languages that I began to learn and it's truly a joy for me. It's been only fourteen months since I began to learn Russian in June last year.
Several things and events greatly influenced my decision to learn Russian, as it was always very high on the list of languages I wanted to learn. First of all, I really was fascinated by Russian literature and heard about its legendary authors like Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Lermontov, Pasternak, Bulgakov, etc. In addition, Russian culture, history, and politics greatly interested me for a long time. In general a lot of the world doesn't really make an effort to understand Russian culture through Russian eyes, as Russia always felt very mysterious and attractive for me in a way I can't explain. I had two friends in high school and college that were Russian Americans and fluent Russian speakers, but at the time I didn't really ask them about Russian culture or language. All I knew about Russia was Moscow, St. Petersburg, Siberia, the literature, that there were tsars, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, that the United States and the Soviet Union played part in the Cold War mostly before I was born. I knew about Tchaikovsky through his Nutcracker music every Christmas and I also knew about Anastasia, the last Romanov daughter, from the animated American movie from the 1990s (which wasn't historically accurate). I knew I had always wanted to learn Russian, but I heard it was very difficult so I didn't learn it for a long time.
Last year ended up spurring my decision to learn Russian due to the fact that I got a lot of Russian students on italki and they didn't speak English well and because of last year's Olympics in Sochi. I didn't want to start Russian yet, but I ended up giving in to my language wanderlust and voracious curiosity and began to learn it last June. At first Russian was HARD! Though I was used to dealing with complex noun case systems from Latin and German, Russian had a level of linguistic complexity that I hadn't worked with since learning Latin back in high school! Six noun cases!!!! Three grammatical genders!!!! Two verbal aspects!!!! Verbs of motion!!!! It all seemed like it would take forever to learn! And unlike Latin, THIS time I had to use it in a conversation!!!!! I thought "I've learned other languages successfully before, but oh no, how am I going to do this? How will I approach learning all those endings??? I forgot them in Latin immediately after I learned them!!!"
However I then realized that how I learned Latin cases was through memorizing grammar tables and all the endings at the same time, so of course I couldn't remember them! I took a totally different approach with Russian and decided on a conversational approach by learning only one noun case at a time and getting good at each noun case before I moved on to the next one until I had gone through all six noun cases within the span of three months. About two months after I started learning Russian and finished the book The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners (which was essentially a bunch of grammar and texts and quite technical for a first time language learner), I started on the Beginner's Russian Reader. That reader had lots of interesting readings on Russian culture, history, and politics especially from the Soviet era. Going through that book, while it was very interesting, was arduous, as I did many of the exercises so meticulously that I went through countless brain hurting episodes.
I didn't start speaking with native Russian speakers until two months into learning Russian. At first it was extremely painful and I made so many mistakes that I wasn't intelligible at all. My Russian learning for the next few months went quite slow and I got Teach Yourself Russian which helped with conversational abilities. At the same time I was learning Russian I followed Danish polyglot and language learner Chris Broholm on his Actual Fluency podcast and YouTube channel, seeing his Russian learning process and he was only slightly ahead of where I was in my learning since I started learning it two months after him. I watched all his italki Skype sessions listening to all his struggles learning Russian, which really reminded me of my struggles and I totally felt like I could relate to everything he was going through. Thanks to following his channel as well as Kerstin Hammes' YouTube channel, while I was watching their book club event early this year I found out about the Russian: Step by Step series through an interview Chris Broholm did with the Russian: Step by Step team, which I found was a much better method of learning Russian for me than what I tried before. After I purchased all three of the main textbooks in the series I immediately started on the first book and was frequently listening to the audio and going through the exercises. Currently I'm in the second book doing the exact same thing, which leads me to where I currently am in my Russian. I also got the chance to purchase and read The Little Prince in Russian which I listened to about six times so far. I need to keep all that listening and reading repetition going!
Now being where I currently am in my Russian learning, I have a set of goals for Russian similar to the ones I wrote for German last week, but set for next December instead of next June for a high intermediate (B2) level by June and an advanced (C1) level by December.
My goals are:
- to be able to read and enjoy nonfiction books about personal development, travel, history, and entrepreneurship as well as fantasy novels by next December
- to be able to listen to audiobooks on the following topics above and to listen to and enjoy podcasts about language learning, entrepreneurship, travel, and history by next December. To follow Russian Pod 101 every day as well as the Easy Russian YouTube channel every day. To be able to listen to and understand Echo Moskvy and Voice of Russia by that time frame.
- to be able to speak three times a week with conversation partners from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and/or Kazakhstan and with fluent second language speakers to get regular conversation practice
- to be able to speak fluently and comfortably on all the topics I am interested in during 15 minute and 30 minute conversations
- to be able to have a good understanding of Russian history and cultural references in Russian
So have you learned Russian before? What are your goals for learning Russian? How fluent do you want to be in Russian? What motivates you to learn Russian? What are your struggles and triumphs in learning Russian? Feel free to let me know in the comment box below! Thanks!
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