Hello everyone! Alex Gentry here! Once again I’ll be reviewing for the Language Learning Reading Challenge with Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste, Lindsay Dow from Lindsay Does Languages, Chiara Grandola from Runaway Daydreamer, Mairin Millward from Language Learning Journey, and myself from The Language Voyager! This is my second post for the challenge!
So I’ve been learning Russian since June 2014 and when I started learning this language I had been looking for effective ways to learn this language. I had a major hurdle: the dreaded Russian grammar (the most formidable looking grammar I faced since my high school Latin classes) seemed like doing a sprint and jumping over hurdles while trying not to trip over them and fall back when I did track in high school. I didn’t know how in the hell I was going to speak this language without strain (AAAHHHH!!!!!!) and that’s why I had put off Russian for several years.
However with the events of the Olympics in Sochi combined with when I got lots of tutoring requests and sessions from Russians wanting to learn English, I knew that I finally had to take the plunge because with most of the Russians I had a huge language barrier preventing me from being able to help them much. Anyway before I go off on a tangent on when I tutored Russian students back in 2014, back to what I was here to write!
Most Russian learning materials attempt to give you whole grammar tables of noun and adjective declensions (SIX CASES AND YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THEM ALL YAY!!!! You’re totally not going to mess up a lot and get confused looks and then corrections from native Russian speakers in the early stages!), verb conjugations, verb aspect (I still have some difficulties with when to use the perfective or imperfective aspects in making my own sentences. Really confusing to try and explain to English speakers.), and verbs of motion (which I still haven’t really gotten to cover yet but oh well!) and then try to throw it at you all at once and cram it into your brain as it becomes a jumbled mess of grammatical blob as you struggle to make coherent sentences in the early stages that would scare off most Russian learners from continuing further. At least that was my experience my first 6 months of learning Russian, now a year and a half into it.
However Russian Step By Step author Natasha Alexandrova makes this language quite accessible to learn and approaches it from her twenty years of classroom experience in a much more intuitive way.
When Natasha says “Step By Step”, she certainly means it!
The Russian Step By Step series was assembled and developed by a team of native Russian and English speakers and consists of three main textbooks and a series of supplemental workbooks. As I don’t currently have the workbooks but will eventually purchase them, this review will just be on the three main textbooks: Russian Step By Step Beginner Level 1, Russian Step By Step Low Intermediate Level 2, and Russian Step By Step Intermediate Level 3.
I have currently worked through and am reviewing Beginner Level 1 and Low Intermediate Level 2 and have not yet gotten to High Intermediate Level 3 so my assessment of the series will primarily be on the first two books.
There is additional content available to you when you register on russianstepbystep.com including an audio download and a printout of all vocabulary in the book arranged by chapter.
My Experience Using Russian Step By Step
I first heard about RSBS from an interview that Kris Broholm of Actual Fluency did with the RSBS authors and hearing how they taught the Russian language using comprehensive listening and reading content I knew I had to check it out and immediately got the first textbook and later last year I got books 2 and 3. For the actual experience itself, after the grammar heavy Penguin Russian Coursebook which threw grammar tables at you I felt quite refreshed. RSBS barely uses any English in the books and uses only Russian in the audio.
What I Liked About It
- Clear, Evenly Paced, Russian-Only Audio, Diverse Male and Female Speakers – Firstly the audio is extremely clear, the four native speakers (two male and two female including the author herself) speak slowly and spell out all the sounds very clearly for learners to easily follow along. They even go through a detailed pronunciation guide in the beginning. They also have lots of question and answer drills that force you to think in Russian. Not to mention there are about 9 to 10 hours of audio for these three books combined.
- Clear, Detailed Strategy on How to Use the Books – The RSBS team very clearly understands how effective language learning works. They guide you through a series of steps to set up a motivation, plan your studying, be consistent, start slowly, no skipping any of the material, using the Internet, and applying the language to your surroundings. The RSBS series actually begins with the Reading Russian Step By Step book which teaches the Russian alphabet and how to write Russian words. Each book has four to eight sections: the Pre-Course (Russian alphabet and pronunciation in Book 1 only), Main Course (21 lessons in Book 1, 13 lessons in Book 2, and 9 lessons in Book 3), Grammar Section, Grammar Tables, Audio Script, Answer Keys, Dictionaries, and an Index.
- Grammar Is Introduced In Chunks – The great thing about grammar in RSBS is that the author doesn’t throw all the grammar at you at once and overwhelm you (Thank goodness!!!!). Though the grammar is quite comprehensive, Alexandrova introduces the grammar one small piece at a time in digestible chunks for the learner’s brain to be able to process. There are also detailed grammar tables in the grammar section and grammar tables. It also shows you how the grammatical parts of speech fit together such as pronoun and verb conjugation agreement, noun, adjective, pronoun, and number case system agreement with prepositions and how the subjects interact with the objects, verb tense and adverb agreement, the difference between tense and aspect, how verbs of motion work, etc. It is all placed within the context of the dialogues so that you can see the context in which the grammar is used so it will make more sense.
- Progression is Natural – Each lesson in the RSBS series builds on the previous one, so the progress in language learning is slow and steady and linguistic and grammatical contexts are straightforward and relevant to the topic of each chapter.
What It Could Improve On
-Using Cyrillic only from the beginning may overwhelm some people – For those already familiar and practiced with the Cyrillic alphabet like I was when I started RSBS, you should find the books easy to read. For those who are absolute beginners I would not recommend starting with RSBS Book 1 because many people not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet would be scared away by the look of the Russian letters, but with its prequel the Reading Russian Step By Step book which teaches the alphabet, pronunciation, and how to spell words. For absolute beginners, the latter book would be a better choice to start with.
-Including the Answer Keys in of the Back of the Book – As a Russian learner I constantly found it frustrating that when I listened to the audio exercises for each chapter that I had to constantly flip the pages to the back of the book in order to read and listen to the text at the same time. They should have put the answer keys in each chapter.
-Including the Grammar Section at the Back of the Book – I had similar problems to the grammar section being in the back of the books as I did with the answer keys. They should have been included in each chapter.
-Too much text!!!! – From my personal point of view, having language sentence drills can be both good and bad. One: it really reinforces your grammatical knowledge and your ability to form sentences. Two: having too many drills can be both boring and overwhelming. Fortunately with these drills, they are not boring from my observation and are kept relevant to the theme of each chapter. However the drills are always placed together into huge text blocks instead of spaced sentences in a column. It can be overwhelming for some people but it is something manageable. I personally didn’t do all of the exercises in each chapter yet, just taking them a few at a time.
Russian Step By Step is in my view a wonderful resource, in fact I consider it one of the go-to language learning resources for Russian. It works especially well for an intuitive, immersive kind of learning method and it is honestly one of the more challenging resources I’ve used. Since the books hardly use any English and stick mostly to the target language, it really forces you to actively use Russian (including through lots of translation exercises). It works excellently both as a classroom text and a self-study text and since it is comprehensive and introduces the grammar literally “step by step” along with conversational language, it does what almost no other Russian textbooks out there do. I really recommend this book series and I’m looking forward to getting and reviewing the Reading Russian workbook, the Propisi (Russian Cursive Handwriting) workbooks, and Verbs of Motion workbooks! I have nothing to say except this series is fantastic!!!!
Enhance Your Voyage, Learn A Language!
What are your favourite coursebooks for learning Russian? What was your experience with them? Please share with me in the comments below!