Being Bombarded by Russians

Okay, not with actual bombs, but it was a nice attention-grabbing title. Lately, I have been around more Russians than ever before. The problem? Even among polite and educated people, they really love their language…and well, I might know how to point things and call them by their name, but I’m nowhere near understanding conversations (yet!), so if you don’t remind them to switch back to English, you can get isolated pretty fast. In particular, if they start drinking, I’ve seen they are much MUCH more likely to switch back to Russian. Also, if there is some slightly complex task, like learning how to play a board game, brace yourself to be bombarded by Russians speaking Russian.

It makes me want to understand their language even more…and I start wondering about babies and how just by listening to a language every day, they start understanding it…wish something like that could happen to me (c’mon dear brain, you can do this!), but unfortunately I’m pretty sure my learning will be a lot harder and troublesome.

At least I get happy every time I’m in the middle of two people speaking in Russian, or watching a soccer game of Spartak vs (basically anyone), and I’m able to catch some keywords to broadly know what they are talking about. It is motivating. Nevertheless, at the same time, this double-bladed sword also makes me sad sometimes, because it is very hard not to feel isolated.

I also have a group of friends where most of us are Spanish native speakers. I have heard American friends from the same group complaining because they say we (specially Argentinians tbh hehe) switch to Spanish out of the blue, and they feel excluded. I completely understand how they feel now, and it is horrible and uncomfortable.

Lesson of the day: If you happen to have friends who speak different languages, please try to stick to the one all of you have in common. It might be tempting to go back to the language you are more comfortable with sometimes, but it will mean a LOT to those around you.

 

Anna Karenina

annakerinaml

I started reading this book a couple of days ago. So far, I’ve read a bit more than 10% of it. I think anyone who enjoys reading Jane Austen would appreciate Tolstoy’s style in this book, it is easy to read, and gives enough details to get to know the characters and understand their emotions, but without going too deep, allowing the story to advance relatively fast(disclaimer: I am reading it in Spanish, so I cannot really generalize this to other translations of the book).

Whenever I read a book, I try to match every character with either an actor or an acquaintance of mine. It is like choosing a face so that imagining the events is easier (and more fun). I’ve chosen mines so far. Most of them are actors (for instance, Anna is Katherine Z. Jones hehe), but a couple – like Kostya and Nicolas Levin, or Vronsky – are friends of mine that coincide either with the physical description of the character or with his personality.

Something I like about the book in the context of learning Russian, is that it includes many unknown and untranslated words that I have to Google. For instance, poddiovka. I had seen those poddiovkas before – one of my bf’s friends wore one for Easter – but I didn’t know how they were called.

tradicional-vestimenta-rusia
A typical poddiovka

I also find odd and interesting how the characters refer to each other by, not only their first name, but their patronymic (their “second name”, which is derived from their father’s name) very naturally. For my culture, calling someone by both their first and second name would be too formal, even ridiculous, even if this person was not close to you.

Google has also helped me finding the location of every city or town mentioned in the book. It helps me follow the story better and imagine things more vividly. I also liked how they described train rides and winter. Being from a tropical climate, winter is not familiar to me at all, and being from an underdeveloped small country, trains are also not a normal way of transportation (even less when we talk about train rides that last for more than a day, and where people spend the night on board…c’mon my home-country is not even big enough for a train ride to last a whole day!)…again, very interesting 🙂

I am looking forward to continuing devouring this novel, and after I do that I want to start Master and Margarita (why? well…there is a song by a singer called Basta named Master and Margarita, and I want to read another Russian classic ^^ …solid logic :).

Cool Russian Movies

One of the things I’ve been doing lately is watching Russian movies. I don’t really do it to learn Russian, as I’m still a newbie and I can’t understand 99% (hey! I understand ‘privet’ and ‘spacibo’) of the words when actors talk, but to motivate myself and get immerse in Russian culture. So far, my favorite movies have been Russian classics. In particular, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980)and The Irony of Fate (1976) (I also watchedThe Brothers Karamazov (1969), but didn’t enjoy it so much as these two). I really liked how they show many aspects of Russian traditions that are still relevant. For instance, MDNBiT showed me how a true Russian shashlik (BBQ) looks like, and IoF how banyas (bath houses) look like and how friends would go there to relax and share (something that for me sounded weird at first, to be honest).

And the music…oh the music! Those movies have amazing soundtracks (even if, as me, you don’t understand what the lyrics are saying and you have to Google them), which are a delight to listen to. It makes me even more eager to learn and, someday, be able to watch them without subtitles (of course that could happen just because after seeing them many times I end up memorizing the dialogue hehe, but you know what I mean). My bf tells me he has seen this movies dozens of times (especially before New Year), and they just have a place in his heart. I think I understand this; some classic Christmas movies just seem to never get old for me.

Finally, I am starting to read Anna Karenina. Not in Russian (because, again, newbie), but I have wanted to read something by Tolstoy – btw, I recently realized I have been mispronouncing his last name all my life – and some days ago I read in another post how good Anna Karenina is, and that it is located in Russia. This was the drop that spilled the glass for me, and I have just started reading it. Will update about my progress and impressions on it later.

До свидания! 🙂

Time Management

How to make time to learn another language in the midst of our busy lives? It is not easy. I sometimes feel in the middle of a dilemma: I want to study Russian more, but I also do not want to work less.

On average, I study 15 minutes of Duolingo, half an hour looking at classes of Russian in YouTube, and about 5 minutes doing some exercises in my textbook per day. I have to admit I also usually take Sundays off (one should rest on Sundays…right?). I am sure if I devote more time, I’ll progress more, but so far this pace leaves me satisfied.

I think one of the keys is, no matter how long you study – 15 minutes or 2 hours – you must be 100% present. Getting your head in the game is crucial to be able to absorb and process the new information. Even if one day you can do only 15 minutes, pay a lot of attention so you can really retain those new words. Otherwise it will be very hard to really learn anything, no matter how much time you put into it.

🙂

First Steps

I started where – I think – 99% of people who want to learn a new language start nowadays in the US….Duolingo. After 6 lessons, a 21 days streak, and 740 points (of which I am terribly proud of), I can say this is a good place to learn basic vocabulary. However, it always leaves me a bit puzzled.  After many lessons, I would have to ask my bf: why is it pronounced as an “a” if it is written as an “oa”?, and basic things like this. Also, Duolingo started by assuming I could read Cyrillic, and although I managed to infer lots of sounds, I was pretty lost when it came to others.

That is when I found Mrs. Vera Polyakova-Norwood’s YouTube videos . This teacher makes me feel like a kid again. She explains everything thoroughly, and has been an amazing complement to my Duolingo lessons. Also, she teaches how to write in Russian cursive, something that Duolingo doesn’t do (I made my bf a letter written in English but with Russian cursive – for instance writing “my” as “май”- to practice…it required a lot of brainpower to read it (as I was not 100% consistent)…but hey, it’s hard!).

On top of that, I got a book called The New Penguin Russian Course. I had it in PDF (it is not hard to find at all), but bought a hard-copy as it was cheap, and the feeling of having the book and writing on it while doing the exercises makes my learning experience more enjoyable (again, reminds me of when I was a kid…hey kid’s are terrific learners after all!).

So far I can point many things and say “это [fill in the blank]”, and when I don’t know, I ask my bf (or text him if he is not around (his reply being both an audio with the pronunciation and a text with how it is written…if I had only the text I would guess the pronunciation correctly…mmm 3% of the time?).

Today I learned about nouns’ genres, and the rules were (surprisingly) straight forward. Finding something that is actually easy is nice, but I ready to keep learning haRRRd things and challenging myself 🙂

пока-пока, write to you later!

My Russian-learning adventure

My bf is Russian and we have been together for 3 years. He is fluent in English, but I would love to speak Russian to understand his culture better and communicate with his family. My mother-tongue is Spanish, and he is also learning Spanish. I have just started learning Russian, and I will use this blog to document my experience and my progress as I tackle this challenge 🙂