Sunday, 13 November 2016

Sliding Deeper and Deeper Into Russian

Oh, how the worm has turned. Those of you who've been reading this blog over the past month will have followed the story of how I slithered from being determined to focus on my French to ditching it and taking up Russian instead - a language I'd not touched in thirty years and never thought I'd return to. Ever. I so did not see this coming. Why not just stick with French - conversational fluency and reading novels was just around the corner, while reaching that level in Russian is likely to take the best part of a decade! What a ludicrous undertaking... it makes no sense at all - I can't say that I feel any special affinity for Russia or its culture. It's like some shrivelled-up spores of Russian had been lying in wait deep inside my brain for decades and something somehow made them sprout tentacles. The whole thing is totally beyond my control. And it's got a lot worse since my last post.

Thursday last week I told my French teacher I'd that it was over. I would not be returning for any more classes. She looked at me, crestfallen. "No," I tried to assure her, "it's not you, it's me..." Then she got the grammar book out and beat me round the head with it for the entire last session.

That very same evening, I found myself googling local Russian teachers. Just to kill some time before bed, you understand. Just before midnight, my first Russian class was booked for Monday morning. With Yelena, a native Russian speaker from Ukraine, who, coincidentally, lives right across the street from my Portuguese teacher. She turned out to be a warm, smiley person about my age and an experienced teacher to boot. Her teaching approach is structured but not rigid - perfect for where I'm at. My first class went fairly well. We refreshed my reading and writing skills; we talked noun genders; I attempted to produce the many unfathomable versions of "shshshsh" and we had eloquent conversations like "Is this a cat?" "No, this is not a cat. It is a bag." It was all quite riveting, I assure you.

People say that your brain plays tricks on you by editing your memories to make past experiences seem less traumatic than they were at the time. Well, my mind has done a sterling job at smoothing out my first encounter with Russian (which I studied at school for two years). For example, I remember Russian to be more or less phonetic. But it so isn't! You need to know how to pronounce each word, you cannot just guess how to say it correctly from seeing it written down. And there are, of course, no rules. Sigh. But then again, English is like that...

I realise it's a bit rich for a German to be complaining about another language's words being... erm.. too long, but monstrosities like "достопримечательностями" are a bit hard to swallow for a Born Again Beginner like me. No, it's not some specialist term referring to a ceremonial method of roasting monkeys practiced by a tribe in New Guinea. достопримечательностями is basic tourist vocabulary, meaning "attractions" or "sights". Oh well. I guess I'll be practising that one in my next lesson coming up on Wednesday.

6 comments:

  1. It is largely phonetic - much more so than English. Yes, there are exceptions and rules, but they're mostly quite consistent. At first it seems very overwhelming, with the reduction of unstressed vowels and the его ого endings and the voicing or not of this and that, but (if my experience is anything to go by), what is incredibly tough to pick up from a list of spelling/pronunciation rules is much easier to pick up by listening to and using the language. A lot of it will become second nature in time.

    And really, even with all the finicky stuff, it's still much more phonetic than English. Honest!

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    1. That's what I was hoping - thanks for the reassurance :) I'm not good with dry rules - I need to hear the sounds and the words recognise them and reproduce them and eventually, I'm hoping, it'll all slot into place.

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  2. "достопримечательностями" - I can't even...

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  3. Hey, I'm Russian currently trying to learn German and let me tell you: Sehenswürdigkeiten for me is no better than достопримечательности for you :) I find the fact that I already know one complicated (as seen by foreigners) language in some way reassuring and I think you can reassure yourself the same way. Best of luck with your learning!

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    1. Thanks Ivan :) Yes, German is also very tricky to learn - and I feel that knowing what nominative, dative, accusative and genitive are certainly helps in tackling Russian. The verbs are starting to scare me now, I must admit ;-) Thanks for dropping by!

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