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last posted Feb. 20, 2018, 1:22 p.m.
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Just in case my schedule wasn't too full, I've been back to learning Russian for the past month or so.

Last time I was hoping to manage to arrange regular study sessions with my partner, who speaks Russian as a native language, but this proved to be a little hard, as it required quite a lot of coordination, and sometimes you're just not in mood to spend your little time together going through grammar...

So this time I've gone back to my self-study tools. I have a decent book, although I'm not using it in a very strict pace so far and I am using the amazing flashcard tool Anki.

Anki gives you the impression that it was designed by programmers, and that's probably true. However it is very powerful, you can customise your cards and study sessions to a great extend - once you find which way/study method works for you it removes a lot of boilerplate work from your study sessions.

I've been using flashcards that translate back to my native language, Greek, as I find that in many cases (particularly in more complex phrases with verb tenses and noun cases), it helps me understand the structure of the language better.

Finally, since my last attempt, Russian has been released to beta on Duolingo. Go try it!

До скорого!


Duolingo - Cyrillic

In the beginning, I was very frustrated with Russian in Duolingo. It looked like they were teaching everything using latin characters! Remembering this hybrid spelling of things was pretty hard, and frankly felt like I was missing out on learning to really read and write.

For some reason though, in the mobile app, everything appeared in cyrillic - wat?

Then I noticed the switch at the far corner of the container

Hmmm... click.



I have memorised a few hundreds of words and know some basic verbs and grammar, but I still can't really speak any Russian :(

So I discovered, a site where you can find teachers for online lessons (through Skype or Google Hangouts) and a community of people from around the globe. You don't have to hire a teacher, actually you can just find someone who speaks the language you are trying to learn and in return speak your own native language with people who are trying to learn it in an "exchange" model.

Sounds like a great concept! I'm not very confident with even very basic Russian conversations, so I decided to do some speaking lessons first, before I go into such an arrangement.

There is a torrent of people teaching the "primary" languages on the site, and I must have spent about 2 hours of looking through profiles before I could find a handful that I was happy with and that had convenient schedules. Time difference is important - some people live in China, some in Kazakstan, some in the Caribbean...


I arranged an introductory 30min session with 3 different tutors for just around £10 (or 100 ITC in the site's credit system) which sounds like a good price. Let's see how this works out :)


I need a new brain

So after the 3 introductory lessons, studying some more and doing some programming too, my brain was officially completely toasted for the day.

All 3 teachers were interesting and friendly. I couldn't decide between the 2 of them, so I decided to not choose and just do lessons with both.

One of them had a very "expressive" approach, using a lot of hand gestures, clear repetitive speaking, and we went straight into picture games and other activities.

The other mostly presented me with the methods we'll be using, which was also very interesting and warned me that we will only speak in Russian from now on :)

Generally I think speaking only in Russian is great, and it might eventually force me to start thinking in the new ways required instead of "word-to-word" translations.

I'm now scheduling more classes and looking at some of the tools I was presented:


дитя vs ребёнок

I opened a discussion in duolingo about usage of these words - they both mean "child" but they don't seem to be used in equal ways.

According to Alex, дитя is probably used mostly for a young child, while ребёнок is used for older children.

Generally people appear to be using ребёнок in singular form, as in 1 child, and дети in plural form (the stem changes a bit), as in many children.

According to user vadimfowler:

There is a number of expressions where "дитя" is used in singular: "моё дитя" is an ironic way to refer to a child, since it is a neuter gender used for a human; "чем бы дитя не тешилось..." - a common reproach to a person passionately doing something useless.

Some pretty useful real-life usage there ;)


Привет! I've come to russian in a roundabout way ... while looking for yiddish songs, I discovered that Youtube gives very different results depending upon search character set.


To make a long story short, I've been listening to a fair amount of russian music recently. As background for coding, it's nearly perfect, because I understand very little. When I have more inclination, videos usually show cultural details worth investigation. And finally, when I'm in a historical mood, there's a fair amount up from the 60's-70's-80's giving an idea of what life was like on the other side of the "iron curtain".


Because understanding too much would ruin my main use —as background music— I've been taking the opposite approach from Geekfish to learning the language. Instead of explicitly learning it (as I have my other languages), I've been seeing how much I pick up by osmosis from song lyrics, image macros, and the occasional social network comment. This approach may not help my language skills much, but it does give me much more sympathy for those who have picked up their english in a similar manner.


ну, поехали...


Re: дитя vs ребёнок ... my limited experience matches the Duolingo thread, in that ребята has the informal usage of "mates", « les gars » or "ragazzi". It then makes sense that дитя would be the plural to use when one wants to indicate actual chronological children, and not just adults who have grown old without growing up.


There is now a joint Russian stream?! Amazing, I really like this about thoughtstreams.


I like Dave's approach on learning and I feel I could probably do this with a language closer to the ones I know (latin/germanic based...) but it seems significantly harder with Russian.

But the method is still very valid. I think my English level basically went from basic to pretty much fluent within a single summer of playing LucasArts games and similar adventure games.

It might be a good idea to look for something similar in Russian. Games can be a very immersive medium, your brain tends to work using the context of the game world and digesting the language seems like one more component of that world.


Geekfish's idea about learning through games is an interesting approach.

I've been leafing through the мир и человек soviet-era atlas every now and then, as the labels are about my reading level, while the body text is a big stretch.

But there's a russian version of TADS and a форум об interactive fiction so someone taking a more active approach might find some games over there. (and come to think of it, the usual complaint about IF —that playing "guess-the-verb" is no fun— may be a feature when it comes to language acquisition)

(One of these days I'll have the reading speed to follow the IM "convo" in Суходрочка, but for now I would bet it is almost completely in a register unlikely to be useful)


The following set of videos makes a nice series; they share a topic, but one can trace the development of the metaphor backwards through time, from digital meshes to analog plastics to wood and string. (one is unfortunately french, not russian, but there are many french loan words [eg, мираж] in the current russian vocabulary — and Медведица from Маша и Медведь sometimes also displays francophile tendencies)

Наталия Гулькина&Маргарита Суханкина Просто мираж France Gall - Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son (1965) Ленинград — Молитвенная

(I don't know how close the russian version of the story in the last is to the italian original; in at least this particular plot point it is much closer than the Disney anglophone version)


Операция "Ы"

This 3 part movie is one of the most classic comedies of the soviet era.

It was really nice for a beginner like me, as it has very little and simple dialog and very simple story.

Even though it's pretty light in terms of meanings and is primarily slapstick-humour based, it still introduced me to a few new cultural things. Many lines from the movie have turned into long-used expressions, still alive in modern Russian culture (ex Ну, граждане алкоголики, хулиганы, тунеядцы… Кто хочет сегодня поработать?).

Overall a very entertaining film, with small bits of un-PC gags that were still pretty common in the 60s (championed by a blackface "wild indigenous african" chase scene in part 1). More offensive things I learned: the кукиш gesture, which is apparently used in some parts of Greece too (though I never really encountered it!).

There are now at least 4 monuments of Шурик и Лида as a tribute to the second part of the movie,Наваждение, the latest one only just unveiled in 2015.

image source


Супер ; I'll have to check out Geekfish's recommendation of « Операция "Ы" » sometime (if only to find out: why Ы?) Гайдай appears to have had a formidable influence on contemporary russian culture: I recognized Никулин in that poster from his role in « Бриллиантовая рука », another Гайдай film which I'd only tracked down after seeing no less than three different recent homages to a particular scene.

As for Шурик и Лида, they also have memorials in the 7th art as well as in sculpture; it didn't take much effort to find a recent remix:

Свадьба в стиле "Приключения Шурика"

cf a portion of the 1965 scene (старый Шурик ?) :

(might the replacement of the боксёр by a гопник be a tip of the hat to « Собачье сердце »?)


On a more physical level, Superdisktoteka 90-x had a short photo essay on playground games in the 90's. I found it interesting that dodgeball, Вышибалы, and four-square, Квадрат, were some of the top choices in their survey.

Neither seem particularly useful for language acquisition on their own, but I must admit the sort of french I've learned over baby-foot games has been in a register I'd be unlikely to encounter in more pedagogically oriented contexts.

Maybe we can talk someone into setting up an international 4-square veterans' league?


As anglophone kids, we used to scrawl "WASH ME" on dirty car windows. It would appear that at least one russophone believes a dirty rear window may also be used to express high culture:


another cultural note: as mentioned in the music/movies stream, while Дискотека Авария's Новогодняя may be contrasted with as well as compared to western european traditions for Carnaval, Christmas, and New Year's; the choice of woodland creatures exactly maps to the population starring in Маша и Медведь ... which would imply that the odd creature in the former must be a hedgehog?


Голубой вагон

Recently I've been spending the time before bed watching old Russian animations.

I'm not quite sure what sort of creature Чебурашка is yet, but this song from Крокодил Гена is now stuck in my head :)


It's not gods who make pots

A Russian proverb I read on a programming blog:

"Не боги горшки обжигают"

As explained in Wikipedia:

All artificial objects in the world, no matter how minute or astonishing, were made by people, so do not get overexcited.


The 80's cartoon "Mother for a little mammoth" (~8 min) is deeper than it first appears: not only were the ancestors of Mammuthus primigenius to be found in eastern Africa (Mammuthus subplanifrons), but there's a very similar relation (both geographic and familial) between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo sapiens.

... also, despite being equally unsure of what Cheburashka may be, I'd still offer a paw were we to cross in the street!