8 Weeks to Learn Russian: Send Me Your Tips

In eight weeks I’ll be in Kiev, the Ukraine, for a full week. My mission: to teach a course in philosophy for five straight days. I’ll have an interpreter. So I don’t have to know a single word of Russian to get by. But I don’t want to get by. I want to have as much useful Russian under my belt by the time I get there.

I’ve found that a trip to a new destination, where they speak an unfamiliar language, provides me with the greatest initial inspiration to learn that language. I want to exploit that initial burst of energy and learn as much as I can. I won’t be fluent when I reach my destination, but people will know that I’ve made the effort and will realize that I want to learn their language. So I’ll get more help when I’m there, and I’ll have something to build on. My question for you: What’s the best way to build that foundation when I have eight weeks to go?

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

7 Responses to 8 Weeks to Learn Russian: Send Me Your Tips

  1. Aristocles says:

    Perhaps there is a website that you can find that teaches singing in English in less than an hour.

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  2. The Elephant and Cross says:

    Perhaps you’ve already spoken to him but I’m sure Mark Saucy could provide you with a list of relevant philosophical and theological terms or give you a crash course. He used to teach at a seminary in Kiev.

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  3. douggeivett says:

    Alex, you know me better than that. I couldn’t sing it (or much of anything else) in English.

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  4. Alex says:

    Sounds like you are well on your way to being able to sing Rachmaninov’s Vespers!

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  5. douggeivett says:

    The written sources I’ve been consulting are:

    1. The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners, by Nicholas J. Brown (Penguin, 1996; 507 pages, pbk). Reviewers rate this highly as a tool for self-teaching, and it does insist on learning the Cyrillic alphabet (as it should). The real world examples are set in Russia, rather than the larger Russian-speaking world, and some are probably a bit dated.

    2. Russian for Dummies, by A. Kaufman and S. Gettys (Wiley, 2006; 363 pages, pbk). This would be a first-rate guide if it also used the Cyrillic alphabet. Apparently, the publishers changed all the Cyrillic to English transliterations, against the wishes of the authors. That makes it a pain to use. But in conjunction with N. J. Brown, it could be especially helpful to those planning a relatively short visit and with little time to prepare. It comes with a CD.

    3. Oxford Beginner’s Russian Dictionary, edited by Della Thompson (Oxford, 2006; 332 pages, pbk). This is a great tool that will go with me to Ukraine. It’s too bad its equivalent isn’t yet available in all of the major languages. Its very selective about the entries, and judicious choices are made with the beginner in mind. For added value, it includes many useful phrases and sentences that are linked to key words arranged alphabetically.

    4. The Oxford New Russian Dictionary (Berkley Books, 2007; 629 pages, pbk). This looked like the best quick reference dictionary. It’s about all the beginner really needs, with 100,000 entries. You’ve got to be able to handle the Cyrillic. But that’s no big deal, especially with the help of N. J. Brown.

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  6. douggeivett says:

    Hi Alex,

    You’re right. Rick Steves does brilliant work for travelers, especially to Europe. We consulted his outfit in preparation for our 2006 trip to France, Italy, and Austria. I hadn’t thought of him as a source for language ideas. I’ll look into that. His website is excellent: http://www.ricksteves.com.

    I hadn’t thought about the muscle control aspect of learning the language, especially at this early stage. I have a CD for Russian language learning. Pretty dull stuff, though. I’ve tuned to an online radio station and listened there. That’s been helpful and enjoyable. It’s at http://www.russianinternet.com. I like it because you can hear music as well as talk radio.

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  7. Alex says:

    Get a travel guide book. For example, Rick Steves has a whole series. If not him, I’m sure there are others. No matter what, get audio of Russian speakers and just copy the sounds. You need the sounds no matter what. Copying the sounds builds a set of “Russian” morphemes, and gets you the physical muscle control in your voice-producing muscles.

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