On Friday my brain was so fried I couldn’t think. Just an empty space between my ears void of any comprehension of Russian. I’m beginning to think that I’m getting too old for language immersion. It’s not easy. Hours of Russian grammar and unpronounceable words, the stress invariably on the syllable you would least expect, only to find the Russian spoken on the street just as incomprehensible – as if I didn’t speak any Russian at all. It’s long hard struggle.
My quest over the last 15 years has been too find a way to lessen the burden. To find a way to learn survival skills without getting pulled into endless grammar and vocabulary lessons that have little benefit in daily life. Sure, if you plan on spending years learning Russian many of the structures they teach in class are useful in the long run, but for my short 4 weeks in St Petersburg it’s too much of the wrong information.
Maybe younger minds can absorb 50 – 100 vocabulary words a day but I can’t take in much more than 10. They try to make it easier by giving us lots of cognates, words that sound similar in two or more languages, i.e., экономический – economic, политический – political, уникальный – unique, and while it may be helpful to know these words exist, it really doesn’t help me understand the attendant on the bus when she explains that I’m on the wrong bus and need to take the one from the opposite side of the street.
As you may have guessed from the vocabulary words, this week was about adjectives. In Russian the endings of adjectives change according the gender, number and case. Activities included describing people, possessions, and cities and asking each other what our favorite movie, color, number, geometric shape, etc. were. All abstract concepts that were rarely connected to an actual conversation you might have with a Russian. I suppose I could now poll Russians on the bus about their favorite color, number and shape.
On the plus side we get more speaking practice than at some other language school. The instructor easily lets the conversation get off track to talk about whatever interests us or what we can say in Russian. This may be good or bad depending on your perspective. Often these tangential conversations don’t add much to your learning of Russian other than you are practicing the language. Worse, students frustrated with their lack of Russian switch to English to make their point. Even the instructor switches to English.
With only two weeks to go it’s triage time. My goal for next week is to sift through the mountain of paper and marginally useful vocabulary and grammar structures and try learn enough Russian to improve our travels in country.
For links to all the posts in this series see the St Petersburg page.
For more posts on travel in Russia see the Russia page.