This fourth and last week was the best one and not because I cut it short, ending on Thursday instead of Friday. With just 4 students in the class, one Italian, one German, one Swiss and me, all at about the same level and who took about the same amount of speaking time, the class was well balanced.
I have noticed progress in both myself and my fellow students. Four weeks ago we could barely string together words to form a sentence, every conjugation and adjective ending painful with that endless search for the right word in the right form. The words still come frustratingly slowly but a little more quickly and with frequent learned language chunks strung together, especially when discussing familiar topics. By now we can fairly easily recite what we did the day before, our plans for the next day, talk about our likes and dislikes and so forth.
You certainly are not going to learn Russian in a month and I have a long way to go to obtain a functional level of fluency. The impossible case endings are only just now starting to solidify in my head and I haven’t even begun to sort out the perfect versus imperfect forms of the verbs, instead using the verbs I know for the situation I know how to use them in.
I still struggle with the basics of verbs of motion, another complicated grammar topic. In how many languages do instructors avoid teaching beginners “to go” because it’s too difficult? For the first 2 weeks we were only taught how to say we “were somewhere” or “will be somewhere” not “went” to or “will go”. With a little pressure the teacher acquiesced and we entered the maze of verbs of motion.
For a simplistic explanation, aside from the usual tense structures, verbs of motion are divided by type of transport – walking versus machine (car, metro, train, etc.), one direction or a return trip and the usual perfect versus imperfect. After a lot of mental gymnastics and practice we can now say in limited situations where we went and where we plan to go.
With the language coming a bit easier I also noticed that the extreme fatigue and mental exhaustion I was experiencing the week before has subsided. I still search for words more when I’m tired but don’t have that brain dead feeling as often.
In my afternoon class we’ve continued with a combination of grammar drills and conversation focused on topics I’m interested on perfecting, such has discussing travel plans. We even tried a role play situation where we were two passengers on a plane from St Petersburg to Geneva, but her made up story was above my competency. I had to ask many questions to figure out who she was talking about and what they did when. Not a bad practice situation, but certainly not the kind of conversation that inspires confidence in your abilities.
As for drills, we spend about 10 minutes drilling numbers. The instructor says a number between 1 and 2000 and I write it down. In the beginning I had a terrible time keeping, twelve, nineteen and twenty straight as well as 1000 and 300. Seems silly but they sound similar in Russian. I make fewer mistakes now.
I also spent time on the pronunciation of unstressed adjective endings. I find hearing the difference between the endings in unstressed syllables sometimes impossible and when you ask for clarification the teacher often stresses the ending which changes the pronunciation. I believe hearing and producing the ending differences is something that comes with much more exposure to the language and you shouldn’t “stress” about it too much at this level.
To practice verbs of motion I created a sort of game with categories of cards to build sentences. Cards were divided in piles by who, to where and when. The student, me, using one card from each pile then asks and answers questions. Such as “yesterday, Anna, ballet” becomes “Yesterday Anna went to the ballet.” (вчера анна ходила на балет) I found this a helpful step to being able to discuss my travel plans in the past and future.
It’s still another 5 weeks before I return to Russia with Don. The trick will be to try to maintain a level of competency while we travel in Europe. My plan is to review using Anki and Pimsleur but not stress about it too much, after all this is for FUN!!!
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.