Monday, July 7, 2008

As if I Needed Another Project

But you know what? I really did.


Need a project.

I recently posted about needing a vacation and how I won't be able to take one in the foreseeable future.

Anyhow, for me the next best thing is a project.

I was thinking about my life and I realized that it's been years since I have learned anything really new.

All of the things I have learned have been variations on other skills I already had. For example, I have learned new dances and new recipes, but I already knew how to dance and how to cook.

I feel like I need to learn something and I have considered many different types of classes (i.e: pottery, knitting, glazing stained glass), but I really don't have the time to show up for anything on a consistent basis. Not now with my business in these fledgling stages.

So what then?

For years I have wanted to learn to speak Russian. I joked about it way back when I first talked about my blogger identity (and the twins - sergei and svetlana: click here to read the 'birth announcement'). And I have made random comments to Sunsail from time to time.

"But, BlackRussian," you say, "You have already learned two languages in your life time, isn't learning a third still a variation on a skill you already have?"

To which I must reply, "Pish-posh and don't pester me with petty things like irrefutable logic. I am trying to feel like I am breaking out to do something O-Riginal, O-Kay!!!"

So I'm going to try my hand at learning to speak Russian. I really want to. I think it would be the coolest!

Since my name is Natasha, I am frequently asked by Russians and Eastern Europeans if I know that it is a Russian name. I always say, "Da." And then I am asked, always in jest, if I know how to speak any more Russian, to which I must inevitably reply, "Nyet," as those two words and 'vodka' don't really count.

I would love love love to surprise each and every person who asks me that from now until the day I die with the ability to actually hold a conversation in Russian.

I love hearing my name on the lips of a Russian. Hearing it pronounced with the proper accent - mm...there's nothing like it.

Two things have always discouraged me: 1) I'm a visual learner. I love to read and write...and I was totally stumped by the Cyrillic alphabet. The thought of learning new words, new grammar, new syntax and a new alphabet??? Most daunting, indeed!

Those other extra characters that don't even look like the ones we use just really put me over the edge. It was enough of a challenge learning Spanish and we have so many cognates and words in common - it's pretty easy to figure things out even of you've never seen or heard them before.

Not so with Russian - at least not in it's written form. I knew I stood no chance of figuring out words intuitively and by sight.

So it remained one of those goals filed under 'cool things to do before I die', like learn to sky dive or fly a plane. Yeah, it would be pretty awesome to say that I could or that I had, but somehow not really worth the time and trouble it would take to apply myself to making it happen.

Obstacle number two was this: I knew from my attempts to learn Spanish that all the self-study and classroom instruction in the world is no good if you don't get to practice speaking a new language with natives. It just won't take hold.

Who speaks Russian in Greenville, SC? I only meet Russians when I travel.

Well...Monday I found out about the Atlanta Sisterlocks Meetup. I was visiting Naturally Sophia's Blog and that's how I found out about Meetup. She had the cute little badge on her site (and now I have one too!)

So once I figured it out (and got over myself, because I was like: another social networking site, really? Can any good come from this? I'm not against them in principle - there are just so many of them now, competing for your time and attention, it's like: who can keep up?!) and got the hang of creating profiles and navigating the site, I looked up Meetups in Greenville, SC - and lo and behold, there is a group that meets regularly to speak Russian!

Supposedly it is a mix of native speakers and students. So today I trotted myself down to the Barnes and Noble and bought me a book that teaches words and phrases phonetically. (I opened it up to a page that completely took the mystery out of the Cyrillic alphabet and I was hooked!) I also purchased a set of Pimsleur CDs.

I swear by the Pimsleur Method. It was essential in my Spanish studies. I don't really know how it compares to Rosetta Stone.

Pimsleur teaches you a new language in the same way that you learned your own native tongue. You listen to and overhear conversations spoken by native speakers. You learn new words through repetition, association and context.

You are also asked questions at regular intervals. They require you to think of the answer and figure out what words to use for a proper response, just like real conversation. It is much more engaging than other tapes that have you recite phrases because you have to reply like you would in conversation.

It is a very natural process. There are no books or written materials - you simply listen and recite - with emphasis on authentic pronunciation.

The theory is that introducing written materials hinders your ability to learn authentic pronunciation because you still see written words and associate them with English and your brain wants to pronounce them the familiar English way and you spend weeks and months trying to overcome that and form new associations, but if you learn a language first by listening - like children do - and introduce the written word later then that doesn't happen.

It kind of makes sense to me. Also seems like it would help to circumvent my hang-ups about the alphabet.

I know you must be wondering this: If I am such a believer in learning the language without the written word, then why did I buy a book and get excited about it?

Because I know myself, and I know there will be times when I will want a quick reference for a certain word or phrase and I will not be able to recall it from the CDs. In books like this, words are grouped by type and function, as opposed to alphabetically like dictionaries, which would be of no use to me with my current lack of skills.

From what I understand, Rosetta Stone operates on a similar principle of repetition and association, but they do introduce written words simultaneously with pronunciations and I think they pair them with pictures. I'm sure that works, but it seems like more than I need right now.

That might be helpful once I've learned to speak in conversation and decide to get around to trying to learn to read and write it. I might invest in the program if I decide to take my studies to the next level, but right now I want to become fluent in conversation. I want to get my feet wet and go to one of the local events.

I'll be sure to keep you posted on my progress.

Ladies, I gotta say you all are really good about not calling me out on the things I start and don't finish....So...yeah...we'll see where this one goes.


Amina said...


Russian, hunh? I used to want to learn Portugese, Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese.

Arabic I used to speak as a child and have forgotten most of. My father is fluent and from time to time leaves me messages completely in Arabic, to which I reply completely in French. He doesn't speak French. I don't speak Arabic.

I can relate about the different alphabet. To make matters worse, classical (written) Arabic is NOT spoken, and when not in school, people don't use the vowels when writing. Completely undecipherable if not a native.

I picked up a lot of Spanish from the lady that worked in the spa where I used to work. Enough to where I can speak functionally, and know when someone is insulting me.

Let's see...Portugese, I went to the library to commence my personally developed learning system of fundamentals. Never continued on that...

And, Japanese I never even looked into.

Anyways, I think learning languages is is hot to death! Do it Mama!

sunsail said...

ROTFLMAO!!! Well, honey, join the club. I, too am learning Russian--for obvious reasons. Gotta know when the inlaws are talking about you!

I am doing both Rosetta AND Pimsleur. I do rosetta to build up my vocab, and pimsleur for grammar.

Before you buy anything else, check into your local library system. I was able to get both Rosetta and Pimsleur for FREE, streamed to my house in my comfy chair in my comfy room.

BTW, what is the name of the book you bought? I haven't even started in on the alphabet yet; in cyrilic, what looks like an H is pronounced like and N (i think) and i cannot wrap my hear around that goofiness yet.

I'm with Amina...i'm thinking Japanese after Russian... or maybe Latin. Dunno.

Anonymous said...

I took French & Spanish in high school and Italian in college and can't communicate at all with any of them. I would really love to learn Creole though but I'm having a hard time finding books and CD's..My best bet may be French..

Good luck with your learning and keep us posted on your progress!

Naturally Sophia said...

Hey! I am happy you are officially back. Good luck on the language thing. Are you coming to Atlanta for any of the meet-ups soon? And are you coming to Philly in October?

Goodnapps said...

Hope all is well. I start and stop a lot of project too so I know what you mean.

Dominica said...

If you want to learn something new or just more about Russians, try visiting a Russian Orthodox church. They are Christian, but it is based on ancient Christianity.