For our family Christmas passing party this year, I asked for The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners. Seeing as I knew what I was getting (and the person I’m purchasing for also knew what he was getting*), we agreed to swap presents early. So, I was able to get my gift a couple of days ago and start working with it some.
I’ve not really gotten into any grammar, or even real Russian texts as of yet: I’ve been learning the Cyrillic alphabet, along with the pronunciation. As of yesterday, I’ve covered all 33 letters, which were broken down into 4 groups. With a little reviewing of the last group, which consists of letters totally unknown in English (coupled with quite a few sounds that are generally not used in English), I’ll be able to move on to lesson 2. When I first started working on the Cyrillic alphabet, I thought the biggest hurdle would be remembering all of these oddly formed letters. Now that I’m mostly through with the first lesson, I know otherwise. It’s not overly difficult at all to remember the letters; it is, however, difficult for my American tongue to produce some of the sounds that are called for. For example, in Russian, there is a letter that is called a soft sign. What it does is combines with the previous consonant, and blends a y sound into it. Now think about trying to say a rolled r at the end of the word, with y blended into it. The author stresses that you should try to not separate the sounds. They should be together. It’s doable – I’ve achieved it a few times – but it’s not easy. Luckily I don’t feel too bad about it, because in the book, the author notes that the r sound with y blended into it is one of the most difficult Russian sounds to make. I can see how he could come to that conclusion!
Having never studied Russian before, having only heard bits and pieces of it occasionally, and having always looked at the Cyrillic writing in awe (and with more than a bit of trepidation), I was surprised to find that there are some words that are cognates in English. At this point I have no idea how to produce Cyrillic on my computer, so here are some of the pronciations provided by the book:
- mye-tró – metro, underground
- tra-llyéy-boos – trolleybus
- kó-fye – coffee
- rye-sta-rá-ni – restaurant
While not specifically about the Russian language, I think it’s fitting to mention this here. I’ve always had trouble gauging my progress in German, particularly once I got past the beginning stages. Sometimes I’d think, all of this work and so little to show for it! I often felt like I was making no progress at all. After dipping into Russian I feel completely different. Starting a new foreign language has brought to my attention just how much German I do know. In my Russian book, I’m seeing basic words that I have no idea how to say – words which I’ve known how to say in German for a long time. It’s serving as an excellent reminder that, yes, at one point, I knew absolutely no German, so I should be happy with my progress.
* The person I was buying for was my older nephew. I had no idea what he’d want and he had no idea what I’d want, so we agreed to just tell each other what we’d like. Hence, there wasn’t much point in waiting a couple more weeks to swap gifts, because the mystery aspect was gone. If you’re curious, he wanted the Dungeon Guide to World of Warcraft.