Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easy Russian for English Speakers

Both in teaching and in learning languages I have often used the 'Survival Kit' method. Start with what is absolutely essential to get by and then build on. Easy Russian for English Speakers (English and Russian Edition) is constructed in the same fashion.

It is on an ipod-ready CD, a course with 17 tracks/lessons. I could put ticks practically in all the boxes on my check-list: asking people if they speak your language, asking for help, asking to slow down, saying hello and goodbye, please and thank you etc. There is very little commentary and hardly any grammar.

There is not enough emphasis on one-word phrases which give the beginner an extremely long mileage. Ellochka the Man-Eater, a character from the popular Russian novel The Twelve Chairs famously fulfilled all her communication needs with just 30 words and phrases. Humorous as it is, the idea is perfectly practical. Take, for example 'Mozhno' (May I). It means all of the following: 'You can', 'You may', 'Can I?' 'May I' 'Can I have it?/Yes, you can' (both can be expressed with this one word), 'Can I have a look?/Yes, you can' 'Can I take this seat?' 'Can I take it?' 'May I come in?' - all this - and much more, can be covered by just one word.

Likewise, 'pozhalusta' is 'please', 'you are welcome' (in reply to a 'thank you'), 'yes, thank you' (in reply to an offer of a drink or something to eat), 'please go first', 'please, come in', 'here you are' (when showing something or handing something to someone) and so on.

Russian phrases on the disc could have been shorter to make for easier memorizing. Sometimes I felt as though they were clips  from a larger, more comprehensive Russian course. For example, 'Where do I sign?' is represented as 'Gde mne podpisat?' while it could be just 'Gde podpisat?'

There is a serious mistake in the chapter on Business Meetings (track 14). The word 'meeting' is given as 'sobraniye'. 'Meeting' in the business sense is "встреча" (vstrecha) and 'sobraniye' is a gathering or an assembly. 'Sobraniye' could be  'meeting' in the 'members of a group' sense, i.e. a political party meeting or a stockholders' meeting, but not as in 'a business meeting'. And of course there is a long-established English borrowing 'митинг' which used to mean 'rally', 'manifestation', but these days is often used instead of or on a par with 'vstrecha'.  This should be corrected.

There is a bonus track attempting to describe 'the Russian soul' and how the word (душа - doushah) is used. It's a nice idea and would provide a beginner - or anyone - with a good talking point. It's a shame though that whoever put the CD together muddled the CD tracks (or Contents on the printed jacket) - you click on the Russian Soul (17) and get Saying Goodbye (16).  Well, as the great  Russian poet Pushkin (a poem by him is on the disc), you can't speak a language without making mistakes. And a book is not a book without a mipsrint.

 I'd give this one three out of five.

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