July 27, 2009 | Russian

Dr. Pimsleur Is Dead

I am sad to discover that Dr. Pimsleur is no longer with us.

Today I learned that Dr. Pimsleur is dead. And in fact has been dead for a long time. He died in 1976 of a heart attack while visiting France, when he was only 49.

I was very sad to learn that, because I respect and admire the love of language learning that inspired these exquisitely careful, highly effective products. I was hoping that after I got through several languages, he might allow me to interview him for an article.

One cool thing: his daughter Julia Pimsleur Levine has apparently carried on the family tradition and now runs Little Pim, which offers language-learning products for kids.

Returning to the subject of Russian: here is something that is freaking me out. In Russian, if a number ends in 1, the accompanying noun is singular. So, in Russian you would say essentially, “I live with 101 Dalmation.” If the number is 2, 3, or 4, or if the number ends in 2, 3, or 4, then the subsequent noun is genitive singular. If the number is 5 and up, or if the number ends in those numbers, then you go with the genitive plural form of the number. How very strange—I wonder why. And what a lot of work for us poor non-native language learners.

Another weird thing: even past tense verbs end in an “a” sound for a woman! Until now I’d never heard of past tense verbs that show gender.

I find myself cheating with the dictionary. Since it is hard for me to remember the alphabetical order of Russian letters, and since it is therefore time-consuming for me to find words in the Russian half of the dictionary, I often try to make an educated guess about what the English translation will be, and then I look them up backwards, in the English section instead. Even when I guess wrong, it’s still often a lot faster than figuring out where a given Russian word will be.

This evening I did a two-hour, six-mile VocabuLearn walk in Central Park. A challenge: when I am listening to VocabuLearn, I have to make sure I don’t get hit by a car while walking the four-tenths of a mile to and from the park. Something about this stuff turns me into a zombie where traffic is concerned. While trying to remember how to say “snow” in Russian, I will just walk right into the street and in front of a car. It doesn’t happen that way with music.

The Block I Lived On in 1990

I realized today that there is a little Russian at the beginning of one of the songs I have had for forever on my iPod Shuffle: Snap’s “The Power.” According to various Internet postings, which may or may not be accurate, the opening lyrics are: “Amerikanskaya firma Transceptor Technology pristupila k poizvodstvu komputerov ‘Personal’ni Sputnik.’” Supposedly that translates roughly as “The American firm Transceptor Technology has started production of ‘Personal Satellite’ computers.” I’m not yet up to judging the accuracy of that translation.

This is the song that was playing constantly in the sweltering heat of August 1990, when I moved from Los Angeles to New York City. In the years since, I’ve heard the song many times, and yet I never before noticed the beginning.

Comments (3)

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 5:36 pm EST

I never noticed the beginning of the Power had Russian!  The translation is correct, except it should company instead of firm.  Russians used the word firma, фирма, (which sounds like firm) the way company is used in English.  You will often hear native Russian speakers talk about their ‘firm’, no they are not lawyers, they are just talking about the company where they work.

Margo • Posted on Thu, March 31, 2011 - 10:12 am EST

The use of “a” and “i” to define gender is also used in the Polish language.  For example, the last name of my late grandmother is Lipska whereas my late grandfather’s last name is Lipski.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, March 31, 2011 - 1:08 pm EST

Interesting, Margo! Thank you. Polish is next…so I have been forewarned. :)

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