July 25, 2009 | Russian

On Faith, Dr. Pimsleur, and the Joys of Multitasking

To learn a language on your own, you have to be able to talk yourself down from those high places.

Studying languages, particularly on one’s own, requires faith. I have never been good at the faith thing.

Church in Washington Heights, Manhattan

Korean Church, Flushing, Queens

As an example: last night when I did Pimsleur lesson 24, I felt it was impossible, that there was no way I would ever grasp its contents even if I redid it repeatedly. I thought that there was too much in there without grammatical explanation. I wouldn’t mind a tiny bit of grammar to help me understand better some of the syllable combinations I am repeating without comprehension, not just here, but in other Pimsleur lessons as well. Though you can’t have everything at once, can you?

Anyway, this morning, when I redid this same lesson, I got most of it just fine, even sentences that seemed unbearably complicated or, because there were too many words I didn’t know, impossible to understand last night. For example, one that gave me a lot of trouble sounded like this: “Kak lucha priehit v moskvo?” I don’t understand what’s happening in there. Is “priehit” a verb or a noun? I think it must be a noun, but if Dr. Pimsleur had only told me, life would have been easier.

Who is this Dr. Pimsleur anyway? I am entrusting a great deal to him. Every day I obediently sit down and go through the lesson in just the way he wants me to. I can see some of the tricks he uses to help me memorize things. Repetition of syllables, then words, then phrases, for example. Also, asking me to repeat a Russian word or phrase several times, then switching to English and asking me to translate into Russian the very same concept. He keeps me on my toes. Alternatively, he leaves a phrase for a minute and then comes back to it. Often, if it’s new, I’ve forgotten it already. But maybe the third or fourth time around I remember it. It’s amazing how easily you can slide into repeating without comprehension.

Pimsleur lesson 25 was such a relief. Recent lessons have dealt heavily with topics irrelevant to my life—for example, kids (I have none), ordering alcoholic beverages (I don’t drink), and driving directions (I have no car). I can probably now say how many children I conceived while driving with an open container of vodka in my low-on-gas car.

This afternoon I went for a seven-mile run in Central Park, during which I worked on Russian adjectives and verbs with VocabuLearn.

Turtle Pond: Turtles Live Here

Then, tonight, Brandt and I went for a walk, also in the park. At Turtle Pond was a Russian guy with a girlfriend or date. She used a word he didn’t understand (in English), and he spent most of the time we were there looking it up on his phone. I thought of offering to help, but was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to.

As it turned out, the word was “pretend,” which I definitely don’t know in Russian. I wanted to try to talk to him in Russian, but I am still missing some really key conversation words, so each of the several sentences I tried to think of in advance of attempting anything was missing some critical word. I never said anything. But it was cool to think in another week I might be able to carry on a bit of conversation.

Comments (2)

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 5:26 pm EST

Priyehat (приехать)  is actually the verb!  in this case it is used as ‘to get to’.  It is also used as ‘to arrive’.

Jenoye Stewart • Posted on Sun, April 27, 2014 - 4:10 pm EST

Actually speaking actually does come by waiting it comes by trying to say something even with the little you know and then you fill in the blanks which by that time you would have learned a word, albeit in context.

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