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.
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.
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.