August 10, 2009 | Russian

On the Eve of Pimsleur III, Russian

I will soon be graduating from Pimsleur Level II.

This morning I went through Pimsleur lesson 28 (Level II) for a third time. I absolutely could not understand the opening dialogue (these lessons always begin with dialogues), despite listening to it about 10 times. It is something about a man trying to invite his female colleague—or perhaps his female colleague and her husband?—over to his place. The discussion goes into great detail about what they like to drink, but the general purpose of the discussion, beyond alcohol consumption, continues to elude me. I am very grumpy about it and feel that this lesson (1) is too fast, (2) makes no sense, and (3) because I personally can’t understand it, is ridiculous.

The grammar book is going much better, however. I love learning new cases. Russian has a case called “instrumental,” which I think is a cool name for a case. It is used with concepts involving “by” or “with.”

Also, I get so happy when I learn useful and important words that I’ve been feeling the lack of. Today I learned the word for “everywhere”: везде, pronounced roughly [viez’-duh]. I plan to use it, well, everywhere.

Another word I like in Russian: “mushroom” is гриб, which is actually pronounced greeb. I just find the sound of it amusing.

So many words are cognates but look radically different in print. For example, “soup” is суп, which is pronounced soup but looks more like sin to me.

One word I find odd is the one for “friend,” друг, which looks as though it should be pronounced aper but is in fact pronounced droog. When I hear it, I picture a sinister, gray-faced, drug-pushing friend, lurking in a doorway, waiting to enable me.

Some bad news on the grammar front today: in Russian, verbs of motion have not one infinitive, not two infinitives, but rather, three infinitives! This explains some things that I have found thoroughly confusing. Every time I turned around, it seemed I was being given a new word for “to walk.” I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Back to Pimsleur: one thing I do love about it is that it teaches you how native speakers run words together when they speak. This phenomenon, where a final or initial sound in one word fuses with a sound in an adjacent word, is known as elision. For example, Americans tend to say “I dono” rather than “I don’t know.” Such things can’t be learned from a grammar book; you have to hear and practice them. And it’s much cooler to learn how to speak this way, as native speakers do, than to pronounce each syllable distinctly, i.e., dorkily.

Getting Level III of Russian Pimsleur through NetLibrary has involved a prolonged series of technological travails. I think about 30 percent of the trouble can be attributed to my own lameness, while another 70 percent is attributable to the backwardness of the various technologies involved. However, I was really determined to get that eAudiobook (that’s what it’s called), so the various crashings, rebootings, password refusals, and battery deaths could not deter me.

And therefore, I stand tonight on the threshold of Pimsleur Level III.

Comments (2)

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 6:09 pm EST

The third infinitive for verbs of motion are actually prefixes.  There are maybe 20 or less prefixes that are interchangeable.  They are also the same as many prepositions, so they are not too hard to memorize.  Once you memorize them, they are fun to use because they explain things that English doesn’t have a word for.  For example, adding a prefix to the verb ‘to walk’ can describe stopping into a store quickly and leaving after only a minute or two.  Fun stuff.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 7:47 pm EST

Thank you, Katherine! That last verb you described sounds useful - very relevant to my general shopping approach.

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