July 15, 2009 | Russian

Pimsleur in My Craw

Repeating phrases over and over (and over) cannot be good for one's mental health.

As I have observed previously, this project allows me to watch bad TV as an educational tool. With a higher purpose to my bad-TV watching these days, I have now—in Russian and therefore totally guilt-free—watched dating games, court television, low-quality dramas, and a variety of useless talk shows. I understand very little, but I can pick out individual words now, more each day.

Russian Pimsleur, Courtesy of the Library

Pimsleur phrases are sticking in my craw. (I wrote that sentence, then had to go look up what a craw is; it is a bird’s throat.) Here’s the thing: Pimsleur consists of a series of oral lessons in which you are prompted to say various things in Russian, sometimes randomly, sometimes as part of a dialogue, sometimes translating from English, sometimes just answering questions posed to you in Russian. For the most part, it’s varied and interesting, but there is also a lot of repetition. There has to be, or you won’t learn the stuff.

Anyway, I am currently finding that there is a lot of craw-sticking, through no fault of Pimsleur’s, and it is getting annoying. I end up with these phrases and sentences from my Pimsleur lessons playing over and over in my head when I go running, to the point that I feel almost nauseated. Particularly, this week, this one: “Shto be ve hatili payabilit?” (That’s my own makeshift transliteration, so any deficiencies are my own.) It means, “What would you like to have for lunch?” Having that question play over and over in my head—shto be ve hatili payabilit shto be ve hatili payabilit shto be ve hatili payabilit—is really irksome when I am trying to relax and enjoy a jog in Central Park.

The torturous repetition made me think of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a book I absolutely loved as a child. In it, a giant brain called “It” controls a town. Everyone acts the same, moves the same, does the same thing at the same time, all in accordance with the direction of this huge, pulsating brain. There is no chaos—only order. In one terrifying scene, all the little boys up and down the street come out of their houses at the exact same time, bouncing their balls in the exact same rhythm. It was super creepy, and today the rhythmic repetition of Pimsleur sentences is making me think of that. My feet are not free; they are prisoners of the rhythm of a Pimsleur lesson.

I know that sounds as though I am not having fun. I really am, though. Sometimes it’s also fun to complain a little.

Comments (4)

kristina • Posted on Mon, March 29, 2010 - 3:49 pm EST

What you want to watch on TV are children’s programs. Smaller vocabulary and simpler sentences to follow.

Daniel • Posted on Thu, November 28, 2013 - 8:38 am EST

I don’t know how I only discovered your existence today, when I have been a language lover for a few years now, but your blogs crack me up! You are hilarious, witty, and pretty awesome!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, November 28, 2013 - 12:53 pm EST

Daniel, gosh, thank you! It makes me happy to know that people are still reading blog posts from 2009. The early days of this project remain very much in my mind, craw-sticking and all.

bruce • Posted on Sat, November 21, 2015 - 8:05 pm EST

Ellen, I just discovered your blog today (I live a somewhat sheltered life).  I finished and am repeating Pimsleur Spanish 5 and I’d like to branch out and try my hand at another language.  Some folks say that you get more “bang for your buck” when the next foreign language is another language from the same family (in this case Romance language), but I’ve also read one should study a language unrelated to the first, so as not to confuse the two.  From your list of studied languages, you appear to follow no particular pattern, but “bounce around.”  Your thoughts would be appreciated!

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