August 4, 2009 | Russian

Russian Grammar and Spelling Challenges

Russian grammar requires some deep thinking.

In a language with many cases, such as Russian, grammar knowledge helps so much! In my current Russian grammar, which is organized (bizarrely) by part of speech, you wouldn’t even be able to find information in the book without knowing the difference between an adverb and an adjective.

Today—finally!—I got to the verbs section of my grammar book. I’m so much happier now. I love verbs! And conjugations! Also, a great thing about Russian is that there is only one present tense form for “I work,” “I do work,” “I am working.” I’m catching a break on that.

Here’s an example of how challenging Russian grammar can be, though: with kotorim, which means “which,” I noticed that to find the right form of it for a particular sentence I translated today, I had to remember that the word was:

  1. an adjective
  2. masculine
  3. singular
  4. unstressed
  5. instrumental case

Mess up on any one of those, and I would have been led grammatically astray. Without knowing grammar, you would be doomed with Russian, I think. Unless you have a savant’s ear.

Speaking of which: I think Pimsleur could be quite hard for people who have a poor ear for language. In the lessons, you get prompted with a question, then you are given time to cough up the answer, then you are given the correct answer and given time to repeat it. If you can’t perceive the difference between what you said and what the recording says, you are out of luck. Especially when the sentences get long, it’s hard to keep track of everything.

One thing I do not like about Pimsleur is that I am a very visual learner. After hearing certain words a million times on Pimsleur, and then learning weeks later through another vehicle how to spell them, I have a hard time fixing that information in my brain. Because if I don’t know the real spelling, my brain creates a temporary holding-pattern spelling. And those temporary spellings often look completely unlike the real words.

When I do have trouble learning/remembering the correct spelling of a word, I write it over and over again on a piece of paper to reinforce it. And all this copying over of words has been reminding me of the scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall’s character goes over to her husband’s typewriter and discovers that he (played by Jack Nicholson) has been typing the same sentence, over, and over, and over: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

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