August 8, 2009 | Russian

Status Report

My vision is ruined by the Russian alphabet.

I’m exhausted. I hardly ever sleep enough these days. I am too riled up by this language project. Since July 1, I have done 69 units in my Russian grammar book, plus 55 Pimsleur lessons.

To help me go to sleep, I have been reading a really boring book about language history. At least I thought it was boring initially, but it has grown on me and is now conspiring to keep me awake as well.

Two nights ago when I was reading it in bed, with Brandt asleep beside me, a tiny brown fly kept landing on the page, in the spotlight of my industrial strength flashlight. I use a flashlight because those booklights, itty-bitty and otherwise, are too dainty for me, and they break quickly under the strain of use. Whenever I turned the page, my little fly friend refused to move, so to avoid crushing him, I had to keep the page ajar as I read (“ajar” isn’t right, but what word would you use for that?). I checked on him periodically, and eventually he would flutter out and then go to next page. He seemed so…interested.

One thing I really appreciate about Russian is that there are accent marks everywhere in the textbooks, just to help language learners with syllable stress. It is really, really valuable. Once you figure out the alphabet, you are never truly stuck trying to figure out how to pronounce things.

Another great thing about Russian: no pluperfect! So fewer tenses to learn.

In spite of the fact that I am being stymied by the two-infinitive-per-verb thing, complained about in an earlier entry, it is precisely that kind of thing that really made me want to do this project. I mean, there are two different but similar-sounding verbs for “to eat,” and the choice depends on the context and precise meaning. One concept, two infinitives—who would ever think of that! Amazing!

An unfortunate consequence of this Russian project is that my vision is completely shot. My eyes were basically perfect for years post-Lasik, and then I began having some trouble earlier this year, but then it cleared up—until I began staring at the Russian alphabet day after day. Now my eyes are blurry for both distance and reading, and when Brandt and I go for our evening walks in Central Park, I have trouble seeing the birds and baby raccoons that I find so tender. But it’s a price I am willing to pay. Grudgingly.

One cute thing about the Creative Zen I use to play my Pimsleur files: it encourages me every time I turn it on by displaying the following words, in this order:

  2. ZEN

Tonight I finished Pimsleur 26 (Level II). This was my second time through that lesson. I learned things like the word for “possible,” which is pronounced MO zhuh nuh. It is so helpful, and hopeful, to know how to say “possible” in a language.

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