Recently, I got a bit annoyed because I was starting to pick out Russian words lately when I listened to Russian operas. I found myself trying to remember what the word как meant, so I googled it. One thing led to another, and I started reading some introductory Russian lessons on the Internet. I’ve always had a talent for languages, having taken three of them in high school (three years of French, two years of Japanese, and one of Spanish), and I started picking up some German and Italian from listening to a lot of operas in those languages as well.
Russian was a little different, though. I’ve done a little reading on German grammar and vocabulary on the side, but both of those languages come fairly naturally. I wouldn’t say I know either of them, but I’ve picked a bit up of each, particularly German, and can sometimes discern what the singers are saying or words on a page mean even if I haven’t read them before. With Russian, I don’t have any of the advantages of speaking a language in the same family or being familiar with related languages. Reading those introductory lessons got me interested enough that I’ve been sticking with it and have been working on learning Russian on my own.
It’s gone fairly well so far. I’ve only been at it for a couple of weeks, but I have the basics of verb conjugation down, at least for the simpler tenses. Present, past, and future are pretty straightforward, and I grasped the concept of verbal aspect pretty quickly. Reflexive verbs also just started falling into place, although I see that they’re rather complex too. I’m iffy on the past & present participles (active, passive, and adverbial) and verbal nouns and how they work, and of course I haven’t studied enough of the verbs to get a feel for when they conjugate irregularly, but I get the basics.
Declensions are taking some more time. I understand how the noun cases work and how they’re used, but I’m still drilling how the different nouns decline into my head. Some of the cases are a little less straightforward about when they’re used in unexpected ways (looking at you, genitive), but my main problem has been forgetting the endings too quickly. They’ll sink in eventually, but it’s requiring effort. This also applies to adjectives. An added bonus with adjectives is that I’m still not entirely clear on how you make adjectival nouns, although I know they’re quite necessary. I’m also not quite sure how you decline “Boris” to get “Borisovy” (as in “a muchat slugi Borisovy”, which I think is spelled “а мучат слуги Борисогы”, but I may be very wrong), or “Satana” to “Sataniskovo”. Pronouns are coming along, but I need to learn their declinations as well.
Reading and writing isn’t so bad at least; I learned the Greek alphabet in middle school and pretty much knew the Cyrillic alphabet already. I can’t read in nearly as fast as I can read the Latin alphabet, of course, but I can get through. My pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired, but seems to have gotten a lot better. Palatalization is tricky. My handwriting in Russian definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s not so strange – my handwriting in English is pretty terrible too. I’ve tried my hand a little at the Cyrillic cursive, but had problems with a lot of the letters coming out looking exactly the same as other letters or combinations of letters. The cursive version of “д” is a godsend though.
General vocabulary is an issue as well. Even once I figure out the grammar I’ll need to build up enough vocabulary to understand anything. That’s mostly memorization along with watching for unexpected behavior, on top of learning how they conjugate or decline if they do so in an unexpected way.
Clearly, this isn’t about how awesome I am; I know I’ve barely scratched the surface and have a long, long ways to go before I really get anywhere. I want to keep myself honest and motivated, though, and I don’t think I’m doing too bad seeing as I’ve only been at this for a couple of weeks, so I’m writing about it. It’s been interesting and fun so far, and I’m looking forward to the point where I get enough knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary together that I can start reading simple texts. Maybe it will start coming together nicely at that point. What would be really nice would be being able to follow what’s going on in some of these operas, because I’ve noticed many don’t seem to have English libretti that I’ve been able to find. That’s quite a long ways off.