The problem with ‘Hello’
I’m now at the end of my first week and my enthusiasm to learn Russian hasn’t wavered. In fact I’m even more interested in the language.
Today I had a look around a couple of large bookshops in the city in the hope of finding a book that would nurture my interest in Russian. By and large I discovered a number of books which promised either to get me ‘talking’ straight away or offered grammar explanations which only made my eyes glaze over. So, I ignored the less-inspiring resources and looked again at those which claimed I could be talking immediately. Well, that bothered me a bit. Looking further into these books I would often find the first task on the first page would get me to say everyday words and phrases (‘hello’ , ‘goodbye’, ‘how are you?’ etc.) but with very little explanation as to how the alphabet was working – it just simply offered an English phonetic transcript. I suppose in itself this is nice and helpful but there is a problem with this, though. I’m not really connecting these phonetics with the Cyrillic letters – one letter can have two English letters to make the sound. So, nice, practical vocabulary but a nightmare to breakdown the Russian characters. With too many different characters you end up reading the English phonetics and relying on this as the first step. I worry this can actual hinder progress.
With this in mind, for me a better approach is to make the Cyrillic alphabet the foundation to speaking. This is my goal. So, rather than saying ‘hello’ a textbook should instead be asking me to say ‘cocoa’ (какао) or ‘theme’ (тема) as this narrows the alphabet to a few characters. Once these kinds of words are secure, knowing the pronunciation and easily recognising the characters, then my vocabulary can expand by gradually increasing new characters into the mix.
So, should I continue with Duolingo? Looking at the vocabulary in the next lessons I’ll be learning things like привет, пока, спасибо, пожалуйста, извините. Now I might very well figure out what these words are, the context may readily hint at their meaning, but that feels a bit like luck rather than skill. Yet, maybe it’s too soon to give it up – maybe the immersion will work. We’ll see.
In the mean time, for the next week all activities will be geared to securing a foundation in the alphabet (recognising them by sight and sound with the addition of regular cursive handwriting). One book I did managed to get hold of today seems exactly the sort of thing that will help me in this. It’s ‘How to Read and Write Russian Script’ by Teach Yourself. Briefly looking through the pages seemed work gradually through the alphabet by focusing on the characters and then using vocab that included these characters. I’ll look at in more detail tomorrow. Fingers crossed.