Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bistro! Bistro!

Not wanting to remain unable to communicate in Russia, I have started to learn Russian using a variety of means. Last year, while I was still in Port Hardy but planning on coming to Russia, I got my hands on the Rosetta Stone program for the Russian language (actually for every language, but I won't describe how I got that...).

Rosetta Stone is good for learning completely random vocabulary, such as krasniy (red), footballka (t-shirt), koschka (cat) and dom (house). Other than that the Rosetta Stone is useless. The idea is that it will immerse the pupil in the language by throwing words and sentences at them over and over again until they are able to comprehend. It may work for other languages, but when Rosetta Stone attempts this with Russian it fails completely, and that's because of the Russian grammar.

Instead of Rosetta Stone I went to a large bookstore near the Kitay Gorod section of Moscow called BiblioGlobus. Interestingly, BiblioGlobus is next door to the infamous Lubianka prison, where the KGB tortured and kept political prisoners up until 1991. At this 3-story book store I found the English section on the second floor, filled with books in English. On a spinning rack there were Russian language course books for English speakers, and a group of University students from Britain who were studying in Moscow highly recommended a book with the simple title "Russian Course".

"Russian Course" is written by someone named Nicholas J. Brown and is designed for somebody with absolutely no background in Russian. It uses the EFL method of Presentation, Practice and Production to reinforce new materials, and so far I feel like it was designed specifically for my brain! Where Rosetta Stones utterly fails, Russian Course completely succeeds, and this is because it teaches Russian grammar very well.

Russian doesn't use prepositions; instead, Russian uses case endings to indicate the noun's role in a sentence. English has a couple of case endings, such as -ed on the end of regular verbs when used in the simple past-tense (washed, studied, etc). Russian has SIX cases!

If you're not aware of the six different case endings it makes Russian appear totally confusing. I remember thinking "Why is Moscow called Moskva, Moskvoi, and Moskvye in books and on signs? Why isn't it simply Moscow?" Now I know that it all depends on the role the word "Moskva" (the actual name of the city) plays in the sentence.

I have just learned the prepositional case, which is the ending -ye on the end of a noun if I am speaking about something in time or space. For instance, Moskva is the name of the city, but if I go into the city, then I am in Moskvye (adding -ye to the end). In Russian this comes across as "Ya v Moskvye" (я в москве). A bus in Russian is avtobus (автобус), but I go on the avtobusye (я еду на автобусе).

I seem to have the prepositional case figured out. There are five more to go and I have no idea what they are but eventually I'll come across them in Russian Course. For now I'm picking up more and more of the language. The fact that 30% of Russian seems to have French roots helps out a lot.

In the 1700s French was the language of culture and sophistication and all the upper classes of Russia could speak fluent French. This lasted until the Czar was overthrown by Bolsheviks in 1917, and so much French seeped into the Russian language that most Russians today don't realize they can almost speak French!

The word for floor in Russian is etagia. In French it is etage. The shellfish known as shrimp in English is Kreviettka in Russian, or Crevette in French. The word for ticket in Russian is billet (with the "L's" and the "T" pronounced), or billet in French (sounds like biyei in French).

Conversely, there is a very famous Russian word in the French language. In 1813 Napolean's empire crumbled after his failed conquest of Russia, and Field Marshall Kutosov chased what was left of Napolean's Grande Armee out of Russia, across Europe and into France, where Paris was conquered by the Russian army and Napolean defeated. As Russian peasant soldiers enjoyed themselves in the city of light, they brought some of their language. They sat at cafes along the Seine and demanded faster service. "Bistro! Bistro!" they would shout to the French servers, which means "Faster! Faster!" in Russian. Today we have bistros!

It took me over a year before I could order a pizza on the telephone in Korean, so I am hoping that, in time, I will be able to do the same in Russian.

In the meantime, I will continue to learn new vocabulary with Rosetta Stone, apply proper grammar with Russian Course, and teach the world how to ask for butter and cheese in English.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings Canadian!

    This post is very enjoyable and interesting.

    May I recommend a text that has become my favorite... N. B. Karavanova, Survival Russian. Also, is a free way to enhance your learning.

    Padejay [Russian cases]and I often don't get along.

    As for cognates, we know someone who lives in Palatka FL... palatka means tent in Russian, but in Florida they say it is an Indian word.

    All good wishes,

    Robert... Loquacious