Archive for the ‘Russian Boot Camp’ Category

Having reached a halfway point in this project, I took a few days out to resolve a work issue that couldn’t simply be put off till the end of the week. This meant having to drop the ball in my Russian studies, but I intend to do some serious catch-up now to get back into the flow. But before I embark on the second half of my journey, I’d like to present some initial observations regarding my studies so far in the first half. Here are emerging patterns regarding the time and effort I’ve put in to learn and review new Russian phrases…

Pattern 1: It takes me about 30 minutes to intensively study 100 words of a transcript for Кухня. This subdivides into 20 minutes for selecting, translating, and writing down 10-20 new phrases for each 100 word section. It then takes a further 10 minutes to learn all these new phrases off in 4 consecutive cycles (1 cycle of learning, and 3 for testing and review).

Pattern 2: After 24 hours, it takes me about half my original study time to test and review a 100 word section again. The time it takes to complete a review continues to decrease by a factor of approximately 50% for each graduated interval (e.g., it takes me around 15 minutes after an interval of 24 hours, 8 minutes after 3 days, and 4 minutes after 1 week).

Pattern 3: In line with diminishing times needed for review, my errors after each graduated interval also seem to decrease by a factor of 50%. For example, I manage to get about 50% of the phrases wrong for each section during my first cycle following 24 hours, but this then falls to a 25% error rate at the start of my 3 day review, and ends up much closer to a 12% error rate by the end of the week.

In general, it’s reassuring to find predictable patterns emerging that also fall in line with studies I’ve read on spaced learning and forgetting more complex chunks of language. The next step will be to analyse the results from the encoding experiments I set up on Day 5, and see if there’s any way to enhance my initial learning experience to facilitate long-term recall…


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I finished mining a barrelful of new phrases from the second episode of Кухня today. And I intend to learn them all off tomorrow, once my 300 odd phrases that are up for review are out of the way first. To make sure I consolidate these phrases, i) I’ve checked they repeat at least 11 or more times in my first intensive wave of study through episodes 1-40 of Кухня, and ii) I employ an 8-step geometrically spaced recall and review schedule that approximately spreads itself across the length of an academic semester (i.e., I learn new phrases on day 0, and then test and review them after 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, and finally 4 months). After 4 months, I’m reasonably confident that most of these phrases will stick in my head for a good while or pop up again in a new novel, tv series, or conversation.

Incidentally, at the end of the day, we went to buy my wife some new flip-flops (or in Pidgin, “slippahs”). Out of random curiosity, I asked her what you call “flip-flops” in Russian, but at the time, she couldn’t quite recall the word, so I ventured a half-hearted guess and said I bet its something like “шлепки–шлёпки”. Imagine then my surprise, having never read or heard this rather unusual word before (at least as far as I’m aware), to fall almost right on the mark: шлёпки!! Maybe I’m developing a genuine feel for Russian words after all…? 😉

Фраза дня: Мы один раз в акуле обезьяну нашли…живую! (“We once found a monkey in a shark…аlive!” – these golden words of wisdom from Кухня had me in absolute stitches. I never thought learning new grammatical patterns could be so much fun!)

Study today: 6.5 hours, 1,100 words studied (Кухня 1.2, phrase mining).
Project total: 36.5 hours, 5,400 words studied, 532 phrases learned.

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Today’s tussle with Russian reminded me of the importance of suffixes, and more specifically, how prefixes often function like prepositions in separable verbs (e.g., пере “across” + ходить “to go” = переходить “to cross”, or literally, “to go across”). To mix things up, and take a short break from Кухня after some gruelling reviews in the morning, I tried my hand at reading six sample chapters taken from a Russian-English reader for beginners by Language Practice Publishing (suggested by vadimzn on HTLAL). It was quite motivating to understand most of what I read for a change, and this proved a welcome change to frustrating over opaque idioms in Кухня or throwing my flailing brain into the deep dark end of a poetic passage from Ночной Дозор. I was also delighted to hear from my wife that my last short email to her didn’t bear a single mistake, all the more so because i. I composed it in a hurry without any assistance, and ii. any Russian sentence written by me without a grammatical error is indeed a rare celebration.

Фраза дня: под краватью (“under the bed” – where I found a quivering flock of my language resources hiding today).

Study today: 4 hours, 1,300 words studied (First Russian Reader), 20 phrases learned.
Project total: 30 hours, 4,300 words studied, 532 phrases learned.

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Whilst Кухня offers a wealth of contemporary Russian dialogue, all this mention of food makes me exceedingly peckish whilst studying, which is probably not doing my waistline any favours. Oh well, I guess my next project will be to work off the bonus Russian calories down the gym! 😉 To boost motivation, I tried out an experiment today to see if changing the size of the study window for phrases makes any difference in terms of encoding efficiency and later recall. I look forward to recording the results tomorrow, and trying out several more experiments along the way in search of a more effective methodology.

Фраза дня: Ушастик, что ты тут делаешь? (“Ushastik, what are you doing here?” – this underlined term of endearment is a good example of how the Internet, in all its colourful shapes and forms, can provide enlightening media beyond the shadow of dictionary translation).

Study today: 5 hours, 600 words studied (Кухня 1.2), 80 phrases learned.
Project total: 26 hours, 3,000 words studied, 512 phrases learned.

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Having learned to produce around 432 new phrases so far, some even exceeding a dozen words in length, I thought I’d return to my hardback copy of Ночной Дозор (the novel I use for short reading tests) to see if I’d made any minute improvement over the last few days. And although I didn’t notice any new words or phrases popping up, especially given the radically different genres and it being early days, I did find it considerably easier to read the text and induce the partial meaning of unknown portions. It was a strange feeling overall, which I put down to a possible leap forward in understanding Russian grammar through first learning example phrases in context.

Фраза дня: у меня просто шнурок развязался (“my shoelace just came undone” – aware of the heated arguments that can fly between polyglots over the word “shoelace”, I feel I’ve crossed a boundary today! *lol* Besides, this phrase from Кухня foxed me at first, until I realised it was in the passive voice).

Study today: 4 hours, 400 words studied (Кухня 1.2), 59 phrases learned.
Project total: 21 hours, 2,400 words studied, 432 phrases learned.

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I awoke this morning to Russian words and phrases dancing around my head, with Игорь Борисович’s “Комарово” playing as accompaniment in the back of my mind. And seeing as I went to bed sober, I take this to be a good sign overall. Speaking Russian now feels a touch easier, and I notice that my ears have become attuned to several more words in dialogue that I would have otherwise missed before. The main news of the day, however, is that I’ve finally completed my first episode of Кухня (Ура!!!). It was fun to watch it again in the evening with the missus and share more than a vague understanding of what was going on this time; очень прикольно было!

Фраза дня: Ну давай (“well, go on…” – I recall Prof. Schmidt saying there’s a handy phrase in Portuguese that indicates you’d like to finish a conversation on the telephone. Today I found its Russian equivalent!)

Study today: 7 hours, 600 words studied (Кухня 1.1), 93 phrases learned.
Project total: 17 hours, 2,000 words studied, 373 phrases learned.

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After reviewing half an episode of Кухня from yestereday, I became a little distracted and started surfing the Internet, oblivious to the dangers of certain procrastination. Catching up on a host of emails and other posts of course led me down a rocky road and straight into a thorny thicket of “What happened to learning Russian?”. The end result was that I was unable to complete episode 1 as originally planned, and watched an episode of the comedy series Сваты with my wife instead in the evening (recommended by johnbnine on the Polydog forum). It was also quite exciting to hear some of the new words I’d only just committed to memory already popping up on the Big Podcast today (e.g., “очень прикольно”, “придурак”), and I’ve further noticed how moving the front of my tongue towards the mid-palate helps improve overall pronunciation.

Фраза дня: Я тебя́ ненави́жу (“I hate you” – certainly not a nice thing to say to anyone, but it offers an amusing literal translation: “I don’t look at you!”).

Study today: 4 hours, 400 words studied (Кухня 1.1), 64 phrases learned.
Project total: 10 hours, 1,400 words, 280 phrases learned.

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