Russian mission update: Struggles and wins 9 months in

I’m nearing the 9th month mark for my Russian studies, and I figured it would be a good time to update about how I’m finding the language. In this post I’ll get into the worst struggles and biggest wins in my recent Russian studying.

9 months of independent studying. It sounds like a lot, but as I previously talked about, I have been very unproductive during the first half of the year. It took a lot of time for me to find myself and discover the true reason as to why I was learning Russian. I also had to learn just how to learn, as abundant as language learning advice is.

Taking my learning seriously

I have improved incredibly in the last month or two, mostly due to a series of self-motivation realisations that I outlined in a previous post, but also just because I felt bad for doing so poorly in the first half of the year. Once again having a blog for accountability trumps everything, as I could not bear to report to you guys that I was doing poorly.

My first real wakeup-call came when I had my first tutoring lesson on Skype. I knew I wasn’t good at Russian yet, but I think it shocked me to find out just how bad I was. Sadly I did not record this session, but trust me, it was bad.

This might have been easily ignored if I didn’t have this blog, because I wanted to share my success with you guys, I wanted to show that it was possible to turn your life around, learn a language and be happy. I’m still working on those things, but now the language learning is much smoother. I do Memrise every day and I have 2 iTalki tutoring sessions per week. Every tutoring session my Memrise efforts show and it reaffirms that I’m on the right path.

However, just because I’ve improved greatly in the last two months does not mean that I don’t still struggle. The workload of adding 35 new words every day on Memrise and keeping them reviewed is huge. The reviews constantly pile up and it demotivates me to even begin. I’ve combated this by using a spreadsheet, and again publicly sharing the spreadsheet, so I felt accountable not to write too many zeros in there.

I’m still not exactly fluent, but I only occasionally ask for a word during my tutoring sessions, otherwise they are exclusively in Russian. I also watched a bit of Harry Potter in Russian and although not able to understand every word, I generally get the gist of what’s going on. Of course I’ve watched the movies a few times in English, so I might have memories there, but it helps a lot to keep watching when you are not at the intermediate stage yet.

That was a general summary of my meta-learning lately, but we are of course talking about Russian specifically so here are a few problems I’m still having as well as my proposed solutions to them.

Focusing too much on the negatives

And a note about problems in language learning. I realised whilst writing this post that we language bloggers often tend to emphasise problems, perhaps in an attempt to solve them or in an attempt to clarify just what is difficult.

So I thought, why not add things that are working really awesomely? So after the struggles below you can also read some of my biggest wins in learning Russian. Hope you enjoy!

Feel free to add your own struggles and wins in the comments section below, I love reading about your learning as well!

Problems I’m still having after learning the Russian language for 9 months

  1. Grammatical endings: Whilst I do generally understand when to use what case, I still am not comfortable in the table of endings. I have tried to read the grammar books I have several times, but the endings just won’t stick. During my tutoring sessions my tutor places a lot of emphasis on endings, so I’m improving a lot, but I need to set aside some desk time to add all the endings to Memrise and just run through them. I don’t generally believe in learning from tables or just listing endings, I think I’ll struggle to disassociate them in my head. I need to do some spread out repetition of them to improve.
  2. Not learning ‘normal’ words – This was a problem I encountered with Esperanto as well. By learning vocabulary mostly through Memrise and not through more natural or lively sources, I tend to miss normal words that should have been on page 1 on any book. Things that I, embarrassingly, still to this day don’t know how to say are days of the week and months. The solution is quite simple, add these terms to Memrise as well. It’s interesting that I have not come across these terms in several separate Russian courses.
  3. Not Speaking naturally – Due to the grammatical freedom in Russian, Russian speakers tend to form sentences that are usually shorter than the other languages I speak, but also different in word order. This means that when I try to produce Russian with an English-speaking mindset, the sentences sound a bit unnatural. This is not a huge problem, but it would be nice to develop more natural speech. This point ties in heavily with the next point
  4. Not practicing speaking Russian enough – Whilst I am getting weekly tutoring sessions I have not been active enough in seeking out Russian speakers to practice with. I know of a few people where I live who speaks it, so it’s pure laziness that I have not met up with them for a drink or a game of darts and some Russian practice. I’m not a huge fan of language exchanges per say, as I think it’s difficult to balance each language equally. So I’ll just keep trying to find native speakers in my local area to chat with.
  5. Not consuming enough native Russian material – I’m reaching a point where I can begin to watch, read and understand native material so I should be doing that more. My available time every day is getting less and less, but watching a movie here and there or listening to a podcast or something shouldn’t be too hard. It’s just to get some more passive experience.

As I mentioned earlier in the post I just found Harry Potter in Russian and I’ll watch the movies very soon. It actually humours me quite a bit. I like the name Slyzerin for Slytherin. Speaking of Harry Potter I’m also looking forward to tackling reading it. I know I’m not yet at a point where it makes sense, but the Harry Potter books were some of the first fiction books I truly enjoyed, so I cant wait to come back and experience them in Russian.

There you have it. My 5 biggest struggles. Now for the wins, to end this post on a high!

My recent big wins in studying Russian

  1. Starting to understand – The light is slowly turning on and it’s so damn exciting to be able to pick up a text in a foreign language I did not know a word of a year ago, and then start to read. I can’t read perfectly, but my easy readers are beginning to transform from jumbled up nonsense to comprehensible literature.
  2. Excellent SRS-recall rate – I consistently average over 67% recall rate on Memrise. This is whilst typing in an alphabet I did not know 9 months ago. I would estimate my actual word recall is probably closer to 80% which is INSANE, but the typing brings it down a bit, which is fine. I’m not doing SRS to get good statistics or breeze through, so getting an extra revision to learn how to properly spell a word is definitely awesome.
  3. Doing SRS consistently – In connection with above. For the first 6-7 months of my Russian studies I would do Memrise only sporadically. When I finally did do it, it would only be for a few minutes until I got bored of it and then I would quit. Right now I’m proud to say that I have done something on Memrise for 44 days straight. Of course largely fueled by my spreadsheet challenge to learn 2500 words of vocabulary in 67 days. Just check out this image! memriseprogress
  4. Starting to understand the patterns – When I first started doing Russian, the words would not make any sense to me. By having typed over 1200 Russian words I have gained a massive passive knowledge about word creating and also spelling. Although the annoying ий/ый endings still annoy me I’m getting much more comfortable. I also understand more and in turn greatly appreciate the way the language is built. It’s a very logical system, take for example the word трудный (difficult, adjective) It’s a word I use a lot when describing my Russian studies. If somebody asked me how my studies were going I could say, трудно (difficult, adv.) or if I wanted to point out a specific detail I could say трудность (difficulty, noun) this works across a ton of works and it means that you not only get free words for every word you learn, but you can also comprehend far behind you actual vocabulary.

That’s it! Experiencing these wins on a daily basis, along with many more, GREATLY motivate me to work even harder. I hope you enjoyed reading about my recent wins and losses when studying Russian and if you wouldn’t mind sharing in the comment box below; what are you struggling with at the moment? What are your recent language wins?

Thank you as always for reading, it means a lot to me.