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How much of a new language can you learn in a month if you only study about 2 hours a day?
It’s been a month since I started learning Russian, and I’m amazed at how quickly my brain and mentality have adapted to becoming a language learner.
I’m also amazed at how much I’m really starting to enjoy this project, even at its most frustrating moments!
See for yourself how things have gone in the second 2 weeks of this project:
What Learning a New Language Feels Like
At first, it feels terrifying, overwhelming, impossible.
But I’m here to tell you, this feeling passes.
I can’t help but smile now when I think back to the first time I ever spoke Russian to another person – after having only studied Russian phrases for a few hours. It was a mess. But it was also a massive step forward. At that stage, getting onto Skype to have a conversation was terrifying. Preventing myself from backing out was a constant battle. Thoughts of “I’m not ready yet!” and “I need to study for x more hours first!” dominated my mind.
I had a list of words on the computer screen in front of me, but I had none of them in my memory. I had no idea what exactly many of the words I was saying meant. I had even less of an idea as to how the words related to each other in the sentence. At that stage, the Cyrillic on the screen looked exhausting, and every attempt to read and pronounce a new word was like climbing a little mountain.
But after just one month of learning, all of that fear and negativity is gone.
Now, I actually like getting on Skype to chat with my teachers! That’s a phrase I thought I’d never utter. But you know what? My teachers are nice, fun, and extremely patient. They laugh at my stupid jokes and I learn so much from them. It never matters how “ready” I am to have a conversation – it always works out well.
How my Learning Has Changed After One Month
Here are some of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in myself as a learner now that a month has passed.
Cyrillic is No Big Deal
Romanized versions of Russian words are out of my life. I can now “sight-read” Cyrillic. I specify “sight-read” because now I can look at a Cyrillic word and know how it’s pronounced pretty much immediately – whereas before I would have to sound-it-out Kindergarten style. I’ve also eliminated romanization from my notes and replaced them all with Cyrillic so that when I think about a word in Russian, I only see Cyrillic in my mind’s eye.
Craving More Reinforcement on What I’ve Learned
I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been exposed to so much Russian that I find myself wanting more chances to be “tested” on what I know. I can do this in my Skype conversations, but this month I’ve also introduced Anki into my routine to help meet this need. Rather than using one of the pre-made flashcard decks already in Anki, I’m creating my own Anki deck based on the 30+ pages of notes I’ve made for myself.
I love this idea, because I’ve been cultivating my notes carefully, adding more and more phrases totally suited to me – that I work on a blog about language learning, that I live nowhere, that I travel all the time, etc. This is a way for me to make sure all of the phrases I took the time to write down will stay in my active memory and be available for recall when I need them.
Grammar Comes Naturally
So much makes sense to me now when I see written Russian or hear it spoken. I’ve naturally picked up on gender differences between words, how to use verb conjugations, and I even have a foggy idea of how the future and past tenses work in Russian! You really can get a feel for these things through natural exposure to the language. I haven’t yet studied any Russian grammar formally, but I think next month I will start digging into how exactly the past and future tenses work, because I’m genuinely curious about it!
Skype is no Longer Terrifying
No one could have been more nervous than me to have their first ever Skype conversation. I’m a naturally nervous person. But now it really doesn’t scare me anymore. I would say that it took about 3 weeks for me to really start to feel comfortable using Skype so regularly, but now – I’m there.
Focused Vocabulary for Reaching A1 Level (Breakthrough Russian)
To help avoid becoming overwhelmed, my strategy for this past month has been to focus on reaching the first stage of Russian Language proficiency – the A1 level, which demands that I can:
- Learn to use everyday expressions and very basic phrases
- Learn to introduce myself
- Learn to ask simple questions
- Learn to answer simple questions
If you’re using a similar strategy to me, I’d like to share with you how I tackled each of these points, and hopefully you may find this helpful in your own language projects.
It’s impossible for me to describe everything I’ve learned over the past month (I have over 31 pages of me-specific vocabulary and phrases written down so far!), but I’ll to go over a few “categories” of words that I’ve learned and that ’m using regularly. These basics have allowed me to have very fulfilling conversations with my Skype teachers in Russian!
For everyday expressions
To keep things interesting for myself, I try to go for breadth as much as possible in my greetings and goodbyes. I didn’t want to have the same ordinary “Hi, nice to meet you, how are you” conversation over and over, so I’ve learned as many variations of this ordinary greeting as possible! Here is a small sample to give you inspiration:
“Hello” both formally and informally – (здравствуйте / здравствуй / привет)
“Nice to meet you” in various forms – (приятно познакомиться / очень приятно)
“Good morning/afternoon/evening” – (доброе утро / Добрый день / добрый вечер)
“Please”, “You’re welcome”, “Thank you” and “Thank you very much” – (пожалуйста / пожалуйста / спасибо / спасибо Большое)
“How are you?” – (Как дела?)
Several possible answers to this question, including “everything’s fine” “great” “normal” and even “not good”, among others. (все хорошо / отлично / нормально / не oчень
“Excuse me/I’m sorry” – (извините)
I’ve also learned several phrases I’m calling “flow phrases” to use in response to something my teacher says. For example:
“Of course!” – (конечно)
Of course not!” – (конечно нет)
“Really?” or “Really!” – (правда)
“Well”, “but”, “and”, “or”, “so” – (ну / но / и / или / так)
“Skype survival phrases”
Because I’m working on Skype, early on I learned a few phrases that you need especially when you’re using this tool. If you plan to use Skype for your own language project, I’d recommend you invest time early in learning some of these phrases. Here are just a few of the ones I use most often:
Can you type that? – (Ты можешь напечатать?)
Slowly? – (медленно?)
I’m sorry I’m late – (Извините, я опоздал(а))
I understand. I don’t understand. – (Я (не) понимаю)
Do you understand? – (понимаешь?)
I know. I don’t know. – (Я (не) знаю)
Do you know? – (знаешь?)
Introduction and biographical phrases
I’m now able to ask and answer common questions about myself, and to ask questions to my teachers about their lives as well. This took a lot of practice, because some common questions that my teachers asked came as a bit of a surprise to me! (For example, “How old are you” comes up again and again!) Here’s a shortlist of the phrases I’m hearing and using most often:
How old are you? – (Сколько тебе лет?)
I’m 27. – (Мне двадцать семь лет)
What do you like to do? – (Что ты любишь делать?)
To read … to work … to write… to travel… – (читать … работать … писать … путешествовать)
Where are you from? – (Ты откуда?)
Where do you live? – (Где ты живешь?)
Why are you studying Russian? – (Почему ты учишь русский?)
During my Skype conversations, I again tried to make things more interesting for myself by going beyond these simple answers. For example, I had a lot of fun trying to explain my complicated living situation (I don’t live anywhere!) in Tarzan Russian. And because the question “How old are you?” comes up so often when I first meet a new teacher, I had a bit of fun with it one day by replying that “I’m old – I’m almost 30!”
To me, that’s one of the great benefits of the “groundhog day” approach I took during my first few weeks. By having the same “first” conversation over and over again with new teachers, I became so confident in the simple answers that I felt ready and comfortable playing around with my answers a bit and trying to explain more complicated concepts!
Recap: Here’s Exactly What I’ve Done So Far
For listening and pronunciation practice
-Completed all “Absolute Beginner” lessons
-Started the “Beginner” series
For spoken practice with native speakers
-Completed 11 conversations on Skype
For exposure to written Russian and light grammar
-Completed 22/100 lessons
-To test myself on everything I’ve learned so far.
I’ve created a custom flashcard deck with audio from the words and phrases in my own homemade cheat sheet. You can create your own Anki decks yourself, or if you want to include native audio in your deck, you can hire a native speaker on odesk to create the deck and audio for you.
To help learn new vocab
-Completed 75/543 words in “Beginners Russian” deck
Reading and Writing Russian Script
To learn Cyrillic
-Completed the entire book
My Own Cheat Sheet
A collection of words and phrases, relevant to me, that I’ve compiled from all the above sources.
Do you have any suggestions for my Russian strategy? Any questions about my experience? Please share them in the comments!