This is going to make me sound really old, but I sure wish we had technology when I started learning Russian! Okay, that might be an exaggeration - I believe the Internet had been invented at that point, but things weren’t as easy as they are today. I just get so excited when I discover tools that make it easier to improve my Russian!
My most recent discovery is Chrome Extensions. Here are my 3 favorites so far:
When I first started studying Russian as a 9th grader, if we came across a word we didn’t know, we had to stop and look it up in a physical dictionary (so painstaking!). Years later, I was excited to be able to read online, and copy and paste words into an online dictionary. Now, with Google Dictionary, you can get the definition without even leaving the page!
How to use it:
- Install the extension
- Under extension options, select your native language
- Double click on a word you don’t know to see a pop-up with a definition in your language
- Use the toolbar dictionary for a complete definition
When I first started using this tool, I actually thought my computer was going berzerk. (You might remember this post if you follow me on Facebook.) I was trying out a bunch of extensions at once and didn’t know what was what. As I read an article (in English) I noticed every few words started to appear in Russian. As it turns out, that’s exactly the point of the extension. You select what language you’re studying and the extension automatically changes every few words into that language.
How to use it:
- Install the extension
- Select the language you’re studying (64 languages available)
- Choose your skill level (ranges from novice to fluent)
- Turn on or off without leaving the page
For the last several years, I’ve been using a website called Translit.ru, which allows you to type a Russian word how it sounds using the Latin alphabet, and it will appear on the screen in Cyrillic. Normally, I would copy and paste the Cyrillic into whatever I’m working on. For me, this is easier than messing around with Cyrillic keyboard software. Now, you can accomplish the same task using Google Input Tools, only without leaving the website you’re on.
How to use it:
- Install the extension
- Under extension options choose the alphabets you’d like to be able to type in (70 languages available)
- When you’re ready to type in a different alphabet, choose it from the list you created by clicking on the icon in your address bar
- Turn it off when you’re done without leaving the page
Notes about Chrome extensions
- You can only use Chrome extensions if you use Google Chrome as your browser.
- You can find these and other extensions by going to the Chrome Web Store. (But don’t be confused - these 3 extensions are free.)
- Once you install an extension, an icon will appear in the address bar. Click on the icon to change your settings.
- Click here for more about using Chrome Extensions.
Let me know if you try these out - I hope you enjoy them! What other tools are you using to make language studying easier?
Last week, I posted a review of Yazh, an app that helps Russian students with their case endings. If you haven’t downloaded the app, yet, I hope you’ll give it a try. Eric Thompson, who created the app, is in my Russian Meetup group, and I think we Russophiles should support each others’ endeavors! (So consider getting the paid version for only $1.50.)
I interviewed Eric about his Russian studies and how he created the app. Here’s what he had to say:
What sparked your interest in learning Russian?
One of the reasons I wanted to learn a second language was that I was curious about how plastic the human mind is and, since we think in languages, how would thinking in a completely different language affect our thought process. It’s something of an experiment on myself. Russian seemed like a good fit because it’s so different from English. English speakers tend to think Russian is a chaotic mess, and I’ve met Russian speakers who say the same about English. I’ve also always been curious about Russia as it’s been portrayed as America’s doppelganger.
How long have you been studying Russian?
I’ve been studying for two years now. I would say that I’m at the late-beginner level. I still need to mentally translate to understand most of what I come across, and unfortunately, when people speak, it’s faster than I can translate. But week by week it gets better and that’s encouraging. I like to tell myself that in a year from now, I will be intermediate, which would be very satisfying for me.
What methods are you using to study the language?
I’ve been teaching myself outside of any classroom and without tutoring software. There are many websites online that describe the grammar and provide good starting vocabulary. I also bought a couple of used textbooks for the cheap online which have been invaluable. Textbooks bring an order to the chaos of any topic and provide lots of interesting tidbits that you might not learn independently. And, of course, my app! If it weren’t for my Yazh app, I would have virtually no grasp on the cases.
What is the hardest thing about learning Russian?
At the moment, I would say the irregular nouns and verbs. English and all other languages have them, of course, but because words change so much in Russian, learning one irregular noun or verb can be a little overwhelming.
Why did you decide to create Yazh?
The topic just seemed to lend itself as an app. The only way to really learn the cases is to practice over and over, with instant feedback, on many different words of all types. Yazh provides this. Not to mention, when you live in a city like Washington and so much time is spent waiting for and on the metro, its just the perfect way to squeeze a little more studying in.
Is this the first app you’ve created?
It was! And it was a heck of a learning experience.
How were you able to create a language-learning app without being an expert in Russian?
A LOT of help! I scoured the internet for resources, double checking everything whenever I could. I would also ask my Russian friends. A big thanks to Katja!
What was most challenging about creating the app?
I had experience programming in Java, but not in the Android environment. Naturally, Android needs to set a lot of rules for its programmers to follows, and until you figure out these rules, there will be a lot of stumbling around in the dark… or at least the dimly lit.
What do you consider the best feature of Yazh?
The app actually learns what cases, genders, spellings, etc. you have the most trouble with and will test you on those more often. Some cases, such as instrumental-plural, were really easy for me, but myaki znak-ending female words in the dative were difficult. The app sees that over time and challenges you appropriately. But don’t worry. this information never leaves your phone.
Who do you think will find it most useful?
I think it’s useful for anyone learning Russian, and even people who have become near fluent. Even if you don’t use it to study, having the tables on your phone is incredible convenient.
Where did you come up with the name, Yazh?
I wanted something that looked very Russian to a non-native speaker. I think most Americans, like myself, when we picture the Russian alphabet, we picture the backwards ‘R’ and what looks like an obese, square, slumping ‘A’ which is the Russian ‘D’ (an affectionate description, I promise!) So originally, I was going to call it Yad, or Dya, but then I realized that I could make a cool logo with the ‘Ya’ and ‘Zh’. I made an effort to make sure it doesn’t mean anything to a native speaker. The closest sounding word is “yozh”, which means hedgehog.
I considered a hedgehog mascot, but it didn’t fit the aesthetics.
Do you have any plans for enhancements to the app?
I have ideas for many little improvements, such as looking up words or audio, but for the moment I’m focusing on learning the language.
Any plans to design another app?
Ha, it’s funny, after you make an app, people come out of the woodwork with ideas. Usually they’re pretty far fetched, like an app that can drive your car for you. But, no, for the time being, no more apps.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about yourself or about Yazh?
No, an iPhone version is not coming out. The app was also a one person effort, by a language learner for language learners.
My thanks to Eric for creating this app and taking the time to talk with me. Again, if you haven’t checked out Yazh yet, please do!
Do you have an app or a project you’d like me to feature on this blog, please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you!
Quick poll to all you Russian students out there: list the top 3 most challenging aspects of learning Russian. Was one of your answers case endings (aka declensions)? Then read on. (If one of your answers was not case endings, please contact me immediately so I can figure out what your secret is!)
I think most Russian language students agree that case endings are one of the hardest concepts to master. I used to think I’d never get them down. Even as someone who has gotten pretty comfortable with them, when I tried out the app, ‘Yazh’, I was reminded that you’re never too good to brush up :)
Here’s my review of Yazh:
What is it? Yazh gives you a word (with the definition), and asks you to supply the appropriate declension. For example. What is the instrumental singular of the word ‘ручка’ ?
What’s great about it? I love that Yazh ‘learn’s what your problem areas area and quizzes you more often on them. I also love that you can customize what you’re working on: choose nouns, or adjectives, masculine, feminine, irregular, choose between multiple choice and fill-in for an extra challenge. Also, the stresses are marked, which is always appreciated!
What could make it better? Really, there’s not much missing from Yazh. If anything, just more words. Because there are always more words to master.
Who is it most useful for? Yazh is probably most useful for people studying Russian at the beginning to intermediate level. But it’s also a great review for advanced speakers.
Android or iPhone? Available on Android only.
Is there a FREE version? Yes
Is there a paid version? Yes: $1.50
What’s the difference between free and paid versions? Paid version includes pronouns and has no ads.
My Rating: 5 stars = must have!
Yazh is the only one of it’s kind and is a must have for anyone studying Russian. Even a couple minutes a day will strengthen your command of Russian case endings, boost your vocabulary, and help you become a more confident speaker!
Full disclosure: the creator of this app is a member of the Meetup Group I organize, but I would not give out an undeserved glowing review. The fact that I know him, just makes me that much more proud to endorse this friend’s work. Check back next week for an interview with the app’s creator.
What other Russian Language Learning apps do you love? Please share in the comments!
I recently participated in Tотальный Диктант. At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It was described in part as ‘kind of a flash mob’, which wasn’t exactly accurate, but did pique my interest and get me to participate. In the end I learned it was basically a mass Russian grammar test - for native Russian speakers.
Even though I’m not a native speaker, I decided I wanted to see what it was all about and give it a try. As I suspected, I ended up being the only non-Russian in our group of about 20 people taking the test. Like the little girl in this picture, I did not exactly fit in, but I tried not to let that intimidate me.
The idea was that a text would be read to the participants, who would try to hand-write it with as few mistakes as possible. First we reviewed some common pitfalls of Russian spelling, grammar, and punctuation using this guide. Then, we watched a video recording of the author, Dina Rubina, reading her text.
After that we got to work. The text was read aloud by someone in the room, and to my surprise, he repeated things as many times as requested. As the other participants scurried to try to make sure everything was spelled correctly, and every comma was in place, I scurried to have something written on my page representing each word I heard. Bonus if it was the correct word, even better if it was spelled correctly, and as for punctuation - let’s just say that was not my top concern.
In the end, I was proud of myself for participating. It was a good reminder of why I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and why I should do it more often. This year’s Tотальный Диктант took place in 35 countries with 32,280 participants. 2,564 participated from outside of Russia. (I am curious to know how many of those were non-native speakers.)
Here is a picture of my group, as featured in Вырастай-ка magazine. (That’s me in the Smurfs sweatshirt.)
Did any of you happen to participate? What did you think?
With the news of a US diplomat being accused of spying against the Russians, I thought this would be a good time to mention how much I’m enjoying the show, The Americans.
I started watching with little expectation that it would be any good, because I don’t like the typical cop shows, but I am surprisingly hooked. It has a good mix of Russian, drama, suspense, romance, and period disguises. There’s not tons of Russian language in it, but of what little there is, I’m impressed that the actors seem to be native speakers, or at least trained in Russian. (As opposed to just actors who memorized a few words with butchered pronunciations.)
If you haven’t gotten on board yet, you can watch for free at Hulu.com - would make a great weekend marathon. Are you guys watching it? What do you think?
Good news! I’ve been contacted by DC’s Taffety Punk Theatre, and they’ve offered a 50% discount to anyone with a ‘Passion For Russian’ who would like to see the Russian play, ‘Oxygen’.
Purchase tickets here and use discount code “i need oxygen”.
But hurry! The show is likely to sell out as this is the last week it’s playing. The last showing will be next Friday, April 26th.
A few weeks ago I went to Politics and Prose to hear Doug Smith talk about his new book: ‘Former People’.
Smith, a historian and former State Department USSR analyst, draws his title from the Soviet term for the Russian nobility. Focusing his narrative on three generations of two dynasties, Smith traces the fall of the upper class from its pre-1917 wealth and privilege to the punishing treatment—ranging from impoverishment to execution—meted out to class enemies.
In his remarks Smith noted he’s gotten some curious comments and looks from both Russians and Americans for writing about what many consider to be an unpopular subject: What it was like for ‘the other side’ (the losing side) following the Revolution. To me, it doesn’t seem that strange. Did people deserve to be imprisoned, or even killed simply because they were born into a certain social status? Maybe the division of wealth wasn’t (isn’t) fair, but like Smith said, any time a an entire class of people are sought out and killed, that’s wrong.
The book follows events surrounding two noble families:the Shermetevs and the Golitsyns. Smith says by the end of the book, you feel like you get to know them. Sounds like an entertaining way to work your way through some serious Russian history. I, for one, look forward to reading ‘Former People’, as well as the three other books he’s written.
If you’re in DC, keep an eye on Politics and Prose for future interesting events. Or even better, just subscribe to my DC Russian Events Calendar, and I’ll let you know when something related to Russia is coming up!
(Author’s note: I’m getting this post up a little late, but please enjoy the pictures of the lovely weather we were enjoying a couple months ago..)
This year, I decided to try a new festival - the Ukrainian Festival in Silver Spring. And I have to say, this one’s going to give the Baltimore festival a run for it’s money as far as my favorite DC Ukrainian festival - although both of them are great.
This festival felt a little bit more like a huge church picnic that was open to the public (and served alcohol). I loved the park setting right next to the church. And the fact that it’s about a half an hour drive from where we live in DC (instead of an hour to get to Baltimore) didn’t hurt one bit.
Here’s me enjoying a Bile, next to this Ukrainian guy.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of this future miss Ukriane. I loved how she interacted with these off-duty dancers.
I have heard of this dance group, Carpathia a little while ago and had been waiting for my chance to see them in action. I missed them in Baltimore because I got scared off by a storm the day they performed. I finally got to see them at this festival and they were great - a lot of fun!
Did you go to any festivals this Festivus? How were they?
As I mentioned earlier, Festivus is upon us. A couple weeks ago, I attended the Ukrainian Festival in Baltimore. I attended this festival last year, so I don’t want to bore you with repeated information, but here are a couple new things I noticed from this year.
First of all, I got a great shot of St. Michael the Archangel church. I love the very modern-looking take on the traditional onion domes!
Here it is again, in the background of the festival. The church is slightly down the road from beautiful Patterson Park, where the festival takes place:
I think this was the first year that the festival held a pirogi eating contest. As you can see, this proud Ukrainian woman beat out the other 5 contestants, all of whom were men (and 1 boy). Девушка power!
And finally, what Ukrainian festival wouldn’t be complete without…a tiki bar?
See you next year, Baltimore Ukrainian Festival!