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!