On-line course materials
These open in new windows.Mini-Videos
The Anthrax Diaries
The Russian Dictionary
The Human Body
Водитель для Веры
Интервью из России I
Интервью из России II
Дети из России
На атомной речке
Important Cornell links
These open in new windows.Word usage
Bilingual word usage
Abbyy Lingvo dictionaries
Словарь русского языка
Dictionary of Synonyms
Медуза/Meduza news, etc.
Радио «Эхо Москвы»
Россия 24. Программа передач. | Прямой эфир
Study in Russia
We are in the News!
Self-Paced Elementary Russian: Course Description
Cornell's Room and Time Roster lists this course as TBA (Time to Be Arranged). Come to the organizational meeting (see our Welcome page), usually held on the second day of the semester, to discuss the meeting times.
Russian 1131-1132 (fall and spring), aka Self-Paced Elementary Russian I and II, is offered for the benefit of the students who cannot commit to the fairly intensive pace of our traditional beginning Russian courses (1121-1122). No prior knowledge of Russian is assumed.
The materials used in Russian 1131-1132 are the same as in Russian 1121-1122, these courses are usually taught by some of the same teachers, and the expected outcome of the traditional and self-paced curriculum is essentially the same. What differs is how much of the material is covered in one semester and how many semesters it takes the student of 1131-1132 to travel the same distance. In principle, each student can choose his or her own pace and stretch these studies over three or four semesters. In practice, depending on the department's resources and the number of 1131-1132 students in a given semester, the choices may be somewhat constrained.
Students in Russian 1131-1132 meet with the teachers two or more times a week (depending on the chosen pace) for 30 minutes each time. Some of these meetings are required, and some may be optional--again, depending on the chosen pace and the size of the group. These meetings may be one-on-one or in very small groups. To compensate for the reduced listening and speaking class-time (compared to 1121-1122), the self-paced syllabus contains more online interactive audio work, and a little more reading and writing, but in all other respects the assignments in this syllabus are practically the same as those in our traditional first-year syllabus. Accordingly, the course description that follows is almost identical to the description of 1121 and 1122.
Every 17 days in the syllabus are "worth" 1 credit hour. The first 68 days are equivalent to Russian 1121, taught in the fall. The rest echoes Russian 1122 in the spring semester. Completing the entire 1131-1132 sequence grants the student 8 credit hours and applies towards satisfying the Arts & Sciences foreign language requirement in the same way as Russian 1121-1122.
This course is different from the standard first-year sequence in that the assignments are not stated for each day, but rather for each week. You may find this to be both easier and more challenging, but that's the nature of self-paced study: not everyone is completely in sync with everyone else in any given class. Students are required to attend at least two classes each week, and are encouraged to attend all four, yet it is still crucial that the week's program is covered by everyone. This means that some of the assignments that everyone prepares may not be discussed in class, or they may not be discussed in class on the day(s) that you attend. You are, of course, free to raise questions about any assignment that you need help with. Unlike the standard course, the syllabus includes several review days over the semester.
Study materials for Russian 1131-1132 include:
5000 Russian Words by Leed, Paperno, Slavica Publishers
What I Saw by Boris Zhitkov, Slavica Publishers
Beginning Russian Grammar (under On-line course materials), a conveniently organized online version of the grammar sections in Beginning Russian by Leed et al.
Online Self-Test Quizzes:
Online Web Audio Lab:
Tests and papers:
Reading What I Saw is not assigned as homework until the second half of the sequence, but some reading will be done during the meetings even before that.
Notes on language learning
Known on our Facebook page as "SLAVA'S BLACK SWAN MANIFESTO", here are a few notes on language learning that describe some the principles that inspire our teaching. Read them if you wonder why we teach the way we do, or if you find yourself spending too much time doing homework ("too much" is more than 60-90 minutes--on average--for each class).
Language is not arithmetic. You don't learn a language in a specific order, and you don't learn something once and for all. You can, and usually do, learn by performing a variety of steps; you learn a portion of each step at a time; you learn gradually, adding one layer after another. It's like making a snowball.
You are not a robot. Everyone learns at his or her own pace. The pace is uneven: you seem to be stuck for a week or two, then suddenly you feel that you can do a lot more now, then the learning slows down again. Some people learn to read sooner than they learn to speak; for some people speaking comes more easily than understanding spoken speech.
It is useful to have a foreign accent. You may take months to learn how to make certain sounds while others can imitate the natives with little effort. Do not lose your accent: in Russia, when you sound like a foreigner, people give you allowances for your mistakes, and they pay attention to what you are trying to say.
Languages are not governed by rules. A programming language is based on rules while a natural language is a living, breathing, and often unpredictable system that does not follow static paths. What some people call "rules" are our observations on the behavior of the language. Like everywhere in nature, we see variation, change, and quirks. Okay, perhaps capitalization is governed by man-made rules, but capitalization is merely a cosmetic detail of the language.
Where there are no rules, there are no exceptions. Russian may have fewer than a dozen nouns that end in -mya but that doesn't make them an anomaly. They are lovely nouns. Three of them are extremely common. Just because something is rare, we don't have to call it an ugly duckling. Some of the so-called exceptions are easily explained by the history of the language... and some, yes, some are accidents. Natural history is full of them, too.
Lists are useless. Trying to memorize series of endings or words is largely unproductive. Of course there are vocabulary lists in the textbook's Grammar Reviews, as well as in the glossary pages in What I Saw and in the glossary panels in Beginning Russian Through Film on the web. Use them to test yourself every now and then if you like, but don't try to learn from those lists. You learn by hearing, reading, writing, typing, speaking words and phrases again and again--in WAL, COLLT, dictations, conversations, drills--by exercising as many of your abilities as you can. Mechanical learning and creative learning both have their legitimate place in language study. Variety and context are the key.
Guessing is learning. In a mathematical formula, if you don't know the value of a variable, you don't know the value of the equation. Language is better: you can guess. Think of your daily interaction with the world: you are guessing all the time. When your guess is verifiable, you learn from your guess; when it isn't, you store the experience for later. Use that strategy while reading in a foreign language, and even while listening. If you look up and write down the translation of every word, you'll never be able to read War and Peace.
We are all authors. Every time you make a statement, in your first language or in a foreign language, you create fiction. Statements like 2 + 2 = 4 may be facts, but most of what we say and write are our own inventions that may be very close to reality or quite removed from it. This is not because we lie. It's because we are all artists. Remember this when the textbook tells you that you have broken a "rule."
Dept. of Comparative literature
Russian Language Program
240 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4701, USA
tel. 607/255-4155 • fax 607/255-8177 • email firstname.lastname@example.org