Russian 1121: Course Description for Fall 2015

Russian 1103 may be taken simultaneously with this course for additional credit and conversation practice. See its Syllabus and a detailed description under Courses in the navigation bar.

The Piazza page for this class is at It is an easy-to-use space to ask and answer any questions, like a mini-forum dedicated to this class.

Study materials for Russian 1121 in the fall include:

Leed, Nakhimovsky, and Nakhimovsky Beginning Russian, Second revised edition, Slavica Publishers. (Here are the first 8 Lessons in PDF format that you may use if your copy of the book hasn't arrived yet.)

Leed, Paperno 5000 Russian Words, Slavica Publishers

Boris Zhitkov What I Saw, Slavica Publishers

Note: These books cover Russian 1121 and Russian 1122.

Interactive video:
Beginning Russian Through Film (BRTF under On-line course materials in the navigation bar on the left) is a series of annotated digital movies on our Web site. It can be used on the Windows and Mac OS X computers in the language lab in Noyes Lodge. You may also be able to use the site on your own computer (Windows or Macintosh) from your room. Authored by Slava Paperno and Viktoria Tsimberov, editorial assistance by Matthew Huss.

Online References:
The Russian Dictionary Tree (under On-line course materials), a greatly expanded online version of 5000 Russian Words

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:
Beginning Russian Quizzes online at the COLLT site: click About COLLT or COLLT Login under On-line course materials.

Online Web Audio Lab:
Beginning Russian with WAL online at the WAL site: click About WAL or WAL Login under On-line course materials.

Tests and papers:
Beginning with the 3rd week, a 4-minute dictation (graded) each week and three Review Papers over the semester. The dictation is always one of the exercises assigned for memorization for that day. The Review Papers should be printed (not copied-and-pasted) from this PDF document. The final exam consists of over 100 questions (mostly fill-in-the blanks) taken from the quizzes, the three Review Papers, and written homework. Save all your corrected work so you can use it to study for the final exam.

75% of the grade is based on your performance during the semester: active participation in class, linguistic accuracy in speech and writing, the quality of the dictations and all homework, and the timely completion of the self-test quizzes and sound recordings. 25% of the grade is based on the final exam.

Mandatory and crucial; missing more than four classes without a good reason may affect your grade. If you do have to miss a class, send an email to your teacher before the class that you have to miss. If you are not feeling well, do the work that can be done on your computer when you recover, and ask your teachers for help catching up when you come back to class. We'll always be happy to help. The most productive way to catch up with the class is to use WAL to record and submit all exercises from the missed Lessons.

All homework is shown in the Syllabus. It should take 60 to 90 minutes each day. Four days a week part of the homework must be done in the language lab or on your own computer (Windows or Macintosh):

The details of each type of homework are described below. Different types of work are assigned on different days of the week.

Read and analyze
Read the grammar explanations first, then the exercises that are related to these explanations. Then read the entire lesson, taking note of the English translations. Make sure you know your way around the dictionary, 5000 Russian Words and consult it whenever you have a question.
Web Audio Lab
Log in to WAL, select Beginning Russian Quizzes, select the Lesson and Exercise assigned for the day and click Go. Click Start and follow the directions: listen and read when prompted, speak when the red line starts moving across the screen. After the last dot in the bottom row turns green (which means that your ;ast recording has been submitted), select the next exercise. For detailed directions, see the links About WAL and WAL Login under On-line course materials.
Beginning Russian Quizzes
Log in to COLLT, select Beginning Russian Quizzes, click Start (or Resume if this is not your first login) and go to the Quiz that is assigned for the day. Read the grammar notes and type the answers to fill all blanks. Click check to verify. You do not need to be always right the first time, but when you make a mistake, try again until you get everything right. When done with the quizzes that are assigned for the day, click the Finish button so that a record of your work is created and dated. For detailed directions, see the links About COLLT and COLLT Login under On-line course materials. Even though these are self-tests and are not graded, you are required to complete them when assigned. If you are having language problems when using COLLT, read the answers to most frequently asked questions regarding the Russian grammar exercises in COLLT.
Do all written exercises after reading the entire lesson and doing the self-test quizzes. Always write complete sentences. Leave room for the teacher's comments.
Listen, record, and submit
Do this after the written assignment, if any. Use Web Audio Lab (in Noyes Lodge or on your own computer) to listen and record. A complete lesson takes 12 to 15 minutes to record; very often, only one or two exercises from a lesson are assigned. Recordings are automatically submitted to our server, where they are reviewed by your teacher. This required homework will prepare you to take full advantage of class time.
Read aloud, practice orally
Do these after making the sound recordings. If you can, do this with a friend: act out the conversations together. Otherwise, prepare these exercises by yourself. It is important to pronounce every sentence, even if there is no one to listen.
Make sure that you can repeat the dialog from memory just as it sounds in the recording.
Interactive Video
Use a computer with a fast network connection--your own or one of the Windows or Mac OS X stations in the language lab in Noyes Lodge. Click an appropriate link in the Syllabus for Russian 1121. When the opening screen is displayed, be sure to select "large video" under "What's best for your connection?" The "small video" option is better for slow Internet connections. The syllabus links lead directly to the week's film assignments, but you can also click BRTF under On-line course materials.

As you watch the clips, read the dialog transcripts aloud, and consult the on-screen glosses. Make sure you understand the dialog and the events. Do not try to memorize the vocabulary, but do try to imitate the actors' speech. It is a good idea to speak along with the actors in the Role Playing window.

In most scenes you will see additional tabs next to the Transcript tab. These may be Role Playing, Exercises, and Discussion. If the episode consists of more than one scene the Discussion tab accompanies the part called "Entire episode."

The syllabus indicates which of the tabs you should look at for each episode and scene. When you click a tab, its text replaces the dialog transcript in the window. You can use the Print button next to the tabs to print the text that is currently displayed. You will usually find it useful to bring the printout to class so you can glance at it as you speak.

When you read the text of Role Playing, Exercises, or Discussion, look up the words you don't know in the glossary window, and practice performing the dialog, or doing the grammatical substitutions, or discussing the scene so you can do the same in class.

If you have trouble using the software, consult the on-screen Help or ask your teacher for a demonstration.

When assigned in the Syllabus, write or type an English translation of the video episodes. Several film days are designated in the Syllabus as review days; the assignment for these classes is different, please see the Syllabus.

Reading What I Saw is not assigned as homework; all reading will be done in class, but if you have time to look through the next paragraph or so, you may find that you will get more out of your next class.

Notes on language learning

Also known on Facebook as "SLAVA'S BLACK SWAN MANIFESTO"

Read this 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 rules 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 evolves like a living, breathing system and 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.
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.