Slava Paperno (director)
Krystyna Golovakova
Raissa Krivitsky
Viktoria Tsimberov
Richard L. Leed (1929-2011)
Lora Paperno (retired)

Requirements, etc.
2016 survey

These open in new windows.
Our student studies
    Siberian tigers
Produced by two Cornellians
TV shows, films...
Web Audio Lab...
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 class days and times. We always try to accommodate everyone's schedule.

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 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. Still, so far in the recent years, we have taught at least two different groups, and sometimes three each semester.

Students in Russian 1131-1132 meet with the teachers three to four times a week for 35 to50 minutes depending on the number of credits. These meetings are in small groups. To compensate for the reduced listening and speaking class-time (compared to 1121-1122), the self-paced syllabus contains more online interactive 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.

The pace you select is measured in credit hours. Russian 1131 in the fall can be taken for 2 credits, 3 credits, or 4 credits per semester. (Compared to the 5 credits in 1121.) The same is true of Russian 1132 in the spring (2 to 4 credits vs. 5 credits in 1122.) The more credits, the larger the amount of homework per week, and the faster the pace.

If you use Russian 1131 and 1132 to fulfill your foreign language requirement, you need to accumulate at least 11 credit hours in all RUSSA courses combined. This can be achieved by taking Russian 1103/1104 at the same time as 1131/1132 or taking 1125/1125/2203 after 1132. See "Language requirement" under Courses in the navigation bar on the left.

As in Russian 1121, the study materials for Russian 1131-1132 include:

Beginning Russian, Second revised edition by Leed, Nakhimovsky, and Nakhimovsky, 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.)

5000 Russian Words by Leed, Paperno, Slavica Publishers

What I Saw by Boris Zhitkov, Slavica Publishers

Note: These books cover Russian 1121 and Russian 1122.

Russian Grammar Laminate Reference Chart by Mark E Kiken

Interactive video:
Eralash is part of the Beginning Russian Through Film series of annotated interactive movies authored by Slava Paperno and Viktoria Tsimberov, with editorial assistance by Matthew Huss. Use it on Web Audio Lab.

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.

Homework, tests and papers:

  • Written homework (a little over two handwritten pages total per week).
  • Three Review Papers, to be printed (not copied-and-pasted) from this PDF document.
  • Final exam consisting of around 100 questions (mostly fill-in-the blanks) taken from the online Beginning Russian Quizzes, the Review Papers, written homework, and short translation questions from film transcripts that you translated over the semester. Save all your corrected work so you can use it to study for the final exam.

About 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 all homework (written and online), the midterm, and the timely completion of the self-test quizzes and sound recordings. Some of these criteria are numerical while some are consensus-based, i. e. decided collectively by your three teachers. 25% come from the final exam.

Attendance and Participation:
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 grammar-and-vocabulary class is to use WAL to record and submit all exercises from the missed Lessons (whether or not they were assigned).

All homework is shown in the Syllabus. It should take 60 to 90 minutes to complete the assignment for each day in the syllabus.

  • reading a few pages in the textbook
  • online grammar self-tests (twice a week: practice until you get 100% score)
  • online audio work: listening and recording
  • work with annotated online video (on average, twice a week; starts after the first two weeks)
  • two or three written assignments each week, (some graded, some not)
  • three one-page Review Papers over the first half of the sequence, graded
The details of each type of homework are described below. Different types of work are assigned on different days of the week. Notes on doing each type of homework follow.

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.
Beginning Russian in Web Audio Lab
Log in to WAL, select Beginning Russian Quizzes, select the Lesson and Exercise assigned for the day, 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 last 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 for the book classes after reading the entire lesson and doing the self-test quizzes. Unless the task is to work with individual words, write complete sentences because most of Russian grammar makes sense only in context. Leave room for the teacher's comments. Give your writing to the teacher in class. (If you heard that we used to accept written homework on Canvas, that was necessary at the height of the epidemic, but has never been convenient.)
Listen, record, and submit
Do this after the written assignment, if any. Use Web Audio Lab (in Stimson Hall or on your own computer) to listen and record. A complete lesson takes 12 to 15 minutes to record; the typical assignment includes no more than two lessons to do for a class. 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.
Practice reading aloud
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 WAL recording.
Interactive Video in Web Audio Lab
Use a computer with a good Internet connection. Click an appropriate link in the Syllabus or the link for WAL (Web Audio Lab) in the navigation bar on the left under On-line course materials. In your Where to? screen, click Eralash, then select an episode and a scene or exercise. The Syllabus tells you what to work on.

Where the syllabus says "Watch & write an English translation," type your translation in an email and send it to the teacher, preferably on the night before the class but no later than 3 hours prior to the class. Do not translate too literally: your translations must read like good English.

As you watch the clips, read the dialog transcripts aloud, and click any word to 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 record your voice as you practice imitating the actors in the Role Playing window. These recordings are recommended but not required.

The Syllabus indicates what else (in addition to the video, transcript, and Role Playing) you need to work on. This may be Exercises, and/or Discussion.

If you have trouble using the software, ask your teacher for a demonstration.

Several film days are designated in the Syllabus as review days; the assignment for these classes is different, please see the Syllabus.

Jam Sessions
Start with the exercise assigned for writing. You will submit it to the teacher in class. Then record the assigned exercises in Web Audio Lab. Then, based on what you wrote and recorded, compose one or more conversations by using various words and phrases from the exercises as building blocks. Your conversation(s) can be short or long, humorous or plain, artistic or childish--that is all fine. The important thing is that they are your own creation, and that you speak Russian! You will use them in class to "jam" with your classmates. If you need props for your scene, such as the objects you want to discuss or a puppet/stuffed animal you want to speak to, feel free to bring some toys to class. A good way to prepare this homework is to get together with a classmate (on Zoom, chat, or just phone call) and create / practice live together.
Reading What I Saw
This is not assigned as homework; all reading will be done in class, but if you have time to look through the next few paragraphs, you may find that you will get more out of your next class. If you want to see the complete text of the original novella, with no pictures or glossaries, visit

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."
This Web site uses custom Russian fonts with accented vowels (ЂђЃ Љљѓ ЌќЊ, etc.).
If your browser does not display them correctly, follow these directions.
Dept. of Comparative Literature • Russian Language Program • 240 Goldwin Smith Hall • Cornell University • Ithaca, NY 14853-4701, USA
tel. 607/255-4155 • fax 607/255-8177 • email