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:

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

Russian Grammar Laminate Reference Chart by Mark E Kiken

Interactive video:
Eralash and several feature films (abridged) are 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 them on our Web Audio Lab site under Russian 1131-1132: click About WAL or WAL Login under On-line course materials.

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.

In 2020-2021, this course is taught online in synchronous, real-time meetings on Zoom. We do not pre-record any lectures or classes. See the links for the Zoom meetings in our "Rooms and times" page. See Zoom under On-line course materials for the basic things you need to know about it.

Tests and papers:
Three Review Papers over the first half of the sequence. The Review Papers should be printed (not copied-and-pasted) from this PDF document. The final exam at the end of each semester in Russian 1131-1132 is a portion of the corresponding exam in Russian 1121-1122 that is proportionally adjusted to fit each student's chosen pace of progress. Note this description of the final exam: the 1131-1132 final is very similar to the finals in Russian 1121 or Russian 1122 and includes only the days in the syllabus that were covered by your group this semester.) Since the exam questions (mostly fill-in-the blanks) are taken from the online quizzes, the three Review Papers, and written homework, you are advised to save all corrected written work so you can use it for review as you study for the finals.

75% of the grade is based on your performance during the semester: active participation in meetings, 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.

You are required to attend a certain number of classes each week, and are encouraged to attend all of your group's classes. You are also advised to attend any classes in the other groups of the course if more than one such group exists in a given semester. The exact number of required classes depends on your pace, the size of your group, and other factors. Your teacher will explain this at the beginning of the semester.

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
  • audio work (listening and recording)
  • work with annotated online video
  • one written exercise (typically half a page) approximately every other day
  • three one-page Review Papers over the first half of the sequence
The details of each type of homework are described below. Different types of work are assigned on different days in the syllabus. Part of the homework must be done in the language lab or on your own computer (Windows or Macintosh). 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 in the book, 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 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 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, be sure to 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 in the book 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 the language lab or on your own computer) to listen and record. A complete lesson takes 12 to 15 minutes to record. 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 meeting 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 WAL recording.
Interactive Video in Web Audio Lab
Use a computer with a good Internet connection--your own or one of the Windows or Mac OS X stations in the language lab. 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 Welcome menu, click Eralash (or the assigned feature film), then select an episode from the top menu and an item from the bottom menu. The items to work on are listed in the Syllabus.

As you watch the clips, read the dialog transcripts aloud, along with the actors, 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.

The Syllabus indicates what else (in addition to the video and transcript) you need to work on with the films. This may be Role Playing, Exercises, and/or Discussion. For the Role Playing work, meet with a classmate on Zoom. If the assigned episode is long, select one or two scenes or a portion of a longer scene, rehearse acting it out, and when ready, record your performance. If the episode is short, do the whole thing. See recording directions under Zoom in Online course materials on the left.

When you read the text of Role Playing, Exercises, or Discussion, click the words you don't know to see their dictionary entries. Practice performing the dialog, doing the grammatical substitutions, and discussing the scene so you can do the same in class.

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

When assigned in the Syllabus, write or type an English translation of the video episodes and email it to your teacher. 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 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."
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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