Russian 1121: Course Description

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.

Study materials for Russian 1121 in the fall 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 our Web Audio Lab site under Russian 1121.

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:

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.

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 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, 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. Unless the task is to work with individual words, please write complete sentences because most of Russian grammar makes sense only in context. Leave room for the teacher's comments. Use your mobile device to scan (or photograph) your writing and convert it to PDF format. Many students use the app called Genius Scan for this, but other PDF converters are also available at the online app stores. Submit your PDF to the Canvas webpage for this course. That is the only task for which we use Canvas. All other assignments and course info are on this website.
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; 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.
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 for Russian 1121 or the link for WAL (Web Audio Lab) in the navigation bar on the left under On-line course materials. In your Where Do You Want to Go? screen, click Eralash, 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.

Where the syllabus says "Watch & write an English translation," type your translation in an email and send it to the teacher. 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 practice imitating the actors in the Role Playing window.

The Syllabus indicates what else (in addition to the video and transcript) you need to work on. This may be Role Playing, Exercises, and/or Discussion. For the Role Playing work, meet with a classmate on Zoom or in person. 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 On-line course materials on the left. Send your recording (or a link to it) to your teacher by email.

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. 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; 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. 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 of 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, 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."