According to Professor Viktor Shaklein, who has been teaching for 40 years the language of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, learning Russian is not that easy but not impossible, of course. So I decided to translate some excerpts from his recent interview appeared on this website. His answers provide very useful tips about how starting to learn this language.
Are there any methods or manuals for self-learning in Russian that you would advise?
Of course, in Russia there are books which let you learn Russian on your own. One of these is, for example, the famous handbook by Professor Serafima Khavronina “The Russian Language Exercises” which it was reprinted several times. And also “Russian, Basic Level”, published in 2005 by Rudn University (The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia) and many more.
What is the best way to learn Russian? Is it okay having a native speaker teacher since the first learning day?
At the beginning, not only it is very important to study the words, but also the patterns and the communicative structures. Whether the teacher is a mother tongue or not, it is not so important. The important thing is he/she must be specialist.
What should not be done when studying Russian? Do you have any practical advice to suggest?
Word lists should not be studied outside the sentence and the semantic field. Every word must be used only in its communicative unity, within the sentence. For example, you should not study the table word “stol”, declining it in all its cases: “stolom”, etc. This is not the right method, you have to learn the grammar from the propositions. Initially you try to remember the rules and at a later time you have to understand how to use them in practice. You have to start from a dialogue unit, for example, the place: “I live in Moscow”, “I go to school”, etc.
Can you tell us what are your favorite exercises to develop the verbal expression?
Assigning dialogues that can be used in different communicative situations and are as close to reality as possible. There may also be clashes, verbal discussions. When I taught in Mozambique I had created two local opposing football teams. One student pretended to fancy a team and the other student for that opponent. The former claimed that his team was the strongest in the world, while the latter maintained the opposite.
If you want to learn to understand and react, then you can also use the form of the monologue, if the student has something to tell. If the student has something to tell, he can express it through phrases and thus create a monologue. The important thing is that the exercises are adjusted to the students level.
What should memorize first a foreigner who wants to learn Russian if he does not want to focus on details immediately?
Imitation and storage processes are essential. The words must be learned along with the communicative structures and corresponding semantic functions that are then used in speech.