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Thread: Learning Russian for its literature/media

  1. #1
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    Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Hello!

    I don't have any intention of moving to Russia nor any Russian friends, girlfriend, whatever. Thus, if I learn Russian it would be mainly to read Russian literature in the original (especially the classics, like Chekhov and co.), to enhance my pleasure when listening to Russian vocal music (especially Shostakovich, Mussorgsky), watch Russian films, etc. In other words, I would need much passive understanding but not so much active production.

    Is this a sensible goal? Is reading Dostoievski a task I'll find painfully tedious, looking up every other word and stuff, even after months, years, of learning grammar and vocabulary? Is it worth the effort?

    If you think it is, could you give me some learning book recommendations?

    ------------------------------------

    That was the question, now just a bit of additional information about me, in case it helps. I am a native Spanish speaker, and I've learned English and German to at least half-decent levels. I'm currently learning French. I love grammar (I'm the weird guy who thinks it would be more fun if the French subjunctive were more irregular ), and learning about declensions and conjugations is fun in my book. And learning a new script shouldn't be a problem, it's actually a plus.

    ------------------------------------

    Thanks in advance.

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Quote Originally Posted by tanuki
    Is this a sensible goal?
    Is it worth the effort?
    Hi
    If you questions are only the two above, I think you are the only one who can make the decision. It also depends on how much you want to read Russian literature in original. If you want it a lot, surely the goal is sensible.

    As for a learning book, I can't recommend any, unfortunately.
    In Russian, all nationalities and their corresponding languages start with a lower-case letter.

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Hi tanuki and welcome!

    I am probably the only person on this forum who does not know any Russian and yet I enjoy Russian music and films very much! HOWEVER... and that is a very big HOWEVER... I have found I miss so very much by not knowing the language. As my passion is the arts, I might pick up on subtle things in a movie the average person may not. Yet, I still miss many more things because the subtitles are lacking detail or just plain incorrect. I find I don't understand references or there are cultural things that go right over my head.

    About the question is it a sensible goal... I would actually like to offer to you an additional and/or alternative goal… You see, IMHO, for your purpose, it will be much more than learning the language. You will need to understand the people and their culture to better understand their arts. If you just get a book and learn by yourself, you will be missing out on the artist's intent, passion, and creation and so much more as the “old Russian” culture is extremely rich and different than most anything you may have ever experienced and with all the misinformation or propaganda that was/is out there, who knows what you learned about Russia and their society and culture growing up? What kind of mental image do you think of right now when you think of Russia and Russians? Your answer will project upon your views and interpretation of the art. Your possible lack of knowledge will hinder your understanding more so than your lack of Russian. Оля made a comment to me the other day about how I had no idea what it was like back during that time in Russia, and she was correct. She had to educate me about that time so I could better understand the film (and I already REALLY, REALLY liked this film ).

    Even if you read in Russian, you need to be able to UNDERSTAND the true meaning behind the words. You can learn the words to your favorite song, but what do they really mean? What was the inspiration to the composer? Or what is the singer’s back-story which makes the song so hauntingly beautiful to you when you heard it?

    As I said at the beginning, I don’t understand or speak Russian, and yet… with the help of the people on this forum, I am just beginning to understand and appreciate Russian artistry, and I strongly suggest to you if your goal is “to enhance my pleasure when listening to Russian vocal music (especially Shostakovich, Mussorgsky), watch Russian films, etc.” you should explore this non-language side along with your journey of learning the language.

    Best of luck to you!
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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Thanks for the answers so far, Оля and rockzmom!

    Rockzmom, I completely agree with your post, and it has convinced me that learning Russian will enhance my understanding of the Russian people/culture/history. Right now I practically know squat about Russia other than the usual propaganda.

    This leads me to draw a parallel between German(y) and Russia(n). Knowing German I can read what the Germans have to say about themselves. I can hear the average German speak about their experiences, about the joy they felt when they heard the Wall had fallen, how their eyes filled with tears of joy, and it gives me the chills, and I know a translation would do them no justice. Most people think "cold", "serious" and "Nazi" when they hear "German", but honestly the Germans are the nicest people I have ever met; I've come to love the people, their language, their food and I've learned to recognize their true flaws. And I know my life and my head would be emptier if I didn't know German.

    Same with English. How on earth are you supposed to translate "And I was, like, you know, SHOCKED.", "I ain't got no money", "valley girl" or "redneck" without clumsy footnotes? How are you supposed to translate puns? There's so much lost in translation!

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Nothing wrong at all with wanting to learn to read Russian lit.

    If you want to be very focused on reading and don't care if you ever speak a word of it, then you can save yourself some time on practicing pronunciation.

    I don't have any idea what books there might be in Spanish for studying Russian, but there are plenty of books in English. The one everyone seems to like the most is The New Penguin Russian Course by N. Brown. Probably any Russian textbook you find will be helpful to some extent. You probably don't need a phrasebook.

    Once you feel comfortable with the alphabet and some of the grammar, you should start looking for beginning reading material. If you don't mind reading on your computer, you can find LOTS of material just on this website.

    Good luck to you. The people on this forum are very helpful, so feel to ask specific questions here.

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    I don't have any idea what books there might be in Spanish for studying Russian, but there are plenty of books in English.
    Oh, books in English are totally OK! Thanks for the recommendation. This forum's members seem to be very friendly!

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    If you want to be very focused on reading and don't care if you ever speak a word of it, then you can save yourself some time on practicing pronunciation.
    You might, indeed. However, unless you're a real bookworm, I would still recommend going out there, listen to the songs, sing the songs in Russian, read poetry aloud, etc. I think the new [possibly unusual] words would sink in much better. And if there was a way of sniffing or touching a language, I would recommend that as well.

    Good luck!

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Quote Originally Posted by tanuki
    This leads me to draw a parallel between German(y) and Russia(n). Knowing German I can read what the Germans have to say about themselves. I can hear the average German speak about their experiences, about the joy they felt when they heard the Wall had fallen, how their eyes filled with tears of joy, and it gives me the chills, and I know a translation would do them no justice. Most people think "cold", "serious" and "Nazi" when they hear "German", but honestly the Germans are the nicest people I have ever met; I've come to love the people, their language, their food and I've learned to recognize their true flaws. And I know my life and my head would be emptier if I didn't know German.

    Same with English. How on earth are you supposed to translate "And I was, like, you know, SHOCKED.", "I ain't got no money", "valley girl" or "redneck" without clumsy footnotes? How are you supposed to translate puns? There's so much lost in translation!
    You are so right - there's nothing like reading stuff and watching films and listening to the songs in the original. One of the reasons of my undying fascination with languages. And the same is true of Russian - you can understand the culture much better when you know the language - certain things just can't be translated. And as a Russian, of course, I'd say that the Russian lit and cinema are well worth the effort of studying the language, since I enjoy them so much myself. BUT, you need to know what the best things are, and I suppose this is the place to get the recommendations about what to read and what to watch - although people will have different opinions about this topic. I, for one, am not a huge fan either of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky - my favourite Russian writers/books are Chekhov's short humorous stories, Sholokhov's "Quiet Flows the Don", Kuprin's "The Duel", "Oblomov" by Goncharov and some others things. And as for the cinema, I don't really understand the fame of Tarkovsky or Eisenshtein - much more mainstream girl that I am, give me Gaigai and Ryasanov any day of the week . Or a film about WWII (the Great Patriotic War)

    But it does take years of rather tedious work with dictionaries to get at a good level of understanding with any language, as I'm sure you know. No shortcuts there. One of the reasons I'm in no hurry to take on more languages on my own. Well, I did start learning German (I heard this march song on the "World At War" series - "Wenn Die Soldaten Durch Die Stadt marschieren" - and liked it so much that decided to study the language) but I haven't made much progress yet... Though it's a lot of fun to see how much it has in common with English. And I suppose it would be quite easy for me now to tackle Spanish and Italian, since I know French. But when dealing with a whole new language family - like Chinese or Hindu, or the Slavic languages for you - that must be rather scary.

    Anyway, just don't try and tackle "War and Peace" in the original - try something shorter. I'd say "The Dawns Here Are Quiet" by Boris Vasilyev (or anything by him, for that matter) would be all right, as his prose is light, short, modern and not devoid of humour. Or some children's stuff, perhaps.

    Anyways, good luck.
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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Quote Originally Posted by starrysky
    ...Anyway, just don't try and tackle "War and Peace" in the original - try something shorter. I'd say "The Dawns Here Are Quiet" by Boris Vasilyev (or anything by him, for that matter) would be all right, as his prose is light, short, modern and not devoid of humour. Anyways, good luck. ...
    Привет, Звёздочка! Добро пожаловать!

    Борис Васильев
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    Текст - http://militera.lib.ru/prose/russian/vasilyev1/01.html

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Thanks for the warm welcome, lampada
    Alice: One can't believe impossible things.
    The Queen: I dare say you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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    Re: Learning Russian for its literature/media

    Thank you very much for the recommendations, starrysky!

    I've got the Penguin Russian Course, so I'll start with the study. I'm looking forward to learning!

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