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Thread: Learning Russian online

  1. #1
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    Learning Russian online

    I've noticed a lot of people lately who are trying to learn a language from the net alone. Through my own experiences with trying to learn languages from the net(whether starting from beginning level or trying to find supplements), I've found that there are usually very few serious resources. There might be a phrasebook site or two, or maybe a site with a short intro. There are also sites that seem to hold a good amount of information, but are more of a "grab bag" of language learning resources, rather than a structured course. However, I think that the net holds great potential for people willing to learn. If one were to create a site structured around a good textbook, with interactive exercises and so on, would a person be able to learn the language as well, or better, as if he had bought the textbook and read it by himself? Although I am in no position to teach Russian(or any other language, including my own), I would be interested in creating a site of this sort with the assistance of native speakers and people experienced in teaching the language. What are your opinions on this matter? Does anyone know of any sites like what I am describing, free or otherwise?

    Here are some of my criteria for a site like this:

    Structured, well-explained lessons
    Exercises that show you where you went wrong and how to do it right
    A lively discussion forum, much like this one

    The above does not sound that hard to implement. If it were possible, however, I would also like to add this:

    Listening exercises, sometimes with videos
    Conversation practice, either with real people or a program(through text)
    More interactive exercise stuff - for example, writing compositions and having a computer grammar checker(or even a real person) go through it for you

    There's also another idea I've got up my sleeve that's a great bit different from the standard ones above, but I will have to ruminate on it a bit.

  2. #2
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    http://masterrussian.net/mforum/viewtopic.php?t=4401
    Doesn't seem like anything less than human will work and that could present problems, I reckon.
    I would like to see a site with good learning materials though.
    Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself. - Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

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    Spell checker programs are one thing; programs that analyze sentences and try to understand them are another. As of now, the best programs still make bad grammar errors or can't hold conversations well. There's actually an annual competition for this sort of thing; unfortunately, I have forgotten what it's called. The ALICE program won last year; I was not too impressed, however.

    What I would really like to do is write a program that would emulate a person on this forum and see how well it could hold up.

    As for me, I'm sick of all the "grab bag" type sites. I usually feel lost and I don't really know where to start. An example would be the About.com sites, at least before they switched to their new psuedo-websquatter format. What I would like to see is a site that offers a structured and progressive course in a language.

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    Pravit, such sites exist already. Take BBC languages site, for example. Others offer their courses for a fee and take you outside the Internet format. What you might not believe, however, is that there are people who simply do not want to take a serious structured course or have a patience to finish one. In general, I like your thinking/idea so PM me if you want to discuss it in more detail.
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    I was not going to mention it earlier but it seems that for a online Russian programme to work and at the same time be good, there would have to be a fee to cover expenses and that would suck. Unless of course there were enough volunteers fluent in Russian willing to babysit .......then it could be quite good!
    Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself. - Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

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    There seems to be enough able volunteers at this site to babysit anyone who tries to learn Russian, but of course on the forum you can come and go wherever you want to, whereas if I kept sending people error-riddled essays, it would begin to feel like a job.

    About the BBC language sites, I have a vague recollection of their Italian Steps course...let me bring up one of their sites. I'm looking at the German one right now, and it actually does not seem too bad. Pretty good for a casual learner planning on a holiday in Germany. It is good that they explain a little bit how some of the basic phrases work. What I had in mind, however, would be a site for people that want more than tourist-type phrases - a site for people who want to learn the language for the joy of learning languages. Or at least for people who wanted more depth. I have long searched for this kind of site and have come up empty most of the time.

    I have noticed most learn-it-yourself books(and many school textbooks) are structured around some kind of dialogue or reading selection, followed by vocabulary used and an analysis of what the people were saying. I do not particularly like this method. What I would like is something that would return the wonder and adventure to language learning. I remember my first textbook; now that I look back on it, I realize it was not very good, from a purely pedagogical point of view. But there was some sort of mystery about it; every new grammar rule they introduced was like some sort of secret or magic spell revealed. Learning Russian, then, was not a matter of systematically memorizing verb conjugations and case declinations; it was more like discovering some new science or magic, and with each turn of the page you could conjure up your own spells or postulate your own theories by putting together these arcane symbols.

    Surprisingly enough, I seem to feel a parallel in learning a new programming language. Once they've taught you a bit, you can make your own program. It may be small, and not do very much, but it is your very own, and you can experiment as much as you want to with the small amount of the language you know. As you are presented with more and more, you begin to be able to expand on their ideas, or figure out how to improve your own. In this way, learning a programming language is more like playing and discovering than mind-numbing drudgery. I don't know any programmer who learned his stuff from reading reference manuals; the way to learn to program is to program, play, and experiment. And that is precisely the method I would like to introduce to human language learning.

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    What I would like is a good repository of audio clips - could be a list of words for a basic vocabulary. Or a simple short story for people to read along as they listen to the audio. It would be great if this was in different formats that were downloadable, to iPod, for instance.
    a.k.a. Nina Karlovna (my church name; patron saint is St. Nino of Georgia)

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    A very early version of what I am trying to think up can be found here.

    http://www.freewebs.com/pravit/learnlang.htm

    What do you think about it? I'm open to any criticism or suggestions.

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    Well, it's a good start. At first, I was thrown off a bit by the programmer-ese with a touch of mathematics.

    But I sort of see the approach in explaining the case changes. With illustrations, I think that would be even more effective.
    a.k.a. Nina Karlovna (my church name; patron saint is St. Nino of Georgia)

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    I was aware that the "programming" style used might throw off some people(althought it would attract others); I'm rewriting it a bit, but the idea is the same.

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    боже мой

    What I really appreciate in a course/textbook is completeness/self-containedness. And though I've heard a lot of trendy language learning theories, I personally prefer to have something grammar-driven to begin with - like you, I think.

    Your programming-style approach would require something - a Russian compiler.
    MS Word Russian has one which I use from time to time, although I suspect many of the errors it spews out with its little green squiggly lines are spurious (as in English).

    Of course the vast majority wouldn't want to do it your way, Pravit. If you ever get into teaching you'll realize how far away you are from the norm
    Море удачи и дачу у моря

  12. #12
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    Yep, I was thinking that it would be rather neat to have a "programming" language with which you could describe a human language. And somehow compile it. I don't know what you would use it for, but this would be one application. Well, you wouldn't actually need it for this one, just some kind of sophisticated parser thing that would analyze your sentence...

    completeness/self-containedness
    I appreciate this as well. The problem is where to draw the line on completeness.

    grammar-driven to begin with
    Yep yep, me too. If the book doesn't have grammar, I won't buy it.

    Anyhow, I do realize the method up there is rather "weird", and I have no idea how it would actually work. But there are a couple things I wanted to stress:
    -treating the language as a tool; all human language is, in effect, a means of getting somebody else to do something, right?
    -treating words as references to objects, not the objects themselves
    -not giving "translations" of words, but rather, meaning. It's rather hard for me to remember new words, even in English, if they are defined simply by other words.

    I rewrote the "programming" thing above to put it in the context of a rather corny fantasy story , but the idea is exactly the same.

    I have other, more conventional ideas for a language-learning site, but the programming one seemed the most interesting at the time.

    If you ever get into teaching you'll realize how far away you are from the norm
    Actually, last semester I had a quite unpleasant experience teaching half-hour-a-week "conversation practicums" for students of German. They were rather dull. I was really motivated at first, but everyone was unmotivated and bored and didn't want to do anything, and the time I was given was really inadequate, so I just ended up making them do dumb activities and fill-in-the-blank grammar exercises.

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    Being a C++ programmer my self, i loved it. However, to most people trying to use that would feel like their trying to learn 2 languages at the same time. If you could move it away from the programming-oriented style to more of a conversational style, that would probably be better for most people. I do however now know what "пачка" means
    Я знаю
    Что делаю
    Вилкою
    Пирогу

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    Last edited by Darobat on Mon Mar 5, 1759 1:19 am; edited 243 times in total

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    Yay! There is indeed a different version I wrote, but I generally dislike fantasy stories and it's so corny that I did not want to post it. But you can take a look here:
    http://www.freewebs.com/pravit/firstlesson.htm

    About learning two languages, I see what you mean. But what I was trying to do, and as you can see, I intentionally avoided grammar terms(though I don't think it's such a good idea, actually) in order to "trick" people into learning Russian without realizing it. I'll have to think about it some more. All this "declare spell" nonsense is getting on my nerves as a grammar-lover.

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    Administrator MasterAdmin's Avatar
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    Looks good. Will work for programmers for sure but may also work for others if the narration is less technical.
    ~ Мастерадминов Мастерадмин Мастерадминович ~

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    Which one? The first one or the "Harry Potter Learns Russian" one? There are a whole lot of people who aren't programmers, so I was thinking of coming up with somethiing more standard. But the thing is, I want something that reads like a book. I mean, I don't know anyone who curls up in bed with grammar textbooks(well, I have been known to do that occasionally) - I would prefer something that is easy and fun to read. But I'll have to think about how to do it, especially since I'm not that great of a writer in the first place.

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    One suggestion. At the end of the lesson, you should just quicly summarize what you were talking about in normal speach and direct translations of words and various grammar rules

    что - What?
    книга - Book
    пачка - Bag, pouch (I think?)

    -а Base ending for a feminine noun
    -у Makes a feminine noun accustive.
    Я знаю
    Что делаю
    Вилкою
    Пирогу

    How to Post

    Last edited by Darobat on Mon Mar 5, 1759 1:19 am; edited 243 times in total

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    As I said earlier, I intentionally wrote the "translations" that way, because I think it is important to learn the meaning and gain a "feel" for words rather than learn "this label is equal to that label." As for using actual grammatical terms, it seems a good idea; no sense making the reader learn two sets of terms. I'm still debating continuing with that approach, it was more of an experiment than aything else.

    About "пачка" - maybe I should modify that definition to "a small, often rectangular-shaped container which holds several small objects of the same type."

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    I say this, because if someone was to arrive on a forum such as this and not know how to put a certian word into accustive case because they don't know what "accustive" means. Or maybe have a "gramatical summary for the curious" as a seperate page that has all the rules summarized, just for a reference; not to learn from.

    Also, i think it would be a good idea to make word definitions more straight forward.

    пачка - A box i.e. He put his shoes in a box.
    книга - A book (electronical or physical)
    Я знаю
    Что делаю
    Вилкою
    Пирогу

    How to Post

    Last edited by Darobat on Mon Mar 5, 1759 1:19 am; edited 243 times in total

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pravit
    Which one? The first one or the "Harry Potter Learns Russian" one? There are a whole lot of people who aren't programmers, so I was thinking of coming up with somethiing more standard. But the thing is, I want something that reads like a book. I mean, I don't know anyone who curls up in bed with grammar textbooks(well, I have been known to do that occasionally) - I would prefer something that is easy and fun to read. But I'll have to think about how to do it, especially since I'm not that great of a writer in the first place.
    First one. I didn't see your "Harry Potter" lesson.
    ~ Мастерадминов Мастерадмин Мастерадминович ~

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