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Russian - advancing to reading literature

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Hexaglot
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 Message 1 of 17
20 March 2005 at 11:28am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, how much effort was needed to move from a reading comprehension of newspaper articles (that's where I am now) to an ability to read Turgenev?

I feel that the vocabulary used to describe people, things, landscapes and emotions is to vast that this might take me ages.
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ProfArguelles
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 Message 2 of 17
21 March 2005 at 2:49am | IP Logged 
After I spent a month living with a family and taking intensive private tutorials, I spent about another year reading Russian literature for at least an hour a day (often much more) using translated texts as a crutch rather than having recourse to a dictionary. At first I read a translated chapter, then the Russian original back to back. After about six months, I started reading the entire translation first, then the entire Russian work. After this, I found that I could dispense with the translations altogether and simply read the original with a sufficient amount of pleasure and understanding, grasping the meaning of unknown words from their context and only looking them up in a dictionary when I saw them repeatedly.

For help understanding Russian etymology, you might want to have a look at George Z. Patrick's "Roots of the Russian Language."
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administrator
Hexaglot
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 Message 3 of 17
21 March 2005 at 3:08am | IP Logged 
I am relieved to see that it took even you a good deal of efforts to be able to manage around this behemoth! There are a few bilingual editions of Russian works in French, otherwise most are translated in separate editions.

After 5 months of continuous efforts towards that specific goal I am finally able to read regular newspapers. But if I open a litterary book (as opposed to one about contemporary history or a monograph), the amount of unknown vocabulary is overwhelming. If and when I want to be able to read Russian litterature I'll heed your advice!

I know 'Roots of the Russian Language.' this is quite a good book indeed and does offer some help in figuring out new words or remembering them.


Edited by administrator on 21 March 2005 at 3:20am

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 4 of 17
21 March 2005 at 7:04am | IP Logged 
Russian vocabulary is indeed vast and rich, so getting to know it is necessarily challenging, but well worth the effort.

You should be able to obtain a good number of Russian-German bilingual texts from Reclam Verlag, which will be helpful in the earlier stages, but what I went through was a great many lengthy novels, the translation and the original being in separate volumes. I got most of the Russian books while I was there, but you seem to know of some good bookstores closer to you for this. If you do not mind reading texts online (it seems like you spend a fair amount of time here; I know I am starting to spend much too much myself!) or at least in electronic format on your computer, there are now vast resources at your disposal.

Edited by administrator on 23 March 2005 at 2:46pm

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administrator
Hexaglot
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 Message 5 of 17
23 March 2005 at 12:34am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, I must say that the tale of your experience with Russian litterature is a great inspiration for me. This is the first time I can get somebody to tell me in such a simple way how he managed to read Russian litterature and it encourages very much to do the same.

I can only wish that you will eventually agree to share more such experiences for other languages. You should not underestimate the power of such an example for people who read this board. Even my own humble experiences have lead to a constant string of people over the years who told me how they learned Spanish after being inspired by my one story as posted on this website. I can only imagine what learning frenzy your experiences will trigger in other people!
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heartburn
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 Message 6 of 17
23 March 2005 at 5:47pm | IP Logged 
Well said, Francois!

I've had the English and Spanish editions of a novel sitting untouched on my desk for weeks. I just didn't know the best way to proceed.

Thanks Ardaschir! Now I can get started.
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ProfArguelles
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 Message 7 of 17
23 March 2005 at 7:25pm | IP Logged 
Since you find this helpful, I will give some more details of the way that I have gone about learning to read literature in Russian and other foreign languages.

The first step is to use actual bilingual texts, with the target language on one page and a translation on the facing page. I keep one index finger under one sentence, the other under its counterpart, and I slowly and carefully compare everything. I am not really "reading" at this point, but rather analyzing the language using interesting reading matter.

The second step is to use "readers," i.e., books that contain annotated excerpts of literature with explanatory notes and, most importantly, vocabulary and an index that is specially keyed to these texts so that finding the meaning of unknown words is much easier than it is by using a regular dictionary. I usually make enlarged photocopies of the text first and then write the meaning of all new words directly in the space underneath them. I then read and reread these texts many times.

The third step is begin reading "easy" literature unaided, i.e., material for native children or adolescents.

The fourth step is what I described in an earlier post, namely using not bilingual texts but an original text and a translation in tandem, reading first a portion of the translation, then the original itself. What portion? If all I can handle is a paragraph or a page at a time, then it is better to keep working with actual bilingual texts. At this stage, as I wrote before, it is initially best to read a full chapter at a time. At first I may have to read them back to back, but I find that it is better not to do so, but rather to read the original later in the day.   Eventually, I read the entire translated work first, then the original. I never use a dictionary at this stage, but just keep on reading. With Russian, I went through most of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Checkov this way, as well as some Oblomov and Gogol. I then passed the "airplane test," as I call it, taking a novel that I had not read in translation before with me as my sole companion on an intercontinental flight, and reading it with interest, enjoyment, and understanding the whole time.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to avoid using a dictionary until you have gotten past these stages. Doing so harms you more than it helps you, for it slows you down too much and breaks your concentration. I have always found that using a dictionary is only profitable after I have gotten past this fourth step. Again, I generally try to look up only "known unknowns," i.e., words that I have seen often enough to recognize them ("there's that damn word again--what the hell does it mean?") or even better actually remember them and say to myself, not necessarily while reading, but simply while ruminating, "I know that I don't know what X means--it seems like it means such and such, but I wonder..." When I finally look it up, I never forget it, whereas if I use a dictionary too early, I find myself looking up the same word repeatedly.

Edited by administrator on 23 March 2005 at 10:49pm

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heartburn
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 Message 8 of 17
23 March 2005 at 7:53pm | IP Logged 
Wow! Thanks again, Ardaschir. That's a fantastic help.

Have you ever had a chance to use an unabridged audiobook in conjunction with the text itself? If your primary concern was listening comprehension, how might you use a target-language audiobook in conjuction with the text and a translation?

I'm sorry if I've strayed off topic, but this is great.


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