Thursday, 21 August 2014

Of Russian and the ABC of Learning a Language

Hey! I've just found out I've got a grade B in GCSE "O" level Russian!

What follows is a brief account of how I managed it and what I've learnt in doing so aside from an awful lot of Russian.

First of all, it's perhaps worth noting 16 months ago that I was advised against entering for a GCSE Russian exam so quickly. Students who do Russian at school do a four year course I was informed by one language teacher and only the most academic of pupils do it to start with. They are the kind that do Mandarin and Greek as extra curricula "fun" topics she assured me.

When contemplating the challenge of a Russian GCSE there was a lot to put me off straight away. My track record learning foreign languages is not good. In truth, it's really lousy. I was chucked out of my O' Level French class at school as a no hope prospect and the school refused to enter me for the exam unless I paid for it which received a firm Non merci from me. But since my school days I've realised that what happened then is largely irrelevant to what you're capable of now and that one of the first and most important things is to keep reminding yourself of this.

So 16 months ago I drew up a quick plus/delta analysis of the pros and cons of me getting Russian GCSE in little over 12 months and it went far more in my favour than I was expecting.
It looked like this :

AGAINST ME :

# My track record in learning a language
# My limited amount of time for study
# My lack of knowledge of a language close to Russian
# The language itself. It's a tough one. Many experts seem to rate it in the top three languages in the world hardest to crack

FOR ME

# I understand now that what happened at school is irrelevant to my chances of learning and succeeding now
# I know myself really well in terms of how I best learn, when to study and how etc
# I'm brutally self disciplined. Tell myself that I have an hour of study to do every day and I'll do 80 minutes at least. This is a key factor in my favour.
# It's much easier to learn a language nowadays. Thanks to my Iphone I can plug in and do vocab work whilst travelling by train, jogging or shopping in Tesco.

What was critical for me was belief. If you believe you can do something you've a much better chance of succeeding than if you head into it convinced you'll fail. It's an obvious truth but one that you may have to work on before your mind is working for you and not against you. What convinced me was seeing Turkish and Egyptian traders also speaking good Russian within two years of Russian tourists arriving in any great numbers to their respective countries. Meaning no disrespect to these traders but their formal education at school was most likely a lot shorter than mine. Surely if that could do it so could I?

Of all the language lessons available and there are many good ones the star performer for me was Michele Thomas's Russian language course. This beats everything else in terms of getting a complete novice into a language and chucking out useful phrases in a very short space of time.

Finally, it's worth putting on record that however good the lessons are and however easy they are to access learning a language requires a lot of hard work. Russian GCSE had me out of bed most week day mornings at 5a.m. studying for an hour before getting ready for the working day.

What is Russian for "No Pain. No Gain" I wonder? I guess I might learn that for the A level...

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