recess radio program

01/18/06
Learning Russian
    by John Cech

One of our close friends is Russian, and she is raising her young child to speak that language first. Their son is a toddler -- he's just turned two -- and everything in their house is now in Russian -- there's even a stack of hundreds of flash cards, with key words in the Cyrillic alphabet that he has already learned by heart -- Mama, Papa, Sabaka, Kot, Kleb, Malachko. He'll be intently inspecting his toy truck, and our friend will hold up a card and say his name. He'll look up, glance at it, instantly say the word on the card perfectly, and return to his sixteen wheeler.

Now, I have been designated one of his uncles. With Americans that might mean an occasional game of catch or an explanation of what a flea-flicker is during our national New Year's Day football ritual. But with Russians, this honor carries with it a few more responsibilities. "I recommend that you learn Russian," our friend told me cheerfully, "so you and he may converse." But "recommend" also has a deeper significance for Russians. The next week she had found a tutor for her American husband and myself, so that we might learn those amazing Slavic vowels and palatalized consonants together. I must say, though, that I have not exactly been shining at our sessions. In fact, to tell the truth, I've been an abyssmal student.

And then I discovered Judy Mahoney's nifty learning pack, "Teach Me Russian, A Musical Journey Through the Day" -- from Teach Me Tapes in Minnetonka, Minnesota. They also have them for Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, French, German and Spanish. This inexpensive kit includes a simple, kid-friendly workbook in both English and Russian, with the alphabet and easy, illustrated stories about basic things. And, most importantly, there's an audio tape that blends the text of the workbook with American and Russian children's songs. I know, it's only the beginning, and my little Russian nephew is miles ahead of me already. But at least I'm no longer trying to create such hopeless phrases as, "Please pass me the purple portofolio so that I may peruse the schedule of trains for Piatogorsk." Instead, I'm trying to learn a language the way kids have learned them for millenia. I'm happily immersed and joyfully singing along with "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" -- now if I can just get my "r's" rolled .... ?

Brief Sound Clip:

Copyright 2006 John Cech

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