How To Trick Your Brain into Speaking Russian Fast
19 February, 2017
Ты говоришь по-русски?
If you understand the above phrase, wonderful, apply what I’m about to say to your next language. If you’re just now getting the results back from Google Translate, we have work to do. Chances are you’ve been studying Russian longer than you would’ve liked. Maybe you’re taking it easy, a word a week, a verb conjugation a year. Regardless of your reasons, we both know what you truly want is to speak Russian now. You might say, “But there’s satisfaction in the struggle.” And you’re right, maybe in the deep underpinnings of struggle lies a hint of satisfaction. But you and I both would gladly give up the struggle for the greater satisfaction of speaking Russian eloquently and fluently this very moment. So pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you, because it’s a surefire way to get you speaking Russian fast.
You already speak Russian
You speak every other language too. You see, a lot of language learning is pinned on the belief that you will learn to speak a new language. But this assumes that you presently don’t speak the language and, to follow the train of thought, it suggests that you’re inadequate. But you’re not inadequate. You speak every language at native fluency. You have the same mouth, the same brain, the same wit, and the same ability, to speak Russian as all the mouths you’ll walk by this afternoon, spewing Russian through their lips. “But the words won’t come out”, you might say. Well, you’re probably convinced that Russian is hard, because for one reason or another, that’s what people told you. But believe me, what people say is bologna, and you should distance yourself from anybody who speaks of something being difficult, be it languages or anything else. Russian is easy, as are all languages. After all, you already speak every language. So instead of fixating on the future, start believing in the present. Because presently, you speak Russian.
Let yourself go
The main obstacle language learners face is getting over themselves. It could be you’re too frightened to speak, or your self-conscience of how you sound. Perhaps you can’t imagine yourself speaking another language. Or you’re impaired by the faces you think people make when you can’t manage the right words. Often times the hardest trouble you’ll have is seeing progress. You’ll look at the big picture, but the big picture will seem so far away. . .But all that is fluff, and it’s just that sort of vicious self-doubt, with its foundation in water, that will hold you back. You need to stop caring about remaining the same, because the whole point in speaking a new language is to change. Everything is water. Yourself included.
Act the part
From here on out, your mother-tongue is Russian, your name is Vladimir(a) Vladimirovich, and you’re from the bright and sunny town of Moscow, where you teach Russian at the Uni. I’m not joking. Really embody this part. Walk like Russians walk, eat like Russians eat, speak how Russians speak. For example, if you come to Moscow you’ll notice that a lot of Russians say так when they do things. Pick up a glass, так. Stub your toe, так. Sneeze, так. I don’t know what it means either. But go around saying it. Say it when you’re alone. Say it to a friend. так так так. Then talk to yourself in Russian. Think in Russian. And speak confidently in Russian to anyone you meet. There’s no such thing as making a fool of yourself. There’s only having a goal and doing what it takes to achieve it. Samuel Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” So go get ‘em, Vlad. Fail better.
Grammar is dumb. Really, it’s one of the biggest wastes of time when learning a new language. Grammar develops naturally through using language. Worry about acquiring vocabulary, and speaking, rather than learning how to conjugate verbs. Language is entirely idiomatic. Start speaking, and stop learning about how language is spoken.
Flood your brain with Russian
Especially if you’re a beginner, you want to flood your brain with Russian every day to develop a tolerance for the language. Listen to news broadcasts in Russian, watch television in Russian, write love letters in Russian. When you learn a new word, say it to yourself a dozen times. The method that has worked best for me is a sort of stop, translate, and go, when reading Russian newspapers. For example, I open the Deutsche Welle in one tab, and in another tab Google Translate. Then I start reading. When I come to a word I don’t know (which, if I’m a beginner in a language, is almost every word) I copy it from DW and plug it into Google. Then I pound the speech button like no tomorrow. Fifty to a hundred times, I hear the word, say it to myself, hear it again, draw it in my head. Doing this with ten or fifteen words every day adds up. And not only do I learn those specific words, but I begin to recognize patterns in the vocabulary and develop a sense of the language’s rhythm. I design an architecture of the alphabet through my in-head drawings of each word, and by end of day I feel the language alight like a dove on my brain, to rest for the night. Eventually I start dreaming in the language, and then I know my method’s working. The key to getting better is to flood flood flood your brain. Your head should feel like an ocean when you finally get to sleep. And when you wake up you’ll walk into the kitchen and ask, “Что на завтрак?” Your mother will gasp, “Who are you!” Just make sure you identify yourself before she calls the police. “Sorry mom, I guess I speak Russian now.”
Simply thinking of language learning in an interesting way will change the whole process for the better. You can make up a metaphor that best suits you, but here are two that I follow:
Language learning is thawing a snowball
Say we’re learning Russian. Every Russian word we hear, or every letter we write, is a little breath or ray of sun, that warms our brains, and thaws the Russian snowball in our heads. Give the snowball enough warmth, and it melts and begins to pour through our lips like water.
Language learning is a wall of damp sand
Imagine Russian is a wall of damp sand. We can scratch at the sand with our fingers, and then a little more, until after a while the sand becomes too weak to support itself, and the whole wall comes tumbling down. That tumbling down is fluency.
That’s right. Be as goofy as possible when learning Russian. Because goofiness = fun. Pop on an ushanka and grey beard and head to your local супермаркет (supermarket) for some smoked kielbasa. Don’t be afraid to speak the language. Find yourself a language tandem. Write to a pen-pal. Use the language daily. And remember, you are your best language teacher, and the more fun you make your lessons, the more enjoyable the struggle will be, and the happier you’ll find yourself throughout.
This post was brought to you by Andrew, currently studying Russian and Liden & Denz