Or, how I’m employing a new strategy in my language learning to help improve in Russian

Remember Igor Strelkov, the GRU/FSB/Russian military spy dude who was heavily involved with the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine? I blogged about him once back in August. And I have reason to blog about him again because I just watched this short video of him answering random questions people have asked.

The video is in Russian and is pretty easy to understand. (So if you’re learning Russian and looking for native material, this is a pretty good choice because the vocabulary isn’t too terribly difficult.) At the 1:00 mark, he begins to answer the music question. After saying that he often likes silence or the sound birds make in a forest, he says he likes Vivaldi “and other classical music.” He also likes some Russian songs, too.

So, yeah. I’m not sure what it says about me that I have similar musical tastes to a 44-year-old ex-FSB colonel who lives in Russia, but there you go.* I’m patting myself on the back over here for having understood a good ninety-nine percent of that video. I’m good at listening comprehension in Russian, but I want to get better, which is why I have started doing what I call active listening. Active listening differs from passive listening, which I have done a lot of, in that I re-listen to things if I miss them, jot down new words and phrases in my language notebook (you do have one of those, right?), and think in the foreign language about what I’ve heard.

For example, while watching this video, I may have written down words like:

  • Ещё раз здравствуйте – Hello again
  • близкие – literally means “close ones,” usually used to mean family and relatives

I actually knew those before watching, but those are the only examples that came to mind.🙂

I’ve watched the video once now. I’ll probably watch it again to make sure everything is cemented in my brain. An important thing to note for active listening is the length of the recording or video. You’ll notice this video is only fourteen minutes long. I think that’s a good length. I certainly wouldn’t go any longer than this. Shorter is generally better because you can focus on small details without going crazy. If I were to scrutinize a thirty-minute video in-depth, I’d probably get tired before finishing, get frustrated, and not learn as much. So, shorter is better—but only to a certain point. I don’t usually use this method with anything shorter than a few minutes because in something very short, there isn’t enough detail (usually).

*Note: It probably means I’m an anachronism who was born in the wrong century. Never fear, I feel like every historian experiences this feeling at least once in his or her life.

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