His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the tag “foreign language”

Running vocabulary to First Reader in Russian, 1-5

Ann Rolbin’s First Reader in Russian is a good, brief initiation to some simple Russian sentences. It is more modest in content than the typical reader or chrestomathy of the nineteenth century, but it may make for a good enough praelectio to those kinds of books. It contains a glossary at the end, but it is not comprehensive, and there is no apparent rationale for the words that have been omitted from it. I decided to make a running vocabulary list for the book by each lesson, with the words that are in the book’s glossary at the end as well as the omitted words, but I have included neither prepositions, which may be found, among other places, here and here, nor pronouns, available at the previous link. The words are given as-is in the text, not in their lexical form, and once given, words are not repeated. Here are the first five lessons:


  • семья family
  • город city
  • столица capital
  • улице street
  • живёт lives (v.)
  • большом large
  • доме house
  • квартира apartment
  • пятом fifth
  • этаже floor, story
  • хорошая good, nice
  • гостиная living room
  • родителей parents
  • зобут they call (i.e. so-and-so is named, with the named person[s] as object)
  • детей children
  • собаку dog


  • утром in the morning
  • восемь eight
  • часов clock
  • утра morning
  • идёт goes
  • станции метро metro station
  • руке hand
  • портфель briefcase
  • бумаги paper
  • документы documents
  • завтрак breakfast
  • хлеб bread
  • сыр cheese
  • колбаса sausage
  • пятнадцать fifteen
  • девятого ninth
  • работу work (n.)
  • работает works (v.)
  • почте post office
  • сумка bag
  • половине half
  • школу school
  • книги books
  • тетради notebooks
  • остаётся stays, remains
  • сидит sits
  • смотрит looks
  • дверь door
  • скучно boring


  • друг friend
  • покупают they buy
  • гастрономе grocery store
  • молоко milk
  • потом then
  • лет years
  • сегодня today
  • холодно cold
  • снег snow (идёт снег it’s snowing)
  • выходит goes out
  • кресле armchair
  • мальчики boys
  • приносят they bring
  • пирог pie
  • спасибо thank you
  • говорит says
  • молодцы fellows, young men


  • среда Wednesday
  • три three
  • дия day
  • играют they play
  • дворе yard
  • настольный теннис table-tennis
  • довольно rather, quite, pretty
  • плохо bad
  • но but
  • старается tries
  • прибегает runs to
  • хватает grabs
  • шарик ball
  • убегает escapes
  • кричит screams
  • всё everything, all
  • игра game
  • закончена is finished
  • нельзя cannot


  • кафе café
  • сливочное butter
  • мороженое ice cream
  • стакан glass
  • минеральной воды mineral water
  • пожалуйста please
  • официант waiter
  • бутылку bottle
  • белого white
  • вина wine
  • шоколадное chocolate
  • две two
  • чашки cups
  • чёрного black
  • кофе coffee
  • чай tea
  • я заказал I ordered

Casting language into the atmosphere

While perusing the latest National Geographic this morning, I came across a notable photograph. Here it is from the website:

These two students, surrounded around and above by open air and light, project their voices out into this openness, their lungs, breath, throat, and mouth muscles, all eye- and brain-directed, catapult words of another language, a language becoming their own, right into the universe, not the least part of which is their own ears.

Two things struck me when I saw the photograph. First, I was reminded of the possibly legendary rhetorico-athletic exercises that Demosthenes supposedly practiced to overcome his natural difficulties in speaking:

…τὴν μὲν ἀσάφειαν καὶ τραυλότητα τῆς γλώττης ἐκβιάζεσθαι καὶ διαρθροῦν εἰς τὸ στόμα ψήφους λαμβάνοντα καὶ ῥήσεις ἅμα λέγοντα, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν ἐν τοῖς δρόμοις γυμνάζεσθαι καὶ ταῖς πρὸς τὰ σιμὰ προσβάσεσι διαλεγόμενον καὶ λόγους τινὰς ἢ στίχους ἅμα τῷ πνεύματι πυκνουμένῳ προφερόμενον· εἶναι δ᾽ αὐτῷ μέγα κάτοπτρον οἴκοι, καὶ πρὸς τοῦτο τὰς μελέτας ἐξ ἐναντίας ἱστάμενον περαίνειν.

He used to correct and drive away his mumbling and his speech disorder by putting pebbles in his mouth and then reciting speeches. He used to exercise his voice by discoursing while running or going up steep places, and by reciting sentences or verses at a single breath. Moreover, he had in his house a large mirror, and in front of this he used to stand and go through his speech-exercises. (Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes 11.1-2; translation adapted from that of Bernadotte Perrin)

Secondly, I was visually reminded of how important, not to mention fun, it is to read aloud, with care to the text’s meaning and even forcefully, both as regular practice in languages you know well, even your own, and also for languages you’re learning; in the second case, it is naturally needful to have some standard against which to compare your fledgling pronunciation and fluency of sound, granted the variety of voice that may occur even across the spectrum of one language. This vocal shadow-boxing, whether in your native language or another, really can be enlivening and helpful in knitting together eyes, brain, and ears.

Rather than writing anything more, I’m off to do some reading aloud.

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