Speak Russian!

I was working to get everyone to speak Russian today.

My advanced kids moved into their hostels last night (virtual move to Moscow), and I had a map of Moscow laid out on a table. They got to the room before I did, and they were all gathered around examining it. Evidently a map on a wall isn’t fascinating, but on a table it is. They took those post-it arrows and pointed to the locations of their hostels. Thank goodness for Smartphones with google search. It’s a brave new world.

Anyway, it took everything I could do to get them to discuss their hostels in Russian, even though yesterday they had to write to a Ukrainian “friend,” explaining why her choice of hostels was not theirs and they were supposedly thus primed. Once again, they took over the class to make a chart of who is living where, so that they can do Monday’s homework: report on where/what they ate, and one excursion that cost less than $50. (Moscow is an expensive city.) They said that it was a whole new kind of homework. I guess so…really to find out what’s happening in the city, and where cafes are located and what they serve. I don’t have to do anything except be ready for the predictable two or three who won’t get homework done. Those kids are going to be visiting factories and cooking their own food.

Now we’re also starting to look at news that would be interesting to young people in Moscow (the recent sentencing of the singers who sang anti-Putin songs in churches). They do have to know what’s going on in their city, right?

My beginners and I had a lovely time singing the “Blue Train” song, and maybe because I didn’t tell them myself, they were coming up with the metaphors on their own (turning the calendar, going down the tracks ever more quickly, not being able to see again the moments when we did something we’re not proud of). Then we had some time left and I decided to start our prep for the speaking part of their midterm. I asked them for all the verbs they could remember, and they came up with many more than I’d expected. After that, I wrote on the board:
1. character
2. problem
3. what/where/how
I told them that they were going to get into groups of three, and use Russian only to figure out their characters, the problem, how the characters would try to solve it including where they’d go, and what they would do. I pointed out that if they didn’t know a word they could always use a proper noun. I wandered around among the groups and was happy to hear that they were mostly planning the plots in Russian. Stories work a lot better when the kids start in Russian, rather than in English.

I think it helped to brainstorm all those verbs, to give them a reminder of what they know how to say and can use.


3 responses to “Speak Russian!

  1. “Голубой вагон бежит качается, скорый поезд набирает ход…” Gosh, I still remember it, and could sing it to you on any given day (even though you might not appreciate the lack of my talent:) I can’t believe you’re doing this song with beginners! It’s quite complicated from both the language and concepts points of view! I should go back to kids songs too and let them tell me how bad I am singing them off key.


    • I am going to pass your comment on to the kids. It’s just vocabulary…but it’s such a sweet song that they always love it. My advanced kids caught sight of it on the projector the other day and demanded to hear it. So cute…big senior boys doing gestures from first year and singing along…I like doing these more “advanced” songs that have great vocabulary in them because when we resurrect them later, they have a whole bunch of structures that they truly understand. It’s amazing how often those words will pop up in news articles and cultural texts, and when they remember where they heard them, somehow the vocabulary gets nailed into their brains forever.

      Besides…like you, I can and do sing that song any time it floats into my head, which is often when I’m moving faster and faster down a hill on my bike home. I sing it loudly out in the open wind, sometimes getting odd glances from drivers going by.

      I’ll organize to put a link to the YouTube video so that others can see what an adorable song it is.


  2. Our virtual move continues…the kids have been living in their Moscow hostels and now have to start hunting for apartments. One of my best avoiders of work outside the classroom dropped in to confess that because of this project, she’s been spending a lot of time on Moscow art museum sites. She said that she’s never really understood why people travel, but now she really wants to go to Russia and other countries. She hoped that it would be okay if many of her “excursion reports” ended up being visits to art museums. I told her that what she’d said made this whole project worthwhile for me.


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