Friday, December 15, 2006

Cases in Grammar

Last night I went to the farewell party of a Russian friend who is returning to Turkmenistan. He is an ethnic Russian studying law in Vladimir.
The night was nice. I was having a great time, until I managed to make three errors, in the course of an hour, in my usage of the genitive plural case endings.
It managed to really beat my confidence back. After three years of college Russian, and four months in Russia, I still cannot put together a bloody sentence without a case mistake! Cases are something that should have been mastered before completing the 200 level of college Russian.
To say that cases are my only problem in the Russian language would be laughable. Though cases are just so key to Russian, that without their appropriate application sentences make no sense. Additionally, latter topics in Russian are impossible to attack without having already learned the case endings.
Genitive plural is known to be one of the more challenging topics in introductory Russian. Though, I am not in introductory Russian. That being the case (pun), I was embarrassed by my missteps in the language.
It doesn't help that three of the people sitting at the table with me speak English at the translator level. Their English is so good... Imagine the Queen of England, they sound like her. I think she probably makes more grammatical mistakes than they do.
And then there is me. Speaking some variant of Russian to these people who are being very patient, though you know they are thinking, "Wow, Americans really don't learn foreign languages! Maybe this one is particularly inept. When Jason speaks Russian, it is how Bush speaks English." It was also delightful that they would race to beat each other at correcting my mistakes. It was nearly a game for them.
Of course, they were really trying to be helpful, but it was rather more terrifying than strengthening. It also felt sort of silly, continuing speaking Russian to people who speak English better than an Oxford prof.
I came home feeling anxious that a semester had passed and I was still making elementary mistakes. I resolved that the next morning (today) I would do a complete evaluation of my knowledge of the cases.
I woke up and began reviewing. Starting with the nominative, then accusative, then genitive. I was amazed at how weak my knowledge of endings were for some of the cases (namely genitive. More specifically -ья (un/stressed) as an ending).
When I went into the kitchen to eat breakfast, I was feeling really lousy that I had managed to learn so little of the appropriate case endings. I sarcastically remarked to my hozaika, "You know, I think that my Russian is worse now, than when I got here!" Her immediate response was, "Your right, it is. Now eat before it gets cold!"
I wasn't really in the mood to eat anymore. I was really in the mood to drink heavily. But, using my better judgement, I decided studying would be more productive.
I discounted her evaluation of my Russian by the fact that she has never, in the four months I've known her, ever said anything positive. I think it might damn near kill her to say something, anything, positive, or at least not negative. But that is all another story.
As I have said before in my blog: If you are a student of Russian, nothing will be more of a hindrance to your advancing in the Russian language, as not knowing the cases thoroughly. It is like building a house, you need a solid foundation.
Cases are like concrete. Your house is gonna suck if you don't use concrete. I am now reviewing not only the appropriate case endings for nouns, but also for adjectives.
So, now I will return to my apartment to study the cases, as listed in my copy of Schaum's Guide to Russian Grammar.


Anonymous said...

You are right - the cases is something that makes Russian so different from English. However, that is not the reason to give up on improving your Russian.

I mean, were these people whos spoke English like Oxford profs Russian? If so, they probably just spoke with the complete phrases they perfected, that is all. I bet they know nothing about what you can do with all those up, down, on, off, in and out and how they can modify a word's meaning.

Hozyaka and her disability to say smth positive? Well, wellcome to Russia,one of not many countires in the World where people are better at seeing what is wrong with smth then what is good about it.

Anonymous said...

I tend to disagree with the generalization. :)

My first language is Russian and I've been learning English for about 7 years on a periodical basis, so I share your feelings to some extent. If you need any assistance, let me know and I'll drop you a letter with my online-coordinates.

Good luck in your studies! ;)

Anonymous said...

... ouch, forgot to introduce myself, sorry.