That’s Russian for Russian Club, but you don’t need to know Russian to join! After three years now of being a member in Russian Club, I can gladly say that, while I have to take some literature classes for the Russian major that are not taught in Russian, Russian Club is a low-time commitment way to maintain the presence of the language in my life so I don’t forget everything before the next semester. However, I have always loved that Russian Club allows all levels in the language to work together, teaching and learning from one another. Students that do not have any background except a common interest in the culture of Russian-speakers and an inkling to begin becoming familiar with a complex language are welcomed and made comfortable. This semester, the largest activity of the Russian Club has been Russian Tables. In addition to simply communicating in a foreign tongue, we have learned new words we would never encounter in the classroom, fun facts about Russia and the surrounding Russian-speaking countries, stories about life growing up in the Soviet Union, and watched YouTube videos in Russian about words unable to be accurately translated into English and the difficulties of Russian for specifically English-speakers and vice versa. Russian Club never fails to provide a unique taste of the language and culture because of its diverse mix of participants, topics, and the element of surprise brought by tea-time at Russian Table.
With my plane tickets officially purchased for my Summer in Stuttgart and officially no German language skills under my belt, besides knowing that my last name in German means ‘friend,’ I was inspired by the Global Engagement Survival Spanish, French, and Arabic session (see previous post), as well as the scary thought of being helplessly lost the second I step off the plane in Germany, to do some investigation and create my own crash course of Survival German. Here is what I learned:
- Like Russian, there are cases in German. However, instead of 6, there are 4. There are equally 3 genders: feminine, masculine, and neuter. Just as Russian has perfect and imperfect verbs, German has 2 classes of verbs, as well, known as strong and weak. These verbs act, in English, as either verbs that are changed into past/present/future through their stem (sing, sang, sung) or with a suffix (opened, opening, open), respectively.
- Here are some of the most critical phrases I found necessary to remember before my trip: ja (yes), nein (no), bitte (please), danke (thank you), Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye), hilfe (help), and Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?).
- Interesting fact! All nouns are capitalized in German, so they’ll be easy to pick out even if I don’t know the vocabulary.
- Compound words are super common in German (English’s Kindergarten is derived from this concept), so learning new words takes half the time. For example, the word for “gloves” is handschuhe, a combination of hand (hand) and schuhe (shoes).
- There are a lot of similar-sounding words between English and German that happen to mean the same thing, known as cognates. However, there are also many words known as false-cognates, or words that are similar sounding/looking between the two languages that don’t have the same meaning. For example, the German word fahrt sounds dirty in English but really just means “journey.”
- German has an expression for what we call the “Monday Blues,” or for complaining about the dreariness of Mondays: Blaumachen means ditching school, work, and other such responsibilities. (Stay tuned to see if I use this word while abroad.)
Even though I’m going into this experience with a very weak foundation, I am excited to jump in wholeheartedly, make tons of mistakes, do my best, and see where my German ends up after 6 weeks of home-stay practice!
This year, rather than going to the Student Study Abroad Story session, in which students reveal their first-hand personal experiences and overall take-aways about studying abroad, as I typically have, I decided to try something new. I have always been drawn to language-learning because each language seems to be its own identity, like a person, with the ways it thinks or expresses itself and its nuances known only to those that know it best. I attended the Survival Basics: Spanish, Arabic, and French, despite knowing nearly nothing about any of those languages, to get a taste of these identities, very different from the Russian and English I am accustomed to.
The Spanish session, because I took a single year of high school Spanish, was the easiest to understand. We learned basic phrases, questions words, many cognates, and that the most critical expressions to know in any language are “Please” and “Thank You.” With these expressions, even if nothing else can be communicated in another’s language, you are showing that you are trying to make a connection to the other person and they will be more likely to assist you, rather than if you had insisted on keeping the language barrier shut and locked.
The Arabic session was the most unique because I had never heard a single word in such a different language. The presenter was specifically from Egypt and provided us with general knowledge about Arabic in all Arabic-speaking countries, as well as the drastic differences heard in Egypt. If I had thought the Cyrillic alphabet was unique, in comparison to that of English, the Arabic letters are so much more complex. The presenter told us that is usually takes new students to Arabic months to master the alphabet alone, since it is more like an art to English-speakers and letters exist for many more sounds than in the English language.
The French session taught us basic survival French phrases, as well as the intricacies of travelling in France and adjusting to a different culture at the same time as a new language. We learned that tipping in France can seem offensive since servers make a living wage, so it is better to simply round up the bill. The presenter told us stories about tourist scams that can happen in busy places, such as the Eiffel Tower, and that it is best to just say “No” in similar, uncomfortable situations. The most useful aspect of the session was learning to read an underground map, since trains are used widely for travel in Europe. I loved listening to a session much different than what I have in past Global Engagement Days and learning more about other languages.
In light of the great physics-theorist’s death on March 14, I turned to Russian news to understand how other countries might have captured the memory of this brilliant man. The article I read is copied below, from Russia Today Online. The article begins with a brief biographical description, mentioning his Cambridge education, inspirational legacy for other physicists, and impressive work in the field of theoretical physics, but focuses on his television appearances, cartoon voice-overs, and live skits, sharing many facts I did not know about Hawking’s public presence, nor would have expected of a space genius.
Stephen Hawking appeared in the 26th episode of the 6th season of “Star Trek: Next Generation,” alongside the likenesses of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He was an idol for the young start-up scientists of the TV series, “The Big Bang Theory,” even making three personal appearances on separate seasons of the show. Hawking provided the voice for his own cartoon character’s appearance in “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Hawking even appeared in a live Monty Python sketch in 2014, making fun at his own disability. The article points out his uniqueness in willingly providing fodder for jokes at his own disability, as he views himself with a great deal of irony. While he was not able to act as the villain in a James Bond movie, as he had wished, he starred as a villain in a Jaguar commercial in 2016. As articles in America and Russia prove, Stephen Hawking will be missed in the realms of theoretical physics and television.
Russian Table has been revamped. Don’t worry, there is still the classic чай (tea) from the самовар (samovar) and VERY Russian пироги (pies, a.k.a. pizza from the Domino’s down the street). There is still a diverse mix of students from differing Russian levels, enhancing everybody’s experience outside of class. Now, Russian Table includes not only a discussion of the language we all love, but a huge cultural aspect centered around all Slavic nationalities that keeps attendees coming back for more. Thanks to Rachick, last Wednesday, we learned many fun facts about Russian politics, the fall of the Soviet Union, and Serbian and Georgian identities! Here are a few to share:
-At the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia made the national language Georgian for a time, banning all others, including Russian. While many citizens could communicate in Georgian, this was restrictive for many, as Russian may have been their first language, or simply because it took away their rights to speak in languages they loved. This restriction did not last.
-There are many tribes that live in Serbia, in the Far East of the Russian country. While, now, many most likely speak at least a little bit of Russian, they all have their own unique languages without any Slavic origins. It is theorized that these peoples migrated from North America, originally mixing with the Native American tribes, across the ice bridge connecting Russia to Alaska before settling in Siberia.
-Putin used to be the right-hand man of Yeltsin, former Russian President, from 1996-1999. Yeltsin, however, was an alcoholic and resigned in 1999, at which point Putin took over. Now, Putin and Medvedev have been alternating between President and Prime Minister for almost 20 years.
I would highly recommend anyone to come visit us at Русский столь, Wednesdays at 5 pm in Kaufman 221B, and share some пироги!
In the middle of the semester, I attended a Russian film showing of Anton Chekhov’s short story adaptation, “Ward No. 6,” which I have also read. The 2009 film directed by Shakhnazarov won as Best Russian Drama Movie for the Russian National Movie Awards. The film begins with a series of neurotic interviews with mental hospital patients introducing their life stories and answering very open-ended questions. Some of the patients are clearly very ill and scatter-brained, while others are, at least to themselves, convincingly sane. The movie is formatted to look through the amateur camera lens of a reporter investigating the mental facility and its patients. Differing from the short story, the reporter enters the scene after the hospital’s first doctor has already been hospitalized at the facility and the young, suspicious-seeming new doctor has taken his position of authority. Then, the film flashes back to how the original doctor became a patient of his own hospital. In the story, the doctor treats the five patients of the facility for a time before becoming very intrigued in the thoughts of a particular patient, Gromov, who is sure that he is not in any way mentally ill and his position is due to unfair and unfortunate circumstances. He continually wishes to be let free. The doctor’s closely formed friendship with the patient proves to other local caretakers that the doctor has gone insane and lock him up as well. I think it is really interesting to see a Russian film adaptation of a Russian short story from a well-known author because I am so used to English novel adaptations or even English adaptations of works originally in other languages. In this case, the Russian perspective is never taken out of either the work or its screen adaptation and the Russian heart and mind are felt in the film.
Russian Club has been incredibly active this semester! There have been a few film showings in Russian, nearly weekly Russian Tables to meet with fellow Russian language-learners, a Russian cookout, and a Russian Halloween Party! Russian Club T-shirt sales are going on now to help with club funding so that we may promote the club around campus and fund our next activities. Next semester the club will have a bake sale, as well as continued Russian Table events, open to all level of those interested in learning Russian, and film showings in Russian, with subtitles for those less advanced in Russian but wishing to experience the culture of Russian movies. My favorite aspect of Russian Club is having a setting in which so many levels of Russian speakers are present so that we may collectively help each other improve and learn more about Russian culture in the process!
Link to OU Russian Club Facebook page:
I have always been a language fanatic. I learned to read at a very young age and always loved to speed through at least two books at a time growing up. Spanish in high school was what I called my “easy” class because the concepts of the new language came easily to me and I would breeze through the homework. When I switched schools my sophomore year of high school, I suddenly had the option to take more “exotic” languages than the typical Spanish, including Japanese, Chinese, German, French, and Russian, of which I chose the latter. Instantly, I fell in love with the new and confusing alphabet, words with ten syllables, and the rare appearance of vowels. Now in college, Russian is one of my majors. However, my career path is pharmacy and, unless I work around a community with a significant number of Russian immigrants, the language will doubtfully be a major part of my life after graduation. Until recently, I have always told people that I could not quite yet let go of Russian after high school.
About a month ago, I wrote my final paper for an Honors Colloquium class about Literature in Medicine. (I know, the subjects of this post seem to be all across the board.) I was able to incorporate my knowledge of Russian into this class as well by comparing the English translation of a work assigned in the Honors class, “Lady with a Little Dog,” to its original Russian by Anton Chekhov. In my paper, I argue for the importance of healthcare professionals having experience translating from another language, a skill that emphasizes attention to detail in communication concerning vocabulary, syntax, and semantics. Writing this paper helped me to personally realize what I was arguing for: my language major serves a purpose, despite my very different intentional career path. I further believe that working with translations is important, not only for healthcare professionals, but for anyone that pays attention to their interpersonal communication skills. By working with other languages, not only are doors opened in communicating in that second language, but the actual skill of how to effectively communicate is developed, a skill increasingly important in a globalized world.
Next on my international travel radar is Stuttgart, Germany for an OU sponsored summer program. I have always dearly wanted to visit Germany, as my grandparents and dad lived there on three separate occasions, and I’d love to experience some of the culture my dad grew up in. In general, I absolutely love learning languages, especially those spoken in minority in the U.S. (for example, my Russian). For those reasons, I was stoked to find a program in the summer that was an intensive language program in Germany, allowing complete beginners. Although I hope to do some self-study before the trip so I can potentially form a foundation to build of off and test into a higher German class, I am excited that it is a language program I can enter into regardless of my level. To prepare for my application for this program, I decided to do some Stuttgart research.
Stuttgart in Summer offers the morning language classes and an afternoon class of several choices of topics in English in the afternoon, with included excursions. The class that caught my eye was business, because it is completely unrelated to either of my majors and because Germany is stereotypically known for its automobile industry and efficiency. Stuttgart itself is dubbed the “cradle of the automobile.” It is known by this name because the Benz company was founded in the city and now is home to the Porsche company, as well. I am highly interested in the international business course because excursions to German companies seems like a fun way to learn about the way Germans live and work and have a high level of contact with the German language and culture. I am excited to learn more about the German culture, interesting aspects about Stuttgart itself, the local language, and to, hopefully, participate in the trip!
Nearly every week, Russian Club hosts a Russian Table, sometimes on campus and sometimes at a local food venue in Norman. Russian students of all levels gather to do nothing more than talk for a while in Russian and enjoy the company of fellow Russian enthusiasts. This type of get-together is critical for language students because it is very informal and removes the pressure typically created in a classroom setting where grades are a factor. It also allows for the introduction and utilization of other conversation topics, rather than the generally structured conversations of a lesson. At Russian Table, we are learning to use everyday language that we make use of in English without any second thought. This setting is further beneficial because there are beginner students and advanced students communicating together, a situation that is unlikely in school, where everyone in class usually has the same language experience. Both the beginner and advanced students are able to learn different things from one another. For example, the beginner students may often hear new vocabulary or be introduced to new grammar topics they have yet to learn, while the advanced students are able to refresh their memories with topics they haven’t encountered in years. I, personally, have only been able to attend the first Russian Table Event so far, due to current commitments in other classes, but greatly look forward to practicing my Russian at more Russian Tables soon.