Beginning Russian Through Film

Short digitized clips from Russian films are the primary source of language and culture in this course. We collected close to 400 clips and placed them on this Web site along with many supporting materials. You can use a Windows or Macintosh computer to take advantage of the course. No registration is necessary (or, indeed, possible), and no credit is given, unless the student is registered for first-year Russian at Cornell.

In 1997-98, this was an experiment in creating a two-semester elementary Russian course in which traditional textbook materials were to a large extent replaced by excerpts from Russian films, videos, and non-rehearsed videotaped interviews; all of which emphasize the spoken language. While we had always devoted a large proportion of time and energy to speech, we expected that the use of video materials would enable us to develop our speech-oriented approach even further.

Before BRTF, all classroom exercises and homework in our first-year course were based on Beginning Russian by Richard L. Leed, Alexander D. Nakhimovsky, and Alice S. Nakhimovsky (Slavica Publishers). In the first year of BRTF, more than half of the exercises and homework were based on a large number of very short digitized video clips. Students watched these clips in class once a week and reviewed them in the language lab as part of their homework. The work involved listening comprehension, imitation, role playing, skits, and improvisation.

The grammar portion of the course was still based on Beginning Russian. All reading assignments were based on What I Saw by Boris Zhitkov (Slavica Publishers). 5000 Russian Words (also from Slavica Publishers) was used as a vocabulary and grammar reference.

The course met five times a week. On the first day of a given week, new grammar topics from the book were introduced, and a new series of clips was assigned as homework for the following day. After that, three classes were spent exploring and reinforcing the language in the videos. The last day of the week was a book/grammar day again.

Digital video offers a dimension that videotape cannot, in that scenes from authentic Russian films can be made accessible to beginning students. As a student watches a clip on his or her computer screen, he or she can rewind the clip and move to any portion of the clip by pointing and clicking with the mouse. A complete transcript of the dialog, a glossary, and linguistic and cultural comments are also only a mouseclick away.

Exercises based on the clip are presented on the same screen, with high quality audio recordings that are played back by the computer. The student can pause and rewind the recording by using the mouse. Assignments that require that the students record their own voices are also done on the computer.

We developed a number of similar interactive multimedia courses that are used in our upper-level classes. Our most successful CD-ROM series, 12 Chairs Interactive and Advanced Russian, as well as our documentaries for learners of Russian published by (Lexicon Bridge Publishers) are used in our second-year Russian language course and at higher levels. We are confident that the same technology and a similar approach can be used at the first-year level.

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