Верблюд стоит на трёх ногах

Camels

A few years ago I tried to learn Russian just using Rosetta Stone Russian to test how well it worked. I chose Russian because I hadn’t studied before and because I thought it would be an interesting and useful language learn. At that time I also needed to put together web pages in Russian from time to time, so I thought being able to at least read the language a bit would be handy.

I spent over six months studying every day and in all that time I didn’t learn any phrases like Здравствуйте (Hello), Как дела? (How are you?) or Спасибо (thank you), but I did learn colours, numbers, a variety or nouns like мальчик (boy), девушка (girl), лошадь (horse), слон (elephant) and самолет (aeroplane), and ‘useful’ phrases like, Лошадь не настоящая (The horse is not real), Тигр сидит на стене (The tiger is sitting on the wall), and Верблюд стоит на трёх ногах (The camel is standing on three legs).

Rosetta Stone is designed to teach you entirely through the language you’re learning using photos and recordings. It’s not always clear exactly what the photos are supposed to represent, and when you’re asked to match photos to written or spoken words and phrases, it’s possible to do so without really understanding the words and phrases. The choice of phrases may seem somewhat strange, though many language courses, especially older ones, use similar kinds of phrases to teach you vocabulary and to illustrate various grammatical constructions.

Last week I started learning Russian again using Language101.com, which provides online courses in French, German, Danish, Spanish, Irish, Canadian French and Russian. It uses a spaced repetition system (SRS) with recordings, and contains thousands of phrases for each language. Over the past few days I’ve learnt more practical and useful Russian phrases than I did in six months with Rosetta Stone, and I’ll be writing a review of the site soon.

I plan to focus mainly on Russian for the next two months using such courses as Language101.com, WikiTranslate.org, A Spoonful of Russian and Language Bridge. I’ll also listen Russian language radio every day (at the moment I’m listening to Радио Голос России).

One word I recognised while listening to Russian radio yesterday was верблюд (camel) – I think they were talking about camels in Tajikistan. I remembered it because of the phrase from Rosetta Stone. This got me thinking that while you would rarely use phrases like верблюд стоит на трёх ногах, unless you happened to live in a camel-infested Russian-speaking region, such as Tajikistan, that phrase is very memorable because it’s unusual and funny.

Perhaps that’s the point – learning phrases like this helps you to remember ordinary words like stand, three and legs, as well as camel, and it shows you how to put them together. The more unusual and funny or silly the phrase, the more likely you are to remember it. It works for me at least. So I plan to try constructing similarly unusual, funny, silly and ridiculous sentences in Russian and other languages to help me remember vocabulary and grammatical patterns. I might even make some videos like the ones on my YouTube channel featuring these phrases.

Do you have any suggestions for suitably silly phrases?

[Addendum] Here’s my Language101.com review.

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Language learning, Russian.

8 Responses to Верблюд стоит на трёх ногах

  1. Magnus says:

    I did a year of Russian as a subsidiary module at university. I’m fairly sure that верблюд was not a word I learned at the time. However, it is one of the relatively few Russian words that sticks firmly in my mind due to its prominence in a Flanders and Swann song about a train of camels crossing a desert. The song, whose name I forget, was sung by Donald Swann (a fine linguist, fluent in Russian and a number of other languages) in Russian, with a running translation by Michael Flanders. Humour and music are both excellent vehicles for learning a language, so the combination of the two can be quite powerful.

    While not a particularly silly phrase, I’ve never forgotten the Welsh word for hedgehog (draenog) ever since I learned it 12 years ago. I first encountered it as the name of a (presumably fictional) band, Draenog Marw (Dead Hedgehog), that appeared in the audio material for the Wlpan course I was following at the time.

    Similarly my recollection of the French word for badger (blaireau) is more-or-less assured since a friend of mine who was studying French at the time translated the English phrase “That’s the badger!” that we were regularly using (for some now forgotten reason, although I still like the sound of it) while we were on a trip to Belgium together as students.

  2. Simon says:

    There’s a Welsh song by Bryn Fôn called “Draenog Marw” – I’ve heard it many times on Radio Cymru, but didn’t know what a draenog was until now.

  3. mindo says:

    I spend around month trying to learn French using Rosetta Stone. Though they do include hello, good morning and other common phrases in French course it turned out that I can’t learn in that manner…

    I would like to try Language101 as it’s closer to how I actually learning language, but the main issue is the price. I don’t want to invest hundred dollars and see that it actually does not work… Anyway, hope to see the review soon :)

  4. Good luck with this project. I will also recommend you http://www.transparent.com/russian/ good blog with useful tips on russian language.

  5. Like Magnus, the Flanders and Swann song is what comes to my mind, too, but I have it on good authority that Swann’s Russian is full of errors, not really fluent at all.

    Also following from Magnus’s comment, I have a copy of the album “Hela’r Draenog” / “Hunting the Hedgehog”, which contains songs from the tradition of Welsh gypsy harpists as played by Robin Huw Bowen.

  6. Seumas says:

    “Dh’ith mi cus cous cous” (I ate too much cous cous) – Scottish Gaelic

  7. Alan says:

    I learnt Russian at school and the teacher introduced some bizarre phrases to the lessons. The one which has stuck in my mind for about 40 years is “У меня в руке резинная утка” (I have in my hand a rubber duck). I haven’t had a chance to use it till now.

  8. Anna says:

    I really liked the conclusion you made to your story – the rule of awkward phrases works with me as well – it’s easier to remember them.
    I also remember at university where I studied French we had home reading (lecture à domicile) – we read books and studied new words from them. So I wrote down a word “stretcher” (une civière) – and I didn’t really know where this word could be helpful for me. But several months later I worked as an interpreter with French actors who needed stretchers for performance. After that I understood that even unusual or awkward words could be useful :)