by Don  

The Russian word for lecture is:


Лекция is a на word; that is, you must use the preposition на with it if you are attending a lecture or going to a lecture:

Я вчера была на очень интересной лекции. Yesterday I was at a very interesting lecture.
Я вчера ходила на очень интересную лекцию. Yesterday I went to a very interesting lecture.

If you go to a place using на, you come back from it using с + genitive:

— Откуда ты идёшь?
— С очень интересной лекции.
“Where are you coming from?”
“From a really interesting lecture.”

There is a BIG difference between Russian and American lectures. If you attend a lecture in Russia, the lecturer often just sits there in front of the listeners and reads his notes. In the US that would be a recipe or failure. In the US a good lecturer must stand up, and either lecture entirely without notes or with just occasional references to his notes. In the US the lecturer must be emotionally engaging, or else he won't be given an honorarium again to speak. In Russia, no.

Now to American readers those comments immediately condemn the Russian system. That's because they are lazy-ass Americans. Generally the Russian system has produced better educated people than the American system over the last sixty years (though I think the Russian system is now decaying). The truth is this: if you are addicted to entertainment, you will probably be less productive in terms of scientific production than the people from less ‘friendly’ systems. So get off your tush and go do your homework!

Shady_arc responds:

As one of those studied in Moscow State University, I actively object your impression of Russian lectures. It is just that there is a lot of bad lecturers who, well, do what they can for the laughable increase in payment they get (I heard, no more than $1000 for a semester of weekly/twice a week course of lectures). A failure is still a failure, US or Russia, though in my 6 years I have never seen a sitting lecturer, not even once. Russian students, even the most promising ones, don't think twice before skipping a class or two (or half of them). Bad lecturers just make things easier for you: you simply sleep at home instead of sleeping at his lecture. And hope the lecturer isn't too pround of himself to get even with you on exam. Good students know very well that they WILL get away with skipping most of the classes they find bad: a rare professor will treat a student badly for missing classes if that student is obviously above the level of 90% of the others and knows the subject.

The tests and exams are (were?) usually held twice a year, at the end of the semester, so for decades the students had become used to living a joyful life from September through December and from February till May. This is changing now, as institutes and professors try to introduce more often, smaller tests over the course of the semester, and also control attendance. However, 5 years ago when I was in late years, still many did not attend regularly. I'd say... of all ~180 people that were in our stream (half of the students of our year: they share rougly the same lectures on common disciplines) about 40-80 were found on good lectures. For bad lectures it may fall to as low as 10-25 - basically, just a senior student (more often girl than not :) ) of each group.

There are always several good lecturers who make even quantum theory quite engaging and understandable. Also, there were many professional, though a bit boring lecturers. Still, they covered their subject, so you didn't even need the textbook much if you had carefully noted their, er, performance. Worst of all, there were indeed lecturers who are in this, probably, just for an increase to their salary. Students don't choose their teachers, so it is a matter of luck.

Personally, I did encounter a lecturer who knew what he did, yet made his subject pretty confusing. I did encounter a lecturer who was the authour of the book we used in out studies, and his lectures were so much more boring and primitive than his textbook: he even used slides instead of writing on the blackboard on his own. I attended classes of a teacher who, given the opinions I heard, was pretty good in the past; but, hell, by the time being he was so old he could barely speak intelligibly. That was the only time I was really ashamed for my university.

Note also, that in Russia (don't know how it is in US) the important general courses come in two parts, lectures by lecturers (~180 students in a large auditorium... theoretically) and classes (seminars) for small groups covering more practical skills, like discussing philosophy in more detail or soving some matrix equations. A group is 15-25 students. As a rule, these two types of classes are taught by different people, unless you are lucky/unlucky enough to be in the group whose classes are conducted by the same person who gives lectures. This also gives a different perspective, as, well... think of mathematics: solving equations is different from proving why they are solved this way, but still, the material for theoretical lectures and classes partially intersects. You may get bad lectures but good classes or vice versa. And when you prepare for the exam, you'll most probably need textbooks, anyway.

Don responds: Shady, thanks for your most excellent response to my blog entry. I'm adding your commentary to the main entry of the blog article instead of to the comment section so that others can see it promptly.

I have to agree with you, partially at least. My only study time in Russia proper was in 1986 at МГУ, and indeed the lecturers there were both competent and interesting. Of them I have no complaint.

On the other hand, the first class I had in Russian literature that was actually taught in Russian (as opposed to English language lectures on Russian literature) was taught by a Russian in the US, and he used precisely that methodology I have described. He sat in class, read his notes, and had us copy them down in our notebooks. I'm sure that the other students despised that approach. Myself, I took the lecture for what it was and in fact memorized the notes word for word, which made the instructor quite happy with my final exam of the first semester. By current US standards the class was an abomination in terms of methodology. In terms of my personal learning, I still remember his definition of литературный язык, still appreciate Krylov's fables and Lomonosov's poem on the use of glass.

Nowadays the greatest pedagogical abomination in the United States has got to be the misuse of PowerPoint. For a student-side discussion of this see Carolyn Works's blog entry (mirror)


by Don  

One of the verbs that means ‘to fall in love’ is:

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive влюбляться влюбиться
Past влюблялся
Present влюбляюсь
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду влюбляться
будешь влюбляться
будет влюбляться
будем влюбляться
будете влюбляться
будут влюбляться
Imperative влюбляйся

Note that the verb is complemented by a prepositional phrase with в followed by the accusative case.

Антон влюбился в Анну. Anton fell in love with Anna.
Анна влюбилась в Антона. Anna fell in love with Anton

Although the verb is mostly used in the past tense, it can be used in other tenses as well.

— Не поверишь, но я вчера влюбилась!
— Верю. Ты ведь влюбляешься каждые два дня.
“You're not going to believe this, but I've fallen in love!”
“I believe it. You fall in love every other day.”
— Я существо чистого разума. Я и разумом подберу себе подходящую жену.
— Помяни моё слово. Как только ты в девушку влюбишься, и ты потеряешь голову, как каждый мужчина.
“I am a creature of pure intellect, and it's by means of my intellect that I shall choose an appropriate wife for myself.”
“Mark my words: as soon as you fall in love with a girl, you'll be head over heels just like any other man.”

You may recall that we previously said that полюбить can also mean ‘to fall in love.’ That leaves us with the question of when to use which verb. Actually, you can start some pretty interesting arguments among Russians about which is the more serious emotion, полюбить or влюбиться. Nonetheless, I can give you one guideline, if you suddenly fall head over heels in love with a person, then влюбиться is the verb you use to describe it, not полюбить.


by Don  

One of the verbs that means to love is:

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive любить полюбить
Past любил
Present люблю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду любить
будешь любить
будет любить
будем любить
будете любить
будут любить
Imperative люби(те) полюби(те)

When you use the imperfective, it means the subject has an established liking for the direct object, and it can be translated as like or love:

Моя бабушка любила шоколад. My grandmother loved chocolate.
— Ты любишь кофе?
— Да, люблю.
“Do you like coffee?”
“Yes, I do.”

The verb can also be complemented by the infinitive:

Мой брат любит кататься на лыжах. My brother loves downhill skiing.
Я люблю играть на гитаре. I love to play the guitar.

The prefix по- often adds the idea of ‘start to,’ and that applies to this verb. In English the equivalent of ‘start to love’ is ‘fall in love with’:

В прошлом году я так полюбил Казань. Last year I simply fell in love with Kazan.
По-моему, ты полюбишь Париж. Город такой замечательный. I think you will fall in love with Paris. The city is so amazing.


by Don  

Love... it comes in so many forms... specifically nouns and verbs, and today we are going to talk about the Russian noun любовь, which is a third declension noun, complicated by a fleeting vowel:


You don't encounter the plural forms very often, but theoretically they exist.

Любовь has several meanings. First off, it's love, the positive feeling that binds people to other people in the best sense:

Наша любовь длится уже тридцать лет. Our love has lasted for thirty years now.
Я раньше не верил в любовь, но как только я познакомился с Клавой, я понял, что всё было не так, как я раньше думал. I used to not believe in love at all, but as soon as I met Klava, I knew that everything was different than I had previously thought.
Молодые люди вообще женятся по любви, но совместная жизнь складывается удачно по другим причинам, точнее по дружбе и взаимоуважению. Young people usually get married for love, but life together thrives for different reasons, specifically due to friendship and mutual respect.
Наша бабушка относилась ко всем своим восемнадцати внукам с любовью. Our grandmother related to all eighteen of her grandchildren with love.

Любовь can also mean the person that instills love in you:

Мы с Таней поженились сорок лет назад, и она ещё моя любовь. Tanya and I got married forty years ago, and she is still my true love.
Мы с Антоном скоро поженимся. Жду не дождусь. Он ведь был моей любовью с детского сада. Anton and I will be married soon. I can't wait. After all, he has been the love of my life since kindergarten.

Now here's an interesting cross-cultural parallelism. In the Christian tradition there are three theological virtues, which are usually called faith, hope and love. But if you read a King James Bible, you will find that one of the older words for love is charity. Faith, Hope and Charity can all be women's names in English. And in Russian those words can also be women's names:

Russian woman's name
and virtue
English woman's name
and virtue
Вера Faith
Надежда Hope
Любовь Charity

I Cor 13:13 still makes me tremble:

А теперь пребывают сии три: вера, надежда, любовь; но любовь из них больше. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Глаз (часть пятая)

by Don  

I find my relationship with Luludya goes much more smoothly if I give her grandmother a certain sum of money every Friday. Last week I was a bit late with her gift. Honestly, I wasn't skipping it on purpose — I know better than to try anything like that — but I was in fact a few hours late with the payment, an honest mistake, and as I entered the harridan's room, she gave me a certain look. When I returned home, I sensed a certain rumbling in my bowels, and then I spent the next ten hours in the smallest room of the house, and I knew:

Старуха меня сглазила. The old woman had hexed me.

The phrase for ‘the evil eye’ in Russian is ‘дурной глаз’ or sometimes ‘лихой глаз’ or ‘худой глаз.’ When someone is affected by the evil eye, the Russians often use the word сглазить ‘to hex, jinx, curse’ to describe it. This verb only occurs in the perfective:

Infinitive сглазить
Past сглазил
Present No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future сглажу
Imperative сглазь(те)

You can find the verb in phrases such as:

Не обижай её, а то она сглазит. Don't offend her or she'll put the evil eye on you.
Ребёнку плохо спится. Должно быть, кто-то его сглазил. My child is sleeping poorly. Someone must have hexed him.
— У меня сегодня ничего не получается.
— Кто-то тебя сглазил.
“Nothing is working out right for me today.”
“Someone jinxed you.”

Some years ago I came across a book called “Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong” by Arthur Bloch which contained a definition that went something like this:

The Unspeakable Law: The moment you mention something, if it's bad, it happens; if it's good, it goes away.

Many Russians have an inner feeling that the second bit is true. You musn't praise or compliment someone or express good expectations, otherwise you'll jinx yourself. So if you say something good, you need some magical little phrase to counteract the potential jinx. In AmE we say "knock on wood" in that context, and Russians may ceremonially spit over their left shoulder, which is represented in written form as «тьфу, тьфу», and then they add something like «чтобы не сглазить» “so that we don't jinx overselves”:

Наш новый клиент завтра подпишет контракт, который принесёт в нашу фирму огромные деньги, тьфу, тьфу, чтобы не сглазить. Our new client is signing a contract tomorrow that will bring our company a huge amount of money, knock on wood.

Certain recent events have brought me to the conclusion that I may sometime need stronger counteragents to the evil eye. Fortunately a quick web search has revealed a most amazing website in Russia where for a mere $500 one can obtain such help. Here's a description of their remarkable wares:

В центре «Линия жизни» можно будет приобрести ТАЛИСМАНЫ и АМУЛЕТЫ, «заряженные» нашими ведущими специалистами, победителями и финалистами телепередачи «Битва экстрасенсов». Это изделия из серебра с инкрустацией, каждое – прекрасное украшение, обладающее магической силой. (source) At “Life Line” you can obtain TALISMANS and AMULETS ‘charged’ by our leading specialists, winners and finalists of the “Battle of the Psychics” TV show. These items are inlaid silver, each one a beautiful decoration with magical power.

Yes, indeed. Three or four of those and I think I won't be having problems with the evil eye anymore. I'll place my order today.

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