Учительница, ученик Здравствуйте. Я Наташа Браун. Я ваша новая учительница русского языка. А вы кто?
This Russian grammar book was originally written by Natasha Brown in 1995. It was never published and it has been adapted for Internet use. It offers a new visual and active method of learning Russian language. At the heart of the system of learning Russian language, Russian language grammar and especially Russian cases, are the hands, feet and fingers exercises. Read Russian language aerobics page before starting them.
Ученик: How can I speak Russian? I won't think about the rules. I shall not bother with the word endings. I will speak loudly and use my hands to point to things. Miming will do nicely for expressing my feelings. No doubt this will do the trick. They will understand me. I will make them.
Учительница: This approach is very good indeed. It isn't a bad way to do it, although it is only half of the story. Can you make Russians use their hands and mimic the way you do? Can you make them speak slowly, not use long complex sentences, preferably use strict word order with the subject before the object and avoid using the verbs of motion? Mind you, many Russians don't know what the verbs of motion are, except a few, such as those who teach Russian language to foreigners. Most Russians (like me and people I know) don't think when they speak at all and therefore they can't avoid using the verbs of motion in their speech. Even the very verb to avoid is избегать in Russian and is, in itself, a verb of motion; in this case it is used figuratively. You can only tackle verbs of motion head-on.
Ученик: Are you telling me that I have to learn Russian grammar and all those millions of boring rules? I don't really want to do it. I don't want to wrestle with the Russian verbs of motion. I don't want to become an expert on Russian grammar. All I want is to understand Russian and to make myself understood. Some Russians don't even know Russian grammar themselves but they are able to communicate with each other. Russian children don't know Russian grammar but they speak it well enough so why should I learn it?
Учительница: Babies spends a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what is being said around them. The big advantage that they have is time. On the other hand, babies are not overambitious; they don't expect to start speaking the day after they were born. They don't know what ambition is. Certainly you know more now. You know how to read (since you are reading this text) and write (I hope), how to count (maybe), how to book a holiday (if you are lucky enough) and you know what ambition is (this is for certain since you want to learn Russian language). You know a lot but all this knowledge and experience of the world came with time and now this knowledge is your main asset. I doubt very much that with all your experience and knowledge you would like to learn Russian language the way Russian children do.
Ученик: Why not? It isn't a bad idea, they don't learn any grammar.
Учительница: Imagine spending a few years of your life with a Russian family, being looked after by them, fed and lovingly calmed down whenever you burst into tears. Even then you must try to imitate the sounds you hear and repeat the words after your Russian guardians. At best, you will be bored. True, if you try, you will speak some Russian at the end of your second year. Presumably you don't want to spend your next 20 years picking up all the terminology that you were able to pick up in your native language by the time you were 20?
Ученик: Fair enough but I don't even know English grammar, even though I speak English perfectly well.
Учительница: Here are some words for you: fish, the, loves, cat. Can you make a sentence from them?
Ученик: Of course I can: The cat loves fish.
Учительница: So you know grammar, you have applied it instinctively.
Ученик: Will I ever be able to apply Russian grammar instinctively?
Учительница: You will with time but for now you need to familiarise yourself with practical Russian grammar so as not to start from zero, as you did with English. If you were able to learn your native language, you will be able to learn a foreign language.