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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Russian verbs of motion - Boris Shekhtman's way.

For those of you who haven't studied Russian, I suspect that you may not know about verbs of motion.

So let's get acquainted with them.

In English we have verbs like come, go, run and so forth.

If we want to indicate that we went somewhere then we can just say, " I went to school."

How do we know we used transport? Well, we can always indicate that, right? Not so in Russian. You use a specific verb which indicates that you are using transportation.

Did you do this regularly? There are specific verbs to indicate that something is done on a regular basis.

Did you actually reach your destination or not? No problem, Russian has a specific set of verbs to indicate this.

How about indicating that the action was (process) taking place without using some fancy shmancy -ing or other device to show this. Russian has sets of verbs just to show that the action is in process.

And this is just the beginning.

Few other languages have such an elaborate system of suppositions and information in their verbs of motion as does Russian.

So you cannot just say, " We went to Moscow." You must use a verb that will encapsulate everything about that experience that needs to be communicated. Every time you use a VOM in Russian you are telling the listener many, many things some of which you, as an English-speaker, may not even be aware of.

As you may imagine, this can present problems for non-native students of Russian.

It does.

There are several books on verbs of motion which attempt to help the learner. I have a few. They are not very helpful, in my opinion.

Enter Boris Shekhtman, the master teacher of Russian.

He has been guiding me in my Russian language studies since June, 2010 and I am very happy with the results.

After warning me about the pitfalls of VOM (verbs of motion) he spent time teaching me the bare essentials of one verb only. If you look at any text you will find that all of them are covered up front.

He asks me why I am using the verb that I do. I must explain in detail why and how I made the choice to use a specific verb. When I finish I really understand what formerly was not so clear.

Step by step the fundamentals have been covered. A lot of time was spent simply doing other things and then, here and there, incrementally working with aspects of VOM for this one verb only.

The verb was "to go".

It's major forms are : идти (ехать)(перейти-переехать) /// ходить (ездить) (переходить-переежать). The verbs with prefixes are simply examples. There are many prefixes that may be substituted for these; each will convey a different, specific meaning.

While the above may seem a bit complicated, Boris has vastly simplified it.

He revealed to me that there are no more than seven functions for all VOM.

When I began to approach Russian VOM in this fashion, everything fell neatly into place.

Today, several weeks after the concept was initially planted and allowed to take root over the intervening time, he announced that he was going to devote the final hour of our work to VOM. We did a pleasant but exhaustive review of everything using actual sentences that he had created to make sure I knew what I was doing.

At the end he told me that he was satisfied that I understood what he wanted me to understand.

He added that in the future we would address other VOM ( run, swim, etc.) but that they all follow the exact same patterns and would be a piece of cake.

From what I have seen and heard, this is probably the simplest and least stressful approach to teaching/ learning Russian VOM.

It works. I am now pretty consistently using the VOM correctly when I speak Russian which is very exciting.

Native-speakers don't realize how difficult this can be for a foreigner. They simply listen and respond.

And someday so,too, shall you when you learn Russian according to the method of Boris Shekhtman.

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Blogger tombie said...

Hi Harold,

I am just beginning to realise how complex the VOM are and would really appreciate it if you could point me towards some useful literature. Does Boris have a book on this topic? I have just completed the 3 MT Russian courses and am also studying with the aid of materials found from various websites. I have my first Skype lesson this Monday with a native and am a little nervous!



September 2, 2011 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Harold said...


If I get nervous when speaking with a native I silently tell myself, " I am nervous. I am freaking out." Weird as it may seem, this eventually has a calming effect. If you deny or attempt to clamp down on the nervousness, it just worsens.

VOM are easy for native-speakers. They can be for us, too. What I would do is give yourself plenty of time over a longish period to master them.

Only start with the VOM that require transportation. Know that there are just a very few categories: process; motion in one direction; back and forth motion,etc.

Take only one detail at a time.

Check out some literature anywhere, on the net, books, etc. Identify how the VOM is used in context and then, use it yourself in some sentences.

You could even type one that you are working on, say, поехал, and put it into Google. Then you would find many ways it is used in context by native speakers.

After you have done this for the transportation VOM then go to the non-transportation verbs.

Forget about the other verbs like running, swimming for a while. You can use them but don't freak out if you make a mistake. Russians will know what you want to communicate.

I may write more on this in another post.

The big thing is to take it slowly, one point at a time. When you get that under your belt then little by little branch out.

It is very doable.

Boris has not written on this that I am aware. He has warned me to stay away from what it written in most textbooks and aids on VOM. He disagrees with the belief that we must separate them into perfect and imperfect verbs as a learning device, for example.

Using his approach I am using VOM correctly and consistently.

People say that VOM are very hard. That is pure bullshit. They are not hard to learn if you are taught a way to approach them that cuts through the nonsense that grammarians have erected for poor, unsuspecting foreign students.

The fact is, these teachers simply don't know how to teach and then blame the students when the student is not successful.

This is what Michel Thomas spoke against and so does Boris Shekhtman. That is why I have chosen them as my teachers.

Less is more. Master and really get comfortable with very limited numbers of verb forms to express yourself before going on.

Do not attempt too much before you are ready. It will only frustrate you and block your progress.


That is the way to mastery.

September 2, 2011 at 5:38 PM  

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