Learning languages

I will continue the “Three Baptisms” series sometime this week. In the meantime here is a post about my current activities.

Since graduating from seminary, I’ve felt the need to exercise my brain. My job is not mentally challenging and I have a half-hour commute. So, I decided to take up learning Russian and Japanese again.

Русский язык

For Russian, I started using Pimsleur language tapes borrowed from the library. These tapes seemed to be geared toward businessmen who want to hit on women, but all the same there is a good deal of useful information. There are three levels with thirty half-hour lessons in each level; I am in the middle of Level II. The problem with Pimsleur is that it is purely conversational and there is no formal teaching of grammar. I am also a visual learner and do not like not seeing the words I am pronouncing.

Thankfully there is another free resource available from my library called Mango Languages. Mango covers the same conversational ground as Pimsleur but has grammatical notes in each lesson. Plus, I can actually see what I’m saying.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 6.58.25 PM

The color coding quickly helps me pick out the corresponding words.

I took Russian for two years in seminary: my first and last year. In between we had no instruction due to the lack of an instructor. Thus the lack of conversational Russian. I think that it is a good thing for clergymen of the Russian Church (and in fact, laypeople in general) to get at least a knowledge of conversational Russian. Having a reading knowledge of Russian is even better, because it opens up a whole world of Orthodox texts. You can’t find St. John Chrysostom’s works published in full in English, but there are 20-volume sets in Russian. Holy Trinity Bookstore has a basement full of Russian books waiting to be read.

After “graduating” from Pimsleur and Mango I hope to start studying the New Penguin Russian Course again and build up my vocabulary.


I studied Japanese formally from 2001 to 2006. I lived in Japan for most of 2004. I retain a high-intermediate level of Japanese, but it is frustrating to sort of but not really know a language. Today I tried listening to some Japanese podcasts. Interspersed with things I understood were a whole lot of unknowns. Japanese is not as useful as Russian to me at this point in my life, but I still love the language.

Right now I want to at least be able to read Japanese texts (books, news articles, and yes, manga). To that end I started using this great site called Read the Kanji, which bills itself as “The fun, simple study method designed to help you learn to read Japanese.” Read the Kanji presents the kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) in context, teaching 7000 words in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 6.47.59 PM

The word for “nap” (昼寝) is highlighted in the sentence, and I have to write the correct reading (ひるね, hirune) in the box.

The kanji are arranged according to five levels corresponding to the five levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test—N5 is easy, N1 is hard. There is also a sixth level of yojijukugo or four-character idiomatic compounds (ex. 一石二鳥, lit. “one stone, two birds,” from the English proverb).

Mango also has a Japanese course but it is pretty easy stuff. What is more interesting is the Mango Premiere feature, which allows me to learn Japanese through watching films (there are currently two movies available).

Learning Russian and Japanese is fun and mentally stimulating, and is already bearing some good fruit: sometimes I speak Russian with my wife (and mother-in-law) and I am able to read some Japanese news articles with minimal assistance.


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