Learning Russian with Immersion Methods: 9 Months Update

Hi! I’m Attenius, a native English speaker from the US learning Russian. I switched to immersion methods around the start of July 2020. I'm more or less following the plans and advice given at https://refold.la. You can read a little more about the method and my background in my 6 months update.

I'm making a vain effort to be brief on what I've been feeling and doing for the last three months. At 12 months I expect I might do something more extensive, as I hope to be in Stage 3 of Refold (learning to output) at that time.

Stuff I've done for the last 3 months

Since January 1 I decided to start tracking my studies using a Google sheet I've been tweaking as I go. The primary tab looks like this.

I've been occasionally writing down how I feel and noting most of the longer things I finish in the notes column, just to have something to feel accomplished about when I look back through it. Otherwise I just track time spent by timing myself while reading or by rounding the length of videos to the nearest 10 minutes.

Here are my summary stats for January, February, and March.

Reading70 / 2.259 / 2.199 / 3.2
Listening98 / 3.197 / 3.599 / 3.2
Passive30 / 123 / 0.823 / 0.7
Anki8 / 14.5m6 / 12.3m5 / 10m
Cards450 / 12.1345 / 12.5310 / 12.4
Total189 / 6.1173 / 6.2216 / 7

Sum/Mean, in hours except for total time spent in Anki and cards made. The "Total" at the bottom is Reading + Listening + 0.33 * Passive + Anki + 0.75 * Cards [with the actual input numbers in minutes].

Listening 

I tried to focus more on slice-of-life native TV, but didn't do a great job of it. I've kept my listening diet roughly the same, mostly just following whatever I feel like doing. It's been a mix of:

  • ~30% Anime dubs and dubbed English movies
  • ~30% Let's plays and game streams
  • ~15% Native TV and movies e.g.: Кухня, Пока цветет папоротник/Беловодье, and recently some random dramas like Батюшка
  • ~10% Other Native YouTube, mostly pop history, video essays, anime reviews
  • ~10% Audiobooks of light novels
  • ~5% News, mostly TVRain

My interest in anime has been waning a bit as I feel like I'd already blown through most of the shows I was excited to binge. It's still easier than native TV so I find myself coming back to it when I'm feeling really tired. I've also been keeping up with some seasonal anime as something to jumpstart my daily immersion routine. Having something that's exciting to watch because it's just come out and people are talking about it feels really useful.

Let's plays and streams are still great. As  with last time, I still hover in the level 4-5 comprehension range, but I'm getting closer to 5 more of the time and I'm at this level with more content creators than before.

I was really relieved to finally finish Кухня [Kitchen], I really wasn't getting a huge amount of enjoyment out of it most of the time I was watching it. In fact, I honestly didn't really like any native TV or movies very much until the last month or so when I finally felt like I'd broken some major comprehension barriers. Now I'm almost always at at least level 3 comprehension with TV, and I enjoy every native show and movie an order of magnitude more than when I started. Пока цветет папоротник [While the fern blooms] and its sequel Беловодье were an absolute treat when I watched them - wacky adventure comedy with some fantasy elements set in Altai, nothing like most things I'd seen in English.

I've discovered there are lots of fan-recorded audiobooks of light novels I've read or wanted to read on RuTracker, VK, and YouTube, and I've actually found they're much easier to immerse with than I expected. If I'm concentrating I can follow most of it at almost the same level of comprehension I would have by actually reading (4ish), with the caveat that I've already seen the anime adaptations of all the ones I've been listening to. They make up the bulk of my passive listening now just because they're so fun. I'm currently listening to Toradora and Spice & Wolf  (a few volumes behind what I've already read).

Reading

I'm at about 1,500,000 words read from novels from when I started really getting into reading last August, which I've celebrated with a Matt meme.

Feels like I read an absolute mountain of translated Japanese light novels - they make up 1,350,00 words of my reading spread across 3 series and over 30 volume.

Lately I've been devouring Spice & Wolf, which is slightly harder than previous light novel series I was reading, but still easy enough for me to get into a flow state. I pretty much always look up unknown words, and at my level with Spice & Wolf I only need to do that about once every 1-2 minutes now (compared to multiple words in almost every sentence in my very first books!). It feels incredible and motivating when I get a few pages in a row with no lookups, but there are still times when I'll have a sentence with multiple unknown words (especially common on a scene transition).

I read a couple long Russian-written fanfics of series I'm familiar with. Amateur fiction like it feels only slightly harder than the translated light novels, so it seems like a good stepping stone to native novels.

I read Джамиля [Jamilya], a very short native novel at 15k words, and honestly it was way too hard. It's set in WW2-era Kyrgyzstan, so well outside my usual domains of medieval fantasy-ish stuff, and the writing style was very flowery. I felt a lot of relief when I started Маздак [Mazdak], a novel set around Sassanid-era Persia which is an order of magnitude easier, as it alleviated my concerns that all native Russian novels for adults would feel just as difficult as Джамиля. It's still a sizable jump from Spice & Wolf, so I want to finish that first.

Sentence mining

Anki doesn't take much of my time despite averaging 12 new cards a day, so I'm not too bothered by it. Mostly mining from books because it's just so easy. Really like using GoldenDict for monolingual definitions (which I can mostly rely on completely outside of concrete nouns, where I often use a bilingual definition or picture) and Migaku for adding Forvo audio of target words.
 
I used subs2srs with a couple YouTube videos. I still use Morphman, but now I just tag whatever set of highlights I export from my book with the date and source when I import them into Anki. I only use these sentences from my most recent export (I export them once every few weeks), so they're things that are fresher and more relevant to what I'm reading. This also let's me leave behind things I learned without SRS through immersion, as those highlights from old exports never get used again.

First contact

I've also been having some interactions native speakers in the last month or so! A lot of it's been DMs on Discord with several people who are doing Refold, and all of them are learning or have learned English, so I've been messaging in mostly English while they message mostly in Russian. They've been honestly engaging conversations about gaming and our language learning processes, and I've hardly had to look up any words to understand them.

I've done a small amount of crosstalk (they speak Russian, I speak English) with 3 natives as well, and I found I was able to understand about 90% of what they were saying -- well, I feel I catch about 90% of the words (less if it's not about games and anime) and just have to infer the intended meaning, but the whole process feels pretty automatic if still tiring. With how much I felt like I still struggle with slice-of-life native TV shows, I was really surprised at how much I could understand. I had to ask them to repeat something every 3ish minutes, and at a couple points was utterly lost when my conversation partner spoke about a domain I wasn't familiar with, which is not my ideal for a fun conversation, so I don't want to indulge in the activity too much yet.

They've all been very sweet and interesting people as well! I'm very glad that learning a language has given me the opportunity to meet people like them.

Plans for the future

I really picked up the pace compared to last year. I probably close to doubled my average daily immersion, as I'm having more and more fun and I'm also still very eager to get my level high enough to where I can start learning Mandarin and just maintain/slowly advance Russian. I feel like I went overboard in March - 7 hours is just too much for me and other parts of my life were suffering. My brain often felt exhausted both while immersing and while working, and I would use immersing as an excuse to procrastinate other things. I hope to tone it down and be content with more passive listening.

Although reading is becoming more enjoyable as my level improves, unsurprisingly, sentence mining vocab from fantasy novels doesn't feel like it's been helping my comprehension of slice-of-life and everyday conversation very much lately. I think I would benefit from mining more from native TV shows and possibly places like Discord and YouTube comments.

From my newly gained but limited experience, streams and let's plays honestly feel closer to the way people speak in conversation than slice-of-life TV, so I'm content to continue spending a large chunk of my time watching them, especially considering my comprehension of these domains has been higher for longer. I've noticed my comprehension of unscripted podcasts is reaching the point where they're enjoyable too, so I may try to work in more of those.

Conclusions

There is no conclusion. Learning a language takes forever.

Thanks

Огромное спасибо [huge thanks] to my friends and the Refold Discord server communities for chatting with me, enduring my complaints, humoring my questions, and correcting my mistakes!

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