Interview: Russian as a major

with 6 Comments

Do you dream of taking university-level courses in Russian?

Have you ever wanted to skip the translations and read modern Russian lit in its original language?

Or maybe, delve into the political tangle that is US – Russia politics?

Meet J.T., a college student who has her hands full with all those things!

She’s also an artist, a bug lover, and the eruditely enigmatic blogger behind Russia Reviewed.


Read on to learn more about how she does it… 🙂


J.T., what’s currently your favorite word in Russian?



Do you use Russian for work, for play, or for something else?
Both, and more! If you consider college education work – and it sure feels like it is – then I use Russian for work on a daily basis. I study Russian politics and the West’s Russia discourse, so unsurprisingly, much of my reference material for research is in Russian. I also do a bit of freelance translating on the side, mostly for friends, family, faculty, and other students.
Even when relaxing, I find myself using Russian frequently. First and foremost, I use it for reading. Here’s the current Russian tome I’m poring over:



I watch Russian-language films and YouTube videos. Most of my music is in Russian (lots of Земфира and Ночные снайперы). And I’m always up for a game of Scrabble in Russian!

But I also use Russian in more sinister ways…usually involves scaring Good Citizens with my Super Kremlin Agent Powers. (or locating free copies of books on the RuNet…)


How long have you been studying Russian? What first attracted you to the language?
This is my fourth year of Russian study. How I caught the Russia Bug is very much tl;dr, and interested parties can find more information on my blog’s author page. Basically, a few years ago I became interested in the language after listening to several modern Russian songs. They included Доказано by Zemfira, Думать дважды by Animal Джаz, and Тоска by the Night Snipers. I don’t recall what exactly drew me to Russian – perhaps it was its fluidity, its distinctiveness from the Romance languages commonly taught in school. One thing led to another and soon I was not only studying Russian but reading extensively on contemporary Russian culture and politics. The Syrian crisis (in which Russia played a pivotal role) unfolded in 2013, I dug in my heels on studying Russian, and the rest – as they say – is history.


Have you ever had your level of Russian tested?

No, not officially. I’ve only taken placement tests thus far. However, I’d love to take the CEFRL or TORFL. My most recent test placed me at the upper intermediate level, but I hope to eventually score a C1 (Effective operational proficiency) on the CEFRL scale, or a TORFL-III. In fact, I’ve already created a study plan in preparation for taking the CEFRL test in 2020. My goal for 2020 is a score of B2, the officially recognized upper intermediate level.



Is there anything that you really struggle with, like grammar or pronunciation? Do you have a plan of attack for improving your skills?

Interestingly enough, I’ve never had trouble with pronunciation. My instructors (native speakers) say I speak with a near native accent. Nor is Russian grammar too hard to understand. If there’s anything I’ve struggled with thus far, it’s:
a) intonation,
b) those blasted prefixed verbs of motion, or
c) just communicating in Russian at regular pace.

I haven’t yet formulated a clear plan of attack – I think I simply need to find a conversation partner. In the typical Russian class, I spend 75% of the time listening to other students speak and make mistakes. It’s not easy to improve your speaking skills when you can barely get a few sentences in!


What’s something about the Russian language that you think is misunderstood?

The Cyrillic alphabet! At least in my neck of the woods, I always overhear people saying they’re afraid to approach Russia due to its “very difficult alphabet”. To which I’d reply: “It’s not as bad as you think!” Many Cyrillic letters look similar to Latin letters and sound like their English counterparts. Others look different from Latin letters but also sound like English ones. Some are completely foreign, but aren’t hard to learn. It can take a few days and a few drills, but it can be done!



I know you’re a huge Russian bookworm. Can you recommend a few recent favorite reads?
Another hard question, since so much of my recent reading has been…subpar


Might I suggest some older works instead?


  • The Yellow Arrow or any other Victor Pelevin book written before 1999. Early Pelevin is my favorite modern Russian writer, hands-down. He is a wordsmith who successfully mixes the sublime with the ridiculous and comes up with wildly turbulent tales that are always more than interesting and thought provoking.
  • The Russian Word’s Worth by Michele Berdy. An entertaining and ironic look at the Russian langauge which inspired me to take up translation.
  • Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft by Allen C. Lynch. A little outdated, but still the best and most balanced Putin biography on the market (and believe me, there are many).
  • The Return by Daniel Treisman. Reading Russia done right.
  • Russia Under Western Eyes by Martin Malia.
  • Грех (Sin) by Zakhar Prilepin.


If someone wanted to improve their Russian quickly and only had 15 minutes a day, what would you advise them to do?
Any of these independent study courses might help. For intermediate learners, listen to this podcast or translate a brief article on a familiar subject to your native language. Advanced learners should read books or news in Russian.

Спасибо большое, Джей Ти! 🙂

6 Responses

  1. J.T.
    | Reply

    Hooray first comment!

    Огромное спасибо Katherine for hosting me on your wonderful little blog!

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Рада узнать больше о тебе, J.T.! Keep up the good fight 😉

  2. Lyttenburgh
    | Reply

    “Here’s the current Russian tome I’m poring over:”


    “But I also use Russian in more sinister ways…usually involves scaring Good Citizens with my Super Kremlin Agent Powers. (or locating free copies of books on the RuNet…)”

    [Furiously handshakes]


    • Katherine
      | Reply

      A+ to you on those images, Lyttenburgh. Like a human emoji, ha!

    • J.T.
      | Reply

      Shhh…I’m not reading Yavlinsky because I agree with him…I’m just curious, Lyt!

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