Review Comment

Third-Year Russian I and II

September 08, 2016

Smyslova, Alla Silver_nugget
Third-Year Russian I and II

Alla Smyslova is one of the best professors, and likely the best language professor, that I have had at Columbia. Alla Aleksandrovna uses a distinct teaching style: it is highly methodological, students constantly are engaged in small- or large-group discussion, and she provides comprehensive feedback targeted to each individual student. Expect her to quickly see and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Although this may seem intimidating, it is not. She is always there to help students with problems they have with the Russian language. The class is high-energy and engaging as a result of her enthusiasm.

The material of Alla Aleksandrovna’s Third-Year Russian course does follow along with parts of the textbook, but she often goes into greater depth than the textbook and more often than not utilizes her own exercises rather than those in the book. In this sense, the course and its materials are obviously designed by her, while the textbook is simply a supplement. Although you will read a lot and write a lot, in my opinion the greatest strength of the course is the emphasis placed on speaking. Perhaps the quantity of new vocabulary terms will be less than in first- and second-year Russian, but the depth of understanding of the lexical topics covered (including vocabulary and phrase retention) and, especially, the grammar is greater. If you had problems with topics like motion verbs and verb aspects, expect to be able to understand them more clearly through the methodology introduced in this course.

The efficacy of Alla Aleksandrovna’s course is dependent on the students too. Students who are motivated and do the assignments (which often include speaking to yourself) will experience great improvement in the language, while those who do not follow her suggestions will not. So, I recommend only taking this course if you genuinely wish to improve your Russian skills and are willing to put in the effort to do so. Under Alla Aleksandrovna’s teaching ideology, a large part of becoming comfortable in a language stems from practice. She refers to this as “мускульная память” (muscle memory), and therefore treats language like any other sport or musical instrument. Class time is not enough to effectuate this, so plan to practice outside of class if you wish to really improve.

The class overall is not easy, and you may be frustrated at times, but it is very rewarding. For me, declensions, motion verbs, and other linguistic characteristics of Russian are no longer something I get confused over. If you put in the effort you can expect positive results.

Workload:

The workload is moderate to heavy, but largely dependent on you. Often, Alla Aleksandrovna’s assignments (which are always clearly written out part by part) include things like speaking practice, that are easy to skip over. However, if you wish to improve your Russian, doing the entirety of the assignments is a necessity. Per class (3 times per week), expect to work for 1-2 hours outside of class. Each assignment has times written on it, so you won’t face any surprises time-wise. Alla encourages spending the whole recommended time: if the assignment takes less time, use the rest of the 1-2 hours to practice speaking or other things.

May 08, 2004

Smyslova, Alla Silver_nugget
Third-Year Russian I and II

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Smyslova, like all of the instructors I have had in my 6 semesters with the Slavic Department, is incredible. She is passionate and never misses a beat, and as any good language instructor she knows how to explain things in more than one way so that you really get it. Professor Smyslova's class took my Russian from understanding a lot but feeling mute to really being able to *speak* the language. She is an expert on helping native English speakers let go of the English syntax and sensibility and delve full-heartedly into Russian. The structure of the class is wonderful, and better than those of First-Year or Second-Year Russian; you have an "aktivnaya leksika" which means that instead of numbly memorizing lists of vocab, you read articles with the vocab embedded in them and are then required to summarize them in your own words, use the vocab words in different contexts, and keep bringing them up even as you move on to the next text. Only in the most extreme cases will she resort to English. If you are taking Third-Year Russian you probably love the language as much as I do, but in case not, beware: you cannot get away with not doing your work or pretending to understand something when you do not. She commands your attention the entire class period and required as much energy from you as you get from her. She is extremely understanding, though, as long as you put in the effort.
In short, ona blestyaishaya prepodavatelnitza! Don't miss out on taking her class!

Workload:

the class meets 3x a week for 1 hour 15 minutes. 1-1.5 hours of homework for each class, written and oral. fair exams after each text unit.

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