Having taught English as a second language to primarily speakers of Russian for ten years in the former USSR has given me the opportunity to meet lots of teachers, many with whom I still correspond. When asking them about what on-line resources they recommend for teaching Russian, the overwhelming response I got was that they do not go on-line for material. They either use textbooks or create their own. Even my Russian professor from university said the same. In other words, regular people who teach Russian, whether that be to Russian children in state schools of Russia, or to American young adults in a US university, overwhelmingly do NOT use the internet for networking or resources.
Funnily enough, I too would never try to locate material on the internet.
For this project however, I was thus required and combed through the pathetic excuses for information repositories defined as helpful to teachers/students of the Russian language. What I overwhelmingly found were poorly constructed internet sites with no substance that require pricy membership fees and provide questionable services. Some sites did seem to offer a few potentially useful materials, but upon closer inspection they were populated with incomplete documents, documents which don’t match their descriptions, and again, documents that you need to pay to access. These sites include: (http://www.russnet.org/ , http://rlj.americancouncils.org/ , http://www.teachrussian.org/ , http://www.actr.org/ )
After realizing the futility of attempting to access useful information in English, I searched the web for Russian-language sites. In this pursuit I discovered a slew of interesting and potentially useful information, all of which was located on personal blog pages of experienced Russian teachers in Russian state schools. Sites like
all have things like worksheets for practicing student knowledge of various classical poems or phonology. But I did not locate anywhere on them anything I would ever use in a classroom with American students, just as Russian teachers of English in Russian schools would never try and adopt Shakespeare or phonics for their own pupils.
Fortunately, for people who know how to teach, creating your own materials specifically catered with a particular class in mind is not difficult. What is more, instead of adapting materials that seem foreign to everyone, it helps better engage learners, as well as the teacher, when the materials are original and immediately relevant. When I taught English in Russia, I more often than not created my own materials based on our textbook or classroom conversations, the foundations of any true learning environment. These highly specific materials are not available on the internet. Instead, a one-size fits all approach abounds, which is insulting to anyone who thinks about it.
It should also be said that the politicization of the Russian issue may well be partially at fault, as both English and Russian language sites seem to be too nationalistic to sit well in the stomach of a human with conscience.
So is there anything of value for American students and teachers of the Russian language on the internet? Yes. Youtube is a valuable resource for old Soviet and Armenian cartoons, which both children and adults love. They are usually about ten minutes long and dialogue is simple enough for everyone to understand, at least a bit.
Plus, there are great modern screen versions of Russian literature classics, like Master and Maragarita: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU_KmWj5cY0 . And let’s not forget the best Sherlock Holmes of all, Livanov, most of whose films are available on youtube, like The Hound of the Baskervilles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS5kA3oE3Gk .
One of the biggest problems for those working with Russian is the pitiful dictionaries of it. The best I’ve found is the Oxford Ru-En/En-Ru dictionary, but it lets me down about half the time. In these situations, I use https://www.multitran.ru/ . There is a plethora of translations for each entry, and each is given the context of use with examples. It is a true gold mine.
In conclusion, I offer a parable. Once upon a time there was a very hungry American walking the icy streets of Moscow looking for Enciladas Supremas. He had loved the dish since childhood, and somewhere along Tverskaya, lost amongst the crowds and snowdrifts, he knew that if he could just find a Mexican restaurant, all his worries would be over. He stumbled to and fro, and eventually found one! He went in and tried to order his favorite dish, but to no avail. They hadn’t heard of it. He asked if there were any other Mexican restaurants, and the mildly hospitable waitress extended her index finger in the direction of GUM, the big mall near Red Square. And the American went off in search of the fabled delight. And finally he came to the shining doors of the establishment, near which hung the menu. And there it was, Enciladas Supremas in the Entrees section. He happily sat at a table, placed his order, and waited. After the sounds of chopping and frying and a little bit of a wait, alas, he saw his plate being hoisted from the kitchen onto a tray and then being carried over by his waiter. The plate was put in front of him. He looked down and saw on his plate a single taco..
The moral of the story is that only you know what you want, what you need, and to rely upon others to produce those things is the source of much suffering, much compromise, or much pofigism, a Russian word which means something like apathy, but better translated to connotation: don’t give a damn-ness. A teacher doesn’t rely on others to write lesson plans or create materials, just as a cook doesn’t rely on others to write recipes or cook them.