So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

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Rico Au
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So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby Rico Au » 2015-05-27, 15:04

Hello everyone,

I'm from Hong Kong. My mother tongue is Cantonese and I can speak Mandarian and English (in American and British accent). A week ago, I borrowed a few books about Russian language and was planning to self-learn it to challenge myself. I found Russian language sounds very very very cool after I watched a few videos of Vladimir Putin's speech on YouTube. But sooner, when I looked into the alphabet list, listened to CDs, tried very hard to pronounced the letters, it comes to me that it is impossible for me to roll my R's. I cannot vibrate my tongue up and down, and cannot curl up my tongue laterally (I think this is genetically determined, I can't do this since I was born. But if this is true, does that mean all Russian has the genes for tongue-rolling?? that is scary :shock: :shock: :shock: ). I can reluctantly use another way to mimick the R sound but it becomes not pragmatic at all, if I do it during conversation, as I could imagine.

My problem here is, should I keep on learning Russian, even if I cannot roll the R's. Because I'm very afraid of spending months and years studying Russian, and maybe I still cannot roll it and if I had a chance to live in Russia (or even a long time), would Russian people discriminate or tease at people who cannot roll their Rs, for example, teasing at immigrants, foreign workers, who could not roll their R's when they are trying to integrate into the Russian society?? This is a serious question for me. I really want your advice on this guys.

Do anyone have the experience as I do???

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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby wolverine » 2015-05-27, 15:09

I couldn't do it before. I would try all sorts of tactics to teach myself the rolled r sound and still couldn't pronounce it. I eventually did manage it, though, so do keep at it.
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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby Babelfish » 2015-05-29, 18:00

I would never give up on a language just because of one sound I can't pronounce right! Man, I'm even trying to learn [Mandarin] Chinese, although the tones would probably be the greatest hurdle for me speaking it comprehensibly... BTW I also have difficulties with rolling (trilling) R's, which bothers me with Russian as well as Arabic. And foreigners very often have different accent than natives, I wouldn't worry about this :D
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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-08-09, 4:45

Rico Au wrote:But if this is true, does that mean all Russian has the genes for tongue-rolling??

Not necessarily. My heritage language, Malayalam, has the same sound, but it was the last sound my dad ever learned how to make as a child (even though it was his native language). Before that, he used to use [h] instead.
would Russian people discriminate or tease at people who cannot roll their Rs

I doubt it. IME if you start saying anything (literally, anything) in Russian to a Russian person, they'd most likely be shocked, but in a good way because they wouldn't expect a total foreigner like you or me to speak their language at all. You might even start wishing they'd finally shut up about how awesome you were just because you said like one word in Russian. :lol:

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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby Suobig » 2015-08-17, 13:11

Hello, Rico Au.

You shouldn't feel any frustration - rolling 'R' is sometimes impossible even for native speakers. There's lots of russians who can't roll 'R' and pronounce [ʁ] sound instead. Even on TV there're a lot of people who can't pronounce 'R' properly.

With such a defect you would be as discriminated in Russia as, for example, a person wearing glasses. At school - probably, a bit; later - very unlikely.

Unlike wearing glasses, genes have noting to do with pronouncing 'R' (i guess). It's just a very tricky sound and if you don't get it in your childhood (as a native speaker (!)), you may never learn how to do it.

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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby iodalach93 » 2015-08-17, 13:47

During the semester I spent in Russia as an exchange student I noticed that Russians are very tolerant and understanding when it comes to foreigners speaking their national language. They don't really mind you making mistakes, as long as what you say is comprehensible. I was never teased or mistreated because of my pronunciation, and nor were any of my foreign friends. It only happened once that a Russian fellow mate told me he found my "св" funny (because I say it the Italian way, i.e. as if spelt "зв"), but we were already well-acquainted.

Go ahead with your Russian and don't worry :) Moreover, the R-problem isn't genetic at all: as Suobig already said, it is just a very tricky sound, rather common in Indoeuropean languages. After a considerable time of exposure to the language and to native speakers, you may even overcome this difficulty! And, even if you don't overcome it, it will never be a problem because there are also genuine Russians unable to pronounce rolled R's.

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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby Zero » 2015-12-14, 11:13

It is NOT genetically determined*, however some people find it very difficult to learn as an adult, this is not just a problem with rolling Rs, but the more general problem of learning foreign phonemes as an adult. In Russian, soft and hard consonants are probably far more difficult to learn or even hear.

Even if you never learn to properly roll your Rs, you can still speak Russian. They will understand if you substitute it with something else similar. It will not sound perfect, but chances are you won't be pronouncing a lot of other sounds correctly either, but that will just mean you have an accent, which is the norm for foreign languages.

Ayn Rand couldn't really ever say 'th' properly in English, yet she wrote two best selling novels in English. He mastery over English was native level, just not in pronunciation. Pronunciation is only one aspect. So long as you learn well enough to be easily understood, it's not a requirement, and in fact usually impossible to sound native or get all the sounds correctly. Grammar, idiom and comprehension can all be learned to practical perfection.

And don't be so quick to give up the entire language on something so flimsy. You might one day figure it out. The fact that you can't do it after trying a few times is not surprising. It doesn't mean you can never learn. There's a good chance with practice you can learn to do it. Lots of people who initially couldn't do it have learned. You have to treat a language as any other skill. You don't just give up if you can't play chess like a grandmaster in the first game. You don't give up if you can't tie your shoes the first time. You recognize that's silly, because how can anyone give up when they haven't even tried to learn it? How can anyone do anything novel unless they first learn? They can't.

Yes, learn Russian if you want to know Russian. Try to learn to roll your Rs, but don't sweat it. It's just one sound! Given the absolute enormity of learning a foreign language, one sound is absolutely trivial.

* there are probably a small number of Russians who can't do it due to a speech impediment. The point is that it's possible for average people from any linguistic background. Also, do you realize that there are a lot of Asian people who speak Russian? The Soviet Union had people from many ethnic backgrounds.

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Re: So frustrated. Need your Advice. Should I learn Russian?

Postby abr » 2016-11-05, 3:37

If you are interested in language, you should learn it anyway, can you pronounce it right from the beginning or not.
If your Russian "R" sounds like "L", then you should spend more time on it. Otherwise don't force yourself. There are lots of other aspects in Russian to pay more attention to. I believe you will get it sooner or later.
And, hey, we even have a special word "картавить" to describe the process of incorrect pronounciation of R sound. There are youtube videos, blog entries and so on targeted to Russians who картавят. It's really not that uncommon even among native speakers.
Don't be discouraged!


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