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Review of  Colloquial Russian

Reviewer: Natallia O’Neill
Book Title: Colloquial Russian
Book Author: Svetlana le Fleming Susan E. Kay
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Russian
Issue Number: 29.2595

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Under review is the first of two Russian language course books by Svetlana Le Fleming and Susan E. Kay published as part of the ‘Routledge Colloquial Series’. It aims at beginners with no prior knowledge of Russian who study the language either individually or with an instructor.

The book opens with a one-page publisher’s foreword and a list of other languages available for study in the Colloquial series. An extensive table of contents precedes the authors’ introduction to the course covering its aim and the layout of the book.

Prior to the actual study units, the authors give a detailed description of the Russian language alphabet and pronunciation rules. Each study unit (and there are 20 of them) opens with a text or dialogues which introduce lexical material and are accompanied by a set of questions in English and a Russian-English vocabulary. Then follows the explanation of grammatical material which is practiced through up to 8 drill exercises. All the units finish with the so-called “improvisation task,” which represents a bilingual dialogue and a translation exercise from English into Russian.

All dialogues and some grammar tasks are accompanied by free online audio files, which are divided into 2 parts: Audio 1 (55 tracks) and Audio 2 (60 tracks).

There is a “Grammar Summary” after all the units. This is followed by a key to the exercises, English-Russian and Russian-English vocabularies, an audio track listing, a grammar index in English and the so-called “Russian index,” which lists some Russian words that are analyzed in grammar sections of the study units.

Since the course is based on progressive coverage of grammar and vocabulary, it is advised not to skip the units but study them in order, one after the other.

Unit 1 “What’s your name?” outlines how to introduce oneself, speak about nationality, profession and address. It draws attention to the absence of articles in Russian as well as the omission of linking verb ‘to be’ in present tense, practices interrogative sentences, explains gender of Russian nouns, and teaches how to describe things using adjectives and possessive pronouns, as well as shows how to form nominative and prepositional cases.

Unit 2 “We are studying Russian” helps the learner to talk about the languages he/she can speak. It looks more closely at adjectives as well as introduces personal pronouns, adverbs, plural of nouns, accusative case, present tense of verbs and modal verbs.

Unit 3 “At the hotel” builds the necessary vocabulary to get directions, describe the place one lives in as well as find out about hotel services and facilities. While bringing out cardinal numbers, the unit deepens the understanding of present tense, adverbs, adjectives, nominal gender and accusative case.

Unit 4 “A typical day” helps to describe one’s daily routine, order a meal, form genitive and prepositional cases, use short adjectives and ordinal numerals as well as increases the learner’s confidence in present tense.

Unit 5 “Family” explains how to make acquaintances, talk about family and understand Russian names and addresses. It extends the knowledge of personal pronouns, present tense, modal verbs, adverbs and accusative case of masculine nouns.

Unit 6 “Visiting friends” demonstrates how to find one’s way around Moscow by metro, be a welcome guest in a Russian house, and talk about hobbies, as well as refer to days of the week. It introduces reflexive verbs and dative case as well as studies further present tense and prepositional case.

Unit 7 “Sport” provides vocabulary to talk about sport and careers that one wanted to pursue in childhood. It also brings out imperfective past tense, instrumental case and pronominal adjectives.

Unit 8 “Favourite holidays” discusses the weather, and refers to colors and months of the year, as well as provides a list of the most popular holiday destinations for Russians. The grammar section once again drills the learner on adjectives, possessives and prepositional case.

Unit 9 “Festivals” demonstrates how to express dates, bring greetings, describe festivals and celebrations. Then it masters the skills of using present tense as well as introduces imperfective future tense of verbs.

Unit 10 “The Arbat” reveals the history of one of the oldest Moscow streets, teaches how to hold a telephone conversation, make a date and use verbs of motion in present and past tenses.

Unit 11 “How to rent a flat in Moscow” shares first-hand experience of renting accommodation in Russia. It teaches how to describe the place you live in and invite guests. It also explains the differences in usage between imperfective and perfective aspects, as well as demonstrates how to form the perfective past and future tenses.

Unit 12 “Russian mass media” trains to talk about the press, TV and the internet. It shows how to form nominative, accusative and genitive plurals of nouns, adjectives and possessives. While practicing general questions and the use of the imperative, it explains in more detail the use of adjectives with numerals and expressions of quantity with the genitive.

Unit 13 “Shopping” instructs how to deal with prices and make purchases. While showing how to form dative, instrumental and prepositional plurals of nouns, adjectives and possessives, it also describes how to use the partitive genitive as well as improves the learner’s confidence in cardinal numerals.

Unit 14 “Travelling” focuses on the Golden Ring of Russia – the most popular tourist route northeast of Moscow. It also teaches how to buy train and air tickets as well as form and use prefixed verbs of motion.

Unit 15 “The theatre” assists the learner in discussing classical theatre repertoire, reserving tickets and asking someone out. Then it shows how to tell the time, use comparatives of adjectives and adverbs and form adjectival clauses.

Unit 16 “Health care” teaches how to cope with a visit to a doctor as well as discuss problems in the Russian public health services. It also demonstrates how to use the superlative of adjectives and adverbs, form negatives and decline reflexive pronouns.

Unit 17 “St Petersburg” describes the history of Russia’s second-largest city and explores places associated with the famous nineteenth century national poet Alexander Pushkin. Moreover, it also touches upon dramatic moments in the country’s history such as the 1917 Revolution, the Great Terror, the Siege of Leningrad, etc. Not only will the learner find useful words and phrases for writing letters in Russian, but also practice how to express dates, form subjunctive mood in conditional clauses, and use clauses of purpose, as well as gain greater familiarity with cardinal and ordinal numerals.

Unit 18 “Equal rights” discusses the position of women in Russian society. While instructing the learner how to philosophize about the country’s fate, fortune and bad timing, the unit covers present active and past active participles as well as constructions ‘there is no one / there is nothing’.

Unit 19 “Education” looks into the problems arising from the recent reforms in the Russian educational system as well as shows how to form the passive voice, use present and past passive participles and translate indefinite pronouns.

Unit 20 “Siberia” follows a journey on the Trans-Siberian railway – the longest railway line in the world. Then it narrates the history of Siberia, examines its ecological situation and praises the beauty of Lake Baikal – the largest freshwater lake on Planet Earth. It also introduces imperfective and perfective gerunds, causal conjunctions and object clauses.


The reviewed course by Svetlana le Fleming and Susan E. Kay is the fourth edition in the series. While it is neither specified in the publisher’s foreword, nor in the authors’ introduction, a brief look at the third edition published in 2010 shows that the authors removed a list of abbreviations, introduced two more units “Equal rights” and “Education” and included an audio tracking list that reflects the free audio available online (Fleming & Kay 2015, pp. v-vi).

The new edition also has a user-friendly table of contents which not only provides the name of the topic covered but also shows what lexical material and grammatical forms one will learn in the particular unit. The greatest merit of the renewed course, though, is that every unit boasts a final translation exercise intended to perfect the learnt grammar structures and key vocabulary.

The ability of streaming or downloading audio tracks referenced within the book is also a key feature of this edition. The quality is generally excellent except for track 1.52 which should be recorded and uploaded again. However, the biggest challenge is that some audio files do not always correspond to their text transcripts (most notably, audio 1.23; 1.31; 1.51; 2.16; 2.26). Moreover, eight tracks (audio 1.11; 1.17; 1.54; 2.17; 2.18; 2.23; 2.28; 2.38) do not have any recording scripts at all. This might be unwelcome to complete beginners who undertake self-study, but, on the other hand, can be useful in class while interpreting with advanced learners from Russian into English.

There is no doubt that all texts, dialogues and vocabulary lists provided in the book are up-to-date and useful for every day communication in Russian, while explanation and practice of grammatical material is well-structured and comprehensive. The course does not only teach the language but also arouses interest in Russian culture. Improvisation tasks represent an excellent pair work activity and can also be used throughout courses in consecutive interpreting.

Actually, the only drawback of the reviewed book is the lack of thorough editing of the Russian part, which would have prevented a considerable number of typographical errors and orthographic mistakes throughout the text. What immediately catches the eye is the letter ‘у’ in front of the title of Unit 16 “Healthcare” (p. ix) which appears not only in the list of contents but throughout the whole unit (p. 224-236). Then the word ‘agency’ in Russian is misspelled at least 5 times throughout Unit 11 “How to rent a flat in Moscow” (p. 148-164) before finally appearing in the proper form at the end of the book in the Russian-English vocabulary (p. 373).

The most common typographical errors involve the omission of word stress; substitution of Russian symbols ‘и’, ‘ь’ and ‘г’ with similar-looking ‘н’, ‘ъ’ and ‘r’; misuse of hyphens and dashes; omission or transposition of Russian symbols within the word; lack of m-dash which should be used instead of the omitted present tense verb ‘to be’; incorrect syllabification which leads to inappropriate word breaks; lack of sentence numbering within some grammar and translation exercises in the last three units; absence of quotation marks or, more precisely, guillemets which are used in the East Slavic languages (particularly with the names of sports clubs), etc. Moreover, technical inaccuracies in the columns of Russian-English vocabulary left 19 words without proper translation [see, for example, ‘to include’ and ‘taste’ in the first three rows of Column 2 (p. 375)].

In future editions of this course, apart from careful editing, I would suggest to:

1. Add a list of abbreviations which will help to avoid inconsistency in the used terminology [see ‘instrumental’ which was abbreviated in 3 different ways to ‘instru’ (p. 184), ‘inst’ (p. 193) and ‘instr’ (p. 197)].

2. Support all key unit texts with audio (in the reviewed book only one text from unit 5 “Family” is recorded).

3. Reintroduce the “Language in Action” section, which contains multiple-choice questions in Russian, to check for understanding of unit texts and dialogues.

4. Bring back highly interactive tasks to the “Russian Realia” section (unfortunately, most of the communicative and situation-based materials present in the previous edition (menus, advertisements, maps, etc.) were removed).

5. Provide word-by-word audio support for grammar exercises (currently only half of the sentences in the tasks are voiced, with the exception of four exercises from units 15 “The theatre” and 16 “The health care” as well as the tasks in the last four units which are fully recorded by a team of new speakers).

6. Optimize the layout of grammar tasks and key to exercises to make them more user-friendly and easy to follow.

7. Use colour illustrations for Russian sightseeing attractions (black-and-white images of Kremlin and Red Square, St Petersburg’s canals, Lake Baikal, etc. do not look the most appealing).

Aside from the preceding criticism, the authors’ work is very systematic and deserves commendation. By teaching speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, the reviewed Russian language course will help the learner to reach Level B1 of the Common European Framework for Languages.

Overall, this course should be of particular interest to learners from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who study for GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in foreign languages, as well as learners throughout the world who want to sit for TORFL (Test of Russian as a Foreign Language). The reviewed course book is also a compulsory reading for teachers of Russian as a foreign language as well as an effective tool in translator and interpreter training.


Fleming, le Svetlana & Kay, Susan E. 2010. Colloquial Russian: The Complete Course for Beginners, 3rd edition. London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge.
Natallia O’Neill (née Shulha) has a BA in translation and interpreting, an MEd in English language teaching and learning and a PhD in linguistics. Before taking maternity leave, she held the position of an assistant professor of English at Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University. Her research focused on revealing typological similarities and differences in Belarusian, Russian and English with respect to reduplication.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781138208520
Pages: 402
Prices: U.S. $ 47.95