July 1, 2009 | Russian

Getting Started!

The project gets underway at the New York Public Library.

I thought of this language project only yesterday while running in Central Park, so there hasn’t been much time to plan. It doesn’t really matter, though, as I don’t want to plan; I just want to get to work.

How Many Languages Spoken Here?

Here are some basic principles I expect to follow:

  1. All the languages I pursue have to be significant languages in New York City.
  2. They should also be significant languages in the world.
  3. In the spirit of this recessionary age, I have to spend as little money as possible.

Today I headed to the Mid-Manhattan Library, the main language-learning repository of the New York Public Library, to figure out which language to start with. I quickly settled on Russian, a decision that was primarily practical: the materials I wanted were on the shelf right at that moment, which was not the case with a couple of other languages I considered.

Also, I knew I wanted a language with a different alphabet—just to make sure from the beginning that I could manage that on my own. (I’ve studied Spanish, French, and German, but never anything with an unfamiliar alphabet.)

Today’s most important lesson, in my opinion, was that one can get a lot of great stuff at the New York Public Library without having to pay a cent. (If you are looking for charitable causes, donate lots of money to them, at They definitely need it right now, and the library is an amazing resource for New Yorkers.)

Mid-Manhattan Library: Language-Learning Resource!

Russian, Waiting to Be Learned

I walked out of there with various grammar books, a dictionary, two movies, a set of vocabulary CDs called VocabuLearn, and the optimistically, hyperbolically titled Speak Russian in Eight Easy Lessons, from Pimsleur.

I started studying the minute I got home.

Comments (8)

Jill • Posted on Sun, March 14, 2010 - 1:58 pm EST

What an interesting project!  It sort of reminds me of that woman who tried to make all of Julia Child’s recipes in a given time frame. At least you needn’t worry about calories with your study program!

Kris L • Posted on Sun, August 18, 2013 - 6:49 pm EST

Jill, I had to comment although it is a few years since Ellen started this project.  While not dealing directly with cooking foods and eating, considering the many different delicacies in NY, there is definitely the chance at gaining a few.  Good thing that Ellen is a runner!

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Ellen!

You’ve got a new fan!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, August 18, 2013 - 7:28 pm EST

Thank you, Kris. Your comment made me smile. Especially since I read it just coming back from a run. On which I did Pimsleur Hebrew lessons.

Four-plus years later, I am definitely glad I took a non-gastronomical approach to my language studies, Jill!

Nigel • Posted on Sat, June 06, 2015 - 12:49 pm EST

Wow! I am looking at the archive on the right and I am simply lost for words, Ellen. I would just like to say that what you’re doing is nothing short of amazing and that your blog deserves way more attention. Although, I know you don’t need that as I can see that your blog is driven by your passion for languages.

I am astounded by your dedication but at the same time inspired. You set an example for anyone who not only wants to be committed to learning a language but committed to learning any other sorts of skills.

I’ll definitely follow your blog and be on the lookout for new posts.

Happy learning! :)

Mandi • Posted on Thu, April 26, 2018 - 3:21 pm EST

Hi Ellen,
I just now stumbled across your blog in my venture to find my next challenge.  I already speak 10 languages and was looking on how to keep them and learn more.  I am intrigued to read on and find how you learned yours and glean some techniques for my own language acquisition adventures.  I am finding it quite frustrating to keep all of the languages separate as I often start speaking one and end speaking another.  How do you keep them all separated! 

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, November 13, 2019 - 9:56 pm EST

Hi Mandy, I know this answer is late, but I want to answer, because I think this is important: I do get languages mixed up, and I also forget them. That’s life!

Yolanda • Posted on Mon, July 20, 2020 - 7:05 pm EST

Hello Ellen,

I just stumbled upon your website/blog. Your project is very interesting. I’m a Spanish teacher in New Mexico. I’ve also studied Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Arabic. I’ve been more successful with Portuguese and Italians, less so with Russian and Arabic. Like you I really like the p.i.m.s.e.u.r. courses. I think they’re really great. But sometimes they make me so sleepy. I’m not sure why this is because I like the courses and think they work well. In fact, it was wondering why they make me sleepy that I stumbled upon your blog as you have an entry that alludes to this. Are you still doing you language learning project?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, February 11, 2021 - 9:22 pm EST

Hi Yolanda, I missed your message back in July; I’m so sorry. I just saw it tonight! I am not doing language study very actively right now, but who knows what spring will bring? It’s so great for relaxation! I have a new project called the Grammar Table, and when you wrote, I was about to start touring the country with it. I even took it to New Mexico (Santa Fe!).

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