Teaching Proverbs and Sayings at the Beginners' Level

Zarema Koumakhova, Michigan State University

In recent years Russian language textbooks for American students are paying more attention to proverbs and sayings that are an important linguo-cultural stratum of the Russian language. However our review of the textbooks shows that this aspect of the language is still not sufficiently and adequately covered. First, most textbooks that incorporate proverbs and sayings (later P&S) are for the Advanced level, but the majority of students take Russian as a two-year requirement. That means that they are not exposed to this linguo-cultural phenomenon. Second, even in the textbooks for the Beginning and Intermediate levels that introduce P&S, the choice of the material does not always correspond to the level of the students in terms of the vocabulary and grammar. Some P&S abound in archaic forms that present an additional difficulty for the beginners. Third, the lack of exercises makes it difficult for the students to integrate them.

The present paper looks at the practical ways of incorporating P&S into everyday class activity at the Beginners' level. The guiding principles of the selection of the material are: the frequency of usage (for which we rely on recent data) and the material should be congruent with the level of language proficiency of the students. P&S are organized into semantic blocks, such as: food, work and leisure, seasons, parts of the body, clothes, etc.

We give the literal translation and (if possible) an English equivalent. Since proverbs are a sum total of people's wisdom and reflect the mentality of the nation, it is important that students understand the linguo-cultural background; that is why short explanations are provided. It satisfies and stirs language curiosity which is an indispensable part of the learning process.

The paper also deals with P&S that have the same image in both languages: expressions from the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, famous lines from Shakespear,etc. It is important for the students to see the similarities because it gives them the feeling of kinship for another language and culture.

The learning process can be facilitated through visual aids such as pictures, cartoons, and culture capsules. The paper addresses these issues.

Based on the recent pedagogical studies and my own experience, the paper discusses how much additional new material is advisable at the Beginning level when teaching P&S. Five samples that include introduction, translation, explanation, set of exercises, assignments, short texts, culture capsules, and visual material that illustrate the use of P&S are provided.