The Efficacy of Overt Contrastive and Semantic Analysis in Teaching Russian

Recent approaches in Russian pedagogy have focused on active skills, emphasizing communication and often paying scant attention to grammatical analysis. Contrastive analysis of Russian with English, once common, is now less than respectable. This development, in my view, has been detrimental to Russian teaching. Overt comparison of Russian with English and, for that matter, with other non-Slavic or Slavic languages known to learners, is often the best way to apprehend difficult grammatical and lexical semantic items.

I illustrate the efficacy of contrastive and comparative analysis by discussing six points posing special semantic difficulties. Three are grammatical: 1) demonstrative pronouns, comparing two-term and three-term systems; 2) indefinite meaning, with its degrees and quantitative implications; 3) expression of transitivity in Russian vs. English. Three are lexical: we illustrate contrastive analysis in approaching the difficult semantics of the particles voobšče and pravda, and the interrogative li, including its association with the conditional conjuction esli. My approach will be eminently practical and accessible.