Russian TV Broadcasts as the Means of Developing Aural Comprehension Skills in Advanced Russian

Yelaina Kripkov, University of Oregon

Aural comprehension of authentic Russian speech always presents difficulties even for advanced level students. Understanding the stream of authentic speech at a natural speed, even if it is based on familiar topics and vocabulary, is often a stressful experience for Russian language learners. Trying to comprehend Russian movies, radio and TV broadcasts usually causes frustration and disappointment, especially because of the considerable enlargement of the lexicon and speeding-up of the delivery rate which has increased almost twice in comparison to previous Soviet radio and TV broadcasts. At the same time, it is obvious that without that skill, language learners cannot normally function in foreign language environment: if they don't understand native speakers, they can't communicate with them.

A lot has been done in the field of language pedagogy recently to overcome these difficulties. Almost all Russian language textbooks of the new generation (published in the last ten years: Golosa, V puti, Nachalo, Live from Moscow!, Welcome Back!, Chto vy ob etom dumaete?, and Russian Stage 3, Focus on Russian, Let's Talk about Life, Mir russkikh, to mention just a few.) designed for different language levels include audio and/or video components But aural comprehension is a very special skill that demands very special methods of teaching and it is usually impossible to develop it in general basic language courses. A few video-based courses that have been recently developed for intermediate and advanced Russian language learners (The Search for Orlovsky, and some video-based packages like Office Affair (published by Ohio State University), The Promised Heavens (developed at the University of Kansas by William Comer), and my own three-term video sequence for the Fourth year Russian which includes the last two mentioned packages and my own based on The Irony of Fate) present a very powerful means of teaching aural comprehension, as well as conversational skills, but their possibilities are still limited by the genre, theme, abundance of colloquialisms, and so on. Some language instructors are now including video clips of Russian TV broadcasts in their class work more and more often, but as far as I know, there hasn't been yet created any comprehensive video course package for teaching aural comprehension fully based on contemporary Russian TV materials. I can mention here only one pioneering video package with a textbook by Simes, Robin, and Guslistov: On the Air: Russian Television and Politics. But this innovative course is very narrow in its theme and is based on time-sensitive material which considerably narrows its application.

At the same time, contemporary Russian TV (all channels, but especially NTV, NTV-Plus, ORT, Channel 6) presents invaluable sources of authentic materials for intermediate and advanced level students. The present paper provides a thorough justification for the choice of this mass media source for teaching aural comprehension, as well as conversation and contemporary Russian culture.

The following part of the presentation summarizes the results of the research and practical application of the innovative method of teaching aural comprehension on the basis of Russian TV materials selected from different broadcasts of NTV channel during summer and fall of 2000 (the course does not use any feature fiction films which demand significantly different methods of teaching -- I gave a description of methods of teaching feature films in the paper "Movies as a Means of Developing Conversational Skills in the Advanced Russian Language Courses" presented at the 1998 AATSEEL Conference ). The main body of the paper is devoted to the basic methodological principles on which such a course should be built. These principles include: the proper selection of TV broadcasts (based on the principles of variety, representation of major spheres of life and culture, attractive content, opportunities for discussions ), gradual increase of complexity of vocabulary and the speed of delivery, absence of supporting written transcriptions of studied broadcasts, and a special set of pre-view and post-view activities and exercises. The presentation also provides a detailed description of the whole teaching process, a set of exercises, their order within each unit (pre-view vocabulary practice; first post-view general questions on what, when, and where; second post-view detailed questions, third post-view fill-ins and partial translation exercises; conceptual questions and discussion), and the justification of such methods. It also describes the means of assessment used in such a course and the experimental final exam held in a language lab that has already demonstrated the overwhelming success of the course and the chosen method of teaching. Students' evaluation of the course were extremely high.

The new method will be illustrated by a 7-minute mini-lesson, including a 3-minute demonstration of a fragment from one of the TV broadcasts. The audience will be provided with handouts of a vocabulary list, pre-view and post-view exercises, and a transcript of the chosen video clip.