Double-barreled Vysotsky: Using the songs of Vladimir Vysotsky to teach basic language forms and cultural/historical idioms of Russian language

Ruby Jones, University of Texas at Austin

Using the vocal music and poetry of Vladimir Vysotsky as the framework upon which to build a combined language and culture class can provide a two-fold benefit for the language teacher. The texts of his songs can be the focal point for teaching the history and/or culture of the Russian people. Because Vysotsky's vocal music and poetry are authentic, they also contain usable elements of the grammar and vocabulary of the Russian language. Although the system of government may change quickly, as it did in Russia in 1991, the culture and the day-to-day values of the people do not change so quickly. Therefore, although Vysotsky wrote and performed in the Soviet Union, his songs are still accepted as valid depictions of Russian-ness. (Tolstyx, 1987 p.120). His songs can form the foundation for presenting vignettes of day-to day Russian culture (Chuzhaia Koleia), historical high points (Pesnia o veshchem Olege), or popular concerns like ecology (Pesnia o zemle). (Vysotsky1988, p. 185). The second benefit of using Vysotsky's songs in the language classroom is one which can be gained from any authentic vocal presentation. The basis of the language class is the word store which we use to translate from one language to the other - in our case, from English to Russian. Fluency (considered one of the main components of linguistic competency) requires building speed and lack of hesitation on the part of the speaker. All languages contain small chunks, or set phrases, which students can master, (as well as the proper pronunciation), through music, e.g. "mne nado X" (I need X), "U menia est' X" (I have X), etc. These chunks can then be quickly recalled and used without a lot of attention being paid, thereby increasing the speed of the students' response.

An additional benefit to be gained by using music (of any genre) in the classroom is that students tend to enjoy listening to music, which translates into more Time-on-Task. Whereas students may not open a book and drill small chunks of language, they tend to find it more pleasurable to listen to music, which provides these set phrases in palatable chunks, which, with repetition can become automatic.

Vysotsky's songs and poems provide ample enjoyable material around which to build either culture or grammar blocks of instruction in the Russian language classroom. If teachers can provide material which is enjoyable, grabs the attention of students and provides insight into the target culture, the result should be more competent and involved language learners.


Tolstyx, Valentin I. "In the Mirror of Art: Vladimir Vysotskii as a Cultural Phenomenon." The Soviet Review: Journal of Translations 28.4 (1987): 37-64.

Vysotsky, Vladimir. Vysotskii, Vladimir Semenovich (1938-1980). Sobranie Stikhov I Pesen V Trekh Tomakh. Eds. Arkady An. Lvov and Alexander Sumerkin. 3 vols. New York: Russica Publishers, Inc., 1988.