Reviews

John Langran and Natalya Veshnyeva. Ruslan Russian 1: A communicative Russian beginners course for adults and teenagers. Third edition. Birmingham: Ruslan Ltd, 2001. 139 pp., $10.80 (paper).
-----------------------. Ruslan Russian 1 CD-ROM, Version 2.0. A complete multimedia beginners Russian course. Birmingham: Ruslan Ltd, 2001. $27.30.
-----------------------. Ruslan 1 Cassette, $8.80.
-----------------------. Ruslan 1 Audio CD, $9.95.
-----------------------. Ruslan Russian 2: A second level communicative Russian course for adults and teenagers. Birmingham: Ruslan Ltd, 2001. ?11.80 (paper).
-----------------------. Ruslan Russian 2 CD-ROM. A complete second stage multimedia Russian course. Birmingham: Ruslan Ltd, 2001. $29.40.
-----------------------. Ruslan 2 Cassette, $9.20.
-----------------------. Ruslan 2 Audio CD, $10.20.
 
Ruslan Russian multimedia course is among the best communicative Russian courses available today. The textbook accompanied by the audio recordings first appeared in 1995. Yet it was its considerably expanded and modified multimedia version that consequently won the UK market. Ruslan Russian 2 was released in 1996 and appeared in book, audio, and CD-ROM forms. While this intermediate Russian course builds on Ruslan 1 and is its sequel, it can also be used by any learner with some basic knowledge of Russian.
    A complete set of Ruslan materials for each level is comprised of a textbook, a CD-ROM, a tape and a CD. These materials feature an engaging soap opera type story about a Russian businessman's courtship of a young Muscovite. A succession of their dates and chance meetings, as well as their interactions with other characters, enfolds before the learner an unsophisticated romance, which engagingly textualizes a great variety of linguistic, cultural, and grammatical materials. The course's reading, listening, and viewing texts present situations typical of Russian everyday life, covering such topics as travel, city, family, hotel, restaurant, personal information, time, theater, and home. Ruslan Russian 2 expands on some of these (e.g. family and travel) and introduces such new topics as post office, health and hospital, work and leisure, and shopping. Each lesson consists of several short dialogues followed by a list of the new vocabulary, grammatical explications, cultural information, and a variety of exercises targeting development of the four basic language skills. The lesson's main and additional texts are supported by audio recordings in CD and tape format. Both books are amply illustrated by cartoons, photographs, diagrams, and maps. The Ruslan Russian printed and audio materials can be used in the traditional language learning setting, providing the students with quality, engaging, and well-designed training materials. CD-ROM, however, elevates the Ruslan course to a superior level.
    The hardware requirements for Ruslan multimedia learning software include at least a 486 PC with 66 MHz processor and minimum 40 MB RAM; Windows 3x, 95/98, 2000 or NT; 4x speed CD-ROM drive; color graphics and sound card. This software can be either installed on the hard drive or run directly from the CD-ROM, thus giving the learner a wonderful opportunity of using it not only at home, but also in a variety of environments, including computer labs, libraries, and internet cafes.
    The CD-ROMs for Ruslan 1 (Languages for Export New Technologies Award, 1999, West Midlands) and Ruslan 2 present multi-media versions of the respective textbooks. They are well-designed and offer the learner an easy-to-follow navigation within the course's three main sections, Introduction, Lessons, and Resources. 
    The largest among the subdivisions of the Introduction is the section entitled "The Russian Alphabet." It introduces Russian letters and sounds through a variety of interactive exercises, which are designed to make the student's progress from the controlled to automatic processing both engaging and effortless. This section is representative of the interactive learning mode characteristic of the entire course. It also contains information about the Russian language and the authors' suggestions regarding the use of the CD-ROM (e.g., by individuals and groups, beginners and continuing students). The latter suggestions far from exhaust the vast learning and teaching opportunities offered by the course. Further recommendations regarding the use of this course might be included in Ruslan 1 Teachers Notes, which unfortunately was unavailable to this reviewer.
    The "Resources" section includes a glossary of grammar terms, a Russian to English dictionary, a grammar review, the subdivision "Numbers and Money", hints for travelers to Russia, and texts and recordings of 10 listening texts. Exercises designed for work with these texts are to be found in the Listening Comprehension sections of the textbook.
    Each lesson's webpage places its dialogues, grammar, and exercises at the students' finger-tips. Dialogues are presented as texts supported by their audio recording, vocabulary, and cultural information. While working with the dialogues the students can listen to the entire text or to separate sentences. This arrangement gives them ample opportunity to practice pronunciation and reading at their own pace. Cultural and linguistic information is also readily available. So are the translations of each particular word, phrase, or the entire text.
    Each lesson's "Grammar" section considerably exceeds the corresponding section in the textbook. Besides, it is conveniently linked to the "Help" section, which offers the course's grammatical overview searchable by subject. As might be expected from a course emphasizing communicative approach, the learner's exposure to grammatical explanations is truly minimal. Unfortunately, it is minimal to the point that it is not simply rudimental, but also lacking. The authors acknowledge their awareness of this shortcoming as they direct their customers to Comprehensive Russian Grammar by Terence Wade (Blackwell, 1992), suggesting that it should serve as their primary grammar reference.
    For mastering the newly introduced materials each lesson offers a plethora (15 to 20) and variety of exercises. All exercises are supported by the sound recordings and are designed to give immediate feedback. Another strong point of the exercises is that they successfully integrate multiple tasks, simultaneously targeting vocabulary development and assimilation of structures and grammar. The "Practice and Video" section features additional exercises and introduces more cultural and everyday material. If most of the activities in the "Exercises" section are in choice and forced-choice formats (i.e., general questions; drag-and-drop translation and matching drills), the exercises in the "Practice" section are more complex. They emphasize listening comprehension, offering a variety of listening as well as viewing materials. The latter are of excellent quality and appear in five out of ten lessons in each course.
    The number of drills and assignments found in the CD-ROM's "Exercises" and "Practice" sections by far exceeds those offered in the corresponding sections of the textbook. For example, CD-ROM Lesson 8 of Ruslan 1 contains 16 exercises, whereas the same lesson in the textbook includes only 7. At the same time, this lesson's CD-ROM "Practice" section has 17 assignments, while the book features only 8. The textbook also contains suggestions for games and group activities. Only occasionally exercises from the CD-ROM version of the lesson overlap with those offered by the book. This discrepancy between the tasks featured by the textbook and CD-ROM both introduces these two as independent entities and suggests that they could complement each other.
While Ruslan Russian 1 and 2 are designed to be used in a variety of settings, their ideal setting would be a multimedia classroom with several PC stations and/or a computer-to-screen overhead projector. Each course is ideally fitted for a short-term Russian immersion program or an intensive conversation course. The CD-ROMs can also be used by individual learners for acquiring a working knowledge of Russian. This communicative course is a truly welcome addition to a new generation of Russian instructional materials.
 
Svitlana Kobets
University of Toronto, CREES
 
© 2017 by Svitlana Kobets. All right reserved.