Skills Russians Rock Posted by Maria on Jul 31, 2014 in Russian life, when in Russia
Russian people may sometimes surprise you by certain things they seem to do effortlessly. A Russian person probably takes these skills for granted because they are emphasized in the Russian education system, but they may still stand out to people outside Russia.
One thing people educated in Russia and, I would suppose, the neighboring countries are good at is doing math in their head (считать в уме). More often than not students not allowed to use calculators (использовать калькулятор) in math class and during tests. They are expected to do long division and multiplication (делить столбиком and умножать столбиком).
At the same time, Russians are not comfortable with approximate calculations and plugging in numbers. The school math instruction is built around formulas and algorithms, and Russians will often feel lost if there isn’t a cut-and-dry algorithm for the solution.
Another major part of the Russian school curriculum is memorizing poetry (учить стихи наизусть; the singular for “poem” is стихотворение). Reciting poems (рассказывать стихи) in front of the class is a requirement for literature classes, and your delivery (выражение) is also graded!
Moreover, when Russians write essays about poetry for a grade, they are expected to cite relevant lines from memory! So, chances are if you friend was Russian-educated, they can recite a good chunk of the 80-line rhymed letter from Tatiana to Eugene Onegin (письмо Татьяны к Онегину), narrated below.
For years, staring in elementary school, Russian kids learn to identify parts of the sentence (члены предложения) with a degree of precision not common in contemporary US education — the subject (подлежащее), predicate (сказуемое), object (дополнение), and so on. There are special graphic designations for them, too, with the subject being underlined once, the predicate being underlined twice, the modifier with a squiggly line, etc.
That doesn’t mean that Russian kids are familiar with a variety of linguistic theories — they are just good at identifying parts of the sentence from a certain perspective. However, that may be why so many Russians, especially older ones, are not comfortable just “picking up” a language from exposure, watching movies, or talking to native speakers — they want to know how to construct a meaningful utterance from the “building blocks.”
Cursive writing (approximate equivalent письменные буквы, “handwritten letters”) is pretty much the default for anything handwritten in Russia. No one prints (писать печатно) unless explicitly asked to do so, for example on a form. It goes without saying then that no one struggles with cursive, although not everyone’s cursive is legible. Since Russians are taught and expected to use cursive throughout their education and career, and many classes and presentations require you to master the fastest and slickest shorthand possible, cursive is pretty safe in Russia.
Of course, there are things Russians are comparatively bad at. Playing musical instruments comes to mind. Yes, there are the music school goers, who study piano for 7 years and become very good, but there is no band class in schools, and the rest go without ever touching an instrument. I would say certain aspects of science are not as popular in Russia. For example, I can’t think of people bringing up individual dinosaur species in conversation, like they do in the US — think of all the T.Rex jokes (Russian dinosaur lovers, correct me if I’m wrong!). But that is a subject for a whole other post.