The worst, best
Russian textbook ever
When pages of this remarkable textbook
appeared on the Russian Internet, the publication was met with
disbelief. Many doubted it was a genuine textbook that was actually used
Yet this was not a joke but the
work of the late Alexander Lipson, a respected American
Slavist, who produced it in the mid-1970s.
The author deliberately tells simple stories making surreal fun of
Soviet propaganda cliches and combining
the satirical absurdity with elegant grammatical
Lipson's book is credited to be the first to use the Jakobson
one-stem verb system in teaching Russian; it also introduced many
other concepts to Russian pedagogy providing
stimulus for a number of other books.
While some parts of lexicon are clearly outdated,
the book is full of a wacko humor that most
students find an exciting change from the usual dry textbook style.
The first chapter starts off:
It continues "Where do they work? They work in
factories. How do they work? They work with enthusiasm.
What do they do in parks? In parks they think about
life. About what life? About life in factories. That's
how shock-workers live!" The chapter continues with a
discussion of бездельники, or loafers: "How do loafers
live? At work they steal pencils. In parks they conduct
themselves badly. Yes, comrades. That is how loafers
Как живут ударники?
Ударники живут хорошо.
How do shock-workers live?
Shock-workers live well.
In later chapters there are choruses of male
concrete-workers ("Our plant is a concrete plant. Our
brigade is a concrete one. Our plant is a concrete
plant. And our task is concrete. Concrete, concrete,
concrete, concrete...") and discussions of philosophy
("What is life? What are people? I want to know what
And what other textbook will teach you how to say
"Comrade director, nobody loves me. Nobody understands
me. I'm alone. I'm alone"?
Here are the views we were able to find on the
Internet of the people who were exposed to "Lipson's method" of
When I was in university, I took Russian for several years, and
began with the strangest language textbook I've ever experienced, before
or since. Lipson's
A Russian Course concerns
itself not with greetings and
everyday life but with...
Loafers who conduct
badly in parks.
Concrete-mixers. Poor mad Olga who
steals shoes from under the
table. And the
It was awful, for learning
the language. Our next year saw
a different, more realistic
textbook, and we had to redo a
year of Russian in a hurry. But
I can't forget the songs, or
ударники and бездельники.
I respond well to linguistic approaches such as the
one Lipson pioneered for Russian. I used
Lipson's books for 2 years, I really, really
understand the structure of Russian in ways that
those who learned from Soviet sponsored texbooks do
not. His choice of vocabulary was pretty weird,
though. I learned the word for "concrete mixer"
before I learned the word for "airplane", for
instance, because one of the dialogues we had to
memorize concerned a lazy construction worker. Lo
and behold when I got to the USSR I wound up working
on a construction site. Full of lazy (and drunk)
construction workers. Working on - you guessed it -
Allrussias.com has selected
several pages from the textbook and provided them with
illustrations. The complete scanned version of the course can be
Welcome to the wondrous and weird
world of shock-workers and loafers (warning: people without a
sense of humor should not use this book! Click
below to upgrade your sense of humor if necessary).
A to Z