Associate Professor of Russian David Galloway recently received a three year International Research and Studies (IRS) Instructional Materials grant from the U.S. Department of Education, totaling nearly $500,000. The grant will help Galloway and a team of other linguists design and develop a computer-based Russian language learning program called Russian Verbal Laboratory (RVL).
“Essentially, it allows you to learn verbs of motion and the concept of verbal aspect in the Russian language through a graphic interface,” Galloway says.
RVL is based on a program called Molodets! (Russian for “Well done!”), which was developed on a previous IRS grant between 2006 and 2008 by Galloway and Kristin Bidoshi, associate professor of Russian and interim dean of studies at Union College. RVL supplements the existing Molodets! format with a graphical interface, through which users interact with the program and are trained in the language.
While Molodets! was designed to introduce Russian students to rudimentary grammar-declension, conjugation and case identification, for example-RVL, which is groundbreaking in its design and approach, focuses on verbs of motion and a particular area of grammar called verbal aspect, which defines the meaning of the verb in relation to time.
“Verbal aspect is a big topic for second year Russian students and above,” Galloway says. “It’s something students don’t usually master until an in-country visit because it’s very dependent on context.”
In the grant proposal, Galloway and the other authors write that RVL “will enable students to train and evaluate their understanding of Russian verbs of motion and verbal aspect, two of the principal hurdles to fluency, since the incorrect use of aspect or prefixed verbs of motion is the common marker of a non-native speaker.”
With RVL, users will be able learn verbal aspect through directing an avatar, which will replicate the action of a particular verb.
“The Russian Verbal Laboratory approaches a natural language setting. Our application will create an environment in which students can visualize the effect of verb choices, something which cannot be done in any existing materials,” Galloway says.
Because RVL will not be tied to a specific textbook or teaching style, having been designed around the most ubiquitous and effective books and teaching methods, it will be adaptable for wide use by other colleges and universities, as well as secondary schools.
Galloway-who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Slavic Studies from Cornell University and a B.A. in both Russian and English from University of Maryland, College Park-joined the HWS faculty in 1999. He is a member of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages, the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies and the American Council of Teachers of Russian.