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Prof creates Russian rock music site

Students learning Russian will soon be able to perfect their grammar while rocking out to music videos from Russia’s pop stars.

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Students learning Russian will soon be able to perfect their grammar while rocking out to music videos from Russia’s pop stars.

Associate Professor Thomas Garza is developing a new Web site, “Rockin’ Russia,” with a grant from Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services that will supplement Russian instruction at the university.

Garza is chair of the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies and director of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Based on Russian music videos from MTV Russia, the modules are supplemented with exercise materials focusing on pronunciation, vocabulary development, grammar and cultural features. Parts of the videos are embedded into exercises in each category that students can revisit, strengthening their language skills.

Garza got the idea to use rock videos to teach back in 1985 when he was teaching English as a Second Language. He uses it now in a low-tech version in his Russian courses with the lyrics printed out on paper.

“I have been interested in finding a way to teach language using rock videos for nearly 20 years but I was just waiting for the technology to catch up,” Garza said.

He is starting with three pilot videos that will be up and running by the end of the fall semester for testing and hopes to have the Web site ready with 10 videos and modules by the end of the spring semester.

“We are with students in class such a short period of time so this is another opportunity for the students to get exposed to the material and they can revisit the videos again and again,” he said.

Garza said Russian videos are similar to American music videos in look but the music style is much closer to European styles.

“There is more Euro disco and club music in their top 10,” he said. “The songs are really memorable and the hope is that the music will stick with students to help them learn.”

Garza said his Web site is the first of its kind.

“There is a lot of use of music in teaching but not with video,” he said. “This is also really innovative because it allows students the option to turn on four different captions: Russian subtitles, English literal translation, English colloquial translation or no captions.”

The variety allows students from novice to superior levels of competence to use the site

There are about 200 students in Russian language classes and another 350-400 in area studies courses, which could also benefit from the cultural aspects of the videos.

One video depicts the Russian dating scene.

“The level of politeness in asking someone out is very different from what students here are used to,” Garza said. “In Russia, men show much more respect.”

Students can also see street etiquette and what a Russian airport looks like.

“There are a lot of cultural insights in these videos,” Garza said.

Garza’s Web site will continue the university’s tradition of developing successful language instruction Web sites, including Grimm Grammar, a German grammar reference featuring post-modern Grimm’s fairy tale characters; Ta Falado, a site providing learners of Brazilian Portuguese with podcast lessons; Tex’s French Grammar, a globally popular pedagogical reference Web site that combines explanations with surreal dialogues and cartoon images; and Cantar de mio Cid, a Web site that presents the Spanish epic poem in various multimedia formats.

Other sites in development are Radio Arlecchino, podcasts of Italian grammar lessons and Deutsch im Blick (Focus on German), a multimedia first-year German language program based on videos of native speakers,

For more information on these projects, go to http://tltc.la.utexas.edu.