I’m delighted to present the latest in Howtogetfluent’s well-established series of interviews with successful candidates for the most advanced Russian exam, the TRKI 4th Certificate. The Тест по русскому языку как иностранному Четвертый сертификационный уровень (ТРКИ-4), as it’s known in Russian, is the top exam for Russian as a foreign language. The exam guidelines are set by the Russian Ministry of Education. The level is C2 (“Mastery or proficiency”) on the scale of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Info on this exam still isn’t that easy to come by and Here on the site, we’ve already talked to Daria, Barbara, Aga and Ivan. Each has a unique story and has shared priceless advice for students advanced Russian (and very useful insights for other advanced language learners as well). Now it’s Raffi‘s turn in the fullest conversation in the series so far. If you’re thinking about doing the exam, this will be one you’ll want to bookmark and come back to more than once, I’m sure.
When did you start learning Russian and why?
The glib, if honest, answer is because I was bored of studying French and wanted a change. My (public) high school offered Russian and to me it seemed like an obvious choice.
By way of context, I should say, my father speaks Russian as did my grandparents. I’m half Armenian and my grandmother was born in the Russian Empire. She, and my grandfather, who was born in Tabriz, Iran both spoke Russian. I was born in the US, English is my native tongue, but spent half my childhood in Iran (returning to the US a couple years after the Islamic Revolution).
In Tehran, once a week we would visit with my grandparents. I would hear my father converse with them in a mix of Armenian and Russian. I never understood what they said. I spoke Farsi with my grandparents. So, it was an obvious choice to start studying Russian in high school; this was the dawn of the era of glasnost’ and perestroika. I immediately fell in love with the language.
After my first year of language study, my grandmother came to the US to live with us. And I got to practise the language with her constantly. I learned much more about the very interesting life she led before moving to Iran at the height of Stalin’s purges.
I continued with Russian study in college and did study abroad for one year in 1991 (arriving in then-Leningrad a week after the failed August putsch). Then I lived and worked in Russia from 1997 to 2006. In 2006, I returned to the US.
Why did you decide to take the TRKI 4th certificate exam?
With COVID having us all under lockdown, with the help of a tutor, Anastasia Bredikhina (Krasnodar), I was studying to pass my state´s Russian court interpreting exam. I realised that there were gaps in my knowledge of Russian. And another tutor mentioned the TRKI-4 and I thought that passing the TRKI-IV would definitely help me improve my language knowledge.
A certain mystery and mythology surrounds the TRKI 4 exam. I’ve personally found it difficult to get information about it. Did you experience the same?
I think that a big part of it is that very few people take the test. I imagine there is little point in putting out practice tests for such a tiny demographic.
That said, things are gradually changing. There is a good series of videos on Youtube put out by St. Petersburg State University´s Language Testing Centre. Plus, of course, Daria´s excellent website. Additionally, I think your compilation of interviews here on Howtotfluent.com helps fill the gap. But, of course, this is nothing like the amount of information available about, say, a Cambridge C2 English Exam or the DELE-C2 for Spanish.
How much work did you put into preparation for the TRKI 4th certificate exam?
I was working with three tutors at the same time as I was studying for both the TRKI 4 and the state interpreting exam. For much of a period of about fifteen months, I had ten hours of tutoring per week. About five hours of that tutoring was directly for the TRKI-4. The other five hours was preparation for the state interpreting exam and deciphering Russian novels.
In addition, I had on average about five hours of TRKI-4 homework per week, plus I was listening/watching 40 minutes to an hour of Russian language content daily (films, TV series, podcasts).
So, I was getting a good twenty hours of focussed interaction with the language each week.
On top of this, I typically listened to Russian podcasts (or sometimes audio versions of the book I was reading with a tutor at the time) while driving.
What materials did you use to prepare for the TRKI 4?
Here’s a list of the main materials that I used:
Grammar and vocabulary materials
My tutors assigned me selected exercises from each of these books (or the associated websites):
- Е. Р. Ласкарева Чистая грамматика
- Е. Р. Ласкарева Прогулки по русской лексике
- А. Ф. Егорова Трудные случаи русской грамматики
- Серия Учебно-тренировочные тесты по русскому как иностранному (4 части)
- Часть 1.
- Н. А. Афанасьева
- Палитра стилей. Учебное пособие по стилистике русского языка для иностранцев
- О. И. Глазунова Грамматика русского языка в упражнениях и комментариях. Часть 2. Синтаксис
- Дел Филлипс, Н. А. Волкова
- Улучшим наш русский! Часть 1 / Let’s improve our Russian! Step 1
- Т. Ф. Куприянова Глаголы движения с приставками
- Т. П. Чепкова Русские фразеологизмы. Узнаем и Учим: учебное пособие
- Прагматикон: НКРЯ
Лексический минимум для ТРКИ-3: https://zlatoust.store/catalog/testy_…
My tutor also developed her own exercises and role plays based on the actual test tasks
Listening comprehension materials
- Пьесы А. П. Чехова
- Телеканал “Культура” including
- Подкасты Медуза
- Подкаст “Голос зоны”
This podcast probably doesn’t have much of a connection to the exam, but it was most entertaining!
Reading comprehension materials
- Т. Н. Толстая Кысь
- М. А, Булгаков Белая гвардия
- Авторы рассказов:А. П. Чехов, И. А. Бунин, А. И. Солженицын, Ю. М. Нагибин, Киберленинка
- Банк заданий по ЕГЭ (в видео говорим о задании 22)
- В мире людей 3.1
To stay on the topic of materials, to my knowledge, there are only two published model papers available online, the “official one” published on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Education in the year 2000 and the much more recent “demo” paper.
Some aspects of the exam ”demo” version from the Language Testing Centre at St Petersburg State University are significantly different from the official version developed over 20 years ago.
The test followed the “demo” version of the exam pretty closely.
Even so, the actual test seemed a bit harder than the “demo” version.
The grammar and vocabulary section had a set of questions where I had no idea what they were asking about. I think the demo version of the reading comprehension section of the exam had about five words that I didn’t know. In that same section in the actual exam there were probably above 25 to 30.
Tell us a bit more about the extensive work you did with your three tutors.
I found Anastasia, my tutor for the court exam quite easily on the Preply platform.
It was actually rather difficult to find TRKI-4 tutors. I first searched via Russian tutoring websites (profi.ru and repetitors.info), but I did not have much luck there.
This may seem rather obnoxious, but I asked candidate tutors to take a (three hour) test so that I could ascertain their Russian! I figured that if this test was so difficult then I better work with someone qualified.
I developed this exam with the help of a friend and the court interpreting tutor. (I did pay candidates for their time). Some people ghosted me, simply refused, or told me to go %$# myself in so many words!
In the end, I found the other two tutors, Alexandra and Anna Lyubivaya on italki.com.
Alexandra is trained as a TRKI scorer and proctor but she had never prepared someone for this exam). She said she felt qualified to help me with every section with the exception of the writing part. She explained that there is so much subjectivity involved in how grading occurs for this section that she couldn’t take on the responsibility of preparing me for this section.
She asked her Russian as a Foreign Language colleagues, including those who teach Russian in the university where she’d trained, if they’d be willing to work with me. They all refused. Why? Because it is hard to know how in practice the writing section will be scored. There is no way those instructors felt they knew how to get in the head of a test scorer and prepare a student to pass this section.
Anna Lyubivaya is the head of the Zlatoust Language School (St. Petersburg, a subsidiary of the Russian language study materials publisher of the same name). She has had a fair amount of experience preparing people to take this test.
My takeaway is that it is key to find people who are trained to work with this exam. I had trial lessons with a couple tutors who have excellent Russian, lots of teaching experience under their belt, but I could not see what we were working towards in our classes. The tutoring sessions lacked a clear structure.
Alexandra was excellent in that she was very thorough, took a holistic approach. We worked with all the test sections at the same time. She was very strategic in her choice of materials. I could see the direction in which we were going, These were well-structured lessons. It helped that she was very personable and responsive. Also, I really appreciated when she would say she didn´t know the answer and would have to get back to me or when she would acknowledge that she had made a mistake. I treasure that honesty and humility in a teacher.
Remember, working with tutors was just the path that I chose. If I were self-motivated, I could have done most of the preparation on my own and just consulted with a tutor from time to time.
Do you think you need to have a solid knowledge of Russian culture and literature to pass the test?
I think some hold this view. But it was interesting to hear Anna say that she has worked with students who have never been to a Russian-speaking country and yet have passed the TORFL fourth certificate / TRKI IV.
I have huge gaps in my knowledge of Russian literature. It is just in the past few years that I am making more of an effort to read novels in Russian.
All the same, when it came to the reading comprehension (or listening comprehension) sections, I hardly felt like I was struggling.
Also, I think it is possible to close gaps in knowledge of Russian culture by watching films. Anna was always recommending films – both excellent classics and newer films. I found watching them most illuminating and enriching. I was very fortunate that with Anna I had someone who has a deep knowledge of Russian and Soviet film.
Did you have problems staying motivated and, if so, how did you overcome them?
I need external motivation and working with tutors was the answer for me. I wouldn’t want the embarrassment of having to come to class and saying “Oh, I didn´t do my homework”.
As my tutor Anna says, when you already have a high level of mastery in a language and want to make it to the summit (if there even is one), the air gets thinner. It becomes “harder to breathe” and it takes much more effort to make significant, tangible progress.
We sometimes lose perspective on our achievements. Often I would feel like my knowledge of Russian was very poor. My tutor Alexandra would remind me (with a touch of irritation in her voice) that I´d be a guru to her other students.
So, in my case, it’s been about learning to live with the knowledge of the language I have and knowing that I will still make mistakes. One of the reasons I created a series of videos on Youtube about the experience of preparing for and taking the TRKI 4th certificate was to show that you don’t need to have perfect-sounding Russian to pass the test. It may seem a bit embarrassing, but over 35 years since I first started the language, I still speak haltingly, with innumerable pauses and the occasional beginner mistake.
It’s good that in the COVID era it’s become possible to take the TRKI exams online. You took the exam online with the Language Testing Centre at StPGU. Did you find the administrative side easy to organise?
The new ability to take Russian language exams online is a wonderful opportunity.
I think you should approach the administrative side of things and the online test-taking experience with a sense of humour and an attitude of divine nonchalance (“Забей!”). As I learned from my tutors, it is quite common for Russian universities to be terribly understaffed. They are just doing the best they can. We test-takers just have to roll with it!
I found that typically after sending an email, I would get a response after, say, two days. However, often something would not be clear enough or workable in the response. So, I found that what worked would be to follow up an email with a phone call after two days and try to solve the issue over the phone.
For example, I had scheduled a consultation (for a fee) with the Language Testing Center of St. Petersburg State University a couple months before the exam. I had a date scheduled, but the time (if my memory serves me correctly) had not been finalised. I didn’t hear back. It took calling them to find out that the 7 page contract had not been signed by hand (I had used the drawing tool in my word processor to sign the document), so things had not gone forward with scheduling the meeting. I had to print each page out, sign by hand, take digital photos of each page and send it back.
As for scheduling the exam, when the TRKI IV is taken in person, it is typically conducted over two days but the online version was offered in just one sitting. Given the time difference between the US and St Petersburg, I made a request for a particular exam start time. They had confirmed the exam date, but they told me that they would inform me of the exam start time 24 hours before the test was due to begin. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate my requested time.
To their credit, they were very quick to deliver the test results. I got the scores within two days.
What was taking the exam online like?
There were some hiccups but as long as one is prepared to be surprised, one should be fine.
Before the exam, they send you a link to check that your computer meets all the technical requirements. My Internet connection failed a “reflexive connectivity” test. To this day, I don´t know what this means.
You are filmed with your webcam throughout the exam.
The day of the exam they send you a link to the testing platform and before each test section you have to go through an authentication procedure (the webcam takes a picture of your passport). This process worked for the first few sections and then by the third test, it stopped being able to take the picture but authorised me anyway!
The first test sub-test, however, was the speaking section. I was told that I would receive a separate Microsoft Teams video conferencing link for that. In fact, I got a link to a Zoom meeting.
At points during the speaking sub-test, the connection slowed to the point that the proctor´s speech was a bit garbled.
There was then a one hour break before the writing sub-test. As the testing platform said: “You have a break, use this time to prepare for the next section.”
So, I prepared responses to each of the three writing tasks. I wrote out one response in full and the outlines for the two others. Right before the writing exam I put those papers in another room so it wouldn’t look like I was copying.
Daria is right when she says that you really don’t have much time in the writing sub-test. Still, thanks to my preparation, even after finishing writing my responses and checking my answers, I had five minutes to spare. Note that you have to write your responses for this section by hand. Then you take pictures of the pages and upload them.
I had been most worried about the writing section and thought that I could coast once I got to the next sub-test: grammar and vocabulary. Boy was I wrong! The real thing seemed harder than the demo grammar and vocabulary test. I also began having problems with my wifi. A pop-up would come up from time to time saying that there were issues with my connection and that I needed to restart my browser. This happened five or six times during the sub-test. I lost valuable time and was unable to do the last few tasks.
One important change compared with the “demo” paper was that the real grammar / vocabulary test was all multiple choice. There were no task where you needed to come up with your own answer.
When you’re taking the exam online, you can’t move on to the next section within each of the grammar / vocab, reading and listening sub-tests until you have answered all the questions from the section before. So you can’t move backwards and forwards and vary the order in which you work through the sub-test.
After a ten minute break, it was time for the reading comprehension subtest. Again the pop-up window kept warning me about my connection but I just ignored it and kept going. The biggest issue with this reading comprehension subtest is that the passages are quite long. When you’re taking the exam online, you lose a lot of time scrolling up and down between the text and the questions.
After another ten minute break, I had the listening comprehension subtest. I barely finished it in time again, in large part because of the technical difficulties.
All in all, I think the grammar/vocab, listening, and reading sections were all a little harder than the demo version.
In the earliest stages of your preparation, try the grammar / vocab subtest in the official and “demo” published papers. The mistakes you make in those will help you to decide what you need to focus on In your preparation. All the books that I’ve listed above are good to work from.
It really pays to follow Daria’s advice here and study idioms intensively .I had studied idioms to some extent but not nearly enough and I did poorly in this part of the sub-test.
You should study what I later learned are called дискурсивные формулы (discourse formulas). Examples include: “Что вы говорите,” “ну-ну,”, “надо же!” An excellent resource for this, called Прагматикон, based on the НКРЯ (Национальный корпус русского языка, which is also an excellent resource). There these дискурсивные формулы are presented in context in short film extracts. The exam includes a number of these formulae that I´d never encountered before. I was stuck when confronted with some of these questions!
Also, be sure to take the time, if possible, to study the more obscure rules for determining the gender of nouns, including proper nouns.
I began reading Russian novels before actually preparing for the TORFL Fourth Certificate.
Anastasia and I worked on Tatyana Tolstaya´s The Slynx and Mikhail Bulgakov´s White Guard, among other novels. I began this reading without the exam in mind but both are quite difficult and reading them was excellent preparation for the exam.
The Slynx is incredibly intertextual. My tutor and I would carefully go through all the references to other books, poems and so on. If the text referenced a poem or a song, we would go through that text as well. As challenging as The Slynx was, it’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever read.
White Guard was an even tougher read. Bulgakov kind of drops the reader in the middle of the Civil War and says, “Swim!”.
If you can handle texts at this level, what you´ll encounter on the exam will be a walk in the park.
The textbook В мире людей 3.1 has excellent reading selections and the questions are very similar to what you might find on the exam, including ones where the “answers” are likely to depend very much on the subjective view of the examiner.
I think a clear sign of this “subjective” element is that Alexandra and I both got the same result on the reading comprehension section of the demo version of the exam- 84%, even though Alexandra is a native speaker and specialist Russian teacher.
Once we finished В мире людей, we began working with sample reading comprehension questions from the ЕГЭ (the standard Russian high-school leaving / university entrance examination). The types of stories on that exam in terms of style and lexical difficulty track closely with the TRKI 4.
Two tips for the reading sub-test: read the questions first, so that you approach the passages on the lookout for the answers. Also, if you’re doing the exam online, write down the questions on a separate piece of paper. The texts are all quite long and I lost a lot of time scrolling back and forth between the text and the questions.
The first task of the reading section was putting paragraphs of a marketing text in the correct order. We practised this task a fair amount and I almost never got it right. I noticed that the marketing text for task one was a little longer than what was in the demo version.
As a test candidate you should also read a good number of articles on scientific topics aimed at the general reader (найучно-популарный стиль). There is a good chance that at least one of the readings will be from a technical-scientific field and in this register.
In my pre-exam consultation with the Language Testing Centre, they encouraged me to prepare myself by looking at the following websites to prepare for this the task (and in general for other reading tasks on the test): Sobaka.ru; Paperpaper.ru; The-village.ru; Iz.ru; Kudago.com; Moya-planeta.ru; Nat-geo.ru; Vokrugsveta.ru; Arzamas.academy (also excellent podcasts); diletant.media.magazine; nkj.ru; hij.ru; popmech.ru; sciam.ru; postnauka.ru(also excellent talks); lychik-school.ru.
In preparation, I watched TV series, and films.
I also listened to a lot of podcasts too, but do keep in mind that a lot of podcasts are created by millennials and Generation Zers who pepper their speech with lots of Anglicisms. Don’t start doing the same! In real life, people may really say “гилти плеже” rather than “постыдное удовольствие”. It doesn’t hurt to be exposed to this sort of contemporary, informal Russian, but I think the kind of Russian expected in the speaking test is more that of the older generations.
The sophistication of the speech of an older person is something one should train oneself with for this exam. Sure, I enjoy вДудь, Ирина Шихман, Артемий Лебедев, but one needs to be careful.
Another limitation of podcasts is that they typically have just one or two people speaking. For the TRKI Fourth Certificate listening sub-test what one wants to get used to are conversations with multiple speakers. For practising this sort of listening, the Kultura TV channel is a great resource. They broadcast lots of sophisticated shows where different experts discuss literary, art topics in a roundtable format.
One of the most useful things I did was to watch, say, 30 minutes at a time of Kultura’s Наблюдатель show. Then, I’d write a kind of granular analysis of the content. What was the point of view of each speaker? How were they trying to position themselves? What mixed messages were they conveying? Where were there latent conflicts, forms of passive-aggression being expressed between the panellists? I would also note down new words and phrases.
My tutor Alexandra made a point of assigning me content from Kultura that was either very boring or on a topic that I knew nothing about. After that, I felt prepared for just about anything!
The textbook В мире людей 3.1 was also very useful for the listening sub-test. It is really aimed at B2-C1 level, but it has a fair amount of good content to practise with for C2 level Russian as well.
In my pre-registration consultation with the St Petersburg University Language Testing Centre, I asked if I should be familiar with Russian literature.
The consultant mentioned only Chekhov’s plays and this very specific response moved me to watch all four of the main Chekhov plays. I watched a Soviet production, a Soviet film adaptation, and an English-language version of each play. The latter included Inua Ellams’ reinterpretation of Three Sisters from the UK’s National Theatre. It’s set during the Nigerian Civil War. I connect with Chekhov’s short stories but I really don’t care for his plays, so all this was a huge slog (I can connect far more to his short stories). Anna said that I was overdoing it.
However, one of the listening comprehension tasks was a video extract from the middle of a play I was totally unfamiliar with (and not one of Chekhov’s). There were seven characters interrupting each other. The exam asked questions about the position of several of them. I held my own with this, thanks to those many hours of watching Chekhov.
What was key for the listening comprehension section was to read the questions before actually watching the video extract and if any characters are mentioned, to write down the characters´ names. Once I started watching the video extract (you can only watch it once; also, the video player does not indicate the length of the piece), I would manically write down everything I heard.
This was the last section of the exam. By this point I was pretty exhausted. Thanks to having a daily meditation practice, I could catch the indifference setting in. I just wanted this hell to end and began to stop caring about how I would do! But with a mindfulness practice, I reminded myself to gather my senses and maintain focus.
The exam started at 7am and ended at 2:20pm (yes, seven hours and twenty minutes!)
Practice, practice, practice!
My tutor Alexandra would go over both my speaking mistakes and also times when I didn’t do what the rubric required.
For the “responding with contextual antonyms” exercise, Daria is correct that you really need to study these kinds of words in-depth!
For the “customer service” exchange, your task is to demand to have a situation rectified. Be sure that you greet the person you are speaking to. Be clear that you are actually demanding. No softening here!
When you do the “explaining an abstract concept to two different age groups” task, be sure to greet each target audience and also have appropriate closing words. It really helps to watch videos where children explain concepts like “love” to get used to how to adjust one´s speaking for the younger set.
In the “radio/TV monologue with questions” exercise be sure to use linking words (слова-связки). The examiners want to see a clear structure: who are you, what organisation do you represent, what are its goals and objectives, how can they get in touch with you and so on. It is possible to have fun with this. I had prepared the monologue beforehand and had practised it multiple times with Alexandra. I did mine on an elite vegan cooking club which has the aim of taking St. Petersburg eateries to the next level of plant-based culinary virtuosity!
After the monologue, there is a short question and answer session. Where the question implies that you need to disagree, be sure that it is clear that you are expressing a dissenting view. No, hemming and hawing here!
To prepare for the TRKI 4 writing sub-test, I recommend Daria’s materials, especially her section on writing abstracts. Her section on linking words (клише, слова-связки) is worth memorising.
You will most likely have to choose from three very uninspiring abstract topics. For example:
- Защита окружающей среды – дело государственное или личная ответственность каждого?
- Гендерный вопрос: как относятся сегодня к этой проблеме в РФ и США.
- Электронные или печатные книги: что читают и будут читать»
- Национальные культуры и глобализация: поглощение или сохранение?
I practised such topics against the clock with my tutor Anna. We noticed that whenever the topic bored me, my writing would “regress”. When I felt engaged like I actually had something to say about a topic, the result tended to be much more respectable. I saw that part of my training was to just learn to live with the awful responses I produced even if they were of (barely) passing quality!
There’s no time to plan out your writing in advance. All I could do was write non-stop, only lifting my pen from the paper when I was done.
Don’t forget, you have to write your exam answers to the writing sub-test by hand and upload photos of them. So, when you practise be sure that you’re also writing by hand.
At first, I practised writing assignments without setting a time limit. Sometimes, I would do the same assignment twice the same day. First, I would take my time, looking up words. Later, I would do the same task under exam conditions, against the clock and without reference works or dictionaries. For the abstract writing, I aimed to finish in 17 (instead of 20) minutes so that I would have more time to do the longer assignment (the plot summary of a film or book).
The writing task where one has to give advice to a friend visiting your country was the easiest of the tasks and we spent the least time on this. Key is to have a clear structure for this task, greeting and closing, and very focused advice for your correspondent.
For the plot summary task, Anna would have me read stories by Bunin, Chekhov, and the fascinating Soviet writer Yuri Nagibin. Then I had to write a summary of the piece. Anna would correct my mistakes and discuss them with me.
One very helpful thing that you can do to prepare is to memorise typical standard phrases that are used in plot summaries (though I must admit that I was too lazy to do this).
When she read my written work, my tutor Anna would have her ups and downs about my prospects.Several months in, she said I was ready for the exam. And then I would produce a writing sample that would lead her to say, “Frankly, I´m worried!”
When I felt I was close to ready, I had another consultation with the St Petersburg University Language Testing Centre. We went over some of my writing samples and they said I’d reached the required level. They were happy to point out my mistakes but they would not reveal how many points I would have got in each subsection based on the official grading rubric (as published in the official and demo versions of the test on their website).
Did you find the exam as difficult as it is rumoured to be?
I first read about the exam on Daria´s website. She described it as “сверхсложный” (super difficult) and she followed a super-intensive study regimen. I was left thinking, “Boy, I’ll have to study consistently for five years to pass this test!”.
Then, I took the official version of the test under timed conditions. Of course, I couldn’t know how the speaking and writing sub-tests would have been graded, but for the listening, reading, and grammar & vocab sections I got results of around 70%. The pass mark is 60%. So, at the beginning of my period of preparation I was already in a pretty solid position even though I hadn’t been using Russian much for fifteen years.
So, I don’t think it’s terribly accurate or useful to describe the exam as “difficult.” I think it is better to say that it’s a quirky and arbitrary exam.
Why quirky? Well, I think it’s a little silly to mark down points in some of the speaking talks for not greeting someone when it isn’t made clear that is necessary. Imposing a spurious framing like this isn’t very true-to-life. In the “customer service” role play, for example, perhaps I’d be too angry to say “hello”.
If you take to become as familiar a you can with the quirks of the exam, I think it becomes a far less frightening beast! Не так страшен черт, как его малюют!
This may surprise you, but in some ways I think that the test is too easy.
For example, you know that there is going to be a role play where you have to make demands. You can practise for this very specific situation. It would be more of a test not to have advanced knowledge of the exact type of what kind of communicative situation one will have to deal with.
I think that really the writing task should be more difficult but also more time should be given to do it. The fact that one can memorize an answer for 1-2 of the writing tasks makes me wonder how well the writing test really measures one’s capacity to produce texts in Russian. In my view, a better test is the essay task along the lines of what you have to write for the Graduate Record Exam (for entry into post-grad studies here in the US). For that, you have to take sides in a debate but really engage with the opposing arguments.
The “Russian for court interpreting exam” that I did is only 45 minutes long. Nevertheless, for that exam you have to demonstrate a mastery and precision with the language that is simply not demanded of you by the TRKI 4. The court exam is an oral interpreting exam. There are no multiple choice questions where you can guess the answers. In advance of the exam, you don’t really have an idea what kind of texts they will give you.
Unlike the TRKI 4, there is no mystery around the court exam. There are study materials, sample tests, clear descriptions of what is expected from the test-taker. To this day, so far as I know there is no document outlining in detail what a C2 speaker of Russian should know.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you were going through the preparation and exam process again?
I would study the fixed expressions (слова-связки, клише) for the written tasks. And really learn idioms, discourse formulas, and polysemantic adjectives (for the speaking task). Perhaps, I would spend more time on grammar, study the mistakes I made on the two practice tests more carefully.
It would have been good to put in more focused energy on preparing for the first task of the reading sub-test: I would have asked Alexandra to find more marketing texts and practise putting the paragraphs in the correct order (which is what this part is all about).
Also, for peace of mind, I´d make sure to have a fibre optic Internet connection!
Would you encourage others to do the TRKI 4 and – if so – what’s the one main piece of advice would you give them?
Absolutely! I rediscovered Russia, the Russian language, and Russian culture thanks to this exam. Preparing for this exam changed me. I have loved Russia for many years, but this intensive preparation led me to have an even greater affinity for the culture. It has been a very rich and satisfying journey!
Advice? Enjoy the ride! Create the systems that will keep you motivated and focused. It can be a fun process!
A favourite topic of discussion among new learners of Russian online seems to be how long will it take to become fluent in Russian. Setting aside the question of what “fluent” means, how long do you think it can take to start from zero to get to C2, to pass the TRKI 4?
As impatient a person as I am, I never thought about when I’d become fluent in Russian in the course of my studies. When I was preparing for the TRKI 4 exam, I came across a number of videos by folks who made very rapid strides in Russian without even living in a Russian-speaking country. For example, Valentina from Catalonia made it to B2 from zero in the space of two years and three months having spent all of 25 days in Russian-speaking countries over that period. Of course, it probably didn´t hurt that she grew up trilingual (Spanish, Catalan, and Italian).
Anna Lyubivaya had a student from China who came to Russia with no Russian and got to B2 in the space of 1.5 years. And Daria, it sounds like, got from B2 to C2 in the space of, what, 2 years?
So, I imagine it is possible to get to C2 with uninterrupted focused study in the space of 3.5-4 years.
C2 level is called the “mastery” level for Russian but do you really feel that you have a near-native mastery of the language?
Supposedly at C2 you should be able to understand everything in the target language. That is not my experience.
I’ve been doing a language exchange with a teacher of Russian. We have been studying Zhvanetsky´s monologues. I still find that I can neither understand nor appreciate them without the help of a native speaker, even though I’ve passed the TRKI 4th Certificate.
I would like to come back and tackle the wonderful TV series Ликвидация. It really stretches you, as they shift rapidly from regular Russian to суржик to bits of Ukrainian to просторечный язык with a smattering of Yiddish thrown in. I can’t understand it all without the help of a native speaker. This series reminds me of The Wire, the highly-acclaimed American crime series from the 2000s. As a native speaker of English, I struggled with a lot of the dialogue in that!
I have really enjoyed the podcast Голос зоны. It’s about an underground rap group in a maximum security prison camp. The speech of the inmates is so amusing that I decided to record myself repeating a portion of one of the interviews and share it with friends. But, again, without the help of a native speaker, I wouldn’t have been able to decipher a lot of it. And note that the slang that I am having difficulty understanding is not even феня (slang among criminals)!
You’ve reached the fabled C2 level but what next for your Russian?
For now, I am continuing with the tutors. With Anastasia, I’m focussing on translation and interpreting practice and reading novels.
With Anna I am having a fabulous time finally getting around to Russian poetry and finding it quite enriching.
And with Alexandra I have made plans to continue grammar practice and close gaps in my knowledge of cultural references. We plan on working our way through а reference book on прецедентные тексты. Also, we plan on working with idioms.
Also, I hope to improve my accent. Maybe I’ll need a fourth tutor for that!
More from Raffi:
Check out the YouTube playlist that Raffi’s put together. This includes conversations about the exam on his own channel, interviews with him on other channels and other useful videos on the topic. If you discover other YouTube vids worth adding to the list, make one of your own, or have taken the TRKI 4th certificate exam and would like to be interviewed on Raffi’s channel, let him know via the channel (or mail me here at Howtogetfluent and I’ll pass on your message).
Interview (1) in the TRKI 4 series, with successful candidate Daria is available here.
Interview (2) in the TRKI 4 series, with successful candidate Barbara is available here.
Interview (3) in the TRKI 4 series, with successful candidate Aga is available here.
Interview (4) in the TRKI 4 series, with successful candidate Ivan is available here.
For more on exams from me, check out the archive tab above for all my posts about my TRKI 3 Russian and German Goethe C1 exam experiences for more information and tips.
You might also like my general series on language exams, including How to pass a foreign language exam and Ten brilliant ways to beat exam nerves.
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