Today I’ll be going over one of the main books that I use for my Bulgarian studies. As it says in the title the book is called Intensive Bulgarian : A Textbook and Reference Grammar by Ronelle Alexander. I have high praises for this book, in my opinion it’s simply one of the best Bulgarian course books around for english speakers. There are two books, Intensive Bulgarian 1 & 2, each comprising of 15 lessons. Today I will just be reviewing the first book, however this will still give you a general sense of the second book since they follow the same structure and layout.
The format for each lesson is as follows:
- A dialogue.
- Basic grammar.
- Exercises (fill in blanks)
- Additional grammar notes.
- Sample sentences.
- Sentences for translation.
- Reading selection.
- Cultural commentary.
The lessons stay true to this format throughout the book. The dialogues are good and quite long, especially when you compare it with a course like Assimil. The dialogues form a continuing dramatic narrative and take place on a train journey, with various different characters interacting with each other. At times I found the dialogues a little boring (these tended to be the dialogues with the children), other than that I found them great. The reading selections are great, and like the dialogues form a continuous narrative, by way of a series of correspondence letters between a pair of married couples. One negative point regarding the reading selections, is that there isn’t any translations available, so you can’t check your translations which can be a bit frustrating.
Exercises & Grammar Explanations
The basic grammar explanations are excellent and presented well. Next you have various exercises to do. These exercises are fill in the blanks. E.g. Fill in the blanks with the appropriate pronoun, complete each sentence with the article and the appropriate form of the following adjectives and so on. These exercises are great for making sure those grammar points stick in your head.
Next up is additional grammar notes. You can probably tell that this book is based on grammar, I don’t usually take a heavy grammar approach when I learn a language, so I tend to just skim over the grammar notes and focus on the dialogs. The book mentions that you don’t have to go over the additional grammar notes. However it’s very useful having the additional points that explain various grammar points thoroughly, so you can choose to go over them or skim over them and revisit in detail at a later date.
You then get a bunch of sample sentences that are written in Bulgarian, ready for you to translate into English followed by sentences that need to be translated from English into Bulgarian. All the sentences are using grammar explained in the lessons grammar section. I find that a great help.
At the end of each lesson there is a glossary, that has all the words and expressions that were used during that lesson. I prefer this format because it saves you looking at a huge glossary at the back of the book. It makes finding words that pertain to the relevant lesson a whole lot easier. At the end of the book you still get a cumulative glossary filled with all the words, phrases used throughout the entire book.
One of my favourite parts of this book is the cultural commentary section. With a lot of courses you don’t get a whole lot of cultural information, especially compared to this course. This book is filled with interesting cultural information about the language, geography, people, food, drink, religion and more. It really helps when you’re learning a language, especially since language and culture are so intertwined, plus it’s just downright interesting.
Here’s an example taken from the sample lesson.
Both books come with an audio supplement, which you have to buy seperately. The voice actors are good and they speak at a nice natural pace, and the recordings are of good quality. The only major gripe I have with the recordings is that each lesson has a musical introduction of traditional Bulgarian music. Sometimes the music goes for 30 or 40 seconds, and after repeated listening starts to get annoying (well for me anyway), and gives me no option but to edit all the tracks in audacity to get rid of the music. Just to clarify I have nothing against traditional Bulgarian folk music, but I’m here to learn Bulgarian not listen to a music cd.
Answer Key ?
The only other thing I can complain about would have to be the fact that there’s no answer key or translations anywhere in the book. For those you will have to go to the Intensive Bulgarian website and download the answer key and translations pdf. It can be a bit of a hassle, but looking at it from an optimist point of view at least you know the book is filled with content and not that a quarter of the pages are just for the answers.
The price for the book varies depending on where you look. I found the book to be the cheapest ordering via Amazon or direct from UW Press. At the time of writing this review the price for the book was $39.95 and $29.95 for the accompanying audio on both the above mentioned sites. While not the cheapest course I believe it’s worth paying for such a comprehensive Bulgarian course, especially since there are so few on the market.
Great dialogues, thorough grammar explanations, plenty of exercises and packed full of interesting information that pertains to Bulgarian culture. The main cons for this course, are the accompanying audio due to the annoying folk music which goes on for too long and the fact that the answer key or translations are not provided in the book.