Alla Smyslova

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Jan 2021

TAKE HER CLASS!!!!! Alla Smyslova is one of the best professors I have ever had! She genuinely cares about all over her students and is very flexible. She has a unique approach to teaching where she doesn't really assign homework to turn in (there are some you turn in), doesn't give tests or quizzes, and doesn't ever want you to feel stressed or overwhelmed. She wants each student to take initiative and learn what they want to learn. It is such a fun and entertaining course. I learned so much with her method of teaching because I wasn't forced to memorize information or rules and spit them out on tests or quizzes. She is also always available to meet and very easy to contact for hw questions or anything (I would text her any questions I had about the hw and she would respond in less than 10 minutes every time).

Sep 2016

Alla Smyslova is one of the best professors, and likely the best language professor, that I have had at Columbia. Alla Aleksandrovna uses a distinct teaching style: it is highly methodological, students constantly are engaged in small- or large-group discussion, and she provides comprehensive feedback targeted to each individual student. Expect her to quickly see and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Although this may seem intimidating, it is not. She is always there to help students with problems they have with the Russian language. The class is high-energy and engaging as a result of her enthusiasm. The material of Alla Aleksandrovna’s Third-Year Russian course does follow along with parts of the textbook, but she often goes into greater depth than the textbook and more often than not utilizes her own exercises rather than those in the book. In this sense, the course and its materials are obviously designed by her, while the textbook is simply a supplement. Although you will read a lot and write a lot, in my opinion the greatest strength of the course is the emphasis placed on speaking. Perhaps the quantity of new vocabulary terms will be less than in first- and second-year Russian, but the depth of understanding of the lexical topics covered (including vocabulary and phrase retention) and, especially, the grammar is greater. If you had problems with topics like motion verbs and verb aspects, expect to be able to understand them more clearly through the methodology introduced in this course. The efficacy of Alla Aleksandrovna’s course is dependent on the students too. Students who are motivated and do the assignments (which often include speaking to yourself) will experience great improvement in the language, while those who do not follow her suggestions will not. So, I recommend only taking this course if you genuinely wish to improve your Russian skills and are willing to put in the effort to do so. Under Alla Aleksandrovna’s teaching ideology, a large part of becoming comfortable in a language stems from practice. She refers to this as “мускульная память” (muscle memory), and therefore treats language like any other sport or musical instrument. Class time is not enough to effectuate this, so plan to practice outside of class if you wish to really improve. The class overall is not easy, and you may be frustrated at times, but it is very rewarding. For me, declensions, motion verbs, and other linguistic characteristics of Russian are no longer something I get confused over. If you put in the effort you can expect positive results.

Jul 2015

This course is absolutely fantastic for anyone who wants to improve their Russian language skills - particularly their speaking ability. Because of the small class size, you have plenty of opportunities to speak, and a lot to speak about. The class includes reading short stories, writing essays, working on the finer grammatical points, speaking frequently about your life and experiences, as well as reading the news in Russian and discussing the headlines. Alla Smyslova is an incredible professor - she is constantly energized and passionate, but she is also very caring and considerate to her students needs and abilities. She has a real methodology for teaching grammar that works really well, particularly for difficult topics like verbs of motion. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who wants to improve their Russian Language over the summer -- it will be a challenging class, certainly, but it will also be immensely rewarding.

Sep 2014

Alla Smyslova is one of the greatest professors I have had at Columbia. Coming into the class, my Russian grammar was horrible and I felt as though I was behind everyone in the class. After taking two semesters of her class, I can confidently say that I definitely communicate with family members much better. I can even write essays in Russian. This is all because Alla really cares about her students and is an expert in her field. She knows that everyone comes into the class at different levels and she tweaks the curriculum in such a way that everyone learns as much as possible. She gives a very reasonable amount of work and keeps her lessons interesting. In addition to assigning interesting readings including works of Chekhov, Alla engages students to share information about their backgrounds and their pursuits at Columbia. At the start of every class, everyone had a chance to talk about their day and anything else they wished to discuss. I really enjoyed this and feel like I got to know a lot of people because of it. I encourage any Russian speaker to take this class. As someone who grew up with Russian parents but no formal Russian language education, I really benefitted from this class. Alla is amazing, kind, and will help you go the extra mile to make sure you are learning.

Jul 2012

Alla Aleksandrovna Smyslova’s teaching style melds Russian silovik, English nanny, and American nurturer. She has a guru level grasp of both languages; linguistics, grammar, structure, and utilization. This is what I expect from a Columbia University professor. If students graded teachers, she would get a solid A. My expectation for Columbia is to provide me with such professors for each and every course I take and this is why I am willing to pay big bucks for an Ivy League education. As much as I tried, I was not able to be in her sections during my first year of Russian, but I was fortunate to have her grammar lecture each Thursday and they came as welcomed respites from graduate student taught classes. The level of energy and effort she put into the grammar lectures were impressive and her preparation of material (PowerPoint, PDF and other multimedia tools) allowed me to go over the lectures and practice afterwards. The fill in the blank exercise on PowerPoint were particularly helpful. She does not cut corners. I learned more in the weekly lecture than I did during a week of classes. She was rarely ever stumped by a grammar question in either language. She engaged the class. Teaching is part art and part science; she has mastered both. It is my expectation that Columbia provides students with teachers like Alla Aleksandrovna, who have already mastered the skills needed to educate others. If you have a C teacher, can you expect a student to get an A? If you are serious about learning Russian, do not mind an excessive workload, and want to be taught by a professional educator, look no further!

Sep 2011

I took first and second semester Russian I with Alla Aleksandrovna Smyslova, along with the Russian Grammar Lecture required for all first year students of Russian. I can honestly say that I'd be hard pressed to think of a more effective and caring instructor, of any subject. As the year went on, I increasingly considered myself extremely lucky to be in Prof. Smyslova's section of the course, and I think students in some other sections probably wished they were in her section, too (everyone was able to experience her teaching at least once a week, in the grammar lecture). She has a command of both Russian (her native tongue) AND English that made her unusually capable of handling even complex grammatical questions. And - you know when you can tell that an instructor really CARES that her students learn something? I got that feeling from Alla Smyslova. There were a few times during the semester when I had to miss class, and Alla gave me as much time as I needed with her in and out of office hours to make sure I understood the material I had missed. I sometimes went to her office hours with one or two other students, and I could actually see one student in particular growing in confidence over the course of the year because of the commitment she gave to making sure he learned the material - I mean, I can only imagine that the confidence he gained from Alla also helped him in the rest of courses, and that's a pretty awesome effect for one teacher to have. Russian is NOT an easy class, but if you want to learn, Alla will not only make it bearable but fun - you WILL learn Russian, and, most importantly, you'll feel like your teacher actually cares.

Sep 2010

I absolutely loved this class! First of all, Alla manages to be both warm, kind, and encouraging, as well as quick, sharp, and no-nonsense. Alla will give you 110% as long as she knows that you're giving her everything you have in return. I never left a class feeling like I wasted my time, on the contrary, I felt like I walked away from class having learned something new every time (which is no easy feat when you have her every day). And trust me, if you're in her class you will learn Russian whether you're ready for it or not. Alla likes as much in-class participation as possible and that means lots of practice for listening to and speaking Russian on a daily basis. She has no problem posing a question to the class and then suddenly pointing to you with a smile and an expectation of the answer in grammatically correct Russian. I'd say about 25%-50% of class time was spent with pure grammatical instruction, going over homework, questions, and the like, with the rest of it being devoted to pairing up and being forced into practicing our spoken Russian, with Alla bustling around, eavesdropping on our conversations and swooping in to offer the correct case or aspect. As the other reviewers have said she's always extremely prepared when she comes to class, with handouts, charts, pictures, anything to get us engaged and learning. She's also very approachable and willing to meet you whenever you need her for whatever reason. So far I think she's the only non-TA to even teach Russian I and I also think my year might have been her first year doing it, so if you're wavering definitely go with Alla, you won't be disappointed! (Also I think she was able to make some arrangements to have more than the cap of 15 students in her class last year, so I'm sure if you sit in on a class and talk to her she'd do her best to help you get in.)

May 2010

Alla Smyslova is a great professor. She works very hard to have a good class (always finds her own handouts to supplement the textbook, encourages us to interrupt her anytime we're confused, patiently repeats difficult grammar rules as many times as necessary). She has so much energy and she puts so much effort into teaching, that you want to reciprocate by doing well. She pushes her students pretty hard, but she is also one of the few professors I've had who actually understands that we have other commitments too. She will meet with you as many times as you want/need to even when it's not convenient for her and she will notice if you're confused. She expects you to pay attention in her class, notices if you don't, and encourages you to speak up. As the reviewer below also stated, more outside readings would be useful, but overall this is a really great class.

Jan 2010

Alla Smyslova was a dynamic and engaging professor. Each lecture was well-organized, her explanations clear and concise and her manner direct. Pay attention and do your homework because she is vigilant and if you stop paying attention, even for a second, she'll notice and she'll call you out on it. The textbook, "Russian for Russians," is pretty boring, but it's the only one out there for heritage speakers. Alla makes up for it by introducing her own handouts and readings. We read a few short stories in class, and my only complaint is that I wish we had had more outside readings, but I understand that people in the class were at different levels with their Russian skills so not everyone could have handled a higher reading load--a great thing would be if the class could be split into two levels. Overall Alla was extremely helpful and her teaching methods will make anyone learn. I think she was a great professor!

Dec 2009

Alla is the most amazing Russian professor I've ever had. She has such a indefatigable personality and presence in the classroom, as well as an ability to teach the intricacies of Russian grammar in a way I never thought possible. Weekly grammar lectures with Alla were a privilege and a delight, as her humor and personality made each lesson more interesting than the last. What's more, she has such a perfect knowledge of linguistics and grammar that the best of grammarians can appreciate. Her accent and animated hand motions make the class a true gem. When she would laugh and do a little dance for each new grammatical concept, the knowledge would become imprinted permanently on my mind- a true resource for tests!

May 2009

This class was fantastic. Alla incorporated the lecture material with grammar instruction seamlessly. She was always super-prepared for class with handouts and power points. Her lectures were really engaging and she constantly interacted with students in the class so that no one could escape without participating at least once. I actually really loved going to this class... even though it meant climbing the 7 flights of stairs in Hamilton. Alla is an extraordinary professor. She has an amazing way of motivating the students in her class and keeping everyone engaged. I'm always nervous about using my Russian but Alla conducted the class in a really non-threatening way. So, by the end, my spoken Russian had improved dramatically. She even managed to resurrect my grasp of Russian grammar; something I had thought was long-dead. Alla is a credit to the Slavic Department and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to study with her!

Mar 2009

An excellent course taught by an engaging and attentive professor. Smyslova works hard to engage with the students at their level and give them support where she finds weaknesses. I came into the class with decent spoken Russian and exactly 0 knowledge of the grammatical underpinnings of what I was saying. By the end of the first semester (and definitely into the second), I could write more or less like a literate person and was getting a real hold on some of the terribly complicated grammar. Virtually everyone who has studied with her agrees that she has a great manner with students, that she motivates them to work hard and that she has an excellent sense for a student's capacity.

Aug 2006

I was not a typical student in third-year Russian. I lived in Ukraine for two years, but had never formally studied Russian (sort of self-taught,immersion, etc). I took Russian III to fill in some blanks, work on my grammar, writing,etc. I can not stress this enough, but Alla is an amazing professor. If you are serious about improving your Russian then you need to take her class. She is fantastic. Alla held office hours above and beyond what is to be expected. She would often ask me to stop by her office to review certain topics that she did not have time to address in class. She spends a lot of time 1-on-1 with students. In the classroom, she makes even for most mundane topics interesting. Don't get caught spacing out during class because she will bring you back to reality! In summary, Alla is an excellent professor and a true resource of the Slavic Dept.

Jul 2006

Alla Aleksandrovna Smyslova teaches the weekly grammar lecture associated with First Year Russian - as far as I know, she also teaches Third Year Russian and Russian For Heritage Speakers, and works with the grad students who teach the first two years of Russian. Our weekly grammar lecture with A.A. was the exception on the lackluster palette of my freshman year classes. A.A. was a true Russian teacher (instead of merely a teacher of Russian) - she was always on her feet in class, she relentlessly drew answers, speech, questions out of us one after the other; she would've have physically drawn them if that were possible. She made the most wonderful handouts to supplement (outdo) the textbook, ungarbling for us the elements of Russian grammar; she made all the exceptions stand at attention in charts. As someone aptly observes in an earlier review, she could write her own textbook. She engaged everyone: this was no lecture, but the rehearsal of an orchestra. In the fall semester I slipt into the habit of not sleeping enough, and this showed in class. One day she spoke to me after the lecture. She said that she was worried for me. Her concern and compassion surprised me, and I took myself in my hands: I started to sleep properly, at home, in bed, at night. A.A. is a talented, experienced language instructor (who becomes, by the task of imparting language, a mother figure to her students). She is someone that I trust with academic and personal knots. A.A. is rarely still - I cannot emphasize this enough. I remember arriving to my Russian Lit class on the 7th floor of Hamilton last year, always to find her doing something for her department: hanging new fliers in the display cases - a Russian film festival at Lincoln Center, a Pasternak reading at the NY Public Library. She also is the muse of the Russian club's Movie Night - every other Thursday, a new Russian film is shown in Hamilton - the crowd is so great that sometimes people stand. She tirelessly runs the Russian Summer Practicum, which is akin to Middlebury College's summer immersion program. For me A.A. is the spirit of the University - what a professor should be: absolutely and utterly present.

Dec 2005

Alla is a great teacher. I found that just by paying attention in class and doing the homework I ended up knowing all the vocabulary necessary for all the tests and the final as well. She really encourages students to play with the language and to try to use words they know to communicate their thoughts. You'll get great practice with the language in every assignment given and she really stresses reusing things you've already learned on each new assignment, which does wonders in helping students to retain all the information!

May 2004

Professor Smyslova, like all of the instructors I have had in my 6 semesters with the Slavic Department, is incredible. She is passionate and never misses a beat, and as any good language instructor she knows how to explain things in more than one way so that you really get it. Professor Smyslova's class took my Russian from understanding a lot but feeling mute to really being able to *speak* the language. She is an expert on helping native English speakers let go of the English syntax and sensibility and delve full-heartedly into Russian. The structure of the class is wonderful, and better than those of First-Year or Second-Year Russian; you have an "aktivnaya leksika" which means that instead of numbly memorizing lists of vocab, you read articles with the vocab embedded in them and are then required to summarize them in your own words, use the vocab words in different contexts, and keep bringing them up even as you move on to the next text. Only in the most extreme cases will she resort to English. If you are taking Third-Year Russian you probably love the language as much as I do, but in case not, beware: you cannot get away with not doing your work or pretending to understand something when you do not. She commands your attention the entire class period and required as much energy from you as you get from her. She is extremely understanding, though, as long as you put in the effort. In short, ona blestyaishaya prepodavatelnitza! Don't miss out on taking her class!

Dec 2003

Assuming, you grew up in a household where Russian was spoken, the class will markedly improve your writing and linguistic abilities. You should not come to class and expect to get away without doing homework. She engages you and will make you speak (related to your homework) nearly every class. If she sees you drifting off, she will draw you back into the discussion. The material is not particularly interesting, but her stern and direct lecture style will keep you engaged. Some might not think she seems very kind, but that is simply because she keeps her classes structured and well organized. Since the class combines two years of Russian into one, she moves it relatively quickly. Though you probably will not leave a class entertained, you will leave with a plethora of information. Her grading is fair, if not somewhat generous. She will also have you correct every homework assignment, quiz, and test. This not only slightly boosts your grades, but also allows you to learn the material more effectively. Possibly the most important point: She is very willing to meet with students on a one-on-one basis, even outside of her office hours. In fact, if she sees you are having trouble she will require you to meet with her, and will strongly encourage meeting with her often.

Apr 2003

I enjoyed this 50 minute period with Alla once a week. Somehow, she can teach a week's worth of grammar in a fraction of the time, and you will most definitely understand it! You HAVE to pay attention - it sometimes felt like highschool all over again, because she will snap at you to pay attention when she catches you looking away. But otherwise, I really enjoyed the class, and she is a very nice woman - she says hello to everyone outside of class, even though you're just a Russian 1 newbie.

Apr 2003

An AMAZING instructor. She can cover huge amount of material in just 50 minutes. At the end of the grammar lecture my head was spinning, BUT she really knows how to teach! She reviews the material covered in the class, but she is so systematic, that you learn everything. The grammar lecture is fun, she keeps asking questions during the lecture, so don't try to do anything else. She will notice that immediately.

Nov 2002

If you plan to major in anything besides Russia, beware! This energetic, bubbly woman will win your heart over to the Slavic department. in, well, a heartbeat. Alla is an ANGEL - the paragon of effective teaching and language reinforcement. She spends each 50-minute class period on her feet, darting around the room to get everyone participating and smiling.