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So what’s involved if you want to learn Russian… and is it really that hard? Lots of people would say Russian is as difficult as hell or double dutch or whatever – don’t believe that. There are a number of things to keep in mind if you decide to take up learning Russian and they may help you realise it is not that tough as it is painted!

  • Russian is an Indo-European language, distantly related to English. This means that some of the basic vocabulary will seem quite familiar.
  • To learn the basics of Russian is probably not much harder than learning the basics of, say, French or German.
  • Although it is hard to get an authentic Russian accent, it is not that hard to pronounce Russian words tolerably well; most of the sounds of Russian also occur in English.
  • Russian has borrowed a lot of English or other “international” words; many words will be familiar and easy to learn. If you want to say “climate” or “match” or “park” in Russian, just take the English word and give it a Russian flavour!
  • The Russian alphabet (Cyrillic) may look off-putting, but in fact it is not difficult to learn; you can get the basic idea in an hour. Some of the letters, like “a”, “k”, “m” and “o”, are the same as in English. And the alphabet works well for the Russian language: you can predict which sound each letter will represent very accurately.
  • At a higher level, Russian grammar is tricky: there are a lot of case endings on nouns and adjectives, and the verb forms are also complex. Learning the vocabulary can take quite a bit of effort as well. But then you may not be aspiring to read “War and Peace” in the original!

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Previous postHow to learn Russian fast: basic Dont's

Before talking about how to quickly pick-up a new language, it would behoove us to understand how to not undertake Russian language studies. Here’s a quick list of DONT’S, offered by, as they apply to how to wanting to become a Russian speaker faster than usual:

DON’T try to learn too much, too soon. Words and phrases will inevitably get mixed up. When it comes to language, cramming does not work. Instead, start with a few easy but all-purpose action phrases.

DON’T get bogged down trying to perfect your pronunciation. The only thing that matters is that native speakers understand you. You can spend years trying to “perfect” the pronunciation of a single word, whereas you should have spent that time adding new words to your working vocabulary. And besides, your pronunciation will improve as you have more and more contact with Russian speakers.

DON’T put all your eggs in one basket, meaning: Use a variety of courses and materials to find which method works best. This is extremely important because it can literally mean the difference between you becoming a speaker of Russian, or quitting altogether. Unfortunately, some of the “big name” courses do not teach Russian well, and are truly beneficial only to advanced students who already understand the complications of Russian grammar, and have a large working vocabulary.

DON’T get discouraged. Sure, Russian can be confusing at times, but there are clear, underlying principles in how all the bizarre grammar fits together. These rules will unfold clearly over time. Just do your best, and realize that native speakers will understand you regardless.

DON’T go in with unrealistic expectations. You’re not going to become a Russian speaker overnight. Realistically, you can become conversational in a few months if you use the right course and study the right way.

And a piece of advice from BM Linguistics: DON’T go on your own – a good company can boost the process. Communication with people is the magic factor that makes you develop your speaking skills at a fantastic speed!

We can offer guidance, result and fun: our Russian language courses will not bring you to proficiency VERY fast (not within a week or two!) but steadily you will feel more and more confident about your being a speaker of this wonderful language.

Previous postHow to begin learning Russian Next postWho says Russian is hard to learn?

When you first start trying to learn a language, it is often difficult to know how to get going, particularly if you are teaching yourself from tapes, or videos or books, or all three.  Here are some hints from a learner who found them useful.

Write individual words on flashcards.  Write the Cyrillic Word in large letters and under it write the transcription so that you know how to pronounce it.  On the back of the flashcard, write the English translation.  Practice with these cards, by looking at the Russian, saying it out loud (whisper quietly if you’re in company) and trying to remember what the word means.  Turn over if you can’t.  More difficult is looking at the English and trying to remember the Russian, so practise this both ways.  Take the cards with you everywhere so that you can use those moments sitting in a bus or waiting in a queue.   After a while, you will know which words you know, and which ones are causing you more difficulty.  Start marking the ones you can’t get with a red star or something each time you forget it.  These are the tough ones, and need more practice.

Listen to Russian when you are travelling.  Have your lesson tapes in your car or on your iPod, so that when you are driving or jogging or ironing your shirts or whatever, you are always revising the last lesson.  You can do your own recordings of words you are finding difficult – the constant repetition will get them well established.

Start every day by writing down as many items of vocabulary as you can remember.  To begin with, this will only be a few, but after a while, there will be too many words to write.  At that point, begin each day with writing down the new vocabulary you learnt the day before.

Try to THINK Russian.  When a letter comes through the postbox, don’t think “letter”, think “pissymo”.  When you want to have some tea, think “chai”.  Sit in a room and try to name everything in it in Russian.

Above all, don’t be afraid to try to speak it however many mistakes you make.  Everybody makes mistakes when they start learning a foreign language and nobody minds.  If you are afraid to open your mouth in case it’s wrong, you will never be able to say anything.  The mistakes don’t matter.  What is important is to TRY!  You will find that a smile and some stuttered words, even if they aren’t completely grammatical, will get you communicating for real in Russian.


Next postHow to learn Russian fast: basic Dont's