How to learn Russian

Get your basics down solid right from the start. With Russian, this means learning the alphabet. Though any English speaker will recognize a number of characters in the Cyrillic alphabet, most of them will be assigned different sounds. Н, for example, represents the English n sound, while р denotes a rolling r. The rest will look, well, foreign. There are 33 letters in all, some of which will be difficult to distinguish at first.

1. Find a good beginner program.

Free Language Courses has free downloadable lessons, including the Princeton Russian Course, filled with .mp3 files and .pdf documents for listening and reading practice.
If you’re a Mac App person, try Innovative Language Learning’s Learn Russian – Beginner. The app’s interactive lessons are easy to follow and the grammar points are good for explaining the particularly confusing parts of the language.
However you do it, make a point to learn the alphabet as soon as you can, concentrating on phonetics and accent. This will make all the difference in communication.
While we’re talking about the basics, you really need to be able to conjugate verbs. If you can’t, your ability to converse with people will be greatly impeded. Write each form of the most common words out on pieces of paper, and post them on your apartment walls, above your desk, or on the refrigerator. Practice them all the time.

2. Find a conversation partner; live with a host family if you can

Wherever you are, find a conversation partner. There’s no substitute for practice with a native speaker. Contact local universities; search online; ask around town. In my experience, university students are more than happy to help in exchange for a bit of English practice.
Better yet, if you don’t mind roommates, live with a host family. Your language abilities will improve dramatically when you’re forced to practice. Plus, the cultural experience you’ll gain during your stay will prove invaluable if you should decide to remain in the country longer.
The Nova Mova Russian Language School in Kiev is a good place to begin your homestay search.

3. Say yes to invites

Despite the cold glares on the street, Russians are extremely warm people inside their homes. If invited to a party or for tea, you’ll be pampered with their best food and entertained with their favorite stories. It’s a great chance to enjoy Russian hospitality while honing your comprehension skills.
So say yes to invitations from friends and acquaintances. In my experience, immersion is definitely the best method for learning Russian.

4. Keep a pocket notebook and pen on you at all times

My vocabulary would probably have remained at a sixth-grade level if it weren’t for my friends. It’s probably safe to say that I learn at least one new word each day just by conversing with them. So that I don’t forget any of these words, I keep paper and a pen on me at all times. A notebook also comes in handy when you can’t remember what that strange food was your friend made you try. Don’t want to eat it again? Look it up in your notebook. “Aha! Holodyets – meat jello. No, I do not like this.”

5. Watch and listen to Russian films and music

The most entertaining way to study Russian is to watch Russian films and listen to Russian music. The MosFilm Channel on YouTube has been a goldmine. You can find some films that already have English subtitles hard-coded. Otherwise, you’ll have to do some searching around YouTube to find versions with English subs. One of my favorite shows is Служебный роман, or Office Romance.
For music, check out Far From Moscow. The site hosts electronic, rock, pop, and dance music from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and further afield, most of which is free to stream and download. The site is in English for easy navigation, but if you want to challenge yourself you can switch to Russian.
Both these sites will help you develop your language skills, but will also provide you with conversation starters for when you meet your friends. If you want more, check out MTV Russia and MTV Ukraine, also good places for a fun audio-visual learning experience.

6. Start a hobby

Like cooking? Learn to prepare some cultural dishes, and invite friends over to sample them. Into music? Pick up the bandura or classical guitar and learn some traditional songs. Good with your hands? Handicrafts, such as weaving, knitting, and painting, are all popular in the Russian-speaking world. Immersing yourself deeper into the culture will help you to become more comfortable speaking the language.

7. Get out of the city

Just like in the English-speaking world, people in different parts of the Russian-speaking world speak with different accents and in different dialects. A good way to expand your knowledge of the language and practice conversational skills is to spend a holiday away from the city. In the suburbs and rural areas, where there are fewer English-speaking people, you’ll have to rely more on your Russian abilities.

8. Interact with friends on Vkontakte

Vkontakte, which literally means “In Contact,” is Eastern Europe’s answer to Facebook, dominating Russia and Ukraine as well as the other former Soviet-ruled countries. Ukrainians and Russians are quick to add English-speaking friends, and can be very helpful in providing conversational practice, including lot of slang and colloquialisms. In some ways, this is more valuable than the writing practice and peer editing you’ll receive from your pen pals.

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Igor105 profile picture Igor105June 2020
Your main enemy in learning Russian is the information monopoly of the English language. These are systemically opposite languages. Analytical English with fast input and synthetic Russian with long input.
alqais17 profile picture alqais17August 2016

Мне нравится ваша статья

Tomo23 profile picture Tomo23June 2016
Sangat membantu, kendala paling utama ialah susah nyari partner buat speak each other, aku kayak gitu soalnya..
jkay15 profile picture jkay15May 2016
These are some great tips. Thank you!
mohsent profile picture mohsentJanuary 2016
thank u.
vincent profile picture vincentDecember 2015
Thanks Dominiique for your article