In short, it was breathtaking. Though I was a seasoned traveler even then, I was not quite prepared for all of the wonderful, unforgettable moments that Russia had in store for me. In my travels to both Moscow and St. Petersburg, I experienced many things that simply would not have been possible had I never decided to learn the beautiful Russian language.
You see, the Russian language is a maze of case declensions, difficult pronunciation, and complicated verbal aspects. These things posed a challenge for me, an experienced polyglot, so I can only imagine how intimidating the language can be for those looking to learn it as a first, second, or third foreign language.
If you attempt to start learning Russian by tackling grammar first, you'll get nowhere fast. There's simply too many things to memorize all at once. That, coupled with the fact that rote memorization is inherently boring and inefficient, means that if you decide to approach Russian grammar, the traditional way, you do it at your own peril.
Once you've gained massive exposure to spoken and written Russian, you can then look at things like verb and declension tables, but only if you need to. In those situations, explicit grammar resources can be very helpful as references, in case you need to double-check your knowledge.
Even when Cyrillic and Latin scripts do share letters, they often represent very different sounds. The "P" and "C" symbols used in Russian, for example, are actually pronounced like the Latin "R" and "S", respectively.
The standard Russian keyboard uses what is known as the Windows layout (also known as the ЙЦУКЕН or JCUKEN layout) with the first row of keys containing the characters Й, Ц, У, К, Е, and Н. You can learn to type in this layout by taking the Russian typing lessons on www.keybr.com (Under “Settings” > "Keyboard Layout", change "Language" and "Layout" to Russian.)
This is the main layout that native Russians use. If you want to type just like a Russian, then this is the keyboard you should go for.
A challenge of this keyboard is that the arrangement of letters does not correspond to the equivalent Latin-based keyboard layouts, which generally begin with QWERTY, QWERTZ, or AZERTY, and not JCUKEN. Because of this, learning to type using the standard Windows layout almost feels like learning a whole new way to type.
If this is an obstacle for you, I recommend using a different Russian keyboard layout, known as the Russian Phonetic Keyboard.
The phonetic layout is designed to mirror the popular QWERTY keyboard commonly used worldwide. Because of this, the keyboard begins with ЯВЕРТЫ (QWERTY), and follows the same pattern of other standard QWERTY layouts. This is the keyboard I used to learn Russian, and it is very easy to get used to.
Whichever layout you choose, I recommend printing out a copy of your chosen keyboard layout and sticking it on a wall near your computer or keep it next to you while you sit down and get ready to work on Russian. This can help you learn the layout quickly without always having to look down at the keys!
The difference was knowing the language, culture, and customs of the Russian people. Once I spent time speaking to Russians, reading up on their long and fascinating history, and practicing how to speak and act like they do, an entirely new world was opened up to me.
"I recommend printing out a copy of your chosen keyboard layout and sticking it on a wall near your computer or keep it next to you."
Instead, you might want to use an on-screen virtual keyboard (e.g. Florence) and set a shortcut to show and hide it — I use left-shift + right-ctrl for just that, and both shift keys to cycle through layouts.