How to Learn Russian: Tips and Tricks

how to learn russianThe official language of the Russian Federation is of course, Russian. With a population of more than 140 million people, you’ll find plenty of Russian speakers in their own country, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and many of the countries that were once part of the USSR. Choosing to learn Russian is a good choice, because it’s the world’s fourth most spoken language, with approximately 243 million speakers across the world.

Once you start diving into the Russian language, you discover that about 10% of the vocabulary bears a resemblance to English words, and there are plenty of loan words from Italian, French and German. This gives you a distinct advantage at picking up the language fast if you know one of these already. The hardest parts of the language are for most people the pronunciation, as well as using grammar correctly. On top of this, there are many different endings you can use with a noun, and it just adds to the confusion. The good news is that Russian only has three different tenses, and the sentence structure is easy to learn. If you’ve not had any Russian training yet, this course is a fantastic way to get started.

Once you understand Russian you will be able to understand Ukrainian and Belarusian on a basic level, and it makes it much easier to speak any other the other Slavic languages like Czech or Bulgarian once you want to expand your language abilities even further.

Everyone is capable of mastering a foreign language, no matter their age, previous skills or past failures. There are many differences in the rate that people pick up a foreign language, but the only reason you cannot learn is that you do not put an active effort into studying, and don’t make an organized effort to learn the language. The key to successfully learning any language is desire. You need to be interested in learning the language, as this will help to keep you focused, more attentive, and more satisfied as you progress and make results. It can be intimidating to start learning Russian, but it’s not as hard as you think.

The most important aspect for learning a new language is to set aside time where you can focus and study – every single day. Allot a certain time where you sit down for at least 30 minutes, and make it a regular part of your schedule. If you can do 60 or 90 minutes you will find yourself progressing much faster. Your aim is to study each and every day, and to not miss more than one lesson a week. If you can find entertaining ways to study by all means include them so that you don’t get bored, and make your study area as comfortable as possible. Once you feel yourself losing focus, remember your objective, and why you are learning Russian in the first place.

Understanding the Alphabet

Learning the alphabet is the first step, as you memorize the look and sounds of the vowels and consonants. What makes Russian great is that all of the words can be sounded out exactly as they are written, which is different to English where a words pronunciation is not often clear from its written form.

The alphabet is known as the Cyrillic alphabet, and it has 33 letters, consisting of 11 vowels, 20 consonants and two pronunciation marks. The letters are as follows:

А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я

The best way to start getting it memorized is to print out a couple of copies of the alphabet and put them in places around your home where you will regularly see it. Learn how to pronounce every letter, and there are many resources online where you can hear how every letter sounds. Try this course and master the alphabet in only a matter of hours.

Grammar

Don’t let yourself get too stuck in the details of the grammar – because it can take time to master. You should be focused only on paying attention on the idea that is being expressed, as well as the sound of the words.

A good example is in the English phrase “Where did he go” which often gets sped up to be “wairdego?” In Russian they use two similar phrases for let’s go, either Пошли or Пойдем. The difference is that whilst they are variations of the same noun, one is actually in past tense. Using this in a present or future situation is a bit like the ‘present continuous’ tense in English, where it is grammatically correct to say “I’m going to Russia next month”. If this is all a little bit confusing, check out this recent post on tense in English and properly understand it all. Wrapping your head around all of these nuances in Russian grammar on day one is most likely to give you a headache, so don’t stress on it too much! The key is to not let the grammar hold you back, all you really need to learn is how to express your ideas and sentences in a natural way.

Simple Phrases

Once you can sound out the words, you need to start progressing your speaking skills. Over the first few months as you learn Russian your focus needs to be on pronouncing the words correctly, and learning to listen and identify the simple phrases in everyday life.

There are many textbooks you can follow to learn the common phrases, or try a course like this and learn how to both listen and understand what is being said in a conversation. You cannot progress without the right resources, and a quick reference chart of Russian grammar will help considerably when you get stuck on a sentence.

As you study work on understanding the 6 different cases for nouns and adjectives in Russian. There are particular patterns you can memorize that fall into an easy dialogue. For example:

  • What is this? Что это?
  • It is a book. Это книга.
  • What is he doing? Что он делает?
  • He is reading a book. Он читает книгу.

As you get better you will find that there is a general order to the way the language is structured. Courses like this one also help to build your understanding of the foundation of the language, so spend the time and through a few short lessons you’ll be picking it up in no time!

Hearing the sounds also helps you to master the language, so make sure you compare the different sounds of Russian with your native language. Pay attention to each individual word and practice on getting the intonation and emphasis right. Listening to podcasts or the radio in Russian can help to tune your ear to the sounds of the language, and try to comprehend all that is being said, further building your listening skills. Practicing your speaking is also key, so read out sentences and paragraphs in Russian to develop your abilities and work on your intonation and rhythm.

Practice

It’s not difficult to learn to read in Russian, so start taking the progress you have made and apply it every day. Master a handful of simple words each day to build on your vocabulary, and as you continue studying your skills in Russian will continue to grow.

Learning to type in Russian is another way to practice your writing, and in under two hours you should be relatively practiced in using your keyboard to type in this language. It’s best to start this as you begin to learn Russian, as it helps you to keep up with your spelling skills as your ability to speak Russian improves.

Speaking is critical, and once you have a basic understanding of the language and the dialogues you need to work on your speaking skills – everyday. Follow simple Russian phrases in movies or on audio tracks, and echo and repeat the words you hear. The focus is on getting yourself to make the same sounds, which can be tricky at home alone. A tutor will help you to master your pronunciation, or you could also record yourself and listen to the playbacks to hear the areas where you are struggling.

After you have a good base of Russian, don’t forget to spend at least 10 minutes, three times a day on your practice. Learning a language for the first time isn’t just a whole bunch of memorization, you also need to physically practice forming the sounds and thinking in the new language. Every day you should be practicing your reading, speaking and listening skills.

Finally don’t ever forget that you need to have fun. You’re learning a new language, and having success doing it so don’t forget to have fun with it. Learn some slang from your teacher that can make your friends laugh, and practice the commonly used spoken language that you don’t often see in a textbook. Little expressions like “what what” Что что are used when people haven’t heard or understood what you said, and make the language fun to speak. In English you’d typically just say “sorry?” or “pardon me?” if you’re being polite, so get a grip on the way things are said – it’s not only what you say.

The whole goal is to enjoy your language studies, and through a bit of hard work at the beginning, continual practice and a bit of help from the experts you’ll be speaking and reading in Russian in no time!