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Curious on how to learn Russian?

How To Learn Russian Image
on March 16, 2017

You’ve made the commitment. You’ve decided that you want to learn a new language. You’ve chosen Russian because…. Well, just because. You have your reasons, and that’s fine. We’ve discussed the different reasons that might lead someone to study the Russian language in this post here.


Now there’s just one burning question in your mind: How to learn Russian?


It’s a fair question. Russian can be a daunting language for English speakers. It’s a very rich and expressive language, but it can also be quite complex. The alphabet can be very intimidating to someone who is new to Cyrillic, and the grammatical structures are difficult to pick up.


Those points notwithstanding, like any language, there are a few “quick tips” one can follow if you’re really curious on how to learn Russian.


Step 1) Learn the alphabet

Step 2) Memorize a few key words

Step 3) Pick up a few phrases

Step 4) Study the grammar

Step 5) Enjoy yourself


Let’s break those down and cover them step-by-step. But before I do, let me just point something out. Learning a new language takes time, commitment, discipline and dedication. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone, and while your end-goal might be fluency, your first step is to make yourself understood.


Having said that, let’s now dig into our views on how to learn Russian:


Learn the alphabet: I’ve said this before in this post: it’s possible to learn a language without studying its alphabet, but it’s kind of rough. The reason is two-fold. There are really only two ways to learn Russian (or any other language) without first learning the alphabet: immersion and transliteration. The former sounds appealing, but without any base grounding, it’s actually quite inefficient, and rarely delivers solid results… at least not in the beginning. Transliteration is tempting, but ultimately, many languages have sounds that just don’t exist in English, so using the English alphabet to approximate foreign sounds is inherently limited. So your first step is to bite the bullet and learn the Russian alphabet. You can check out this post here if you’re interested in learning the Russian alphabet.


Memorize a few key words: Now that you’ve got the alphabet under your belt, your next step is to move on and memorize a few key words. Now at this point, there are probably two groups of readers: those who agree that memorizing words is helpful, but hate doing it, and those who think memorizing key words is a waste of time… and also hate doing it. I’m not saying you should spend hours memorizing thousands of words without any context. Picking up 50 or so key words is really what I’m talking about. Which key words you ask? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that, because it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you reading about how to learn Russian because you have a business trip? Are you going to go on vacation to Russia? Do you have Russian speaking relatives you want to speak with? These are all very different business contexts. But I’d strongly suggest you pick a few key words that make sense to you – no more than 50, and even as few as 25 – and memorize them as best you can. This will give you a solid grounding in your next step.


Pick up a few phrases: This is the easiest part… once you have mastered the alphabet and have 25 – 50 key words that are important to you, pick up a phrase book (or use Google Translate) and select a few phrases that are also going to be useful. You can look at the first page of any decent phrase book to find a list of “survival” phrases. They might vary slightly by publisher, but it’s a good starting point. (For what it’s worth, by the way, I actually wouldn’t suggest using Google Translate. What you type in English may not be commonly said in Russian, and the translation you get back may not be 100% accurate.)


Study the grammar: This is where it gets a bit more complex, but don’t worry… I’m going to save you. Do not worry about buying a book on Russian grammar. Here’s a secret no one wants to tell you about languages: grammar is actually very simple. The entirety of Russian grammar can probably be covered in just a few pages. In reality, we’ve got this great post here on the Russian grammar you can check out. The goal of studying the grammar is not to learn every facet of the language, but just to get a broad sense of its structure; for example, understanding that Russian has masculine, feminine and neuter nouns, but lacks definite or indefinite articles. The point here is to get some broad sense of how the language functions.


Enjoy yourself: This is the most important part for anyone curious on how to learn Russian. Enjoy yourself! This isn’t school… there’s no test at the end. Learning Russian is an on-going process, and you should try to make it an enjoyable one. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!


Well, that wraps up this post. If you’re still hungry for more information on how to learn Russian, you should check out some of our related posts below.

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