I’ve been teaching English to foreign students for quite a while now. And it never fails that each week I say to myself at some point, “I am so glad I know English because if I didn’t, I could never learn it. With all its idioms and phrasal verbs that may have several meanings, I just couldn’t learn it.”
And yet lots of people do for one reason or another--and many love the process, mostly being fluent in the end, if possible. And so it is with Russian. Depending on your native language, Russian may not seem too difficult or it may seem to be a major undertaking (project).
Let’s take (talk about) the typical West, which includes North and South America and western Europe--the countries that speak English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, to name a few (use as examples), whose native languages are more compatible via the Latin alphabet. But the Cyrillic one that comprises Russian is much more difficult for them. Here’s an example of Latin and Cyrillic writing: English (I speak), French (Je parle), Russian (я говорю).
“The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) classifies Russian as a Category IV language and estimates it would take an English-speaker around 1,100 hours to learn Russian." The FSI classifies Russian as difficult to learn because of its ‘unusual’ writing characteristics and pronunciation. But that’s one organization’s opinion. Many students and Russian-language teachers would disagree with this, according to Teacher Finder.
So, why learn Russian?
There are as many reasons for this as there are languages in the world. First of all, learning Russian may not be as hard as many people claim. “Unlike English, which can have near-impossible pronunciation rules, Russian is pronounced exactly how it is written even if the writing is in a different script. So, the dreaded Russian alphabet is not as complicated as it first looks,” according to Teacher Finder.
Besides being easier to learn Russian than you might have first believed, there are other reasons. Russia is rich in history and fascinating traditions. And Russia welcomes people from the West. Says one of my italki students from Russia, “We are delighted when people from other countries come and speak our language. Russian is not a commonly spoken language in the word, and we’re proud of it.” In addition, Russian people like to learn English. Over the years I’ve taught English on italki, I’ve had many eager Russian students who want to master the language.
Perhaps Russia is part of your heritage. All four of my grandparents came from Russia. But they concentrated on learning English, so I never had the chance to learn Russian. And it wasn’t offered in any of my school classes--only French or Spanish.
Today, more high schools and, certainly, universities offer Russian as a learning experience. Besides, more Western companies--maybe yours--are doing business with Russia, and, therefore, making the effort to learn how to speak Russian because it can be very lucrative (a good money-maker) for your company or career.
The fast track--the best way to learn Russian fast
Personally, I don’t like the idea of teaching or learning a language very quickly. Of course, you can learn the basics of a language quickly--be able to reasonably read, listen, write a little and speak enough to be understood. But in only a few months, it’s almost impossible to learn the nuances of a language, the idioms, the cultural connections to the language.
However, some people want to learn Russian for immediate reasons. They are traveling soon to Russia; they feel that if they learn it fast, they will stay motivated and will be able to focus better. Here are some direct suggestions from FluentU on the best way (s) to learn Russian fast.
Learn Russian Fast: 8 Tips for Russian Speed Demons
(I have directly quoted this article by Meredith Kreisa of FluentU because I can’t say it any better than she does.)
1. Take the time to learn Cyrillic
The Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Some letters are the same as the English alphabet, but others are different. So, it’s to your advantage to learn Cyrillic.
2. Use authentic media
Using authentic (real) media is a fun and useful way to learn Russian quickly. By using audio and video made for native speakers and listening to the Russian language in context, you relate the Russian you’re leaing to real-world situations. One great tool for learning Russian with authentic media is FluentU. It features real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and more.
3. Learn common words first
If you know the most common words, you’ll be able to hold basic conversations more quickly. Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? FluentU makes native Russian videos easier to understand through interactive captions.
4. Learn words that tie in with your native language or others
Many languages, including Russian and English (one example), share some words that are similar or exactly the same. Sometimes, one language will adopt words from other languages, and this can lead to words being the same across languages. For example, in English "Bridge game" comes from the Old East Slavic, which is related to Russian: бирич (biritch).
5. Immerse yourself in Russian at home or abroad
Immersion is the quickest way to learn any language. If you can go abroad to immerse yourself in Russian, that’s terrific! If not, you can still immerse yourself at home.
Simple things like reading Russian magazines, labeling household items with their Russian names or watching Russian movies will go a long way to improving your fluency. To really benefit from home immersion, put together a plan. What will you do every day at home to surround yourself with the Russian language? Think through your daily routine, and think about all the places you could insert a little Russian.
6. Practice your skills daily
Regardless of which fast learning techniques you use, it’s important to practice your Russian skills daily. This encourages your skills to keep moving forward, whether this is through immersion techniques or just studying every day.
7. Find a native speaker to interact with
Interacting with native speakers is a quick way to improve your skills. Speaking with Russians will improve your pronunciation, speaking and listening. A written pen pal relationship can also improve your reading and writing. If you don’t know any Russians, try an online language exchange program like WeSpeke or MyLanguageExchange.com.
8. Use a targeted program.
There are a number of targeted learning programs that promise fast results. When used in combination with authentic learning materials, targeted programs can be a helpful way to put your learning into overdrive.
There are a number of apps for Russian learners and Russian classes online. Russian Acceleratoris is an online course that teaches you Russian quickly through key phrases, contextual learning and pattern recognition. There are 90 lessons that incorporate audio and video. Each lesson takes about 30 minutes, and it’s estimated that you should be able to complete the course in under a year.
- Russian Made Easy is a course designed to teach you the basics quickly. Video lessons are about 20 minutes long and feature native speakers. Lessons cover vocabulary, the case system and verb conjugations. The 15 lessons in this course are free, while the 15 lessons in the next course are available for $20. You can find a variety of other affordable courses on Udemy to target various aspects of Russian learning, from pronunciation to conversation to TOEFL preparation.
- Live Lingua “Russian Fast Course is a free course featuring text and audio. The course includes a free e-book accompanied by audio. The idea is that you learn through guided imitation and repetition. The accompanying text also contains activities to improve your skills.
- Learn Russian the Fast and Fun Way—This is a book that’s full of engaging material. Lessons are interspersed with activities that help you apply your knowledge. Since applying learning reinforces it, this is a great way to improve quickly.”
So if learning Russian is in your mind, get it out of your mind and start actually doing it!
Удачи (Good luck!)
Ilene Springer is a longtime English tutor and writer for italki. She has taught English abroad, and has written for magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe and is the author of The Diary of An American Expatriate. Ilene lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico (US).