Русский язык! Тысячелетия создавал народ это гибкое, пышное, неисчерпаемо богатое, умное, поэтическое и трудовое орудие своей социальной жизни, своей мыс­ли, своих чувств, своих надежд, своего гнева, своего великого будущего.   А. Н. Толстой


The quote above is about the Russian language. It is also about the Russian nation as a whole, as well as the language of Russian thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, anger, social life and their future.


However, studying this beautiful language is definitely not easy, and certain characteristics are more challenging than others. This article will focus on the three most difficult aspects of learning Russian.  


АЛФАВИТ (The Alphabet)


The Russian alphabet is the first hurdle you’ll encounter when tackling Russian. However, it is not such a daunting one. Once you know the sounds of each of its thirty three letters, you’ll be able to read Russian comprehensively. Plus, there’s even more good news: unlike in English, Russian words are generally pronounced just like they are written.


In fact, the alphabet is not as hard to learn as it looks at first sight. While it may appear to be very different from the Latin alphabet (the alphabet used in English), it is pretty straight forward. Specifically, of the thirty three letters in the Russian alphabet, eleven are vowels, twenty are consonants and two are pronunciation signs (a hard sign and a soft sign). In addition, some of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet are similar to those in the Latin alphabet.


However, it is still a different writing system, so… how does one go about learning it? Well, in my case, I usually present students with the alphabet divided into five different groups. Each group contains letters that have been put together based on their similarities or differences to the English alphabet.


For example, the first group that I teach consists of Russian letters that are (almost) the same as English ones. These are:


  • Аа
  • Кк
  • Мм
  • Нн
  • Оо
  • Тт


Another group consists of Russian letters that look unusual, but represent familiar sounds. These are:


  • Бб
  • Гг
  • Дд
  • Зз
  • Ии
  • Лл


Hopefully, you get the idea. After memorizing all of the letters, you should begin to practice reading as much as your patience allows. :)


Произношение (Pronunciation)


The second issue that many Russian learners have is the fact that many Russian words contain a number of consonants in conjunction with each other. This makes  them very hard to pronounce!




  • адъюнктство
  • контрпример
  • контрпредложение
  • взгляд
  • празднование


So, given these difficulties, what are the best ways to ensure that you learn to pronounce Russian words in a nice and comprehensible manner? The answer to this question is to watch Russian films, listen to the radio and podcasts in Russian and (most importantly) speak with native speakers.


A harder (and more fun) method is to learn Russian tongue twisters! Check out the examples below:


  • Мышки сушек насушили, мышка мышек пригласила. Мышки сушки кушать стали, зубы сразу же сломали.
  • Пришел Прокоп, кипел укроп.
  • Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку.
  • Ехал Грека через реку, видит Грека в реке рак. Сунул Грека руку в реку, рак за руку Греку цап!
  • Тридцать три корабля лавировали, лавировали, да не вылавировали.


ГРАММАТИКА: ГЛАГОЛЫ И ПАДЕЖИ (Grammar: Verbs and Cases)


Russian and English convey meaning through their verb systems in different ways.The Russian system is based on the concept of aspect: actions are either completed (perfective) or not completed (imperfective).


So, what’s the best way to understand this? Well, you should think about a verb’s meaning and look at what is added to the verb stem.


Moreover, remember that each verb in Russian is conjugated based on person, number, tense and gender (gender only changes in the past tense).


Also remember that Russian has few auxiliary verbs. For example, in the future tense we use the auxiliary verb Буду (will).


For example:


  • Я буду учить русский язык завтра.
  • Ты будешь учить русский язык сегодня.
  • Он будет учить русский язык на выходных.
  • Она будет учить русский язык в понедельник.
  • Мы будем учить русский язык в следующем семестре.
  • Вы будете учить русский язык через час.
  • Они будут учить русский язык послезавтра.


However, we also have сases. Russian is an inflected language, which means that the endings of words change according to the grammar of the sentence.


For example, the name Иван (Nominative case) becomes:


  • Ивана (Genitive), if you want to say “of Ivan.”
  • Ивану (Dative), if you want to say “to Ivan.”
  • Ивана (Accusative), in a sentence such as “I know Ivan.”


Interesting, scary or both? :)


All six cases are listed in the examples below:


Case #1: Учитель говорит.


  • The word учитель (teacher) is the subject, as well as what is performing the action. Thus, the Nominative case is used.


Case #2: Работа учителя крутая!


  • The word учителя shows that the work belongs to his student. Thus, the Genitive case is used.


Case #3: Ты пишешь сообщение учителю.


  • The word учителю (to the teacher) refers to the the receiver of the action. Thus, the Dative case is used.


Case #4: Он читает книгу.


  • The word книгу (book) marks the object of the action. Thus, the Accusative case is used.


Case #5: Я пишу карандашом.


  • Карандашом (by pencil) is used to denote an instrument that helped to create something. Thus, the Instrumental case is used.


Case #6: Мы живём в Америке.


  • В Америке (in America) marks a location. Thus, the Prepositional case is used.


So, how can you learn all six cases?  


First of all, you need to study so that you can understand how each case is used. Then, you need to memorize the masculine, feminine and neuter endings for each case. Finally, after you have completed all of these steps: keep practicing!


Alternatively, you could search online for a sample test on cases. Don’t forget to continue practicing from time to time.


Keep calm and learn Russian!


Image Sources


Hero Image by James Jordan (CC BY-ND 2.0)