Here’s how the thinking goes: I need to learn the language fast, so what I have to do is to spend every second practicing how to speak. I must put all my time and energy into imitating the natives. There is no use in reading books as they’re just boring and too slow for me. It sounds too academic, too high-brow if you only wanted to communicate like a modern-day native speaker.

Do you think the same?

Would you be surprised if I told you that curling up and reading a good book may actually be the fastest way to fluency?

Loads of recent linguistic researches proved that the speech-centric approach to learning foreign languages is really limited and not that effective. Here are some major reasons why reading books is the best way to go:

  • You need to start with the rules. You can’t speak a language in a proper way if you don’t know basic grammar rules or style. And books are the best way to acquire them! 
  • Visual cues are easier to remember. The brain is able to remember new stuff better when it sees things.
  • The language of books is richer. A lot of things are not so good in the spoken language. Average speakers don’t spend as much time choosing their words as writers do.
  • Learn the language in every way possible. Don’t stick to a single learning source. Speaking, listening, writing and reading are equally important.

Great! Let’s go to read! The next step is to choose a good book. If you are a beginner, find books that are adapted to your level. In case your level is upper-intermediate or advanced, you might appreciate authentic texts.

Николай Носов. Рассказы (Nickolay Nosov. Short Stories)

Nikolay Nosov’s books were written for children. They are simple, funny, and humorous. Затейники, Живая Шляпа, Огурцы are great books, to begin with.

Тамара Крюкова. Дневник кото-сапиенса (Tamara Krukova. The Diary of Cat-Sapience)

Tamara Krukova is another writer worth paying attention to. Дневник кото-сапиенса – is a simple but engaging book for Russian learners.

Михаил Зощенко. Сентиментальные повести (Mikhail Zoshchenko. Sentimental Tales)

Mikhail Zoshchenko’s Sentimental Tales are satirical portraits of small-town characters on the fringes of Soviet society in the first decade of Bolshevik rule. Zoshchenko’s deadpan style and sly ventriloquy mask a biting critique of Soviet life—and perhaps life in general. An original perspective on Soviet society in the 1920s and simply uproariously funny, Sentimental Tales at last shows why Zoshchenko is considered among the greatest humorists of the Soviet era.

Александр Пушкин. Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке (Alexander Pushkin. The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish)

The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish is the story of an old man, an old woman, a magical golden fish, and the foibles of human greed. This classic poem by Alexander Pushkin is simple enough for children to read, but also complex enough for adults to appreciate. Beyond being manageable for beginners, this 1800s fairy tale written in verse is an excellent introduction to Russia’s poet laureate (and arguably most beloved author). Pushkin is thought to be the de facto father of the modern Russian language, and it’s precise because he elevated everyday, colloquial Russian by making it a fixture of the literary canon.

Антон Чехов. Дама с собачкой (Anton Chechov. The Lady with the Dog)

For intermediate students, The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov is a short story that’s easy to read and understand, especially compared to the challenging texts of some Russian classics. This story (written in 1899, and also one of Chekhov’s most famous) involves a love affair between two married people on vacation in the Crimean sea resort of Yalta.

Федор Достоевский. Идиот (Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Idiot)

The famous novel "The Idiot " by Fyodor Dostoevsky is truly a masterpiece of Russian literature. The text is relatively not very simple, vocabulary and grammar are complex, so for beginners, this should be a great challenge.

Лев Толстой. Война и мир (Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace)

War and Peace intertwines the lives of three characters set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Pierre Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of a count, and he is busy fighting for his inheritance while in search of spiritual fulfillment. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky leaves home to put his life on the line and fight against Napoleon's troops. Natasha Rostov is the beautiful daughter of a nobleman who captures the attention of both men. With the war progressing, the lives of these three and others around them transcend the traditional role they play in society.

And remember that reading is not only for people who are interested in higher linguistic forms or complicated grammar rules. It’s for everyone who hopes to understand a second language. 

If you are eager to get the very basics of your target language, you better sit tight and read!