A Few Tips to Help You Start Learning Russian

Russian is seen as one of the harder languages to learn for English speakers. The gap between English and, let's say Spanish, simply is a lot smaller than with English and Russian. But that doesn't mean that it's not possible to learn it. If you're a beginner Russian learner, then there are a couple of things you may be struggling with.

For example, did you already learn the alphabet? I've heard of some people postponing the alphabet in order to first learn how to speak. I strongly recommend learning it. It takes around an hour and will be beneficial for many things.

In this article, I've made a list of several tips and resources I wish I would've had when I started out learning Russian. Learning a new language is not something you can easily do on your own — and everything that makes the process a bit easier is a good thing.


Where to Start if You're a Beginner Russian Speaker?

What would you do if you only had 20 hours to learn Russian? Tough question, right? Now, of course you have a lot more. But in the beginning stages of learning a new language, it's always good to have a short-term goal. Too many people start learning and expect to become fluent in 3 months. Unless learning Russian is your full-time job, that's just not going to happen.

Progress is the best motivation — so if you learn as much as possible in those first 20 hours, you'll find yourself wanting to learn more automatically. So what are some of the most important things to do if you're just starting out? Assuming you want to get a general feeling for the language and want to be able to talk about a couple of simple subjects (yourself, directions, weather etc.).

1. Learn the Alphabet

First thing to do is to learn the alphabet. If you do this well, it will take you less than an hour, and the benefits are immense. For one, you'll be better able to remember every word or phrase, since you won't have to remember weird romanizations of Russian words. It will also be very helpful for your pronunciation. Pairs of letters, such as и and ы or ш and щ, might at first sound similar. But once you dig into the alphabet, you'll quickly see that they are very different and have a unique sound.

One of the best ways to learn the Cyrillic alphabet is by downloading Glossika's book "Glossika Guide to Russian Pronunciation and Grammar". You'll be able to learn it in less than an hour.

2. Watch some Russian Series to Get a Feeling for the Language

The sounds of Russian for the most part are completely different, and you won't even be able to distinguish between different words. That's because your brain isn't used to hearing Russian (yet). The second thing to do in your first 20 hours will be fun. I want you to go and watch some Russian series. Just turn on the English subtitles and focus on the spoken Russian.

By watching something that you're interested in with English subtitles, you'll give your brain and ears a very intense practice session. It's very easy to spend 20 minutes to an hour listening to spoken Russian - compare that to sitting in a classroom! One of the YouTube channels I really liked when I was learning was StarMediaEn. They have a ton of different fun Russian series and documentaries. If you pick one series or documentary and watch it for 5 hours you will already get a much better feeling for the language.

3. Go to Your Local Russian Store

Alright, we have around 14 hours left. Next thing to do is look up on Google Maps if there's a Russian store nearby. There are many Russians who have emigrated and many are at least slightly nostalgic about home. This is the reason why virtually every city has at least 1 Russian store where people can buy typical Russian products.

You can buy a ton of tasty things there - especially try out the Russian огурцы (ogurtsy: pickles), пельмени (pel'meni: dumplings) and some Russian sweets. See if you can read some of the cans and packages. And while you're there, you can have a little chat with the people who work there and tell them you're interested in learning Russian. They might be able to show you some local resources such as a Russian learning club, tutors -- or maybe someone who needs help learning English, who can teach you some Russian in return. With all the resources available online, people sometimes forget all the opportunities right under their noses.

4. Glossika Russian

We've probably spent up around half of our time now. So what do you do with the remaining 10 hours? Well, you want to learn some basic sentences and phrases, and one of the best ways to do that is by using Glossika. It's best to focus on learning basic sentences in the beginning, instead of overwhelming yourself with grammar. That has a time and place, but it's not when you're just starting out with learning Russian.

With Glossika you can learn Russian at every level - but we're going to start with A1. By putting in around 20 minutes per day, you will learn a lot of new words and phrases. You could do more, but in the beginning stages that would probably be too much of a good thing. 20 minutes of focused repetition will be enough to kickstart your journey to fluent Russian.

Get 1000 Reps of Russian Audio Training:


Where to Go from Here?

After you've put in your first 20 hours of learning Russian, you will have a much better feeling for the language. You will be able to understand some basic words and sentences - and moreover, be able to say them as well. You're far from fluent and still have a lot of learning to do, but you're motivated by the quick progress you've seen in the beginning.

Here are a couple of things I recommend you do next:

  • Keep watching Russian series - it's a perfect way to get a ton of language exposure, and it's fun!
  • Learn about the Russian case system
  • Read this guide for more tips and tricks
  • Download Russian music to your phone - another good way to train your ears, and the words used are often very simple (recommend popular singers such as: Григорий Лепс, Тимати and Ленинград).
  • Keep continuing Glossika - you'll learn new words and sentences everyday.
  • Get some Russian friends - having Russian friends so you can practice conversations on a daily base.
  • Plan a trip to Russia - with deadline like this will add some extra motivation.
  • Try to read the Russian version of Buzzfeed (Adme.ru) - great practice for reading Russian, the short articles use simple words.

Russian might be a relatively tough language to learn for native English speakers - but using all the resources on this page will make it a lot easier for yourself.

About the Author:

This article is written by Ari Helderman from Learn the Russian Language.

Ari is a Dutch guy who learned his first Russian words from a Russian friend in 2014. This peaked his interest and after meeting a Russian girl halfway through 2015 he became a serious student of the Russian language. Now, several years later, he has been to Russia, St. Petersburg and Crimea several times, and writes about his Russian adventures in his free time.

You May Also Like:

  1. Your Guide to Russian Language Pronunciation and Grammar Rules
  2. Learn the Russian Alphabet 1: The Cyrillic Script
  3. Learn the Russian Alphabet 2: Italicized
  4. Native Russian Pronunciation 1: Five Difficulties Explained
  5. Native Russian Pronunciation 2: Stress Training Exercises