I’ve been learning Russian now for more than 5 years. Without the help of Russian learning apps, I would’ve never been able to speak Russian like I do.
Here’s a video of me practicing Russian by the way:
Now, there were many factors in my success, but Russian apps played a serious role.
In this article you’ll find the best apps to learn Russian.
Apps are not a magic bullet
Before we start, let’s discuss a common mistake beginner learners make. For example, you’ve decided to learn Russian. You’ve gone through this article and installed an app such as Duolingo.
All is well in the beginning. You set up an account. You follow the instructions. You diligently spend 10 to 20 minutes every day learning new words.
You learn a bit of grammar, and you start to feel some success.
Maybe the Russian language isn’t that hard?
But then you meet a native Russian speaker. You try to have a conversation. And you find out that you struggle stringing together a normal conversation.
This is common:
Apps are great. They can make routine tasks a lot simpler to do.
But learning Russian is a complex skill. You need to:
- Learn vocabulary
- Understand Grammar
- Listen to spoken Russian
- Create sentences
- Pronounce words correctly
- Have background knowledge of Russia
No app will be able to teach you everything.
Especially not the general language learning apps. The ones that teach you new words, some grammar, and simple listening practices.
With that said, those apps are great at doing that. So let’s find out which apps are great if you want to learn the Russian language.
Best apps for learning Russian
I’ve been learning Russian for 5 years now. I started studying it in the beginning of 2016. I never took any classes.
The internet played an integral role in my succes. I could not have repeated what I did if I would’ve been born in 1973 instead of 1993.
Contrary to some other articles about Russian apps, I’ve actually tried all the apps below.
Some of them I’ve used a lot. Some of them less. For all goes that throughout the last couple of years I’ve kept an eye on the industry. I’m a frequent visitor of the learn Russian subreddit. It’s a forum where other learners share how they’re learning. So you won’t find the same 5 apps repeated ad nausea here.
Duolingo is one of the most popular apps to learn a foreign language. The app teaches you Russian through a combination of flash cards with gamification.
Pros of Duolingo
The best thing about Duolingo is that its such an easy to use app. Because of the design, sound and gamification, it’s fun to start the app.
This is good for people that are trying out if they want to learn Russian.
I personally haven’t spend a lot of time on Duolingo, as my level was already a bit too advanced for it. But when my mother traveled to Russia, she spend a couple of weeks on Duolingo.
This allowed her to introduce herself at a basic level. She was able to say basic words such as ‘hi’, ‘thank you very much‘ and ‘I’m learning Russian’.
My mother was 56 back then, and wouldn’t have signed up for language courses to learn Russian. But Duolingo hit the right spot of ease-of-use while still teaching her Russian.
Another pro is that the ads are quite unintrusive, and you can get everything out of the app without paying. So that’s good for casual learners.
Cons of Duolingo
The cons of Duolingo are a direct result of the fact that it’s so easy and fun to use.
Remember the screenshot above?
All you focus on is learning new words and phrases. You can learn a bit of grammar, but it will be difficult to learn everything through an app.
This is fine. But the problem is when you expect that JUST Duolingo will be enough to learn Russian.
The app also isn’t the best at teaching you Russian cyrillic.
How to use Duolingo
I would use Duolingo if you’re a complete beginner and want to find out if you actually want to learn Russian.
Install the app, say you’re a complete beginner and start practicing. Aim to spend around 10 minutes per day and follow the schedule that Duolingo recommends you.
Do this for about 2 weeks. By now you should have a much better overview of the Russian language.
After that you can continue to use Duolingo, but also install an app where you can practice speaking. Or practice speaking in real life 😉
Duolingo is a good resource for beginners. It’s especially nice for people that are just starting to learn Russian. Or for those that struggle with discipline.
If you want to learn more, you can read my Duolingo review.
You know that YouTube has videos about literally any single topic in the world. So of course it also has people making videos about learning Russian.
I’m not the biggest fan of Russian language teaching channels. As there usually is no obvious lesson progression.
The YouTube algorhytm prefers new content and at a certain point all content has been made.
The strength of YouTube is that you can immerse yourself in native Russian content. Watch Russian travels bloggers. Listen to Russian music. Enjoy interviews with famous Russian people.
The idea is to take the content that you would usually consume in English, and find a Russian equivalent.
Pros of YouTube
The main pros of YouTube are that you can find ANYTHING on the platform.
- If you’re a complete beginner, and want someone to explain you the cyrillic alphabet. There’s a video for that.
- If you’ve spend a couple weeks learning, and want to watch a Russian movie with English subtitles? There are a lot of movies or series that you can watch.
- If you’re an advanced speaker and want to learn more about the Russian culture. Why not watch interviews or follow Russian vloggers?
Cons of YouTube
The downside of YouTube is that it’s essentially a video sharing platform. Most channels upload random videos that they think will get them views.
It’s difficult to find a Russian course, that starts with the basics, and then progresses to more difficult topics.
Also, unless you’re using YouTube Premium, you’re going to be bombarded by ads. But it’s a necessary evil. Without ads, most content creators wouldn’t have the incentive to make more videos.
How to use YouTube?
I recommend you use YouTube in 2 ways:
- Problem – solution: whenever you have a specific problem, search YouTube to look for a video tutorial. An example would be if you struggle with pronouncing the letter щ. Or if you want to get more information on when to use the genitive case.
- Entertainment: if you usually watch English travel bloggers, why not try watching Антон Птушкин or Орёл и Решка? Anything that you can watch in English, is available in Russian. The only downside is that only the big channels have English subtitles. So this option is better suited for advanced learners.
Without YouTube I wouldn’t be speaking Russian like I do today. Over the last 5 years I spend hundreds of hours watching Russian series, travel shows and interviews.
It’s also free, and most of the content there cannot be found at any other places. YouTube should have a place in every Russian learner’s daily regime.
Memrise is an app like Duolingo. It also works through repetition of words, together with a score system.
Pros of Memrise
The app focuses in the beginning more on learning the alphabet. You’ll get some simple words (such as ‘да’) together with the first letters of the alphabet.
Also later, Memrise has more a focus on teaching grammar. Learning grammar is quite difficult, and it’s nice to see an app actually trying. I still don’t think only Memrise is enough to learn grammar, but it will get you further than Duolingo.
Cons of Memrise
The thing that I found a bit annoying was that the ads start autoplaying whenever you finish a level. And because you use Memrise with sound, the ad will also be with sound.
Memrise has quite some paywalls. If you want to access the full course you need to pay.
How to use Memrise
I recommend you use Memrise as a starter. It’s great for beginners. Or people that want to get a feeling for the Russian language without investing too much time or money.
I would say it’s a bit more of a ‘complete’ solution than Duolingo. With Duolingo you’d need to switch to a real course sooner, than with Memrise.
To make the most out of the app, I would recommend you use it for around 10 minutes per day. That’s the optimal for learning something new, without overtiring yourself.
If you want, you can spend more. As long as you keep the streak going.
It’s better to spend 10 minutes per day 6 days per week, than 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Memrise is a solid app for beginners that want to learn new Russian words. It also teaches basic Russian grammar.
I would say this is my number 1 best app to learn Russian. I’ve used Russianpod101 for over 1.5 year every single day when I started learning. It has plenty of features. But the only thing I used was the collection of audio lessons and their list of 2000 most common words.
To find this app, you need to look for their general language learning app: Innovative Language Learning.
Pros of Russianpod101
The main reason why Russianpod101 helped me a lot was because of their audio lessons. Each is around 10-15 minutes long, and covers most aspects of Russian:
- 30 second dialogue
- Repetition of the dialogue in slow Russian
- Translation of the dialogue
- New Russian vocabulary
- Russian grammar
- Common sayings
- Repetition of the dialogue so you can test what you’ve learned
It’s basically a full Russian course.
Cons of Russianpod101
This is one of the apps on this list that is paid. Prices start from $4 per month, so it’s not a lot if you’re serisou about learning Russian. There is a free trial as well, but it only lastst for 7 days.
A minor con is that the advertisements to sign up for their paid subscription are hardcoded into the lessons. So even after you’ve paid you’ll still hear them. Luckily you can skip ahead.
How to use Russianpod101
I recommend you get into the habit of listening to 1 audio lesson per day. If you do this on your commute to work for 5 days per week, your Russian will improve a lot. If you’re working from home, take a short walk during the day and listen to it.
There are plenty of other features, such as tests, video lessons and a premium tutor service. But I haven’t found them as useful as their audio lessons.
iTalki is one of the better know remote learning apps. You can use the app to find native Russian teachers. You can also find ‘community tutors’, which is a fancy word for conversation partner.
Pros of iTalki
What I like about iTalki is that they vet the teachers. If a person cannot show their credentials and experience, it’s unlikely they get the label ‘professional teacher’. So you can be sure about the quality of the teachers.
By the way: not everyone needs to sign up for weekly classes. But it’s good to be able to get someone to explain you grammatical concepts if necessary.
Another good thing about iTalki is that if you’re not looking for a teacher per se, but you want to practice speaking. Then you can find a community teacher. They are cheaper per hour. It’s kind of like a paid language exchange.
Many people struggle with inabilty to speak, rather than having a lack of grammatical knowledge. So if that sounds like you, try the community teachers.
Probably the best thing about iTalki is the flexibility to get Russian lessons from home for a cheap price. I’m from the Netherlands and salaries tend to be 4-8 times as high as in Russia. So getting a native Russian teacher here might costs around 30 euros per hour. Signing up for iTalki means you can find a good teacher for 5 to 10 euro per hour. If you spend 2 hours per week practicing with a tutor, that saves you 1200 euro per year. And you can also practice whenever it suits you.
Cons of iTalki
A con of iTalki is that it tends to take time to find a good tutor. And since the teachers are on a platform, there’s no real security. It could be that once you’ve found a good tutor, there’s no guarantee they’ll be available for the long term.
I recommend you try out several trial lessons when you start to find a teacher that you click with. Feeling at ease is important when practicing speaking Russian, so take your time. Try signing up for at least 5 different trial lessons before making your decision.
How to use iTalki
That completely depends on your approach to language learning. In general there are 3 types of people:
- Student – you want to substitute real life classes for iTalki.
- Conversation partner – you’re looking for native speakers to practice speaking Russian with.
- Casual browser -you need someone to explain a specific part of Russian that you struggle with.
Each will have their own needs.
- For the student, I recommend you spend at least 2 hours per week with a professional teacher.
- For the conversation partner, spend at least 1 hour per week having conversations.
- For the casual browser, get a lesson whenever you need it.
iTalki is a good option if you prefer to learn from home, and do not want to save some money.
Tandem is a language exchange app. You can sign up and chat or speak with other people. That means that you can teach someone your native language, and others can help you with your Russian.
Pros of Tandem
Tandem is good if you cannot practice speaking Russian in real life. To speak Russian well, you must put in many hours practicing conversations. Real life would be ideal, but you cannot just go out and find someone to talk to in most situations.
With Tandem you can:
- voice message
- audio call
- video call
While you can do all those things with Zoom or WhatsApp, it’s difficult to find someone there.
That’s where Tandem comes in. You create a profile and add standard profile information. They you say that you want to learn Russian. After that you can get matched with Russians that want to learn your native language.
Cons of Tandem
Tandem can be a bit annoying with getting you to pay for the app. An example of this is that after you sign up, you get a notification that you need to wait for 1 week while they check your profile.
Checking profiles is good, of course. It keeps the bad people out. But the offer to skip the line if you pay leaves a little bitter taste.
So I suggest you wait it out. I’ve read that sometimes they still regardless approve your profile after an hour. So it maybe won’t take you a week to get approval.
How to use Tandem?
I recommend you use this language exchange app if you do not know any native Russians in person. It’s almost always better to practice in person. But if this is not the case, or you can only practice in person once per month or less, it makes sense to go for Tandem.
It’s also an option if you’re a little shy. With Tandem you can practice whenever you feel like it, and you can also start with typing. And once you’ve built up confidence with a specific partner, you can go for audio messages. And later video.
Fear of speaking can be a big obstacle for many. And if a gradual approach helps you get over it, then that is worth something.
Tandem is a good language exchange app that you can use to learn Russian. Its strengths are at connecting Russian speakers with learners. And allowing them to communicate in different forms.
If I would need to choose one Russian app that taught me the most the most Russian, it would be Russianpod101. Their audio lessons are the perfect length. They teach you a lot of Russian vocubulary and grammar in a short period of time. They’re also great for improving your Russian understanding skills. The only thing it doesn’t do is help you speak, but you can fix that by speaking in real life. Or use an app like Tandem or iTalki.
If you want to know more, you can read my full Russianpod101 review.
Google Translate is a great app to have ready on your phone. Often you’ll hear or read an unknown Russian word, and you can then look it up. This helps you in the moment to understand what is meant.
Another benefit is if you get into the habit of looking up a couple of new words every day. Learning a couple of words every day might not seem like a lot. But if you do this every single day, you will drastically increase your vocabulary in several months.
I tend to use Google Translate nowadays if I quickly need to write a larger amount of text on my laptop. I’m still slow at typing Russian, so I tend to write it in English. Then I translate it with Google Translate and do a manual check up if everything looks how I want it in Russian.
AnkiDroid is a simple app that you can use to learn new vocabulary. It’s a flash card app based on the ‘spaced repetition’ principle. That means that you will see flash cards you find most difficult, the most often.
Pros of AnkiDroid
What I like most about AnkiDroid is its simplicity. Other vocabulary apps on this list are more for beginners, or casual learners. AnkiDroid has a simple interface, and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles.
You can only use it for flash cards. So whenever you spend time in the app, you’re learning new words. There is nothing else to do.
- You open the app
- You select your deck
- You get prompted a new word or a repetition of an older word
- You look at the word, and check if you remember it easily, remember it with difficulty, or don’t know it at all
- You press the coresponding button. Then the app puts the word away for a specific amount of time. The more difficult you found the word, the sooner it will appear again. The easier you found the word, the longer it will take.
- You get a new word, and the process repeats itself.
This simplicity allows you to quickly learn new words. If you spend around 5 minutes per day, that’s enough for most people to learn around 5-10 new words per day. That’s 1800-3600 words per year. That is a significant amount.
What’s also good about AnkiDroid is that you can import other people’s card decks. That means that you can find decks specifically made to learn:
- the most common words
- advanced topics
So at any stage of the journey, you can find a useful deck. Nowadays in 2021, most decks also include audio which is useful for understanding the stresses better.
Cons of Ankidroid
Since Ankidroid doesn’t have the streamlined process of other apps, it requires some effort to set it up correctly.
You need to find the correct deck, or make your own. I made my own when I used the app, because I didn’t know there were ready-made decks. Adding 1000 words costed me 2 days.
Another downside is that the premade decks from other people tend to have mistakes or weird translations. This is not a big deal, but around 2-4% of translations will be a bit ‘off’.
So make sure AnkiDroid is just one of several tools you’re using to learn Russian.
How to use AnkiDroid?
I recommend you set the app settings at:
- 5 new words per day
- 20 repetitions
You can go to this page and select a deck: https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/russian.
Try to spend around 5 minutes per day learning new words.
AnkiDroid is a great app to learn Russian words. It’s not the first app to use. But once you’re no longer a complete beginner, you can quickly and efficiently improve your vocabulary.
What’s the next step?
If you want to learn Russian from home, it’s a good to install one of these language learning apps. The last advice I want to give you is to try one single app at a time. How often have you installed 5+ different apps after reading an article like this?
Having an app on your phone by itself doesn’t do anything.
You must use the app. So go through this article again, and pick one single app you plan on using for at least a week.
If you’re unsure which app to choose, leave a comment. I’d gladly answer your question and help you out.
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