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February 21, 2018

Guide to Learning Russian – How Can You Effectively Learn Russian?

best way to learn russianHave you always wanted to learn Russian? But are you unsure how to start? Then this guide is for you! You’ll find here all the resources and strategies that I used to learn Russian in 3 years. So I’m sure you’ll find a ton of useful information on this page. It can save you a lot of time trying to figure the best way to learn Russian on your own.

In this comprehensive guide you will find all the information you need to get started learning Russian. Here’s a short overview of what you can expect after you’ve read this guide:

  • Why should you learn Russian?
  • The 6 essential Russian learning strategies
  • A complete guide how to learn Russian in 1 year
  • 11 bonus strategies that will supercharge your progress.

The first thing that you will need to know is what you can expect when you’re learning Russian. Too many people make the mistake of wanting to become fluent in a language fast. But I think that before you can achieve what you want – it is first very important that you know exactly what you want from Russian.

In the above video I explain how I learned Russian.

How long will it take for you to become fluent in Russian

Too many people want to learn a language in a specific period of time. Whether that’s 3 months, 1 year or 5 years, we simply like to put deadlines to our goals. I think that is quite a mistake though. Learning Russian is a very tough skill. And putting artificial deadlines on it will make your progress slower.

However, I also feel that it is a good idea that you have at least some sort of concept for how long it will take you. That’s why we’re going to discuss a couple of variables that will together determine how long getting to a decent level of Russian will take you. First we need to answer the following question.

What is *fluent* exactly?

If you’re unsure what fluency means for you, then it will be tough for you to reach it. Or on the contrary, you might already be fluent, but it still feels to you that there’s still a lot to learn.

I don’t know what fluency means to you, but I can give you some examples of what it can means to different people. For me for example, fluency means that you can easily converse with Russian speaking people. Whether that’s by text or speech, makes no difference.

It also means that you should be able to watch Russian TV shows and movies without needing subtitles (English or Russian). You also want to read Russian books and understand them. Now, never here did I say that you need to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That one is barely understandable even for native speakers.

Now, I’ll probably never will be able to speak like a native or become as good in the language as English (or Dutch, my native tongue), but I can still achieve a very good level of Russian. And you can too. As long as you can freely express yourself and have fun speaking than everything will be alright.

But how long will it take?

Russian is a fantastic language to learn and will open many new doors for you. But how long does it take to reach a good level of fluency? Continue reading this guide to find out.

The CEFR scales (A1-C2)

You might have heard about the Central European Framework for Language Learning. It’s a scale that consists of 6 levels. Each level means a different fluency in the language.

Here are the 6 levels and what you will be able to do at each one:

  • A1 – You can have very simple conversations. You can introduce yourself and tell where you live etc.
  • A2 – Your conversations will have a little bit more depth and you can understand what’s going around you better.
  • B1 –  This is the threshold for intermediate speech. You now know quite a deal of Russian and can deal with most every day situations.
  • B2 –  You are now an independent user. You can understand complex points and have no problem speaking with natives.
  • C1 – This is what most people would consider fluent. You can easily follow what everyone is talking about and you have no problem getting around daily life. You can also have *difficult* conversations and can describe virtually anything in Russian.
  • C2 – This is the native level. It is possible to achieve this if you’re a non-native but it will require a lot of effort. At this level you are speaking just as good as if you were a native speaker (accent doesn’t matter here – we’re talking about your grasp of the language.

Think of Russian as a skill in progress

I hope the previous paragraph gave you some ideas for god milestone son your way to fluency. It is estimated to get to level B2 of Russian you need around 1100 hours. Now, thus number might scare you. After all, if you were to practice every single day for 1 hour – it would take you a little less than 3 years to become fluent.

However, I think that this is a flawed way of thinking. You see, learning Russian is a skill in progress. You won’t go from not speaking at all for 3 years to suddenly becoming fluent.

What you’ll see is that you will get better with every single hour that you put in. And that has a great effect. If you take just 1 step back you’ll find that with every month (or week, depending how much effort you put in), you’ll see great progress.

And the key to staying motivated is seeing constant progress. So I highly recommend you regularly go to Russia (or chill with a Russian friend – or both!), so that you can test yourself.

Seeing progress on a daily basis can be very tough. Just like how you were growing as a kid. You didn’t notice that you became taller and taller every month. But when you had a family gathering, relatives would always say that you had become so tall, right?

It’s the exact same thing with learning a difficult skill such as Russian. You won’t see your progress as clearly as other people. So be sure to regularly (at least once a month) talk Russian with a native speaker.

And the great thing is that you will be able to already talk after quite a short period of time if you follow the guidelines that I will give you in the end of this guide.

learn russian metro
The moment you start seeing Russian as a skill is when the game changes. With every hour you put in you become better and you’ll start seeing progress on a daily basis. This is a picture I made in the Moscow metro.

You can get very far in 1 year of focused practice

Here is the thing that many people miss. After reading the previous paragraph and hearing about the 1.100 hours they might get discouraged. However, you have to understand that you can make a lot of progress in just 1 year.

If you take the right approach and focus on the important things (hint: start speaking right off the bat), then your own progress will astonish you. I promise if you follow the scheme that I put in the end of this guide AND you put in the effort – then you will get very far.

What do I think is possible in 1 year?

Well. It of course depends on the type of person you are, your background, how many other languages you know and a bunch of other things.

Let’s assume that if you’re interested in learning Russian, you are higher educated and in general smarter than the average person. So you’d be able to make faster progress.

In around 1 year with the right mindset (discuss that later) and the right approach you can get reach B1 level. That means that you will be able to have simple conversations and generally understand what’s going on around you if you’re in a Russian speaking group. Now, you won’t be reading the classic Russian literature or discuss philosophy with your friends – but you’ll be able to talk about all things daily life with virtually anyone.

You will also be able to crack your first jokes and make people laugh! And I’m not talking about the ‘’oh there’s a foreign guy trying to speak our language’’ funny, but in a good way you’ll be able to make Russians laugh (at least if you can do that in English as well ;))

So there are a lot of things to look forward too. And before I spoil exactly what the best way is to make progress fast – let’s first discuss the one missing ingredient that determines how successful you’ll be in learning Russian.

The missing ingredient

I believe the single most important thing for learning Russian is interest in the language. And not just interest, but a real enthusiasm. Chances are that you’re interested in the language, but do you really want to learn it? And why do you want to learn it?

I think these 2 questions are very important to ask yourself. You don’t need to know the answers right away. But you have to ask them at some point.

In my case, a friend taught me some Russian words one night in a bar. And this made me curious for the language. So I downloaded an audio course and started listening to it just out of curiosity. I would have never thought at that moment that I would really continue learning Russian and even go on many trips to Russia.

And I’m very sure that if I hadn’t been that interested and curious for the language that I would’ve never made it as far as I have now.

The great thing about Russian is that my case isn’t that rare at all. Russian (and Russia) itself is a very polarizing country. What does that mean? It’s simple. It means that most people feel very strongly towards the country. Either you love it, or you don’t like it at all.

And the more you’re really interested and drawn to the Russian culture, the easier it will be for you to learn Russian. Check out the video below and you’ll know what I’m talking about:

The 6 essential Russian learning strategies

In this part I’ll discuss the strategies that I used to learn Russian. At the time I didn’t know I was following them and that they were very effective, but with hindsight I can honestly say that these have helped me the most to become fluent pretty fast.

I learn Russian in about 2 years. That is starting from the time I decided to become serious about it. Before that I had about 1 year of learning a couple of words and grammar once a while. So I guess it would be fairer to say it took me 3 years.

Because I think most of you will also have (or have already had) a phase where you’re dabbling with Russian. The following strategies are meant to be followed if you’re in the serious learning phase.

Of course you could also follow them from the start. But I think it’s never a bad idea when learning a new skill to first dabble in it for some time. This will allow you to learn a couple of simple basic things. And more importantly, you will find out if it is really something that you want to learn.

There’s nothing worse than getting all hyped up, investing in books and courses – only to find out that you mistook your early enthusiasm for a lasting interest.

So if you’re still new to the Russian language, feel free to read the following section – but don’t feel like you NEED to do everything. Just get a basic starting program (free or paid – you can check out many resources at the end of this guide).

If, on the other hand, you’ve already learned a couple of beginner things Russian, and you want to take your fluency to the next level, then I highly recommend you take the following strategies very seriously.

You can of course only take the strategies that suit you – but they are designed to be followed as a whole. If you follow all 6 strategies, then you will see great progress. You could see it as a crash course in Russian, designed to help you progress fast.

First we’ll discuss these strategies here. Some of them are a 1 time thing, others are meant to be a continuous daily thing. While reading I don’t want you to worry yet about how you’re going to implement them into your life.

After all, we’ll do that later. In the final chapter I’ll show you how you can exactly implement each of these strategies in your life. There you’ll find a simple guide that will show you how to get from a complete beginner to intermediate fluency in Russian. The process will take you about a year.

This might seem long, but in reality it’s crazy fast! You’re learning a complete new language. A process that usually takes kids around 5-12 years to master. And that’s only the beginning!

best way to learn Russian
If you follow the 6 strategies in the next part – you’ll be speaking Russian within no time!

Best way to learn Russian – 6 strategies

Okay, so the following strategies you can use if you want to make a lot of progress in Russian in a (relatively) short period of time. Many people who want to learn Russian give up quickly. Russian is a tough language and you need the right way to approach it.

Otherwise you won’t make it far. And you’ll likely never reach a good level of fluency. The following tips are all geared towards someone who wants to learn how to speak Russian.

Don’t mistake learning Russian for learning how to speak Russian. Although many people use these 2 interchangeable I’m going to go out on a limb here are guess that wat you’re really interested in is speaking Russian. After all, it’s the best part of the language. And while there are people who only want to learn it to read books – most people’s priority is speaking.

And that’s exactly why that’s the first, most important thing that we’ll discuss.

#1 Focus on speaking first

Traditional language schooling might not agree with me. But if you want to learn how to speak Russian, it is very important that you actually speak Russian from the start. Yes, you’ve read it correctly. You simply have to be speaking right away. It doesn’t matter how stupid you might think that you sound. It doesn’t matter how small your vocabulary is. And most of all it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make.

You see, the only way to get good at speaking Russian is to speak Russian. You’ll make tons of mistakes but the good news is that each mistake will bring you closer to fluency.

Too many people focus on learning all the grammar and vocabulary until they feel *read* to start speaking. I believe this is a huge mistake.

Why? Because you’ll never feel ready to start speaking. There will always be more things to learn. And there will always be something that you need to know before you can actually start speaking.

Not practicing speaking is just a form of procrastination. And convincing yourself that you need to learn more before you actually start is just a very believable excuse your brain makes to avoid speaking.

Because you will make mistakes when you just start. There is no way around it. But that is actually a blessing in disguise.

You see, when you start speaking. And making mistakes. You will get valuable feedback. You will know exactly what you’re doing wrong. So you will know where to focus your attention while practicing.

For example, you might think you know the difference between imperfective and perfective words – but when you start speaking you’ll quickly find out that you confuse them all the time.

Now you can take action on that. Maybe you’ll relisten to some audio lessons that discussed what the meaning of imperfective/perfective was again. Or you’ll learn some easier verb pairs so you can practice them in conversation.

So the more you speak Russian, the faster your progress actually will be!

#2 And later on add grammar

Only after you’ve gotten comfortable speaking and making mistakes in Russian the time starts to add in some grammar. Now, of course you’ll learn the basics while learning how to speak, but what I mean by adding in the grammar is this: after you’re comfortable speaking, you can now start learning the lists of grammar that you’ve always dreaded in high school.

Nobody wants to learn long lists of grammar. But there is one way to make it more fun. And one thing I’ve noticed is that grammar becomes a lot more bearable if you can apply it right away.

If you’re already speaking Russian, then you are going to have some road blocks in speaking. Whether you’re always confusing cases, or you don’t know how to correctly conjugate some verbs, you will be hitting road blocks all the time.

And the single best way to get through one of those is by getting out your little grammar book. And because you want to fix your mistakes, the grammar will be applicable right away. Instead of a boring list of conjugations, you will now learn something that helps you right away!

This makes learning grammar a lot easier and a lot more fun. And as you might have guessed, it is also by far the superior way to remember new grammar rules.

#3 Learn vocabulary with a spaced repetition app

Now that we’ve got the speaking and grammar part down, you might wonder about vocabulary. After all, we haven’t touched on that one at all. Russian vocabulary deserves its own point because it’s so different from English.

I assume you don’t have a background in any other Slavic language and that your native language is probably English (or some other Western language). This means that there are barely any cognates between your language and Russian.

A cognate is a word that is basically the same in 2 different languages. Situation in English means situacion in Spanish. Not that difficult, right?

It is always a great idea to check on the internet how many cognates a language has that you want to learn. Because in essence, cognates are free vocabulary. English has tons of cognates with Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch and German. Because English is basically an evolved version of Dutch with a lot of French words in it.

This makes all the languages very similar. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, Russian does not share this common root with English. And that’s why there are very few cognates between them.

So, what’s the best way to attack learning new words? Well, you’d be surprised to see what actually works to learn a ton of vocabulary in a relatively short period of time. The brain learns in such a way that is best for you to learn and repeat words over a time-frame.

If you just cram 100 words in one afternoon, then you might remember the majority the next day (if you’re smart). But try it again after a week and you’ll find that the largest part is gone. If you would test yourself the next day again for each word, chances are that your retention would go up by at least 2 times. And if you then repeat all the words again after 2 days, then a lot of the words will be set in your long-term memory. After repeating a word several times all you have to do is use it once a while and it will stay in your active vocabulary. You won’t forget a word if you’ve tested yourself on it 10 times over the course of 2 months.

So, the logical option would be to take a lot of words and practice them in the beginning. And then leave more and more space between repetitions while you learn more new words.

This has already been developed and learning new things this way is called “spaced repetition learning”. And there are even apps that can help you do this. They take away all the guesswork and you can just download a deck of repetition cards. Then all you have to do is use the app once per day and do your daily repetitions.

I personally use AnkiDroid and it is by far the most effective way of learning new vocabulary. The great thing is that 100 repetitions and 20 new words rarely takes more than 5 minutes to practice. So I’m continually expanding my vocabulary with only 5 minutes per day. And anyone can spare 5 minutes, right?

Later on in the post I’ll show you exactly how to use AnkiDroid, where to get it and what its place is in your Russian learning regime.

#4 Immerse yourself in Russian media

Okay, now we’ve got the actual language parts down (speaking, grammar and vocabulary), it’s time to get to the real things that will allow fast progress. Many people will already do this a little bit if they want to learn a language, but I recommend you take it to the next level if you want to get even more progress.

It is to immerse yourself in Russian media. What do I mean with media? It comprises everything from Russian movies and series (for a starter: check out Brilliantovaya Ruka, a classic Soviet comedy), to Russian music, and I would even say Russian books. Oh, did I say about texting with Russian people on your phone? Or simply using the internet in Russian?

install russian vocabulary
Be sure to add Russian to your phone’s languages if you want to be chatting with Russian friends!

When you do all these things you will find that your understanding of Russian really skyrockets. You can install the Russian keyboard on your laptop, add some Cyrillic stickers on your keys and get a better feeling for writing in Russian.

Or you could simply switch your daily series to a Russian one. And start with only Russian voice and English subtitles. This will get your ears used to hearing spoken Russian – but you will still understand everything that people say. So you won’t feel as if you don’t understand a thing. This is very valuable if you later want to become fluent.

And when you become better, you can start to change even the subtitles to Russian. This will sure be a great step in your progress. At first it will be really weird and you might not understand a thing. But now it’s critical that you keep going. Soon it will be second nature for you and you might even get to the point where you can just watch Russian series or movies without any subtitles whatsoever.

Как Я Стал Руссским is a great series to watch if you’re interested in learning Russian. The Russian is very easy, since it’s about an American journalist who is relocated to Russia.

It really is that easy. All you have to do is switch your regular media use to Russian. Look for songs in Russian that you like on YouTube and then download them to you phone. Listen to it while you’re travelling or walking. And try to simply decipher what they are saying. You don’t even have to actively try to do this. Just listening is a very valuable thing in itself.

And you can also get a simple Russian book. Don’t go for the hard ones, but just take one that is not too difficult for your level. Who cares if it’s a child’s book or a simplified version of a more difficult book. Or pick a dual language book – with Russian on the left side of the page and English on the right.

And if you’re into gaming, why not install some Russian games on your PC? I especially recommend you find some games that you’ve already played before in English. That is because you already know the plot, so it will be a lot easier to follow the Russian.

For games I recommend:

  • The Witcher 2 ( or the Witcher 3)
  • The Elder Scrolls 5 Skyrim
  • Metro 2033 series

They are great games to play in English, and especially the Witcher and the Metro games are really fantastic to play in Russian. You’ll learn a ton of new vocabulary (and how to describe monsters and/or mutants).

The great thing about immersing yourself in Russian media is that it won’t even feel like you’re spending time learning. It’s a great way to spend a lot of extra time practicing that won’t feel like *practice hours*. Still, you will learn a great deal. And as we discussed in a previous chapter, the key to becoming fluent in Russian fast is to put in a lot of hours.

Getting to 1100 hours in Russian becomes a lot easier of 100 of them are spent playing Russian videogames or watching Russian series. I don’t recommend doing this as the only thing to learn Russian, but it’s a huge addition for normal Russian lessons.

metro 2033 redux
Metro 2033 is a post-apocalyptic video game in which the only remaining humans on earth are living in the Moscow metro. It’s an intense game with a really cool atmosphere. And of course it’s in Russian – so you’ll be able to get a lot of fun practice while playing!

#5 Get a Russian friend

Another way to skyrocket your progress in Russian is to get a Russian friend. Now, this may be difficult for some, but if you have a Russian friend (or girl/boyfriend), you can learn a lot in a short period of time. You will be able to have a short conversation once a while in Russian and you cans how your progress to him/her.

Your friend will also be able to easily correct you where you make mistakes. And because all the new things you learn will be in a fun and conversational context, your brain will also easier remember them.

Maybe you already have a friend who is a native speaker (heck, maybe this person even made you interested in the language in the first place!). But if you don’t then I’ll give you some tips where you can find a Russian friend.

The first thing to do is to go places where Russians meet. Maybe there’s a Russian store in your neighbourhood. Or there’s a Russian band or ballet coming to your local music hall/theatre. If you go to places where Russians go, you might meet a person that would be interested.

There are a couple of alternatives to having a friend who speaks Russian. For instance, maybe there’s somebody out there in your town whose native language is Russian. But he would like to get better at English (or you native language). You could schedule regular meetings in which you speak with each other. Maybe you speak for half an hour Russian, and half an hour your language. Or you could speak in Russian and the other person in English, The possibilities are endless.

Another option is to get a language teacher. Instead of the language exchange in the previous sentences, here you would simply pay a language teacher to have conversation with you in Russian. And to help you out with all the things you struggle with of course. You could go for several lessons per week, but if you follow the program I’ll lay out for you in the later chapters, you could also schedule 1 meeting every 2 weeks. This will give you enough time to learn new things and you can then challenge yourself every 2 weeks. You’ll find out exactly where your weak points lie and will get a ton of speaking practice.

Finally you could also go online and chose each of these options but through Skype for example. I know the website iTalki focuses on bringing together people who want to learn each other’s language. So it would be like the language exchange we discussed earlier, but then online.

#6 Book a trip to Russia

We’ve come to the sixth and final strategy that you can do for fast progress in Russian. Maybe you’ve noticed throughout the post that I bring up the point of challenging yourself a couple of times. This is because having a test or challenge come up is great for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, you’ll feel extra motivated. Chances are that in high school you *only* studied when you had a test come up. Now you may already be very motivated to learn Russian, but if you know that in 2 weeks you’re going to have a chat in Russian, you will want to put in some extra effort.

The second thing is that it will show you exactly where your weaknesses lie. If you continually make mistakes with a certain verb, then you know that you need to put in some extra effort there. With languages, the weakest link will determine your fluency level. So it’s important to find out where it lies and fix it so that you can continue.

The third thing is that you’ll see progress. If you have regular times when you test yourself you can easier see the progress that you’re making. And if you see the progress that you make then you can be more proud of yourself. After all, learning Russian is not an easy thing to do and every time you make some sort of progress, you deserve to feel good about yourself!

The fourth thing is that it’s fun. By continually challenging yourself and getting better and seeing progress you’ll turn a hard and tedious process (that is language learning) into something that is fun and a challenge. You’ll be able to put in more hours and enjoy them more when you test yourself.

Now that we know why it’s a great idea to test yourself, we also have to consider what good ways are to test yourself. Here are a couple ones:

  • Do online tests ­– there are many online tests available to check how good you are in Russian.
  • Have a Russian conversation regularly – what better way to test your speaking skills then to speak with a native Russian speaker?

But the ultimate way to really test your knowledge of Russian is of course to go to Russia…

I recommend you book your trip at least a couple of months in advance. Or more if you are only just starting out. You see, when you know that in the nearest future you are really travelling to Russia (or any other Russian speaking country for that matter), you have a real deadline for which you have to get pretty good at Russian.

The reason for this is because very few Russians actually speak English well. That means that you’re going to be very lost if you don’t at least know the basics of Russian.

Note:  you could of course stick to the general tourist tours and only stay in the centre of Moscow (or Saint Petersburg), but I wouldn’t do this if I were you. This will only give you a very touristic view of Russia and it is nothing compared to what you would experience if you would experience it yourself. The absolute best scenario would be to stay with a Russian host family or friends. I guarantee you that they will go out of their way to show you all the best aspects of their country. Your trip to Russia will be absolutely memorable and you’ll have a ton of new, cool and interesting experience.

My first time I went to Russia I went hunting in the forest near Tver and afterwards ate moose liver and drank several bottles of samogon with other hunters. We also went on a road trip through Crimea (after the annexation) and did a ton of other stuff. One friend even said that I had experience more of Russia than he himself (he moved away with his family out of Ukraine when he was around 5 I think).

So, I hoped my little note there convinced you that the best way to see Russia is not through the window of a red tour bus on the centre of Moscow. And if you’re not doing that, then you absolutely have to know the Russian language. Otherwise your trip won’t nearly be as fun as it would be when you can pretty easily have conversations with native Russians.

Oh, and did I mention that Russians will be thrilled to meet foreign people (outside of Moscow city centre)? There are many people for whom meeting a foreigner is a great deal and you’ll even find that people will want to meet you just because they’ve never seen/heard a foreigner speak Russian.

moscow sightseeing
Moscow is a beautiful city and you can spend days exploring it. Be sure to check out more than the center though!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We were talking about booking a trip to Russia just to get better at speaking Russian. All of the benefits we spoke about before that happen when you set a deadline will make you better in Russian. Just imagine going to a country where very few people speak English and having to make your way around. If you don’t know Russian your trip could very well end up as a nightmare.

I’m not saying this to discourage you from going – on the contrary, you can have the time of your life there! Just that you will have to have at least a basic level of Russian in order to get the most out of your trip.

What is a good level of fluency to aim for? Well, it depends, but I would say that you’ll need to at least own the following basics:

  • You know the alphabet and can read words/sentences without problem.
  • You know at least the 1000 most common Russian words
  • And most importantly: you can have a conversation and talk about simple stuff

And I think that’s about it. It may not seem like a lot but it will be very necessary as a beginner start for your trip to Russia. I think you can reach this level in about half a year to a year. Maybe faster if you’re a fast learner and follow all the other strategies mentioned in this post.

I recommend you first get to know the basics of the Russian language before you decide to go all-in and book a trip to Russia. So you know that you’re interested and really want to go.

Now that we’ve covered all the strategies, I think it’s time to discuss exactly how you can go from total beginner to intermediate speaker n 1 year…

How to put it all together – complete guide to learn Russian in 1 year (or less)

Before we start I want to make several things clear. If you follow this guide to a T you will be able to speak Russian pretty fluently in less than a year. You will be able to understand conversations, read some books and more importantly: you will be able to speak Russian. You’ll have no problem getting around and letting people know what you think. It’s a great level to be at because you can always decide you want to get even better.

Or if you’re learning Russian for business or other purposes, you might feel that you know the language sufficiently. You’ll also be at a point where you won’t forget the language anymore. With regular practice (at least a simple conversation per month), you’ll be able to keep this level of Russian indefinitely.

Now, getting here won’t be easy. You’ll have a lot of practicing to do, and it might feel like you’re getting nowhere in the beginning. That’s why I set up the program so you make constant progress. This constant progress will keep you motivated.

The program is divided into 3 phases. Each phase last 4 months and is designed to emphasize a specific part of the learning process. Here they are:

  1. Getting to know the language – the first phase is designed so you will get to know the language. You’ll learn the alphabet, get used to hearing the Russian language and will learn some basic vocabulary and useful words and phrases. No tough things here. It’s all just so you get a feeling for how the language is being spoken and operates.
  2. Accelerating your vocabulary and grammar – after you’ve gotten a good feeling for the language it is important that you step up your vocabulary and knowledge of the grammar. We only have 1 year, so it is of vital importance that you get started early building your vocabulary and knowledge of the Russian case system.
  3. Skyrocketing your speaking/listening skills – in the third phase we will focus on upgrading your speaking and listening skills. You will still learn new vocabulary and grammar in this phase, but the main focus is on becoming more fluent and being better able to express yourself.

Now before we dive deep into each phase, let’s first quickly discuss what the required materials are so that you can finish each stage with success. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need for this program to work:

These learning materials are the staple of this program and will give you the most bang for your buck. You can click the links to find out more about each of these programs.

First stage: getting to know the Russian language

In this stage we will focus on introducing the Russian language to you. You will learn the alphabet and get a general feeling for the language. It is also in this stage that you’ll find out if learning Russian is really something for you. If you don’t have the motivation coming from inside, then you’ll probably fail to complete this stage. That’s no problem, I experienced the same with (trying to) learn French for example. There’s no harm in quitting if something just isn’t for you.

But chances are if you’ve made it to this point, that you have what it takes to become fluent in Russian. In that case this stage will help you develop the early foundation that you need for that. You’ll learn how to read words and phrases, learn your first 500 words and be actually able to USE these words in real-life conversation.

Make no mistake, you are going to be speaking Russian right from the start. So if you don’t have a Russian friend of teacher yet, go sign up for iTalki so that you can practice with native speakers.

While the program is intensive, you won’t need a lot more time than around 30 minutes – 1 hour per day of real practice. And around 20 minutes to an hour of watching series. I’d recommend you practice at least 5 days per week, but it won’t harm you to put in extra hours in the weekend!

Alright, without further ado: here’s the exact program I want you to follow in the beginning stages:

  1. For the first month, listen to 30 minutes of Michel Thomas beginner course. That is all for now.
  2. The second month you will listen to the Advanced program. I recommend you listen to it twice to really drill down everything. Also start watching series on StarMediaEN in Russian with English subtitles.
  3. The third month you will switch to Russianpod 101 instead of Michel Thomas. This will give your brain a fresh learning method. Start from the beginning and listen up to 3 podcasts per day (it will be very easy for you, but it’s a great way to reinforce existing things with a new perspective). Keep watching series in Russian with English subs!
  4. The fourth month you can take a dual approach. I recommend you listen to around 20 minutes of Michel Thomas vocabulary builder per day and 1 episode of Russianpod 101. Also install the AnkiDroid application and learn 5 new words per day and repeat 50 old ones.

After following the first phase you will be further than 90% of people who start learning Russian. And there’s more – if you’ve made it through the first phase, you’re almost guaranteed to make it through the entire year. After all, all that you have done is listen to audio for about half an hour per day and watch a series for 20-60 minutes.

You can be very proud of yourself and I hope that you’ve taken the opportunity somewhere to practice your Russian skills for real. Because you will already be speaking the basics! And that is just in 4 months. And with only around 200 hours of practice. Can you imagine how well you’ll be speaking after 8 more months? You’ll surprise everyone around you!

moscow red square snow
Completing the first stage of this guide will get you further than 90% of people who start learning Russian.

Second stage: accelerating your vocabulary and grammar knowledge

In the second stage we will focus on building the house. You built your Russian foundation in the previous paragraph and you have a general idea of what the language is all about. You can already have simple conversations, but there are most likely 2 things that you’ll struggle with at this stage:

  • Your vocabulary will be small
  • You won’t fully understand cases and some other grammar rules

That’s why this stage focuses on teaching you more vocabulary and getting a grasp of the most important grammar rules.

You won’t make any drastic changes compared to your routine of the first 4 months, but there will be a gradual shift towards more complicated things. So you can still expect to put in around 1-2 hours every day. The good thing is that if you’ve made it to this point, the chances are very high that you will succeed these 4 months.

After all, the most difficult part is always getting started and getting through the inertia and the non-results of the first stage.

So, what will you be doing in the second stage of becoming fluent? Here’s the overview of months 5 till 8.

  1. In the fifth month you will listen to either the Michel Thomas advanced or vocabulary builder 1 more time. Also listen to 1 podcast of Russianpod 101 every day. Increase the amount of daily repetitions for AnkiDroid to 100 and 20 new words.
  2. The sixth month will be a repetition of the fifth month, with one difference. Instead of listening to a Michel Thomas recording, you will switch that to Russianpod 101. Also, keep watching Russian series and movies.
  3. Congratulations, you’re further than halfway. In the seventh month you will keep listening to 1 episode of Russianpod 101 every day and watch a series. You will also print a page with all the Russian cases on it and look it over once every couple of days (nouns + adjectives)
  4. In the final and 8th month of the second stage you will simply listen to Russianpod 101 every day and watch series at night.

After this stage you will have a large amount of new vocabulary and you will know many grammar rules. You also understand cases and can pretty easily use them in your speech. You already have had some pretty intense conversations and you’re on the right track to fluency.

I highly recommend you take some sort of test to check where you are. Either take an official Russian CEFR test – or use the unofficial testing methods that I earlier explained (have some Russian conversation; try playing a video game in complete Russian).

Also, this entire stage you’re still watching series (as it’s one of the easiest ways to improve your Russian). I want you to each month check a couple of times if you can (once a week for instance) if you can watch a series with Russian subtitles instead of English. Note: this will feel uncomfortable at first, whatever your Russian fluency is. So it’s probably better to stick with (war) documentaries or series that you’ve already watched. So that you won’t be completely lost what the plot is about and won’t enjoy watching it.

The general guideline here is that if you can watch at least 10 minutes before getting the language-learning induced brain freeze, you can start watching all your series/movies with Russian subtitles. If you find yourself completely lost after 5 minutes of watching, you’re not ready yet. It’s important to check this maybe once every 2 weeks and to try different types of series or movies. Some are simply more difficult than others. Heck, start with simple Russian kids cartoons (like I did too!).

The third (final) stage where we polish off your speaking and listening skills

Alright, you’ve made it to the third stage. These are the last 4 months in which we will focus on drastically improving your speaking and listening skills. In the first stage we focused on giving you the important foundation that you simply need to have before you can start learning Russian.

In the second stage you built on that foundation with the 2 pillars of vocabulary and grammar. Now in the third stage we will finish building the house by making sure you can have good conversations.

The process we’ll be using will be a continuation from the methods we used in the previous stages. But they will be harder. By now, you might be able to watch Russian TV with Russian subs, which is a great improvement from English subtitles. You also might have had some pretty good conversations (if you followed my Russian friend/teacher strategy). You also have listened to more than 100 Russian conversations from Russianpod 101.

So the strategy for improving your speaking will be simple. I want you to have a weekly meeting (online or in person) with a Russian native. So that you can practice your speaking and conversing skills. This doesn’t have to be an hour-long talk (you could, though), but the main thing is that I has to be long enough so that you can see how you’re doing. So at least 15 minutes. By doing this every week for 4 months, your speaking skills will dramatically increase. And you’ll also learn where you’re lagging (Either with vocabulary, grammar, listening, finding words, etc.) so you can adjust what you focus on while practicing.

moscow city
The trick to improving your Russian in the third stage is to have a weekly (or biweekly) conversation with a native Russian speaker. This will teach you where your sticking points are and allows for fast progress!

Now, for listening, this will automatically improve as you have conversations, watch series, and listen to more Russianpod 101 podcasts. However, there are 2 important things that will happen here. First, you will probably reach the Russianpod 101 upper intermediate season (if you haven’t already). Where before the percentage of Russian to English was maybe 20/80, now this has switched. The episode will be 80% in Russian and only 20% explanations. This will be a challenge at first, that’s why you’ll listen to this season 2 or 3 times over the course of 4 months.

The next thing is that you can also start watching movies/series without subtitles. Just as in the second stage, I want you to test yourself a couple of times per month. Maybe there was this one series that sounded interesting, but there were no subtitles available – you can now try watching that. Or a couple of the new movies are not yet with subs (neither Russian nor English). When there are no subtitles to help you figure out what’s going on, you will have to focus intensively on what people are saying.

And the more you focus on something, the faster it will improve. So there you have it: the final 4 months. Here you will add the finishing touches and you will be very well on your way to fluency. Here’s a complete overview of what to do each month:

  1. In the ninth month you will listen to 1 episode of Russianpod 101 per day. You will also keep on watching Russian movies/series and keep practicing your daily vocabulary lessons with AnkiDroid.
  2. The tenth month is a repetition of the ninth month. Feel free to add in 10-20 minutes of practice on a specific part of the language that you’re falling behind with (explained in the bonus tips section)
  3. Rinse and repeat. If you haven’t yet, start watching Russian series without subtitles (if this is difficult, rewatch one so you will understand what’s going on).
  4. The last month – nothing special here, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’ve booked a trip to Russia, you’re probably a bit nervous (on the good side). Take this nervous energy and put it into extra practice!

So, there we have it. 1 year of learning Russian. If you’ve followed all the steps, then you will be intermediate in Russian. You will be able to understand the Russian language and understand it when people speak (except for tough accents). You will also be able to speak Russian and have normal conversations. What’s more you also can talk quite freely about most things you want and you will have no problem getting around in Russia. You might have some problems holding a conversation in loud locations (in a café with a group) or at a party, but in general all 1 on 1 conversations go well. You will know a couple of thousand Russian words by now, which is enough to get by in your day-to-day life. I’d say that you’re further than 95% of people who endeavoured to learn Russian. And you can easily go to Russia and have a great time.

This one thing will determine whether you succeed or not

It has been an intense year and although it wasn’t extremely hard in terms of the daily things you had to do (listen to audio, practice new words for 5 minutes and enjoy watching series), there was another type of difficulty you had to overcome. Everything worth doing is going to take some time before you see results and that is the main challenge here.

It takes time before you can have conversations. It takes some time before you can read the alphabet and it definitely takes time before you can freely listen to the Russian language and understand it. In today’s world of instant fixes and short-term gratification, learning a difficult skill such as Russian is a tough undertaking.

And that’s exactly where the difficulty lies with learning a new language. The things that you have to do aren’t difficult, but it’s the daily showing up that can be hard. Especially if you’ve hit a rough patch in which you don’t seem to progress for a long time.

It is in these daily moments that you make the difference. To listen to another podcast, to open up your AnkiDroid app to learn some more words. Even though you sometimes might feel like you’re taking steps backwards. Taking the next step on a day-to-day basis will not guarantee that you will become fluent, but it sure as hell beats doing nothing.

Note: when learning a difficult skill it is incredibly important that you’re brain gets enough rest – so that’s why I recommend not doing too much for your practice on the weekends. Maybe watch some series or repeat some vocabulary – but try to keep at least 1 day in the week completely off of Russian. This will recharge your brain and you will feel fresh again to take on the next week.

That’s why I made all the daily things easy to do and not take up a ton of time. So that it will be easy for you to take the next step every day. Don’t expect new results every day, but just know that if you put in the time and effort every day, results will show up.

russianpod 101 by innovative language learning
Virtually every day from summer 2016 to summer 2017 I listened to (at least) 1 lesson of Russianpod 101. And it is exactly this consistency – a little bit every day – that will make you learn a complex new language such as Russian!

What’s next?

We’ve used the metaphor of building a house before. The first stage was the foundation of your house. In the second stage you built the walls. And in the last one you put the roof on top. Are you done? Heck no, there’s no furniture in your house and you don’t even have a bathroom. But you’re well past the difficult parts of learning Russian.

The next thing to do is to design the interior of our house. If you’ve made the trip to Russia than you’ll probably know which parts of Russian are easier for you than others. For example, I have no problem understanding what people say when they speak. I hear which words they are using, but my main problem was that my vocabulary simply wasn’t big enough. So I committed to learning even more words every day and making it a daily habit. I wish I would’ve had this post when I just started out – if I would’ve followed the vocabulary guidelines every day in my first year, my vocabulary would be huge.

Learning 10 words per day add up. Within no time you’ll know thousands of words and you’ll basically know all the words that are being used on a day-to-day basis by native speakers.

So I started putting more effort into vocabulary learning. It’s still not perfect, but I understand most native speakers and can read regular books without needing a dictionary to understand everything.

And that is exactly what you’ll experience. You won’t progress evenly in all the parts of the language. For some it might be that they have no problem listening what people say, but that they can’t find the words themselves when it’s their turn to speak. And others might have no problem making great sentences with the words that they know, but their vocabulary might be pretty limited. And others again can do all this, but make constant grammar mistakes and don’t know which cases to use at what time.

Having these problems is actually a blessing in disguise. You’ll know exactly where to put more effort so that your level of fluency increases. You’ll know what to do so that you can speak even better. So after this intense year you might want to dial down your total practice time every day/week/month. But chances are that you won’t really care or think about practicing less. After all, learning Russian for a year and getting to an intermediate level does something to you. Instead of seeing yourself as someone who learns Russian, you will start seeing yourself as that guy who also knows Russian.

It will become an integral part of you. And you won’t really have to think about practicing any more. You will just enjoy putting in time to get better. And you won’t really have to consciously think about it.

You could also just stay at the level that you’re at. After all, you know enough Russian to get around with native speakers, so if that is what your definition of fluency consist of, then you’ve arrived.

As long as you keep using your Russian, then you will stay at this level. Or it might even become better. But this is the most important part – you have to keep practicing at least at some level. Even if that is just a couple of simple conversations every month, that’s enough.

But don’t skip it completely for months at a time. Because that way you will quickly find that it’s a skill that can become worse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So be sure to always keep a Russian book or something close to you, so that it’s easy for you to practice.

Something simple as reading the Russian news instead of the English one is a perfect way to keep your new fluency in Russian razor sharp.

And again, if you’ve reached this stage you should be proud of yourself. You’ve done something very few people will start with and even fewer will achieve. You’ve mastered the basics of another language that wasn’t even remotely like your native language.

Bonus tips and strategies

I’ve added this section because there are still countless of little tips and tricks floating around in my head that you can use for getting better at Russian. Some of them are about the language itself, and equally many will be about the mindset and other meta strategies that can be used for basically any language that you’re learning. There’s no real order between them, so just read through them, try them out (preferably one at a time) and see if they work for you.

In contrast to the 6 strategies earlier described I don’t see these strategies as must-haves if you want to become fluent in Russian. Generally they’re a bit smaller in scope and therefore in effect. But you’ll still be able to a get a lot of use out of them. There might be some overlap between these bonus tips and some things earlier described on the go in the rest of the post, but in this part each tip will get its own section.

Specific tips for learning Russian

This is a list of tips specific for learning Russian. If you struggle with something, please check this list to see if there’s something that could help you.

#1 Learn the alphabet in the first month

I know, I said focus on speaking first. But if there’s one thing you absolutely have to do in the early stages of learning Russian, it is to understand the Cyrillic alphabet. This will make learning all the other things a thousand times earlier.

It might seem like a no brainer if you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, but I’ve seen people make this mistake. They want to take things one thing at a time, or ‘I only want to speak Russian and don’t have any interest in reading it’ or whatever their excuse is.

Learn the alphabet in your first month. This is no problem, as the Michel Thomas foundation course teaches you exactly how to pronounce and use each letter in the 8th cd of the course. It is good to have a little bit of knowledge about the language before you learn the alphabet. This is so that you can put the letters in context of already existing words in your mind.

russian alphabet
As obvious as it may sound – learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as possible! It will make everything else a lot easier.

#2 Don’t obsess (or be overwhelmed) by getting the cases right

Russian uses the case system. Instead of having a lot prepositions such as to, with, for and of, the language changes the endings of words to indicate these words. In can be quite tough if your native language does not use cases to get a good grasp of Russian cases. They do however exist in English (I gave him the book – he gave me the book), but they’re restricted to the personal nouns.

In Russian EVERY word has this. And you will need to learn the right declensions for 6 different cases and masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. This can be very overwhelming and you might feel as if you’ll make mistakes forever getting them right.

However, you have to take a step back with this. Try to get one case at a time. Here’s how I’d recommend you learn the cases (from easy to difficult)

  1. Nominative
  2. Prepositional
  3. Accusative
  4. Dative
  5. Instrumental
  6. Genitive

This is based on difficulty of the cases itself. However, you might want to put the genitive case at the 4th position as it is by far the most widely used case. If you follow the Michel Thomas courses this is the order in which you’ll learn the cases.

Try to do your best to get the right case when you’re speaking, but don’t obsess over it. Most Russians don’t even pronounce the endings of the words that clearly, and most of the time you can easily convey what you want to say even if you get a case wrong.

This process takes time and if you keep practicing it will at a certain point become second nature and you’ll use the right cases for the right situations.

#3 Russian people appreciate it a lot if you learn their language

This is a major advantage if you’re trying to learn Russian. Everyone will be very happy to talk to you. You see, since few Russian speak English well (past 30, and even the younger generation often struggles), people will be very glad that you want to communicate with them in their own native language.

When you compare that to learning Spanish for example, you’ll find some big differences. First, everyone and their mom is learning Spanish and they all want to speak with their Spanish friends. So chances are that they are actually not that interested at all in speaking Spanish with a person who can barely express himself.

Second is that it is actually necessary in order to communicate well. One problem I often hear when people want to learn my native language Dutch is that all the Dutch people speak English so well (with a horrible accent though). We honestly appreciate people who want to learn Dutch, but it simple is so frustrating to speak for 10 minutes in Dutch when we could’ve just talked for 2 minutes in English and would’ve understood each other perfectly.

You won’t have these 2 problems when you’re learning Russian. Everyone will love to speak with you and they have a lot of patience when you’re speaking!

is russianpod 101 a scam
Russian people will appreciate it a lot when you learn their language!

General language learning observations

In this part we’ll discuss some general principles for language learning. Whether you use them to learn Russian, Hindu or Spanish, they will be effective.

#4 Get good sleep

Learning gets done in 2 stages. The first time you hear something it will be stored in your short-term memory. Here you will remember it, but it is very fleeting. You can probably remember cramming for a test in high school/college. If you study a lot the day or the night before a test, you might do fine – if not great – on your exam. However, when asked a week later about the info, you found that almost all of the knowledge was gone.

How is this possible? You learned it after all, right? You did, but most of the information wasn’t stored in your long-term memory. If information isn’t stored there, then you will quickly forget it. So when learning a language you should do everything you can to make information go from your short to your long-term memory. There are a couple of ways to do this, but one of the most important ones is to sleep well.

When you sleep your brain processes all the information from the day and decides what is important and what is not. It’s like your short-term memory is your RAM memory that processes everything that goes on during the day. Then at night while you sleep your brain wipes your RAM clean for the next day. It takes the important stuff and puts it in your long-term memory (your hard disk) so that you can later use it.

When you don’t get sufficient sleep, your brain isn’t able to take all the information and put it in your long-term memory. This means that you will simply remember less of what you’ve learned the previous day.

So try to make it a point to sleep longer and more. I’d recommend around 8 hours at least. But this depends on your own personal preferences. However, if you’re continually tired, then you have to fix this for optimal learning. If you have any problems with getting quality sleep – check out this page for more information how to sleep well.

And of course it’s important to keep some balance. More sleep is better, but don’t overdo it and sleep in all the time in the name of learning more. For me, the easiest way to get more quality sleep was to set an alarm at the same time every working day. So I’d wake up every day at the same time. After a while your body gets the rhythm and you’ll find yourself going to bed at the right time when you’re actually tired. Healthy eating and exercising also helps a lot for this.

You’ll fall asleep fast and wake up with more energy. And of course you will remember more of what you’ve learned during the day. If there’s one ‘hack’ that will dramatically increase your fluency it is to get more sleep. You’d be crazy not to take advantage of this.

#5 Don’t obsess over getting your accent right

Another thing many people struggle with is having an accent in the language they’re trying to learn. This is completely natural, since with some languages it will be virtually impossible to really speak like a native. Especially in the beginning you might even feel a bit self-conscious about your accent. And this can keep you from speaking out loud.

I’m here to tell you that getting your accent perfect don’t really matter. If you’re afraid of speaking because of the fact that you have an accent, you have to know that in almost every country there are so many different accents. And chances are that there is someone out there who has a way worse accent than you, but is still speaking Russian fluently.

It is important to note however, that having an accent should not be confused with not pronouncing correctly. If you have problems pronouncing a specific letter, for example the л in Russian, than you should really try your best to get it right.

If people don’t understand the specific word that you want to say, then you do have some work to do on your pronunciation. Remember, you can always improve your accent and pronunciation, but don’t worry about getting it perfect right.

In many cases, having a slight accent is actually a good thing. You will be more interesting and maybe people even think it’s kind of cute. And if you’re still worried about speaking when you have an accent – remember that the best way to improve your accent is to speak more. When you speak more, you will get more feedback on how you speak. And you can then use this feedback to practice specific words or vowels. And your accent will get better!

Getting your accent completely right doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that you are understood!

#6 You’ll hit rough patches – don’t worry, progress is not incremental

This is one that hit me a couple of times personally. When you really want to become good at Russian, you will want it fast. And when you’re obsessively checking your progress all the time, you might hit some plateaus. It will feel like all the practice you’re putting in is leading to nowhere.

Even worse, it sometimes feels as if you’re completely backtracking. Last week you had a great 10 minute long conversation about everything that’s going on in your life and now you even struggle saying “hello, how are you?”. If you haven’t experienced this yet, it can be very frustrating to hit a rough patch like this.

It might feel like all the effort you’re putting is being wasted. And that you’re better of quitting or doing something else with your time.

In this case you simply must know that progress is not incremental. We’ve all been led to believe that progress is a straight line. One that goes to up and to the right. However, this is not the case in reality.

It will be a very bumpy ride, and sometimes the line stays flat for a long time. Sometimes it even goes down a bit. But the thing that’s always true is that sooner or later – if you keep on practicing every day – the line will go up again. And when it does after a long period of stagnation, it will almost always take an exponential leap. Suddenly you will speak way better than before. Your fluency will have bumped up after this.

Especially if you’re on the urge of quitting because you haven’t seen progress for a while, I urge you to continue. It is often just before hitting a breakthrough that you feel inclined to quit. And if you manage to continue, you will make a lot of progress.

The reason behind this is that being stuck for a long period of time causes you to re-evaluate things. You might try out some new methods of learning just because what you’re doing now doesn’t seem to work. And all of a sudden, the thing that was causing you to slow down disappears because you kept on going and trying out new things to get through the block. This process can either happen consciously or unconsciously (I think it happens mainly unconsciously with language learning).

#7 Intensity of study is better than length of study

With language learning it is very important to be completely focused when learning. The more intensity you bring to your practice, the better you’ll remember what you’re learning. One hour of intense practice is usually worth 4 hours of just winging it.

When you look back at the program I gave you in the last chapter, you’ll see that there are some audio courses involved. The best way to get the most bang for your buck is to listen to these completely focused. If you do this, you’ll find that you often only need to listen to a specific track once or twice.

When I first started out listening to Russianpod 101 I was often taking walks outside because it was summer. I’d slowly walk outside in the sun and listen to the podcasts with complete focus. It was a really nice experience. And I learned all the material very quickly.

Later, when summer ended and it got colder outside, I tried a new way of listening. The bike ride to my work was around 15 minutes. About the same as a Russianpod 101 episode. So I quickly put 1 and 1 together and started listening to the episodes while I biked to (and sometimes from) work. At the time I thought this was a great investment of my time. Exactly because there was no investment.

I’d just bike to work and learn Russian along the way. Great thinking. But I overlooked 1 thing. Biking in a city can be intense. You have to watch cars all the time and if you don’t want to get hit, you need to focus on that.

Long story short, most of the time I had to listen to lessons 3-5 times before I completely got them. So, it’s not that studying unfocused doesn’t work. Because it does. However, if you’re serious about language learning than I absolutely recommend you to practice as intensely as possible.

Don’t try to multitask your language learning. At least not for the first half an hour of the day.

It can however be great supplement to keep Russian music, TV or radio on in the background while you do something else. BUT do not make your main practice session a multi-tasked one. Your progress will become painfully slow compared to practicing with real focus.

#8 Aim for the brain meltdown

One result of practicing with intensity is that you’ll start to get brain melts. You’re probably curious with these. After a certain period of time when you’re doing something very intensively, your brain will simply stop functioning. In conversation, you’ll suddenly feel so spent after a couple of minutes extensively talking Russian.

Words that were easy just a couple of minutes ago are now nowhere to be found in your mind. Sentences don’t flow anymore. Although you may feel quite stupid at the moment, it’s actually a great feeling.

Because it means that you were really pushing the boundaries of your mind. You were practicing your brain so intensively, that it got tired and fatigued. This is a great place to be and I’d recommend you stop your practice for the day. It won’t result in any beneficial practice time anyway.

Aim to get at least 1 brain melt moment every week. Especially when you’re beginning it doesn’t’ take a lot of time to reach it. Listening to 1 episode of a podcast or watching even a couple of minutes of Russian TV without subs is often enough to make your brain incredibly spent.

But don’t worry about that. It’s one of the best ways to know you’re on the right track.

#9 Date someone who speaks Russian

This language learning tip is pretty mainstream and if you find yourself in the position to date someone who speaks the language you want to learn – go for it. You’ll learn a lot of new things and pillow talk is a great way to practice your Russian.

I’d even say that many times it is the other way around. The only reason why you’re learning Russian might be because you are already dating a Russian speaker. Or you are very interested in Russian women, and that’s why you want to learn Russian.

The reason why it works so well is because you will be able to practice very much. And I’d argue that because you’re dating each other, you won’t even feel that self-conscious to speak the language. Maybe not in the beginning of dating, but after a while you probably feel a lot more secure with your partner.

This is good because it allows you to practice your speaking without any fear that you may sound stupid. While feeling a bit self-conscious is normal, you won’t worry that much about it when you’re dating a person who speaks Russian.

#10 Repetition is key

Studying Russian 4 hours for one Saturday afternoon won’t make you fluent. Everybody knows this, but it’s important that you know the underlying principle behind this. And really understand it. Because learning a language is a long process and it can only be done by (seeming endless) repetitions. The more you repeat a certain word, and the more you speak, the better your Russian will be.

A language is a very complicated set of symbols, sounds and constructions, and you simply need a lot of time and repetitions to learn it all. Some things you might remember at once and others might take a little longer.

And it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Everybody has some words, or rules that they somehow always tend to forget. It’s okay to make the same mistake 20 times. If you accept the fact that it takes a lot of repetitions for you to really understand something, it will be a lot easier to continue practicing. And you won’t feel like giving up if you pronounce a word incorrect for the 25th time.

#11 And the last one – make it fun

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this guide it is this: make language learning FUN. The more fun you make it; the easier it will be for you to learn it. There are many reasons why making learning fun is a great way to speak better.

The first one is that it will be ten times easier to put in a lot of practice hours. If you’re playing a video game in which you’ve set the language to Russian, it will be no problem at all to lose yourself for a couple of hours in the game. All the while you’re practicing your Russian. Compare that to sitting down at your desk and studying for 4 hours.

What is easier? Exactly, playing the video game. And the same goes for hanging out with a Russian friend or dating a Russian speaker. Heck, even listening to Russian music or watching movies counts.

If you’re making something fun, it will be so much easier to spend a lot of time on it.

The second reason is that you will remember things better. What do you think your brain remembers better? Seeing the word ‘lollypop’ – леденец written down in a book, or having your partner explain to you what the word means when you’re both sitting in the sun with a lollypop.

It’s a very cheesy example, but the reasoning behind it works. It’s the same way if you think of some clever way to remember a specific word. Your brain is a lot better in remembering specific situations and images. And if specific words and sentences have a context it will be many times easier for you to learn a language.

And finally, the last reason why you should try to make it fun is because it IS actually fun. Learning a new language will open up countless of new possibilities. You will be able to meet so many new people who you would otherwise never have spoken to. And this makes learning Russian such an incredibly rewarding experience.

There is no better feeling than being able to speak Russian easily. Especially if you’re like me and never even thought that you would be able to do this. You will feel very proud of yourself – even when you can only have simple conversations – and knowing that you can speak Russian will feel absolutely fantastic.


Congratulations. You’ve made it to the end of this huge post. If you’ve managed to go all the way through, then I can tell that you’re serious about learning Russian. So now the most important thing is to start. Maybe you’ve already learned some Russian words and phrases; maybe you’re a complete beginner. Heck, you could even be pretty advanced, but still looking for more ways and strategies to help you become fluent.

I wrote this post with the idea in mind that everybody who’s interested in learning Russian would be able to learn at least something from it. If you’re a complete beginner and don’t know a single Russian word, then I highly recommend you go through my 12 month program. If you follow that to a tee I can guarantee you that you will be speaking well within a year. You’ll surprise yourself and everyone around you.

If you already know some Russian, you can also follow the program. Maybe you could even go through it faster. It all depends on what you want out of it. Of course, you could also skip around and take some of the strategies described and mould them into your own schedule.

And the same goes if you’re already quite advanced. Just take whatever you need from this post and test it out. See if it works for you and if you get the same results as I do.

Everything I wrote in this post is based on personal experience. I have used all the strategies and resources myself, and they have helped me tremendously to learn Russian. I don’t consider myself to be completely fluent yet, but I can understand the language pretty easily and can have conversations with people. In total it took me 3 years to get here – but this definitely would’ve been a lot shorter if I would have followed the program in this post to the letter.

If you’re a beginner and reading this post you’re in a great position. You literally have all the tools available to start learning Russian. And to make the process very smooth. Russian is a beautiful language and Russia itself can only be really experienced if you know the language.

If you have always had an interest in the Russian culture and language, then the absolute best thing to do is to start learning Russian.

I guarantee you, you will not regret a thing. And when you step off that plane in 1 year in Moscow (or anywhere else in Russia), and you know that you speak the language – you will feel not regret a single hour that you put into learning.

Feel free to leave your experience with learning Russian in the comments!

P.S. Here’s a quick overview of all the resources that I recommend if you’re going to learn Russian. They will greatly help you learn Russian faster & better. Feel free to check them out:

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Author: Ari Helderman

I started learning Russian seriously in January 2016, and haven't stopped since. I created this site to help other foreigners speak Russian. You can follow my progress in Russian on my YouTube channel Ари Говорит по-русски.

  • Where do I find the Russian vocabulary to use with Anki? Is it already available on the app or do I need to create my own lists? Which Vocabulary should be used and how do I access it? Thank you for the article.

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