Why it’s important to embrace yourself into the Russian culture

By Ari Helderman
December 27, 2021

Today’s guest post is written by Miggy Bondoc from Tomedes.

Russia is the world’s largest country by land mass, covering more than 6.6 million square miles. It is home to stunning landscapes, beautiful architecture and a fascinating culture. For those learning to speak Russian, understanding the country’s culture in greater depth is something that can go hand in hand with the language learning experience. In this article, we’ll explore how learners can embrace Russian culture and why it is of benefit to do so. 

Translating cultural awareness into language learning 

There are plenty of ways that those learning to speak Russian can use cultural exploration to aid their studies. Russia is not the easiest language for English speakers to learn but thankfully nor is it considered to be the hardest language to learn. The Foreign Service Institute ranks it at mid-table in terms of difficulty, stating that it takes about 1,100 hours of study to achieve speaking and reading proficiency (with other tongues ranging from 575 to 2,200 hours to master). 

Using elements of Russian culture to aid language learning can make the process of studying the language more engaging, as well as broadening the learner’s cultural awareness and appreciation. For younger learners, Russian art is an ideal starting point. Helping children to recreate their own version of Valentin Serov’s Girl with Peaches, for example, can help with everything from learning the translation of colours to the names of everyday objects (girl, window, plate, table, chair, peaches, etc.). It’s an exercise that learners can repeat with various famous Russian paintings for maximum impact. 

Literary translation 

Many English speakers will have read works such as Anna Karenina or Doctor Zhivago in translation during their school days. Learning to speak Russian presents the opportunity to read such classics in their original language. 

Reading literary works is a superb way to enhance language skills while also enjoying the learning experience. Classic works can open up a world of culture and history in a way that few other forms of learning can. At the same time, reading them can help to boost vocabulary and cement grammatical understanding, meaning that reading literary works in the original language, rather than in translation, delivers a host of benefits to the learner. 

Of course, younger learners can also benefit significantly from reading Russian fiction, whether classic tales or modern-day works. It’s just a question of finding the right literature to suit the learner’s age and level of comprehension, whether that means Dunno on the Moon or the fairy tales of Alexander Afanasyev. 

Other cultural experiences in translation 

Other elements of Russian culture can aid language learning in different ways. Dance and costume can help with learning vocabulary related to the body and clothing, for example. 

Cooking can also be an excellent learning tool, as well as a delicious way to embrace Russian culture. Learners can work their way through naming ingredients and cooking utensils while savouring the flavours of everything from sirniki and pelmeni to kasha.

In terms of cultural elements, history and architecture can also contribute much to the learning experience for older learners with an interest in these areas. Understanding the history of a country and some of the traditions behind its architectural feats can help learners to gain fascinating insights as well as additional vocabulary. Learning about other topics, from religion to politics, can serve the same purpose. 

Why embrace culture while learning to speak Russian?

We’ve looked at how individuals can use Russian culture to boost their language learning efforts, but why would they want to do so? In fact, there are a number of benefits to embracing knowledge of Russia’s culture, in addition to doing so making learning the language more engaging. 

Learning about a new culture means the learner has the opportunity to understand alternative beliefs and traditions and to challenge many of their own assumptions about such things. We live in a world that is home to many divisions. Embracing an understanding of another culture, from its literature and art to its history, politics and religion is a small step towards moving beyond those divisions. 

On a lighter note, knowing more about Russia’s culture can make traveling to the country a more rewarding experience. Arriving in the country with an existing appreciation of the paintings in Moscow’s galleries or knowledge of which specialty dishes to order when visiting different regions can make a real difference to the value of the time spent there. 

Nor does learning to speak Russian only benefit those traveling to Russia. Which countries speak Russian? In addition to Russia, Russian is spoken in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It also serves as a useful lingua franca in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This opens up a wide range of travel opportunities to Russian speakers, while a knowledge of Soviet history also wouldn’t go amiss when visiting several of these locations. 

Business translation opportunities and cultural awareness 

For learners with one eye on the business opportunities that can arise as a result of being able to translate between Russian and English, understanding the local culture is particularly important. Whether it’s for a career as a translation and localization specialist or simply to ensure that business communications flow freely, having an in-depth understanding of Russian culture should stand the learner in good stead when it comes to making the most of business and career opportunities. 

The world is home to marked linguistic diversity. Learning a language that opens up so many countries and career opportunities at once is always an exciting feat. How many Russian speakers are there in the world? In terms of native speaker numbers, over 154 million people speak Russian. Factor in the second (and third) language speakers and the total jumps to around 265 million. This means that those who embrace the culture of Russia as well as its language will have plenty of interesting conversations awaiting them, in addition to enhanced travel experiences and increases the potential for future employment. 

Watch this video where I tell you in Russian (with English subtitles) 9 reasons why Russian is actually easy to learn.

What should you do next?

Learning Russian does NOT need to be difficult. All you need is a solid plan that helps you improve the following things daily:

  • vocabulary
  • grammar
  • listening skills
  • speaking skills

That's ALL you need. If you can do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll already be making great progress in your Russian skills.

And the best part? If you improve a little bit every day, soon these practices will become daily habits.

And then you will start making progress on autopilot.

This means that learning Russian is now a part of your daily routine. So you won’t even need discipline anymore to get yourself to practice.

If you like the idea of this, but don’t know where to start, go here for more information.

About the Author

My name is Ari Helderman and I help people learn Russian through videos and blog posts where I share my experience.   I have been learning Russian since 2016. I often get mistaken for a native speaker these days, so I've learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't if you want to speak Russian well.

Ari Helderman