Summary: Russian is a difficult language. You won’t become fluent in Russian in 3 months. If you study daily for an hour, you’ll become upper beginner in 3 months to half a year. Then intermediate level in 6 months to 2 years. And advanced between 2 and 5 years. Everything depends on variables such as: intelligence, previous language learning experience, your native language, time invested, how often you can practice speaking and more. The Russian course that helped me the most to learn Russian was Russianpod101.
Are you curious how long it takes to learn the Russian language?
It’s an incredibly common question.
It’s a good question too – since it’s a good idea to have perspective on the goal that you’re setting.
However, it’s not a question with a single answer. Especially when talking about learning Russian, there are many variables that will influence how fast you can become fluent in Russian.
In this article well breakdown all the variable that determine how long you need to learn Russian well. We’ll also discuss what the experts say.
In the end I’ll let you know how long it took for me to get to a reasonable level of fluency (being able to have conversations about many different topics, watching movies without subs etc.). I’ll also list the top resources that have helped me the most to make some real progress. So let’s go!
How long does it take to learn Russian?
The Foreign Service Institute has determined it takes around 1100 hours for native English speakers to reach fluency in Russian. If you spend 60 minutes per day studying Russian, it will take you 3 years. If you spend 6 hours per day, you will reach an upper intermediate level in half a year.
How long does it take to learn Russian for native English speakers?
The Russian language is complex. That’s an often overseen – but very important – fact. Why? Because too many people don’t learn a new language with the right tools and mindset. Or on the other side: they think they could never in their life do it.
The reality is that Russian will take a long time to learn. It’s better to think in years, then in months. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to suffer for the first year (or months for that matter). No, if you take a structured Russian learning approach that focuses on speaking, then you’ll surprise yourself within months.
You see, learning Russian is a gradual process. While you may not be fluent after a couple of months, I guarantee that if you take your study time serious – you will be able to have simple conversations in Russian with native speakers. If you put in the weekly practice, you’ll see that you’re literally getting better every month.
Studies say over 1000 hours of practice
But back to the matter at hand. How long does to learn Russian? Well, the Foreign Language Institute says around 1100 hours. That makes the Russian language of intermediate difficulty. Check out the entire overview here on how long you need to learn a new language.
This may sound like a lot to you. And it is. If you would have studied Russian diligently for 1 hour a day– then it would have taken you 36 months to speak at an upper-intermediate level to advanced level.
But as we already discussed: it’s a gradual process. You will already be able to hold a conversation – or even watch Russian TV shows and movies way before that point.
It’s not as if there’s a switch after the 1100th hour and suddenly you’re going from zero to hero.
No, 1100 is really the endpoint where you’re at C1 or C2 of the CEFR language level scale. I’d argue that even 1/5 is already enough to get along pretty well in Russia, or any other Russian-speaking country.
In the first 10 hours that you’ll be learning Russian, you will learn 20 times (if not a 100 times) more than in the last 10 hours (of this artificial number 1100). That’s because in the beginning everything is new and you’ll pick up so many new interesting Russian words and grammar.
The further you get, the less progress that you’ll make for the time you put in.
It might sound demotivating – but if you look at it from another perspective, it’s actually very good. It means that you’ll be able to speak pretty well compared to the hours invested.
Getting to beginner fluency from scratch might take 100 hours for you. Whereas getting from intermediate to advanced speaker might take 500!
Anyway, let’s get back to the question of how long to learn the Russian language. Here are the 3 most important variables that will influence how long it will be for you before you speak the Russian language.
Variable #1 – How intense are you studying?
Everything else equal, if you’re taking classes for 5 hours per week + 5 hours of home study, then you’re going to progress about twice as fast as your classmate who only goes to the Russian classes.
The more you put in, the more you get out. That’s a fact.
There are some caveats though, that I want to cover quickly before we move on:
- Intensity matters – 1 hour of focused language learning can teach you more than 3 hours of distracted learning. The same goes for listening to Russian radio or podcasts for example. If you’re just listening passively while doing something else, you’re going to get way less out of it than if you would be 100% focused on the spoken Russian words.
- A little bit every day is better than a lot once – let me explain. When learning a new skill it is often better to practice for 30 minutes every day of the week, than it is to do a monster session on your Saturday afternoon. Why? 2 things. First, real learning happens when you process information. And this is done in between language learning sessions (mainly while you sleep). And second, learning Russian is intense – chances are that studying for 4 hours of a Saturday might be focused for the first hour. But the other 3 won’t be nearly as intense because your brain will get fatigued.
Variable #2 – what is your desired level of fluency?
Second one, what do you define as fluency in Russian? Is it to have a simple conversation with a native about your hobby’s and your work? Than 50 to 100 hours might be enough. Or do you want to read the literary classics from Tolstoy – in Russian? Then you better get practicing because even most native Russian barely understand it.
Become very clear on what it is that you want. And this can also change over time. Maybe first you just want to know a couple of basic Russian phrases so you can get around as a tourist in Russia, or any Russian speaking country. But later on you might want to be able to watch and understand movies well.
In general whatever your goal is, doesn’t really matter. As long as you don’t set your sights too high for the time you have (like the Tolstoy example in the previous paragraph).
Variable #3 – What’s your background knowledge?
This is the 3rd important thing that will answer the question how long it will take before you are able to speak native Russian. What do you already know? Is Russian the first foreign language that you are learning? Do you know any related European languages such as Polish or Bulgarian? Or are you an experienced language learning veteran that already knows 10 other languages?
The main components of this variable are:
- How many other languages do you know? Learning languages becomes easier with every extra language you learn. The more other languages you have learned, the faster you’ll grasp new grammatical concepts or recognize Russian words, among some other things. If you’re new to language learning, you also need to spend time figuring out how language learning works.
- Do you know any related language? Like we said before, if you know another Slavic language, then it will be twice as easy to learn Russian than if you were to only know English and Spanish for example. The familiarity between Slavic languages will vastly speed up the progress. Your Russian pronunciation will also be better.
- How smart are you in general? Should go without saying, but your genius friend that graduated from Harvard and has a PhD in Physics would probably learn to speak Russian faster than you.
It took me around 3 years to learn Russian at a good level
With reasonable fluency I mean that I am able to have conversations about virtually anything, can read books in Russian and can watch movies and series without subs.
I’m far from fluent, but this is a good place to be. Over the last couple of years I’ve probably averaged around 20 minutes of focused practice every single day to learn Russian. Some days more, some days less. I’ve also watched a ton of movies and series in Russian. So in total I’ve probably put in around 400 to 500 hours of focused practice.
That’s far from the thousand plus hours that the FSI says that it takes to learn Russian like a native speaker. But I’m happy with it. 20 minutes a day isn’t a lot. Especially when you consider that I did most of my learning with audio podcasts – so listening to them while in transit or walking to the supermarket doesn’t cost any extra time.
Just instead of listening to music I did a 10-15 minutes Russian lesson. So I recommend you to try out this method as well. It doesn’t really cost you any time or money, and really: the biggest improvements you will see in the first 100 hours or so. Which could already be within a couple of months if you’re serious!
So how long will it take to learn Russian?
Just to recap this article. We started with the question: “how long to learn Russian?”. The Foreign Service Institute says just over a 1000 hours, although I’d say that if you just want to be able to understand the language, have regular conversations and watch movies – 500 hours of focused practice will be enough to learn Russian well.
For some people, this will be more. And for others it will be less. It all depends on what you want, where you come from and the number of hours of non-distracted study you put into it!
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:
- 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.