How long does it take to learn Russian? It’s a question I often get here on the blog. It’s a good question too – since it’s always a good idea to have some good perspective on the goal that you’re setting. However, it’s not a question with a single answer. Especially when talking about how to learn a new language, there are many variables that come into play.
In this article I’ll do my honest best to answer your question how long do you need for learning Russian. I’ll give the answer of the experts on the matter. But I’ll also breakdown the different variables that influence the process.
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!
In the above video I explain how I learned Russian and how long it took.
How long does it take to learn Russian?
The Russian language is complex. That’s an often overseen – but very important – fact. Why? Because too many people don’t learn a 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 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. If you put in the weekly practice, you’ll see that you’re literally getting better every month.
Studies say around 1100 hours of practice
But back to the matter at hand. How long does it take to learn to speak Russian? Well, the experts say 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 language.
This may sound like a lot to you. And it is. If you were to study diligently every single day for 1 hour – then it takes you 3 years to become fluent.
But as we already discussed: it’s a gradual process. You will already be able to hold conversation – or even understand movies/series way before that point.
It’s not as if there’s a switch after 1100 hours 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.
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 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.
To get 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 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. 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, then 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 – And 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 100-200 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 be able to get around as a tourist in Russia. 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 speak native Russian. What do you already know? Is Russian the first foreign language that you are learning? Is your native language something related such as Polish? 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 your 4th language will be easier than your second. The more other languages you have learned, the faster you’ll grasp new grammatical concepts or recognize words, among some other things.
- 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.
- 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 get to reasonable fluency
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 3 years I’ve probably averaged around 20 minutes of focused practice per day. 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 Foreign Service Institute say that it takes to become fluent in Russian. But I’m happy with it. 20 minutes per 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!
Conclusion how long does to learn Russian
Just to recap this article. We started with the question: “ how long to learn Russian?”. The Foreign Service Institute says 1100 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.
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!
P.S. If you want to improve your Russian on 'autopilot', my best recommendation is to just listen to 1 single Russianpod101 podcast per day (about 15 minutes). Ideally you do this when commuting to work to create a lasting habit. You can also take a daily walk. I did this for about 6 months, and it's the reason my Russian improved so quickly. There's a free 7 day trial with just an email address, so you're not risking anything. Give it a try and see how fast your Russian skills improve.