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February 27, 2020

How Long Does It Take to Learn Russian?

how long to learn russianHow 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 for something as difficult as mastering 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 does it take to learn 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?

Russian is a complex language. That’s an often overseen – but very important – fact. Why? Because too many people take learning a new language too lightly. 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 Russian? Well, the experts say around 1100 hours. That makes Russian a language of intermediate difficulty. Check out the entire overview here on how long languages take to learn.

1100 hours 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 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 number of hours.

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 does it take to learn Russian. Here are the 3 most important variables that will influence how long it will be for you before you speak Russian.

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 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 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 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 does it take to learn 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 learning the Russian language will be twice as easy 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 be fluent in 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 1100 that the experts say that it takes to learn 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 it take to learn Russian

Just to recap this article. We started with the question: “ how long does it take to learn Russian?”. Experts say 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!

 

 

 

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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.

  • It kind of makes me go nuts to see the 1100 hour number thrown around all over the internet, when anyone who was paying attention to where it comes from, knows that that was classroom hours only. The same US government source says about 300 hours for Spanish. I’d say that is accurate – I self studied about 1100 hours to reach a basic level in Spanish (0 classroom hours). So with 3 hours of study for every 1 hour of the “300 hours of classroom study” required for Spanish, do the math, 1100 hours is almost exactly right for the total hours of study needed. Hence for Russian it should be about 4400 hours of study to reach a basic level.

    • I also like to take a look at these numbers with a grain of salt. They’re a generalized number for many people. Of course a Polish person who already knows Polish and English will have a MUCH easier time learning Russian than an American, for whom Russian is his first second language.

      I also never took classes. Only did self-study. Based on my experience, if a person were to put in 1100 hours of FOCUSED self study + practice, I’m sure he’d get to a decent level in Russian. Some would be at the higher intermediate – some at the lower.

      With the internet it’s perfectly possible to study equally as effective at home as in a classroom.

      If a person were to spend 1 hour per day following an effective regimen for half a year, that person would be able to speak basic Russian easily. Not fluently, of course. But that person would have no problem getting around in Russia and having conversations about simple topics.

  • Thanks for writing and sharing your experience. I’d taken a look on my duo-lingo and Rosetta Stone account today and added up that I’d done around 75 hrs of Russian this year (started in April, dropped it for a few months, so have been studying with focus for probably 4/5 months). I’d been pretty pleased with my progress, and seemed to be at about the level forecast for that time input (would be very comfortable as a tourist but still only understand odd bits of conversation). But when I realised that at that rate it will take me 7-8 years to reach the stated 1100 hours to achieve fluency I felt a bit taken aback. To hear that after 3 years and averaging about 500 hours that you are able to converse comfortably has made me feel much more motivated. 🙂

    • Thanks for the reply! It’s actually great to hear that after just 75 hours, you already feel very comfortable as a tourist, as that would take a new student 3 months with approxmimately 1 hour per day. Which is doable for almost anyone. The problem with the 1100 hour thing, is that some people take it as if they will continue to struggle having conversations till hour 1099, and then magically the last hour makes them fluent. This example is a bit exagerrated, but it’s a sliding scale – not black and white. Each hour makes you practice makes you speak better. And I’d argue that most people would be completely happy with their level after 250-500 hours, which is enough to have conversations. That can be achieved in 1 year with reasonable practice.

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