How to Learn Russian: 21 Tips Every Beginner Should Know

By Ari Helderman
October 26, 2022

I started to learn Russian in January 2016.

The reason was that I’d just met a great Russian girl at my university.

Today I want to share with you all the mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned over the years.

It will save you a lot of time, energy, and struggle.

21 Tips to Learn Russian Quickly

  1. Russian cases are difficult, but you shouldn’t worry about them in the beginning anyway
  2. The best thing you can do to improve your discipline and speaking ability is to plan a trip to Russia
  3. The Cyrillic alphabet is easy, so you should learn it in the first 2 weeks
  4. Swearing and using slang is not cool if you’re a foreigner
  5. When in doubt, be polite (say Вы instead of ты)
  6. Watch tv series to improve your understanding of spoken Russian
  7. When learning a new verb, learn its perfective/imperfective partner at the same time
  8. Russian is actually quite easy to speak if you try
  9. If you make mistakes with the verbs of motion, Russians will understand you anyway
  10. Russian has virtually no words in common with English, so you must actively focus on learning new words all the time
  11. It’s better to have too low expectations than to have too high expectations
  12. Russian cursive is beautiful, but not worth spending time on
  13. Your success or failure in learning Russian doesn’t matter, so take it easy
  14. Russians will gladly help you learn Russian
  15. Russian numbers are weird, so prepare to make many mistakes
  16. Your accent will improve with time, even if you don’t focus on it
  17. Plateaus do not exist, so stop worrying about them
  18. Learn just one language at a time, and forget the ‘polyglot dream’
  19. Real-life Russian lessons are not necessary for everyone, so try to learn Russian on your own first
  20. Read bilingual language books, so you can read at an early stage
  21. Time will pass anyway, so it doesn’t matter how long it takes you

Let’s start below with a more detailed explanation of each point:

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

1) Don’t worry about the Russian case system

It took me 2 months before I figured out that the Russian language had cases.

I had just learned the phrase: Я хочу пиво (I want a beer).

So naturally, after that, I said: Я хочу водка! (I want vodka).

Turns out that was wrong. Because vodka is the direct object in the sentence, the correct way to say this is: Я хочу водку (I want vodka).

Having cases means that each word changes its ending according to its function in the sentence.

That was a big blow to my Russian learning self-esteem. I thought I was doing well with my Russian language skills, but then it turned out I opened Pandora’s box of Russian cases. After looking them up online I got demotivated. After all, the Russian case system means that you need to learn:

  • 6 different endings for 4 types of nouns (masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural)
  • and the adjective that corresponds to each of those nouns for each case

Here is Wikipedia explaining just the noun declensions for the masculine case.

That’s a lot of endings you need to remember. Luckily a lot of them are overlapping (for example the genitive, prepositionalinstrumental, and dative adjectives for the feminine noun are the same), so it’s a bit easier.

But wait. Did I already lose you? Exactly. That’s the problem with cases. They’re so overwhelming once you just get to know them. And you also need to understand when to use them.

What I wished I knew then, was that cases are probably the hardest part of learning Russian. And that it’s okay to make mistakes. Russians will understand you anyway.

Example: you want to say “I bought a present FOR my mom”. And you said, “Я купил подарок мамы” (I bought a present OF my mom”. That’s the wrong case. You should’ve said, “Я купил подарок маме” (I bought a present FOR my mom). Even though it’s incorrect, 98% of native Russian speakers will understand what you mean.

2) Plan a trip to Russia

When I started to learn Russian at the beginning of 2016, it was just for fun and my approach wasn’t serious at all.

I learned some Russian words and said them to my girlfriend, or to the other Russian/Kazakh classmates in university.

But after a couple of months, things suddenly became serious.

In May 2016, I booked a trip to Moscow to see my girlfriend’s parents in June.

They didn’t speak English, so I knew I HAD TO improve my Russian level to be at least at a basic conversational level. Enough to introduce myself, talk about my hobbies, where I’m from, and my plans for the future.

Before I booked the tickets I was sporadically listening to podcasts in Russian or learning a couple of new words a day. 

Now I had to quickly improve my Russian, and I started spending around an hour per day of concentrated practice.

And the best thing was that now practicing didn’t require any discipline (or at least a lot less than before). 

If a couple of months earlier I would’ve told myself to spend an hour per day, I likely would not have followed through.

In total, I’ve been to Russia now about 10 times, and every single time the month before a trip I automatically spend 3x more time practicing than usual.

Knowing that there’s a trip coming up, and that barely anyone in Russia speaks English well, kickstarts your motivation enormously.

3) The Cyrillic alphabet is easy

In the beginning, when I started to learn Russian, I sometimes looked at English spellings of Russian words. 

This is fine if you just want to learn a couple of Russian phrases to say as a tourist. But when you want to seriously learn Russian, you must learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as possible.

There are many reasons why it’s good to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, but the main ones are that:

  • You need to learn it anyway
  • It makes it much easier to correctly pronounce the words
  • It helps you look for content in Russian (searching for a song on YouTube for example,)

Contrary to what people think, it’s easy to learn the Russian alphabet. There are only 33 letters (compare that to the thousands of characters in Chinese). And among these letters you have:

  • Basically the same as in English: к, о, т, а, м 
  • A familiar sound, but a different letter: б, г, д, з, й, и, л, п, ф, з, ю, я, х, ц, ч, ш, щ
  • False friends: в, е, ё, н, р, с, у, х 
  • New letters: ъ, ы, ь

So while it may take an hour or 2 to get the basics down, this is time well invested.

4) Swearing is not cool

I went on a fishing trip with my girlfriend’s dad and his friends in Norway in spring 2018.

Everyone came by plane except for 2 guys, who drove a car from Moscow there. 

When everyone arrived, one of the older guys asked the 2 guys who drove there:

Сколько километров вы охуехали сюда? (untranslatable – but something along the lines of: “how many fucking kilometers did you drive here?”)

He added the word хуй (dick) into the word ехать (drive), and created one single word.

I found that incredibly creative. And to this day, I think the Russians have the most poetic form of swearing.

Americans just say ‘fuck’ a lot. Dutch people swear with diseases. But Russians write poetry when they swear.

Russians swearing is called ‘мат’. 

Of course, many Russians are guilty of abusing a couple of words, such as сука блядь (literal translation: female dog, whore), and removing the power those words have.

But in essence Russian slang and swearing are incredibly creative and add a way of expressions, that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.

Unfortunately for us foreigners, we only should enjoy listening to it.

Trying to say slang is one of the quickest ways to make yourself into a laughing stock. You won’t sound cool, by adding блядь into your speech, or saying ‘Я Америкос’, instead of ‘Я американец’.

You’ll sound like the red-haired kid with freckles and glasses in high school who tried to act cool, but wasn’t.

It’s much better to stay away from all those words and keep to normal Russian.

At some point, Russians will ask you if you know any ‘bad words’, or if you can repeat a specific word. In those cases, it’s of course fine to say or repeat them. 

But just the fact that you as a foreigner want to learn Russian is already impressive enough on its own. No need to dress it up by swearing or using slang.

5) When in doubt, be polite

In English, you can say ‘you’ to anyone. No one will get offended if you address them like that. 

But in Russian there are 2 forms to address someone:

  • Вы – you formal
  • Ты – you informal

As a rule of thumb, you should always start with the polite form Вы. Only after the other person has started addressing you with the informal ты, is it okay to switch to informal as well. This means that you’ve made a good connection.

You’ll hear: Давайте перейдём на ты – let’s switch to ‘ты’.

Situations where you would say Вы are:

  • Giving your passport to customs
  • Ordering something in the restaurant
  • Meeting someone for the first time
  • Talking to someone obviously older than you

Now, as a foreigner learning Russian, you can likely get away with using ты, when most Russians would say Вы. You’re learning after all, and you cannot expect a beginner to master social etiquette from the start.

However, not everyone will know that you’re learning. Especially if your accent is good, people might mistake you for a native Russian speaker. And then when you address someone with ты, they could get offended.

In general, try to use ты only when addressing children or teenagers.

6) You must watch Russian TV series

In order to speak and understand Russian well, you must listen to a large amount of Russian language. 

You need to give yourself the right amount of input. Otherwise, it will be difficult to understand what Russians say.

A simple method that’s also fun, is to watch TV series in Russian.

Series are set up to be easily watchable. This means that you can easily spend an evening going through several episodes. 

They’re also available in every genre, with easy language or difficult language.

That means that for every person at every level there are good TV series to watch.

And since the Russian language is widely spoken, you can also find series with English subtitles. This is necessary for beginners.

Some people on the internet recommend you just start watching in the Russian language, without English subtitles. But that will only confuse you, and quickly tire you. That’s not a fun method.

Instead, you just pick a series with a genre you like. If you’re a beginner, look for a series with English subtitles. If you’re more advanced, you can try with just Russian subtitles. Or no subtitles at all.

Here’s an overview of good Russian TV series to watch for beginners.

7) Learn related verb aspects together

Almost every Russian verb has a twin brother. It’s almost the same, but a little different. Those are the perfective and imperfective pairs. 

An easy example:

  • Делаю домашние задания – I am doing my homework
  • Сделаю домашние задания – I will have my homework done

One form means the present tense, and the other the future perfective tense. 

If you’re just starting to learn, you don’t need to pay attention to this. But if you’re already learning for a while, and you know the general difference between the perfective and imperfective, it’s not a bad idea to learn each pair together.

Every time you learn new verb conjugation, take 30 seconds to 1 minute to figure out what its ‘twin brother’ is. This costs you a little extra time at the moment, but your Russian will be a lot better for it. 

It’s one of the little things that foreigners tend to struggle with. So if you can make sure you say it correctly most of the time, your Russian will stand out.

8) Russian is actually easy to speak

For English speakers, Russian is more difficult to learn than Germanic (Dutch, German), or Romanic (French, Italian, Spanish) languages. But when it comes to speaking well, Russian has a couple of tricks that make it easier to speak:

For example, there’s fluent word order in Russian. So you can basically mix all the words in the sentence. You can start a sentence wherever you want.

I go to work – я иду на работу.

That’s correct in both Russian and English.

Go to work I – иду на работу я.

I to work go – я на работу иду.

In English, the last 2 sentences sound off. They’re not correct. In Russian, the sentences are perfectly fine. Even though the first variant may be the most common, you can mix up almost any sentence order, and still keep a good sentence.

This is great for non-native speakers, as it reduces the frequency of mistakes you can make.

It also gives you more time to think about what you’re going to say next while speaking. In strict word order languages, you must first completely think up the sentence, before starting to speak. Otherwise, you risk messing up the sentence structure.

With Russian, you can just start speaking with the first word that comes to mind, and then add more words on top. This frees up RAM in your brain and helps make your speech more dynamic and fast-paced..

9) It’s okay to mess up the verbs of motion

After I booked plane tickets to go to Moscow for the first time, I enthusiastically told my girlfriend: Я иду в Москву!

If you’re not a complete beginner, you know that this implicates that ‘I’m going to Moscow (on foot)’.

So my girlfriend laughed and said ‘Ты правда идёшь в Москву – пешком?’ I got it and replied: ‘А, я еду в Москву!’ (meaning that I’m going to Moscow by means of transport).

It’s a little thing that tends to drive foreigners learning Russian crazy. There are multiple forms of the word ‘to go’:

  • идти – to go (on foot – one direction)
  • ходить to go (on foot – multiple directions)
  • ехать – to go (by transport – one direction)
  • ездить – to go (by transport – multiple directions)

Their meanings are similar, but each has its own specific meaning. This is important to learn well at a certain point, but you don’t need to overemphasize it.

Like with my example, it was obvious I was going to Moscow NOT on foot. So try to say it correctly while speaking, but if you’re having a conversation, don’t worry if you say it incorrectly. Everyone will understand what you mean.

10) Russian unfortunately barely has any words in common with English

If you know English, and you’re learning a language such as German, Dutch, French, or even Spanish, you’re lucky.

Why? Because those languages have so many words in common with English. 

Unfortunately, the Russian language does NOT share many words with other common languages.

When learning any foreign language, you always need to learn new vocabulary. But if you want to learn Russian it’s even more important than the other popular languages (except for Asian languages, which have even fewer words in common).

That’s why I wish I would’ve started earlier to learn new words. Without knowing enough words, it’s difficult to have conversations. 

So for some other languages, it might be fine to just follow a course, and that in itself teaches you enough words to have conversations. But to learn Russian you must separately install an app, use flashcards, or in any way focus on improving your Russian vocabulary. Otherwise, it will be difficult to have good conversations.

The great thing about learning vocabulary is that there are plenty of learn Russian online apps for it. So you can learn Russian for free.

11) Don’t have high expectations

Which promise sounds better? 

  • Follow this course and speak Russian in 30 days
  • Follow this course and speak Russian in 3 years

The first one, right?

We all want good things, fast. The reality is that learning a difficult skill, such as Russian, will take time.

The reality is probably, that becoming ‘fluent’ in Russian takes you closer to 3 years, than 30 days. 

But you can still learn a lot in 30 days. Basic conversations would be possible.

The problem with a lot of courses, and language learning gurus online is that they tend to create overly optimistic promises. 

Take Benny Lewis’ ‘Fluent in 3 Months’ website. It’s a great resource. With plenty of good strategies. 

But becoming fluent in 3 single months? In the Russian language? Forget it.

Maybe if you’re Benny. And have learned several similar languages before, among which other Eastern European languages. And spend 4 hours completely focused practicing every single day for those 3 months. And move to a country where they speak the Russian language.

For normal people, this is not an option. The problem comes if you spend some time on the side practicing Russian, and STILL expect the same results after 3 months.

You might be making great progress. But if you only have basic conversations after 2 months (which is a great achievement), you might still feel demotivated.

That can make you quit practicing, even though you were doing well.

The point I want to make is that it’s better to have too few expectations than too much. We already live in a stressful world, and adding more stress doesn’t work for most people. 

Take it easy, and spend the first 2 months trying out different courses, methods, and apps to learn Russian. Then once you’ve done that you’ll have a much better idea of how you like to learn, and that foundation will set you up for success.

12) Russian cursive is a waste of time

Russian cursive looks beautiful, doesn’t it? But can you read it?

After a couple of years of learning Russian, I can now read Russian cursive. That may sound long, but I never focused on it. You can learn it quite quickly if you focus on it. 

However, I cannot write it at all. And to be honest: In the 5 years I’ve been learning Russian now, I’ve needed to write something in Russian by hand maybe 5 or 10 times. 

Virtually all communication is online nowadays anyway. So don’t feel like it’s something you must learn when learning Russian. Only do it if you find it interesting yourself. Otherwise, you’re better off spending your time learning Russian vocabulary or practicing speaking.

13) Relax

After 1 year of learning Russian, I set goals at the beginning of 2017 to be at the C1 level before January 1st, 2018. I made an elaborate plan of spending around 1 hour per day learning. 

How long do you think I followed this plan?

Around 3 days.

Before I would enjoy practicing. Now there was pressure. I didn’t look forward to listening to my audio course or doing flashcards at all.

I quickly dropped the plan and started doing simpler things. I would just listen to audio courses while commuting to my internship. In the evenings I played a video game called The Witcher in Russian.

Those things were fun to do, and soon I regained my motivation to learn more.

What I want to say here is that there’s no need to put too much pressure on yourself. For most people learning Russian, it’s a hobby. You won’t lose your job if you don’t make progress fast enough. You won’t get kicked out of your house. Your friends won’t stop speaking to you. 

Actually, for many people, learning Russian is quite a useless hobby. It won’t make you more healthy, it won’t make teach you to make more money, It won’t help you find the love of your life.

Though, maybe the last one it can help with 😉

Recently I had a client ask for a refund for my 30-day Russian program. He told me that he was currently studying hard to get a specific programming job and that learning Russian was his way of procrastinating. Getting a job is more important than learning Russian.

Making progress fast is nice. But it doesn’t matter how fast you learn if you cannot keep it up for a long period of time.

So focus on making a little bit of progress every single day without much pressure. That way you will enjoy the journey a lot more, and in the end, still make faster progress. Be the tortoise, not the hare.

14) Russians will gladly help you learn Russian

I lived in Spain for 1 year. During that time I learned some basic Spanish. But whenever I tried to practice a little in a cafe or store with the staff, the staff wouldn’t be happy. 

It felt as if I was taking up their time and using them to practice Spanish.

In Russia, I’ve never had that experience. 

Everywhere I’ve been, native Russian speakers have shown patience and gratitude whenever I’d speak Russian to them.

Even when I had just started to learn Russian and my speech was super broken.

I’m not sure why exactly Russians are so happy when foreigners learn the Russian language. It might be because relatively few people learn Russian. Or because the general level of English isn’t too high in Russia.

But this is an enormous advantage you have, compared to learning other languages.

One complaint of foreigners here in the Netherlands is that Dutch people always switch to English when they start in Dutch. The moment a foreigner speaks slowly in Dutch with a foreign accent, we quickly switch to English. It’s just faster, more convenient, and easier to communicate in English.

But it’s horrible for foreigners who want to improve their Dutch skills.

When you learn Russian, you’ll have the opposite experience. People will show you respect, and most are incredibly patient when you speak Russian. That also makes it easier to spend a lot of time practicing. And in the end, the more time you spend speaking Russian, the better your Russian will be.

Note: this is my experience as a guy from the Netherlands learning Russian. If you are from (or maybe even only look like you’re from) a country where many people want to learn Russian, this effect will be less. I’m talking about some former USSR states, where now many people migrate to Russia to find a better future or work as guest workers. Countries such as Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, or maybe even countries like Armenia, or Azerbaidjan. If this is you, don’t worry. The main thing is to show respect and have an authentic desire to learn Russian well.

15) Russian numbers are weird

In English counting things is easy:

  • One cat
  • Two cats
  • Three cats
  • Four cats
  • Five cats
  • Ten cats
  • Twenty cats
  • Twenty-three cats
  • Fifty cats
  • Fifty-one cats

Here are the Russian cats:

  • Один кот
  • Два кота
  • Три кота
  • Четыре кота
  • Пять котов
  • Десять котов
  • Двадцать котов
  • Двадцать три кота
  • Пятьдесят котов
  • Пятьдесят один кот

So, the noun changes according to the amount of numbers. If a number is singular, you use the nominative case. If a number is from 2-4, you say the genitive case singular. And if the number is more than 5, you say the genitive plural case. 

But if a number is 51, you say the noun, as if it would be just 1. Confusing? I also thought so when I started learning Russian.

It took me quite some time to say the Russian numbers correctly on a consistent basis. But that’s okay. Even if you make a mistake here, it’s nothing earth-shattering. Russians will understand you perfectly well if you say ‘пять кот’ (correct: пять котов).

16) Your accent will improve automatically

In the Netherlands, we have hundreds of regional accents. And it’s always interesting to see what happens after someone goes away to study in another city.

Especially if they join a fraternity, their accent usually changes to a more posh version of how they used to speak before.

It happened to me.

Being constantly exposed to a specific type of accent can slowly change your own accent – if you let it.

The same principle works with learning Russian.

I’ve never specifically worked on improving my accent. But many people say that my Russian is among the ‘least accented’ of most foreigners they’ve heard speak Russian.

So how is that possible?

When I started I had quite a thick Dutch accent. The Dutch language originates in the throat, and Russian comes more from the front of the mouth.

This made my Russian sound harsh.

I’ll probably make a video about this in the future, as it’s interesting to hear.

But over the years, I made a specific effort to continuously expose my brain to correct Russian.

  • Real-life conversations
  • Movies
  • TV Series
  • Music
  • Video games

If you spend a bit of time hearing correct Russian every day, your accent will also improve.

And contrary to what many people say, your goal doesn’t need to be to ‘speak like a native Russian speaker’. 

It’s cool to have a bit of an accent. It shows you are bi- or trilingual. It adds some flair to your speech.

So I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to get rid of your accent.

The caveat here is, that people have to understand you. If your accent is so thick that Russians have to ask you every 2 sentences to repeat yourself, then you better work on improving it.

17) Stop worrying about plateaus

Before Covid, we traveled to Russia about 2 times per year. One time in summer, and one time in winter.

And almost every time in between those trips I would feel that my Russian language skills were stagnating. I was practicing every day, learning Russian words and immersing myself in Russian movies and TV series.

However, it felt as if it was all wasted effort to learn Russian. Some days I would even feel as if my Russian was actually getting worse.

However, when we would then travel to Russia, I quickly found out that my Russian had gotten a lot better since the last trip.

It’s difficult to not make progress if you’re doing something day in and day out. How well you speak, also depends on plenty of factors. Here are the most important factors:

  • how well you slept last night
  • background stress
  • how much you’ve listened to Russian the days before

So if you ever find yourself practicing daily, but still feeling like you’re not making progress, maybe you just need to go out and try to have normal conversations.

You can book a trip to Russia. But that’s often not a decision you can quickly make on the fly.

Another solution to getting out of this ‘plateau feeling’ is to get a drink with a Russian friend or colleague. 

In the long-term alcohol is bad for language learning, as it hinders memory formation. But in the short term, a couple of drinks do wonders to get you to loosen up, stop overthinking and see what you’re capable of.

18) Forget the ‘polyglot dream’

Since starting the site and youtube channel, I’ve gotten countless emails from people telling me that they’re looking for an effective way to learn Russian.

But they’re currently learning Korean.

And at the moment, they’re living in France to improve their French skills.

And in the future, they’d love to brush up on their Spanish skills.

To be blunt: that’s just too many languages to learn for one person at a time.

Now, it’s great that this person has the desire to learn several languages. 

However, in real life, this almost never works out.

It’s like wanting to become a pro wrestler AND a pro soccer player. 

You can become proficient at both, but getting good at both at the same time won’t work.

This is the problem that many YouTube polyglots have created. You’ve probably seen videos from Wouter Corduwer, Steve Kaufmann, Ikenna, or Olly Richards. The videos usually have titles such as “Polyglot speaks 13 languages”.

It’s great that they have such dedication to language learning. It’s a cool party trick. Most of them know maybe 2 foreign languages at a relatively good level, 2 more at an okay-ish level, and the rest, they know the absolute basics.

This is still a great achievement. But for most of them, language learning has now become their job. So they have plenty of time to dedicate to it. 

Learning your 7th language will also be a lot faster than your 1st foreign language.

The problem comes when you watch these videos and get inspired to also become a polyglot. Or at least become inspired to learn more than 1 language. You become the kid at the candy shop, and you start thinking about all the cool languages you can speak.

Now you’re super motivated to learn Russian and Korean and Japanese and French and Spanish.

That is not realistic for 99.9% of people.

Learning Russian to a good level (working proficiency) takes a couple of years at best. If you’re unfocused and don’t practice consistently, you can spend 10 years and still not speak at a desirable level.

If you start playing around with 2 or more different foreign languages at the same time, you will drastically decrease your chances of ever becoming good in 1 of them.

You’ll become the person who at parties can impress people with the languages he can speak. But put this person in a foreign country on their own, and they’ll do a little better than the average tourist.

The reasons why learning several languages doesn’t work are because:

  • You’ll confuse them, and start saying words from one language when you try speaking the other.
  • You don’t have enough time in a day to make meaningful progress in both of them.
  • You cannot immerse yourself in more than one language at a time.

Now that my Russian is good, people sometimes ask me: “So what language are you going to learn next?”

My reply is usually that I’m not planning on learning another language. My Russian is good, but it’s far from perfect. I still have a lot to learn. I would rather spend another 5 years on perfecting my Russian language skills (and even then it won’t be perfect), than start the entire process all over again. I find the idea of speaking one foreign language incredibly well, a lot more appealing than speaking 2 foreign languages at a good level.

If this didn’t convince you, and you still want to learn multiple languages: at least make sure you only start the second language once you’re at an intermediate level in the first. This will decrease the chances of you mixing languages up, as you already have a solid base in one language.

19) Classes are NOT necessary

My girlfriend took Dutch classes here in the Netherlands. In class, she was paired with a Polish girl who probably was forced to go there by her employer.

The end result was that this Polish girl dragged the entire class down, and when she was doing one-on-one practicing with my girlfriend, she didn’t put any effort and spoke mostly English.

Another friend of mine here has a Russian wife, and he went to Russian classes. During the first class, the teacher spoke about how incredibly difficult Russian grammar is because there are 6 cases. She also emphasized perfect pronunciation of each word, before learning the next one. 

This friend got demotivated because there was a lot of pressure, and it was difficult. He quit after several weeks, even though he’s a smart guy working in IT and had plenty of motivation to learn Russian.

Now, my girlfriend and this friend got unlucky with their choice of classes. 

But this shows the main problem with classes: most people go to classes to transfer the responsibility of learning away from themselves.

This is fine, as not everyone is self-disciplined enough to learn Russian on their own.

But putting responsibility in the hands of your teacher is a gamble:

  • The teacher can use the wrong methods
  • There can be a couple of lazy people in the class who drag the speed of learning down to their level
  • The focus can be to learn Russian grammar instead of speaking

And much more. 

If you have a little bit of self-discipline and are motivated to learn Russian, you’re probably better off learning on your own. You can pick the resources that work best for you. You can spend time learning when your schedule permits it. And you can progress so much faster than if you were to follow classes.

If you’re on this site and reading this to learn Russian, chances are high you’re more motivated and disciplined than the average person in language learning. So give it a shot.

20) Read bilingual language books

When I was 20, I read Crime and Punishment in English. It’s one of the most well-known Russian literature books. Back then, I didn’t know any Russian. I wasn’t even learning Russian. It would be 2 more years before I would start.

6 years later, I was able to read it in the Russian language.

The reason that it took so long, is that Russian literature (and books in general) are difficult. You need to know a lot of Russian and grammatical knowledge for the book to make sense.

If you only know 200 Russian words, you can have simple conversations.

If you only know 200 Russian words, you cannot read books at all.

Sure, you could try reading childrens books. Or dumbed down versions of bigger books. Which are both not bad things to try if you’re just starting out. It’s just that most kids books aren’t that interesting. And there are only a few dumbed down books available.

A good thing to do here is to read bilingual Russian language books.

Bilingual Russian language books allow you to read Russian books at almost any level. It’s like a puzzle. You see the Russian text on the left, and the English text on the right.

You can first read the Russian sentence. See how much you understand. And then check yourself by reading the English sentence next to it.

This has the benefit of teaching you a lot of new words. And you can read books that you would otherwise need much better Russian language skills for.

21) Time will pass anyway

If you watch a video of me speaking Russian, you might think “I would like to speak Russian as he does.”

Remember: it took me 5+ years to get to this level. 

That’s a long time. So you may be unsure whether it would be worth it to spend so long learning Russian.

But to me, it felt like yesterday when I started to learn Russian.

Time just went by so quickly. 

And because learning Russian was (and still is) just a hobby, I never felt much pressure. I would focus on living my life and spend 30 minutes to an hour doing something Russian language-related. I never felt I needed to sacrifice something.

The point I want to make is this:

In a couple of years, you can either speak Russian. Or you can still dream about wanting to learn Russian.

Time will pass anyway.

So you might as well just start to learn Russian, and improve a little bit every day.

And by the way: you’ll be able to have normal conversations in Russian way before the 5-year mark. If you focus well and have a good approach you can have simple conversations after a month or 2, and normal conversations after 6 months to 1 year 😉

P.S. Do you want to speak Russian so well that you get mistaken for a native speaker? My course teaches you to speak Russian in just 30 days with 1 hour per day of practice. Check out the course here: https://learntherussianlanguage.com/conversational-russian/

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

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