Hi, I’m Ari Helderman. Let me help you learn Russian faster and easier

On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about how you can effectively learn Russian while keeping it fun and spending around 1 hour per day.

Below are the 3 main things you must know about my method to learn Russian:

Learning Russian should be FUN

If it’s not fun, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to practice long-term. You absolutely need to make sure your learning activities are as engaging and interesting as possible.

Having conversations is KEY

What use is it if you know all the grammar and vocabulary, but still struggle to have conversations with native speakers? That’s why everything we learn should have one overarching goal: speaking and having conversations.

You DON’T need talent

What people call ‘talent’ is often just an innate feeling for the correct methods to learn a language and have fun with it. If you follow effective methods and make it fun, you can learn Russian, even if you don’t think you have a ‘talent’ for learning languages.

Here are a few things about me:

  • I’m Dutch. I was born on the 30th of July 1993 in a small town in the south of the Netherlands, Weert.
  • My first ever insufficient grade was for English when I was 9 years old. In high school, I quit French and German as soon as I could. I did NOT like learning languages when I was young.
  • In university, I got interested in the Russian language, as there was a cute Russian girl in my class. I started learning Russian at the beginning of January 2016.
  • In March 2019 I uploaded some videos of me speaking Russian on YouTube. Now I have more than 130.000 Russian-speaking subscribers and more than 18 million views.
  • I can easily speak about any topic in Russian, and find it easy to communicate with native Russian speakers.
  • I started this website in 2017, and have helped thousands of other Russian students improve their Russian and start having real conversations in Russian.
  • Here is a video of me speaking Russian:
  • And here is what some native speakers say about my Russian skills:
Katja Vertelina from the YouTube channel Easy Russian
Magnificent Russian language for a foreigner. I can’t even believe that it’s possible to learn Russian to such a high level. I’m honestly shocked.
“When I see that a foreign guy speaks Russian so well. He doesn’t speak in simple sentences but uses clarifying words, gerunds, etc. I am inspired. I think that if a foreigner could learn RUSSIAN (RUSSIAN of all languages!), then I can also learn English well. Wish me strength!”
  • And here are some websites, TV, and radio that I’ve been featured on, because of my Russian skills:

I mention all this here, just to clarify that when I talk about learning Russian, I do so from actual real-world experience. I believe that learning Russian should be done to improve communication.

My basic philosophy is all about developing smart Russian learning practices so that you can learn to speak Russian efficiently while having plenty of time for work/school, family, and your other hobbies.

Work smarter, not harder.

Everyone can become fluent in Russian if they treat it as their full-time job.

But that’s not realistic for most of us. 

We already have a full-time job or school. We have friends and family that we want to spend time with. We have hobbies or sports that are important to us. 

When I was learning Russian, I was working full-time, played sports 3 times per week, and spent time with family and friends every week.

If you work smart on your Russian, you can get really far with just 30 minutes to an hour per day on average.

What is This Site About?

Learning Russian is like cycling up and down a mountain. The first half is difficult and takes a lot of energy. But once you’re going down, everything is easy and you go fast without effort.

This is just like learning Russian.

The beginning will be tough. 

But once you reach the intermediate level, everything will become much easier.

If I can help you learn the 1000 most common words, understand verb conjugation and Russian cases, spend 100 hours listening to correct spoken Russian, and speak Russian every day, you WILL become fluent in Russian.

This site is all about helping you get to the intermediate level. Because once you’re there, you will have built the right habits that are good enough to carry you all the way to fluency.

Here are a few posts and videos that can give you a good idea of what to expect from me:

show some posts/videos.

My story: I Never Liked Learning Languages

Do you know how you sometimes hear someone speak a foreign language at a very high level? Or you watch a video of a polyglot on YouTube and you’re just awed by how well they speak so many languages?

Well, that wasn’t like me at all… I’d love to say that learning Russian came naturally to me, but the truth is that it’s been a very bumpy road.

My First Failed Test: English

I’m Dutch and grew up in a small village in the Netherlands, Weert. 

So in elementary school, we started learning English when I was around 9. 

After a couple of months, we got our first exam. We needed to memorize 100 English words. For the exam, we got a sheet of 10 Dutch words and had to write the correct English words.

I always paid attention in class and studied for the test. So when I handed in my paper, I had a good feeling about it.

But when I got back the sheet a week later, I couldn’t believe it. 

My grade was a 3. That means that I completely FAILED the test. 

In the Dutch school system, you get a grade from 1 to 10. Anything above 5.5 means you’ve passed. A Dutch 3 is an F in the U.S.

I was ashamed to come home and show my parents the grade. I almost cried when I came home because this was the first time in my life I had an unsatisfactory grade on an exam.

Needless to say, this did not give me a sense of confidence in languages.

Quitting French and German as Quickly as Possible

Later in high school, we had French and German in our first years. 

If for English, I could somehow find the motivation to learn, as it was common to hear it in movies and video games.

But for French and German, I could NOT find any motivation at all to learn them. 

I had no clue when I was ever going to use those languages, so why were we forced to learn them?

With lots of effort, I managed to usually get grades somewhere between 5 and 8 (D to A)

Unfortunately, I had to follow at least 3 years of French and 2 years of German, before I could quit them.

Which I did as soon as I could!

Unlikely Success with English

Now, you’re probably wondering what happened with my English grades. 

The funny thing is that I somehow started to get good grades in English.

While I did pay attention during classes, I almost never put any effort into my English homework. I also barely studied for tests.

But somehow my English grades were usually 8 and higher (A and A+ in the U.S. system)

How was that possible?

While in High School I didn’t really think about it. I was too busy with sports, friends, working, reading, and playing video games.

But later when I had just started learning Russian, I thought back about why my English grades had gotten so good, compared to my German and French grades.

And I realized that I had basically been immersing myself in the English language, without realizing it.

  • In the Netherlands, we show foreign movies and TV series with subtitles, so it’s easy to spend 1 to 2 hours per day listening to correct spoken English.
  • I loved to play video games and usually spend another 1 to 2 hours per day on average. Those games were ALWAYS in English. My favorite genre was ‘Role Playing Games’, in which you play a character that needs to do all sorts of missions (from finding a special weapon to slaying a strong monster). And I needed to pay close attention to what the game characters said or wrote, in order to successfully complete each mission.
  • I liked to read books, and some interesting books were only available in English, so I tried reading them in English. Sometimes even with a dictionary next to me, to make sure I understood the plot.
  • I went to the U.S. when I was 15 and 16 during summer for 2 weeks each to visit my uncle and my cousins. I then spent a lot of time instant messaging and emailing one of my cousins.
  • I went on a trip to the U.K. with my family when I was 16, and exchanged contact with a girl I met there. We also continued to text each other on MSN Messenger.

Now, I’m definitely not the only one who has a similar history. 

And if I look back, I’m completely not surprised why my English was so much better than my other foreign languages. And why I enjoyed it much more. 

It had a concrete benefit in my life, and I was using it a large amount of the time.

But it still surprises me when people with similar experiences, later try to learn another foreign language using the ‘traditional’ class method. Even though they know that when they were young, that did NOT work at all.

On a side note, my little sister actually got good grades in German when she was in high school. And coincidentally, she loved to watch the Cartoon Network when she was aged 7 to 12. But we couldn’t receive the original English Cartoon Network – only the German Cartoon Network. So I remember very clearly how she would be sitting in front of the TV every Saturday morning for a couple of hours listening to German. I’m 9 years older than my sister, so by that time, I had already dropped my German classes.

Meeting a Russian Girl at University

Now, in university, I went to study Biotechnology in Wageningen, the Netherlands in 2011. 

After having spent 6 months in a laboratory doing my thesis, I decided I did not want to spend the rest of my life working in a laboratory, so I decided to switch directions. 

I finished my Bachelor and went to study International Business in Madrid, Spain in 2015. 

While there, I tried to learn some basic Spanish, but it didn’t really work out.

The reasons are the following:

  • I was hanging out in an international crowd all the time, and we spoke English most of the time.
  • I already was planning to come back to the Netherlands after my study was finished, so I didn’t have a strong motivation to really dive deep into the Spanish language.
  • I spent time doing courses and messing around with apps, but I didn’t use it. Since I barely spoke Spanish, I quickly lost the theoretical knowledge I had learned.

What also didn’t help, was that I met a great Russian girl in my class. 

After a short while, we started dating. And for fun, I tried to say some Russian words. 

She found that very cute, so I tried learning some more words. After a couple of weeks of dating, we watched a Soviet movie from 1968 together: The Diamond Arm (Бриллиантовая рука).

I found it very funny, and the Russian language started intriguing me more and more.

But again, my previous language learning experiences hadn’t proven too successful, so I didn’t spend a lot of effort on Russian.

But the turning point came, when in early 2016, the girl (who had already become my girlfriend by that time), asked if I would like to travel with her to see her parents in Moscow in June 2016.

I had never been to Russia before, so I thought it would be incredibly cool to get an insider view of Russia.

So we got tickets.

And then she told me the following words, that pretty much changed my life:

“But you know, my parents don’t speak English, so you’re going to have to work on your Russian more.”

Which I did. Or better said, I tried. 

Unfortunately, the 2 months I had was not enough, even though I put in a lot of time.

First Time in Moscow

We arrived in Moscow late at night on the 4th of June 2016. Her parents picked us up from the airport. When we came home, they had laid a huge table full of tasty food and drinks.

Her dad invited me to have a couple of shots of homemade vodka (самогон).

Here I am in Tver helping to make Plov, a traditional Central Asian dish

I tried to speak, but I could only do a short basic introduction. Even though the vodka had helped loosen my tongue a bit.

Throughout the next 2 weeks, we saw Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Tver and also went to the village where her grandparents live in the south of Russia.

It was an amazing experience, and we had a lot of fun.

But unfortunately, I wasn’t too happy with my Russian skills.

I’d spent a lot of time on it before, but I still found it quite difficult to have conversations. 

When we were sitting at the table with her family, I often just zoned out for 20 minutes at a time, just trying to make sense of what they were saying. 

I remember sitting at the table with her grandparents and instead of trying to have a conversation, I just pointed at everything at the table and said помидор (tomato), хлеб (bread), огурец (cucumber),  мясо (meat, and квас (a barley drink).

It was a great experience, but I knew I had to drastically improve my Russian if I were to continue my relationship with my girlfriend.

After the trip, I went to the Netherlands to do my internship. And my girlfriend stayed behind in Madrid to do her internship there.

That was the start of over a long year of a long-distance relationship and a lot of visa problems…

A Year of Visa Problems

While she was in Madrid, and I was in the Netherlands, we saw each other a couple of times over the summer. 

But then her internship ended, and she had to make a decision about where to go next.

The economic situation in Spain wasn’t too good in 2016, and she’d also rather not go back to Russia, so we decided that she was going to come to the Netherlands.

However, that was easier said than done.

Especially since her European visa had ended, and needed to go back to Russia to apply for a Dutch visa.

We applied for a highly educated migrant visa for her, but she was rejected. But we still waited for 6 months before we got a ‘no’.

Then we applied for a partner visa, which took another 6 months before we got an answer. This time it was a ‘yes’.

But during those 12 months, we saw each other maybe 7 times. I had gone to Russia a couple of times, and she had come to the Netherlands several times.

Even though we didn’t see each other often this year, I still spent a lot of time on my Russian skills. 

We had about 1.5 months between every time we saw each other, so in the meantime, I tried to improve my Russian as much as possible.

But it was also the start of my working life, so I didn’t have too much time to spend on it. 

But this year gave me a lot of insight into what worked and what didn’t work for my Russian skills.

After all, I would have 1.5 months to practice and then go to Russia (or see her in the Netherlands), to check how much my speaking skills had improved.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about why my English was quite good, but I massively failed in German, French, and Spanish.

After a year of a long-distance relationship, my Russian had massively improved. And I had a very good grasp of what to do to make it even better.

Living Together

So in October 2017, we started living together. And almost right away, I understood that I had reached a comfortable level of Russian.

Some of her Moscow friends came over to the Netherlands in December 2017, and we picked them up from the airport.

We were going home by train, and I asked them how they flew (как долетели?) and what their first impressions of the Netherlands were (как вам пока нравится Голландия?)

We continued speaking and had a good time. 

It was only after 10 minutes of conversation that I realized I was speaking in a foreign language.

Before it just seemed like we were talking normally. It didn’t even feel weird to me.

This was the key moment when I realized the following:

I can already speak Russian comfortably. That means that every extra hour I spend on my Russian skills is a bonus. 

And since I could now talk fine, I could also start to practice much more. And watch Russian movies and series without subtitles. And read Russian books. 

So this is when I realized that if I could help other people reach this level, they would also experience a huge satisfaction and relief. That would make it so much easier for them to really reach fluency.

Remember what I said in the beginning:

If I can help you learn the 1000 most common words, understand verb conjugation and Russian cases, spend 100 hours listening to correct spoken Russian, and speak Russian every day, you WILL become fluent in Russian.

Starting YouTube

After 1.5 years of living together, I had an email conversation with a Russian teacher, about how to improve my Russian further. 

And she recommended I start a YouTube channel, just to practice my Russian and get some feedback on it.

So I uploaded a video in March 2019. 

Within a day it got over 1000 views and 100 positive comments.

I uploaded another video next week. And continued that for over 6 months. 

At a certain point, the YouTube algorithm started promoting my videos to a large group of native Russian speakers and I gained over 10.000 subscribers in a month.

Since then I’ve regularly uploaded videos about my view of Russia as a foreigner.

Starting to Coach People

Because of the channel, lots of people started reaching out to me about how I had learned Russian. 

I gave a lot of tips, but at a certain point, I decided it would be much more efficient to work on putting all my methods and strategies in one single place.

So that’s why in the beginning of 2020 I created my first Russian learning program ‘the Russian Conversational Blueprint’ and started coaching other people who wanted to become fluent in Russian.

In the past, I’ve worked with more than 200 people, and I’ve used those experiences to refine my methods and improve my system.

What’s Next?

After the conflict in Ukraine, I started thinking about what larger aim I should do with my Russian skills. 

I believe that peaceful solutions are always preferred to violent solutions. 

And that if the ties between common Western people and common Russians would’ve been stronger, we might have been able to avoid this conflict.

And knowing the language of the other side is a crucial component of this.

So my aim is to make it as easy as possible for other foreigners to learn Russian to a good conversational level. To make sure we all understand each other better, and we can work on making the world a better place for all of us.

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