One of the best ways to skyrocket your progress in Russian is to immerse yourself in it. And what better (and fun) way to do that than to watch Russian TV series? If you’re learning Russian you’ll love the following 7 best Russian TV shows for learning Russian.
After that I’ll give you the exact plan how I incorporated Russian TV series into my learning. So feel free to copy that if you’re serious about learning Russian!
In the above video I explain how I learned Russian
By the way: I only picked series that are freely available on YouTube. Check out the links in the description. I also added where possible if they’re with English subs. So if you’re just starting out, it’s better to watch them with English subtitles so you get a feeling for the language.
7 of the best Russian TV shows for learning Russian
How I became Russian is the story of Alex, an American reporter who moves to Moscow for his work, gets his ‘real Russian’ education. His grandma was Russian, so he does know a bit of the language – but unfortunately none of the Russian customs, culture and habits.
Which turns out pretty unlucky for him – but incredibly funny for us.
They basically used all the funny and interesting Russian customs (such as only bringing an un-even number of flowers for a girl on a date) and created fun scenarios with it.
And at the end of each episode Alex writes in his blog what he learned that episode about the Russian culture and mentality.
You can watch “How I became Russian here” – unfortunately there are no English Subtitles.
Top of the World is a series about 2 guys and a girl who want to open a hostel in Moscow. Their apartment has a roof with a beautiful view on the city – hence the name Top of the World.
However, they experience a lot of troubles and challenges along the way (including a pissed off neighbor, who tries to block all their plans for opening a hostel).
It’s a fun series to watch and you’ll also learn some things about corruption and bureaucracy.
You can watch “Top of the World” here – and unfortunately there are also no English subtitles available.
This Russian TV series is a bit older and if you’re looking for a TV show on how the Russian army was 15 years ago, then you should definitely watch Soldiers.
It’s about new recruits who are enlisted in the army (which is mandatory in Russia), and make the best out of their situation.
They develop lifelong friendships, overcome difficult obstacles, and of course fall in love with the camp nurse.
Watch ‘Soldiers’ here. Unfortunately, again no English subtitles available.
Here’s something different. A long documentary about the First World war. The series and documentaries from StarMediaEN were one of the first ones that I watched when I started learning Russian.
They’re well made – cover a wide range of different topics and best of all for new Russian learners: they’re available with English and Russian subtitles.
So you can watch them with Russian voices, and English subtitles. This is perfect for any beginner Russian learner, as your brain and ears will get used to the Russian language.
Check their WW1 documentary here.
Spies must die is another StarMediaEN series. They’re detective shows (usually with a war theme) and they’re with less action and more dialogue.
They cover a wide range of times and locations, and are perfect if you’re looking for a fun detective series. Again, they’re available with English subtitles, so they’re perfect for beginner learners.
Click here for the StarMediaEN channel and search there for Spies Must Die.
This series is all about the adventures of the cooks and workers in a kitchen. A good show for intermediate learners, as the vocabulary isn’t too advanced. On the Youtube version there are no English subtitles. However, you can buy the version with subtitles on Amazon.
This is the Russian version of the popular sitcom ‘Scrubs’. It follows interns in a hospital who try to make their way through the trials and medical challenges. There are also no subtitles, but the speed of talking is relatively slow.
How to use Russian TV series for learning Russian?
To make sure that we’re on the same level, I’ve added here a step by step guide on how to use these best Russian TV series for learning Russian. In the first couple of steps we’ll find out which type of series is correct for you. Then there are some tips and tricks on how to apply the learning best into your life. After that we’ll discuss the reasons why watching Russian TV shows is such a good idea if you’re learning the language.
Step 1: what’s your level in Russian?
First of all, what’s your current fluency in Russian? Don’t lie to yourself here – but take an objective approach. Are you just starting out – or did you already learn some Russian?
The more advanced you are, the wider the choice of series are. If you’re a beginner for example, it’s not a great idea to start watching WW2 documentaries with a lot of difficult terms without any subtitles whatsoever.
And also, cartoons are not the best option. They might look fun to watch and have relatively simple vocabulary. But what I’ve found is that the high-pitched voices often make it very difficult for beginners to understand what they are saying. So keep the fun cartoons for a later level ?
Step 2: Do you need English (or Russian) subtitles?
Beginners should watch Russian shows with English subtitles. That way you’ll still be able to follow the plot, but your subconscious will learn a lot of Russian.
Once you find that you’re at intermediate level – you might want to switch to Russian subtitles. This will be a big step, and don’t be surprised if it feels very overwhelming at first. Don’t worry about that and see how far you can come.
If after a couple of episodes, you still feel like you don’t get anything, there are 2 things that can be the culprit. First thing is that maybe you’re watching a series with too difficult vocabulary. Try switching to simpler shows (for example: “How I became Russian”). If that’s also too difficult – then go back for a while to watching them with English subtitles.
Step 3: What are you interested in?
Another good question. If you hate war, then don’t try to watch WW2 documentaries. And if you can’t stand the awkward situation humor that some of the newer Russian series have – then skip them!
You’re not obliged to watch a specific show just because some people say that it’s a great show for learning Russian.
The most important part is that you enjoy whatever you’re watching. Plus, there are so many good shows out there, that it’s literally impossible to go through all of them.
So pick a couple of genres that you like, and find the right series for them.
Step 4: Just get started!
Once you’ve made a list of a couple of series that you’d like to watch – that are at your level of Russian, just get started watching them.
It might feel a bit uncomfortable (especially if you’re at the stage without English subtitles), but just stick with it for a couple of episodes. Your brain needs time to get used to the Russian, and once you get into it, you’ll find that following the plot becomes easier and easier over time.
Step 5: Watch for at least 20 minutes per day (or aim for the brain melt)
If you want to get the most out of watching TV shows in Russian, I recommend you try to watch at least every day. This will create a habit and before you know it, you’ll be craving to watch your daily series. In a couple of months, your Russian will have improved a lot.
20 minutes is a good starting time. But feel free to watch for as long as you can. It’s a learning thing, so you can spend your time guilty free and watching series!
If you feel 20 minutes is too much – and you’re getting that brain melt after only 5 minutes of watching. Then you can either continue with watching just a couple of minutes per day. That will soon become 10 minutes and 20 minutes the more you practice.
Also, you can decide to go down a notch and find an easier series or turn subtitles on after several minutes.
Another helpful tip is to stop watching English series, and only watch Russian ones. They’re just as fun and your progress in Russian will skyrocket!
Why Russian TV series are so good for learning Russian
Here I’ve listed the top reasons why I think it’s a great idea to watch Russia series (and movies). Especially for those who are learning Russian.
#1 It’s fun
This is on number 1 for a reason. You see, the more practice and time you put into learning Russian, the better you’re going to become. So if you can decide between spending 2 hours of studying a grammar book at your desk – or watching a fun series in Russian for 2 hours… which one are you more likely to choose?
Exactly: watching the series. Because it draws you in and keeps your attention with an interesting plot and humor – it will be 10 times easier to spend a lot of time on it.
So if you’re stuck in a rut and find that it’s difficult to focus on regular learning, maybe you need to switch up your routine and just watch a good series. That will help you get to the next level in Russian.
Oh, and maybe you’re the type of person who always feels like he needs to do something useful with his time? Then watching Russian TV will help relax you while learning something that’s important to you!
#2 You’ll learn helpful vocabulary
You can learn vocabulary by memorizing lists. Or by using a spaced repetition program. But still, when doing that you’re not going to know which words are often used – and which ones aren’t.
By watching series (especially modern ones), you’ll quickly find out which words are commonly used by native speakers. This will help you focus in on learning useful vocabulary.
Plus you’ll learn a lot of new words in context. So you’re more likely to remember them. So it’s a double punch:
You’ll find out exactly which words you need to focus on and which ones are important. Plus you’ll be able to better remember them!
#3 train your brain and ears to understand Russian
This is arguably one of the best functional improvements that you’ll gain from watching Russian series. It is that your brain and ears will get trained to the Russian language.
It’s especially helpful for beginners. Remember when you just started out and Russian sounded like a string of weird sounds? And you couldn’t even distinguish between a single word? That’s exactly the thing that watching good TV shows will help you with.
Because it’s just a matter of listening to Russian for an extended period of time. Training your ears to distinguish individual words when hearing Russian. And the great thing is that you don’t even have to put in full effort for this. Just by consciously listening to Russian speech, you’ll learn it. So even if you use English subtitles, you’ll quickly get a feeling for listening.
#4 Learn about Russian history and culture
The next thing I want to talk about isn’t often mentioned. But I think watching the best Russian TV series is a great way for getting to know the Russian history and culture. Especially if you watch realistic series (like Soldiers) or documentaries, you’ll learn a ton of useful references and information about the Russian mentality, culture and history.
Plus you’ll get a lot of conversation topics for when you’re speaking with a native Russian. Since winters are long and cold, most Russian people spend a lot of time indoors in winter. And what better way to spend a cold winter evening, than watching a good series?
After you’ve watched a couple of series, it will be easy for you to find common ground with other Russian speakers. Because you’ve probably watched the same ones. At least some of them. Russians are often very happy that you’re showing interest in their culture and language. Because it’s actually pretty rare that a non-Russian person tries to learn Russian. So they’ll be very grateful that you’re taking the time to learn it.
Conclusion on the best Russian TV Shows for learning Russian
We’ve covered a lot of interesting topics in this Russian TV shows article. So if you’re interested in learning Russian, I highly recommend you check out some of the series mentioned in this article.
Feel free to follow my exact step by step guide for finding out which series will suit you well. And then try to watch for at least 20 minutes per day. This can be easily made into a habit by switching your English series for Russian ones.
You’ll probably see an increase in your understanding of Russian within the first couple of weeks already. And the longer you keep watching series, the better your Russian will become.
One thing I absolutely love about watching Russian TV shows is the guilt free leisure it offers. If you’re anything like me and always feel like you need to do something useful with your time – all the time. Then it can be very liberating to watch TV shows in Russian. On the one hand you’re relaxing and having a good time – while still practicing and becoming better in something that’s important to you.
What are your favorite Russian TV series? Or movies? Let us all know in the comments! Or share your experience how watching Russian TV /movies made you a better Russian speaker!
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.