How to Learn Russian in 12 Simple Steps [Complete Study Plan]
Whether you’re wondering what’s the best way to learn Russian or how to learn Russian by yourself, this powerful guide will help you achieve your learning goals
In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about learning Russian by yourself and on a budget, how long it takes, which tips and tricks work best, and how to make it fun.
- The Best Way to Learn Russian
- 1. Use Authentic Media
- 2. Immerse Yourself with a Good Program
- 3. Take the Time to Learn Cyrillic to Teach Yourself Russian
- 4. Memorize Common Words First to Learn Russian Fast
- 5. Learn Cognates and Loanwords
- 6. Immerse Yourself in Russian, at Home or Abroad
- 7. Practice Your Skills Daily
- 8. Find a Native Speaker to Interact With
- 9. Use an Online Russian Course or Program
- 10. Hit Those Russian Books
- 11. Learn with Videos
- 12. Learn with Fun!
- FAQ About Learning Russian
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The Best Way to Learn Russian
1. Use Authentic Media
Using authentic media is a fun and useful way to learn Russian quickly. By using audio and video made for native speakers and listening to the Russian language in context, you can more directly apply what you learn to real-world situations.
Also, listening to Russian media is great for helping you come up with conversation topics when you talk to native speakers.
There are lots of ways to do this, but I’ll just name a few:
- Creating an in-home immersion environment
- Listening to Russian music
- Watching Russian movies
- Reading Russian books
- Binging on Russian TV series
…or all of the above!
In particular, listening to native speakers use Russian in their own media helps you pick up on how native pronunciation sounds. And it trains your ears to understand the faster pace of native Russian.
When learning any language, comprehending native speakers when they’re talking quickly is an important and often difficult hurdle.
For this reason, you should try and use Russian subtitles when watching Russian video content. This will help you connect the words to the sounds you’re hearing.
2. Immerse Yourself with a Good Program
While learning Russian with authentic media can be highly effective, not all videos have subtitles to help you out. And not all subtitles are accurate (especially not the auto-generated ones that many YouTube videos have).
But even with accurate subtitles, you’ll still come across words and phrases in Russian media that you aren’t familiar with.
Fortunately, there are language learning programs like FluentU that streamline the process of learning Russian with native media. FluentU, available as both a website and iOS/Android app, teaches Russian with a library of authentic video clips like cartoons, commercials and music videos.
FluentU’s videos are enhanced with interactive Russian captions that let you read along with the dialogue and click words to look up the translation, example sentences and native pronunciation.
The program’s video dictionary also lists the other clips where a word can be found. Plus, you can add words to your own custom multimedia flashcard decks.
Each video on FluentU comes with personalized review quizzes that adapt to your progress. On the app, these quizzes include speaking questions that let you practice pronunciation with the help of speech recognition.
Watching authentic media exposes you to full, fluent sentences spoken at a native pace, rather than just Russian words and phrases with no real context. Seeing words used in the context of these videos will help your brain connect words and their meanings faster.
And with the help of FluentU‘s captions and other language tools, you can get this exposure without missing out on new vocabulary as it goes whizzing by you.
FluentU’s videos also include some primers for the Cyrillic alphabet. Read on for more about that—you’ll want to get comfortable with Cyrillic early on in your Russian studies!
3. Take the Time to Learn Cyrillic to Teach Yourself Russian
The Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Some letters are the same as the English alphabet, but others are a little different, so it’s important to take the time to learn Cyrillic.
There are a lot of resources that offer transliterations of Russian words to save you the trouble, but these are actually likely to waste more of your time than just learning the alphabet.
The reasons for this are twofold:
- There are a number of sounds in Russian that are difficult to make based on transliterations. For instance, ж should be pronounced like the “s” in “pleasure.” However, it’s usually transliterated as “zh.” Is it really easier to remember what “zh” is meant to sound like than to just learn ж?
- There are a number of words in Russian that are similar to English words. If you lean on transliterations, you won’t be able to read at all. However, if you learn the alphabet, even if you don’t study any vocabulary, you’ll still be able to understand some written words just by sounding them out.
For instance, if you see a sign that says аэропорт, you can easily determine that this means “airport” since the words are nearly identical.
There are lots of great resources out there for learning the Russian alphabet. For instance, you might try Master Russian’s guide or RussianPlus’s popular YouTube video:
Regardless of what source you choose, learning the alphabet shouldn’t take long, and it’ll save you a lot of time in the long run.
4. Memorize Common Words First to Learn Russian Fast
Learning the most common words first will ensure that you’re able to use your Russian skills immediately.
Getting fully fluent will still take some more time, but being able to communicate in Russian right off the bat is like getting a running start on the road to fluency. After all, if you know the most common words, you’ll be able to hold basic conversations and listen to authentic sources, which will, in turn, lead to more learning.
To get started, you might try this guide to the 1,000 most common Russian words from 101 Languages.
5. Learn Cognates and Loanwords
Many languages, including Russian and English, share some words that are similar or exactly the same.
There are two main reasons for this:
- Words in different languages may share the same origin (cognates). Many words have Latin or Greek roots, so you might find them to be the same or similar between Russian and English.
- The existence of loanwords (borrowed words). Sometimes, one language will adopt words from other languages, and this can lead to words being the same across languages.
If you want to learn some Russian words that were borrowed from English words, you might look at this list of words. For a more general list of words that are the same or similar between Russian and English, try this cognate article from The Russian Blog.
6. Immerse Yourself in Russian, at Home or Abroad
Immersion is the quickest way to learn any language.
If you can go abroad to immerse yourself in Russian, that’s terrific! If not, you can still immerse yourself at home.
Simple things like reading Russian magazines, labeling household items with their Russian names or watching Russian movies will go a long way toward improving your fluency.
To really benefit from home immersion, put together a plan. What will you do every day at home to surround yourself with the Russian language? Consider your daily routine, and think about all the places you could insert a little Russian.
Try downloading a Russian audio track to use as an alarm each morning. You could enjoy some Russian cartoons with your breakfast. You could listen to Russian podcasts during your drive to work. As you think through your day, you’ll find more and more places to work Russian into your routine.
One easy way to start immersing yourself as a beginner is to buy the Russian Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you pre-made labels for common items around your home and office. Before you know it, you’ll have memorized a bunch of useful Russian words, without even trying.
7. Practice Your Skills Daily
Regardless of which fast learning techniques you use, it’s important to practice your Russian skills daily.
Daily practice is important to encourage your skills to keep moving forward, whether this is through immersion techniques or just studying daily.
It can be tempting to study for hours one day and then wait a few days to study again. The problem with this is that your skills will backslide during your time away from learning, thereby slowing down your learning progress.
To avoid this, there are two possible solutions: microlearning sessions and learning sprints.
Microlearning is becoming more and more popular among language learners because it allows them to be in contact with the language they’re learning in an easy and undemanding way.
A microsession can last around five to 10 minutes, so it can be easily done while drinking your morning coffee or before going to bed.
If you use this method, I recommend that you try to include a microlearning session in the morning and one in the evening every day (yes, weekends as well).
You can use any type of material you want for your microsession. For instance, you can do a couple of exercises on an app, watch a YouTube video, listen to a song while you read the lyrics, read a piece of news on the internet or write a couple of things you’re thankful for in your journal.
The most important thing here isn’t the material you use, but the fact that you’re coming in contact with the language every day.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of language sprints, many students use this method because they need to learn a huge amount of material in the shortest amount of time possible or lack the motivation to embark on a long language-learning journey.
Efficient language sprints last around one to three hours. Some people make them even longer, but if you do this, make sure to take breaks. Your brain can only focus for a certain amount of time, and any work done after that might not be retained as well.
Sprints are normally done three to five times a week, and they can last more or less depending on the goal and the deadline the learner has chosen.
In a perfect scenario, you’d do four 2.5-hour sprints a week for a month. This totals 40 hours of learning during a period of four weeks, so get ready for an intensive month.
One key aspect of a language sprint is that you should practice one major language skill (listening, speaking, writing and reading) at a time.
For example, if you’re going to do four sprints a week, do one skill each day.
If you plan on doing less than that, divide your time accordingly. You can split a sprint into two smaller ones and use each of them to practice a different skill, but try not to do more than two skills on the same day.
This is because research has shown that multitasking, or switching from one type of task to another, makes it more difficult for you to focus.
8. Find a Native Speaker to Interact With
Interacting with native speakers is a quick way to improve your skills. Speaking with Russians will improve your pronunciation, speaking and listening. A written pen pal relationship can also improve your reading and writing.
If you don’t know any Russians, try an online language exchange program like Language.Exchange or MyLanguageExchange.com. These websites allow you to find native Russian speakers who are learning your native language. This way, you can help each other study your native languages.
9. Use an Online Russian Course or Program
There are a number of language learning programs online that promise fast results. When used in combination with authentic learning materials, Russian courses and language programs can be a powerful way to put your learning into overdrive.
Here are a few Russian learning programs that you can pair with authentic resources for the best learning experience:
- Read Russian Videos: As I already mentioned, one of the first things you’ll have to do when you start learning Russian is master the Cyrillic alphabet.
This series of nine videos will teach you how to read any letter and word in Russian in under two hours. And it really works: With explanations in English and native pronunciations, this video mini-course will have you reading Russian in no time.
- Drops: Drops isn’t only a very cute app, but it’s also one of the fastest ways to build up your Russian vocabulary. Perfect for microlearning sessions, Drops gives you five minutes to learn as many words as possible through easy exercises like pairing images to words, rearranging letters or determining if a word is written correctly.
Best of all, Drops will only use Russian to teach you Russian, so the immersion component is guaranteed.
- Russian Accelerator: Russian Accelerator is an online course that focuses on teaching you Russian quickly through key phrases, contextual learning and pattern recognition.
This program boasts super literal translations (so you can see how each sentence is formed, rather than a simple definition), teaches grammar through patterns and context rather than memorization, uses guided immersion to get you practicing the language and much more. It’s a way to learn Russian naturally without having to travel to Russia!
- Russian Made Easy: This Udemy Russian course is designed to teach you the basics quickly. Video lessons are about 15-20 minutes long and feature native speakers. Lessons cover vocabulary, the case system and verb conjugations. The 15 lessons in this course are free, while the 15 lessons in the next course are available for $20.
You can find a variety of other affordable courses on Udemy to target various aspects of Russian learning, from pronunciation to conversation to TORFL prep.
- Live Lingua “Russian Fast Course”: Live Lingua’s “Russian Fast Course” is a free course that includes an e-book accompanied by audio. The idea is that you learn through “guided imitation” and repetition. The accompanying text also contains activities to improve your skills.
10. Hit Those Russian Books
We’re going old-school this time. Books it is!
You’re probably wondering if I’ve gone crazy. You’re trying to learn Russian fast and I start talking about books in the middle of it all.
This might surprise you, but reading books is one of the fastest ways to improve your skills in any language!
When you use a book to learn a language, your brain is focused on the words. You pay attention to constructions that sound odd or interesting, memorize new vocabulary better, see grammar rules in action and get to really know how a language works on the inside.
All of this makes you acquire new words faster, understand grammar better and even improve your major language skills as a whole!
There are different ways in which you can use books to your advantage, and several different types of books you can use.
If you’re in a hurry, I recommend the following types of books:
- Russian courses in book format: This type of book is preferred when you’re learning on your own. It includes lots of information about grammar, lists of words, exercises, CDs to practice your listening comprehension and more. These books are very popular among self-learners because their pace is normally fast.
- Bilingual Russian-other language books: This is one of the types of books you should start using as soon as possible. These books, also known as “readers” present entire stories or books in Russian, accompanied by translations into another language. They allow you to see the language in use in an authentic setting, without watering down the vocabulary and grammar.
- Books: The real deal. These are the novels, stories, biographies and memoirs as written by their authors, no translation or comprehension aids included. They’re the books you’ll read (if you enjoy reading) when you’re in the advanced stages of your Russian learning journey.
For the sake of being thorough, here are some other types of books that aren’t great for quick learning, but are good to have on hand, anyway:
- Russian textbooks and workbooks: These are the books traditionally used in classroom settings. They include grammar, vocabulary, dialogues, cultural information and a ton of exercises. These aren’t the books you’d use when you’re in a hurry, but they’re awesome nonetheless.
- Book about learning Russian: These are books that give you extensive information about how to learn the Russian language. They include examples and sometimes exercises that help you apply what you’re learning.
This type of book can be useful for total beginners since they introduce you to the language and include explanations of the Cyrillic alphabet, the cases and the most important grammar features.
- Grammar books: A nightmare for some and a dream come true for others (me), grammar books are exactly what they claim to be: Books covering all Russian grammar.
I wouldn’t recommend grammar books to people who are trying to learn fast. Granted, you need grammar to really master a language, but you don’t need that much grammar if you’re going for speed instead of perfection.
There are other types of books, but these here are the ones that language learners typically deal with during their learning process.
It’d be impossible to give you a whole list of recommendations in this section, but I’ve taken the liberty of choosing four different books that will certainly help you boost your learning and reach your goal faster:
- “The Everything Learning Russian Book with CD: Speak, Write, and Understand Russian in No Time!”: I always joke that the title of this book is longer than the act of learning Russian itself.
This is one of those Russian courses in book format that include everything you need to build a solid Russian foundation quickly and smoothly. It includes a CD so that you get to listen to native audio and practice all your major language skills.
- “Learn Russian the Fast and Fun Way”: This book is chock-full of engaging material. Lessons are interspersed with activities that help you apply your knowledge. Since applying your learning reinforces it, this is a great way to improve quickly.
- “First Russian Reader for Beginners”: If you’re starting to learn Russian and want to improve your language skills fast, this reader is the perfect option for you.
It includes vocabulary lists and parallel texts to help you understand what you’re reading. I love that the author created each sentence by only using words and phrases that had previously been explained.
- “Russian in 10 Minutes a Day”: You wanted speed, so I bring you speed. With this engaging book, all you need are 10 minutes a day to learn Russian.
Perfect for microlearning sessions, this book includes a workbook, interactive fun stickers to label your house, flashcards, activities and even software you can use on your computer to make the learning experience more enjoyable.
11. Learn with Videos
Learning with videos is a great way to learn a language fast because of several reasons.
Firstly, it makes the learning process engaging and fun. If you’re enjoying what you’re learning, you’ll remember it easier and faster, saving you tons of review time in the future.
Secondly, it opens a window to the culture of the language you’re learning. Sure, books, podcasts or the radio are also necessary tools that can teach you about Russian culture, but there’s nothing like seeing it with your own eyes.
Finally, learning with videos, because of its nature, makes it easier to learn because of all the visual information you’re getting. The more senses you use while learning, the better and faster results you’ll get.
I mentioned earlier that native content is essential when learning Russian. It allows you to get immersed in the language and accelerates the whole learning process.
But native media isn’t the only type of media you can watch. There are millions of videos and clips created specifically to learn Russian (instructional videos), and these are also very necessary when you’re trying to learn Russian fast, since they give you summarized grammar info, a lot of new words and yet another window to the Russian culture.
Obviously, not all video resources are good. So to save you some time, I’ve separated the wheat from the chaff and made a list of five video resources you should use to boost your Russian at superspeed:
- Real Russian Club – “Slow Russian Lessons”: This series of videos in slow Russian was created by Daria Molchanova, a native Russian speaker who’ll tell you about her daily life, hobbies, holidays and many other topics.
She uses little English and a lot of Russian in her videos, which makes them perfect for pre-intermediate and intermediate students who want to get immersed in the language.
- Easy Russian – “Learn Russian from the Streets!”: This Easy Russian playlist will allow you to see many places in Russia and listen to native speakers from all around the country telling you about what they like about their cities, what makes them happy, what inspires them, what their thoughts on Russian music are and more.
Even though the channel is called Easy Russian, the language level is more appropriate for advanced learners. However, anyone can use these videos to get completely immersed in Russian as every video includes English subtitles.
- FluentU’s YouTube Channel: Free series of videos with different sources of media that go over challenging and tricky Russian grammar points, vocabulary, real-life situations, and much more to help anyone feel confident in Russian skills.
- Sistema Kalinka – “Russian Video course”: If you subscribe to this video course (it’s currently at around $34/month), you’ll get over 150 30-minute videos divided into four levels, 250 native audio recordings, 300 pages of study material, grammar tables, exercises and a personal tutor who’ll answer to all your questions by email.
Even though this is a comprehensive course to learn Russian, the video content is its main asset. You can see a snippet of a lesson and listen to some of the audio recordings on the course page.
12. Learn with Fun!
Learning a new language can be lots of fun! It can be daunting to start learning a Slavic language, but the process can—and should—be enjoyable.
There are many ways to make the learning process fun. You can watch movies, series and cartoons, karaoke your lungs off, flirt online, read comics, learn Russian with memes and so much more.
However, there are two key tools that amp up the fun while allowing you to keep on learning: apps and games.
I’m sure you’ve heard about and even used both of them in the past. Both apps and games keep us engaged and focused and they make sure we never get tired of learning.
Language learning apps are a marvel of the modern age. They include games to help you better memorize what you’re learning, making the learning process more fun.
Apps can expand your learning universe. They let you talk and play with people from all around the world. They help you have fun and learn, so you don’t even feel like you’re studying anymore.
Best of all, apps can be carried with you wherever you go, making them perfect for fun learning microsessions. Do you have five minutes between classes? Or 10 minutes before your next meeting? Open your favorite app for learning Russian and solve a quiz or complete an activity.
Some apps even have levels and streaks, so you really feel like you’re playing a game!
On that topic, video games provide another perfect opportunity to have fun while being completely immersed in a foreign language.
Gamers will know what I’m talking about. When you start playing a new video game, you put yourself in the center of the story. Now imagine the same situation but surrounded by Russian characters, native Russian audio, missions with instructions in Russian, etc. It’s a fun way to get immersed!
Some games even let you connect to players from other countries, and communicate with them in order to work as a team. If you choose the appropriate games and teams (the ones that speak native Russian), video games will allow you to have the time of your life while you level up all four major language skills.
Not sure where to start? I’ve gathered four options that my students, friends and I love. Give them a try!
- Fun Easy Learn: Fun Easy Learn is a free app that’ll teach you over 11,000 Russian words and phrases through more than a dozen different games. With this cute little app, you’ll be able to practice your writing, listening (using native speaker audio), speaking and reading, as well as to learn a lot of new vocabulary.
There are over 120 different topics, and each of them includes transliterated words and exercises. Best of all? You can even play offline!
- “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: If you’re a serious gamer, you know The Witcher and Geralt of Rivia. This beautifully crafted game can be downloaded completely in Russian, and that includes not only the main menus but also all the in-game audio and even the subtitles!
If you’re a beginner, switch on the Russian audio and leave the subtitles in your native language. If you’re an intermediate student, opt for both audio and subtitles in Russian, Finally, if you’re an advanced pro or want to feel real immersion with Geralt, change the game language to Russian completely, i.e., settings and main menu as well. If you’re brave enough, lose the subtitles altogether.
- LinGo Russian: Imagine being able to learn Russian through games… but you’re playing against other Russian language learners!
That’s LinGo, a game you can play both in your browser and on your smartphone. The free version allows you to compete only in the Flashcard category, but if you go premium, you can also play with Words and Phrases. There are even Tournaments available in the premium version!
If you’re a complete beginner, I recommend you first study the lessons available. The games use words from the lessons randomly, so you never know what you’re going to get tested on!
- Influent: Influent is my favorite game to learn languages, and I have a feeling it’ll be yours, too, once you try it. Influent is a 3D game/dictionary created to help you learn vocabulary and pronunciation. You go around a virtual apartment choosing objects, learning their names and a bit of grammar about them.
With Influent you’ll learn household and everyday vocabulary you’ll definitely get to use, but you’ll also have fun choosing what you want to learn, playing the minigames and helping Andrew Cross follow instructions.
My favorite part of the game is the “Time Attack” feature, which shows you the names of some objects and challenges you to find them around the apartment.
FAQ About Learning Russian
Is Russian hard to learn?
If you’ve never tried to learn a Slavic language before, learning Russian can certainly feel like an impossible feat.
That’s because you have to learn a completely new alphabet, the daunting grammar rules and their exceptions, the pronunciation, the cases, the new vocabulary, etc.
You haven’t started yet and you’re already overwhelmed.
I feel you. I had to start learning Polish when I was 25 and I went from sweet Spanish heaven to Polish Armaggedon in 24 hours!
But this shocking and unexpected bucket of ice-cold water helped me realize Slavic languages aren’t as scary as they might seem. They’re indeed learnable! The problem isn’t that they’re hard to learn, but that we use the wrong approach to learn them.
Think about it. You can’t pretend to learn Spanish and Russian by using the exact same methods.
Spanish is a Romance language. It has no cases, it mainly uses prepositions to make sentences make sense, the majority of its vocabulary comes from Latin, and it has a very developed verb conjugation system.
On the other hand, Russian uses cases to show the relationship between words or phrases, it has only three tenses (past, present and future) and two aspects (perfective and imperfective).
They’re two completely different systems, and each of them can be easy or hard depending on who you ask.
My personal experience tells me that Russian, as a Slavic language, can be challenging at times, but broadly speaking, it shouldn’t be harder than any other language you may want to try to learn.
The key is approaching it from the right perspective, which you can do with the tips described earlier.
Is it possible to learn Russian by yourself?
This question doesn’t have an easy answer either, but to make a long story short, yes, it’s possible to learn Russian by yourself… if you know how to do it.
We live in the era of the internet, so finding free or almost free high-quality resources to help you learn Russian shouldn’t be a problem.
Certainly, not all resources are equally useful, but if you use the appropriate ones and you know the steps you have to take to reach your destination, learning Russian and reaching the advanced level is totally achievable.
If you follow the tips and resources mentioned in this post, it can help to achieve your goal faster and better but, generally speaking, once you find the right tools, consistency and hard work are all you need to become a fluent Russian speaker.
Why learn Russian fast?
One popular reason to attempt to learn Russian fast is if you need to use Russian soon. Whether you have an upcoming trip to Russia or a business meeting with Russian speakers, you may very well simply need the Russian language in the not-too-distant future. This will certainly drive you to learn Russian quickly.
You might also want to learn Russian quickly in order to stay motivated. Quick results are very motivating. If you notice a marked improvement in your skills, you’re much more likely to keep studying Russian, which will, in turn, lead to more learning.
Another reason to learn Russian quickly is to maintain focus. Staying interested in a subject for a long time can be difficult. If you learn Russian quickly, though, you should be able to maintain focus long enough to gain some real skills.
How long does it take to learn Russian?
Another very frequently asked question is how long it takes to learn Russian. Once again, there’s no right or specific answer for it.
There are a lot of courses, websites and learning methods that promise you a perfect Russian pronunciation and mastery of the language in one, two or three months. As my grandma used to say, “let me just sit before I start laughing, because this may take me a while.”
It’s impossible to learn a language, any language, in a couple of months (unless you’re a genius), so let’s start by setting the record straight: Any claim that you can become fluent in Russian in less than, say, a year, is a blatant lie.
According to the Foreign Service Institute of the United States, it should take you around 1,100 hours of study to become fluent in Russian. How these hours are distributed is up to you, but as a language professor and a polyglot myself, I wouldn’t recommend studying more than two or three hours a day (and even this amount seems too much for my liking).
So, for instance, if you study one hour a day, it’d take you around three years to master the Russian language. If you take it up a notch, let’s say to two hours a day, then one and half years is all you need.
Depending on your motivation, your native language, the reason you have to learn and the degree of immersion you can achieve, this process can obviously take you more or less time, but as a rule of thumb, it should be possible to complete a language level (in the A1-C2 scale) in three months if you really commit to it.
Now that you know the best ways to study Russian, you’ll be speaking Russian faster than a native would pronounce рентгеноэлектрокардиографический (electrocardiographic X-ray).
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!