Are you ready to break away from your structured textbook with its predictable stories about Ivan and Irina going to the store to buy bread?
Why not learn from a more natural language source, like a Russian newspaper or radio broadcast?
You’ll learn what’s going on in the world while also picking up some real-world vocabulary and grammar.
Reading and listening to news broadcasts complements other multimedia learning methods, like singing Russian songs and watching modern and Soviet-era movies. It takes what you already know and goes a little deeper, giving you more complex, nuanced and advanced Russian lessons—all while staying topical, relevant and just plain interesting.
Why Learn Russian with the News?
Memorizing grammar rules doesn’t make the cut for the list of best language learning strategies. Rather, real learning is best achieved by communicating in your new language while learning about other topics.
News outlets offer an effective way to stay on top of current events while learning a foreign tongue at the same time. And Russian language learners are in luck: A number of online Russian-language news sources are out there from which to choose.
Apart from the generally immersive nature of learning with the news, these resources offer many more benefits:
- See Another Perspective
In addition to providing opportunities for language learning, reading newspapers or listening to news shows from other countries also enables you to appreciate another culture’s take on world events.
- Get Constantly Updated Material
New stories are published every day, if not more frequently, so you can always find a topic to suit your interests. Plus, by reading Russian stories about familiar subjects, you can pick up the gist of the reports easily.
- Learn Real-world Vocabulary
Pens, erasers, blackboards and wastebaskets are important in life. However, when you’re trying to converse with someone in Russian in the real world, these words are likely not the ones you’re reaching for. You want key words to share facts, express opinions and counter arguments.
So, go ahead, grab some news. Read about recent elections, upcoming movie releases or even unusual foods that different cultures relish during the holidays to expand and enrich your Russian conversational repertoire. Your vocabulary will grow to encompass all these topics in no time.
The Starter Guide for Learning Russian with the News
Chances are, especially if you’re a beginning Russian language learner, you’re not going to be able to translate every story you read word for word. That goes double for video and audio news clips. But that’s okay.
If you can pick out just a couple of words here and there, you’ll be surprised at how much of the story you really can follow.
- Start Simple
Start with simple stories about topics you’re familiar with, whether a short piece about a sports team you follow, the follow-up from a presidential speech you read in English or a story about your favorite celebrity.
You can also read about a topic in English first, then transfer your knowledge to the Russian version. Take a stab at figuring out words you don’t know. Of course, you can always keep a dictionary close by to help out.
- Read at Your Own Rhythm
You can read a written story in an online paper, watch an anchorperson deliver the news in a video, or listen to an announcer in a podcast. Either way, you’re going to learn.
Reading has a lot of perks.
Reading exposes you to more words, and another nice plus is that you can go at your own pace. If you didn’t quite understand something, you can take a few minutes to reread it. Break out your dictionary if need be, or mark up any paper copies of the news you have on hand with your thoughts, questions and translations.
- Listen Actively
Listening to a foreign language isn’t the passive action some may think it is. Focusing on someone speaking Russian forces you to keep up and not get bogged down if you don’t know or misunderstand a word. The key to learning a foreign language is to increase your exposure to hearing it.
7 News Resources You Can Use to Learn Russian
Russian Newspapers Online
Whether you want to learn by checking out the political news of the day or prefer reading a human interest story, you have several choices.
TASS, the Russian-government-owned news channel, is the fourth-largest news agency in the world. Though you can toggle between the Russian and English versions of the site, the stories don’t appear in the exactly the same places on the screen in each version.
However, you can search for the English version of a Russian story to help you learn more difficult terms or those you can’t figure out through context.
Back in Soviet times, Известия represented the views of the government. Today, this privately owned agency is Russia’s most-read daily paper. Its free online website offers sections familiar to any newspaper reader: politics, economics, sports, culture.
You can start with a straight news story about a current event, read some of the opinion pieces listed on the right side of the screen, or learn about what historical events occurred on the current date.
The BBC Russian Service is another news outlet with a long history. First broadcast over the radio waves in 1946, the BBC moved the Russian service to an online-only format in 2011.
Like Известия, this website also offers news in all the familiar topics, but this time, from a British/Western perspective. The BBC also offers a weekend news roundup show, «Пятый этаж». This broadcast is also available as a downloadable podcast, you can listen to it at your leisure, as many times as you’d like.
4. Вокруг света
Вокруг света is sort of the Russian version of a National Geographic-type monthly publication. In print since 1861, this magazine publishes stories that are more human interest or analysis than breaking news. For example, you can learn about the mandarin orange season in November or the opening of the new Gotthard Road Tunnel in Switzerland.
Check out the photos of the day where you can not only enjoy the beautiful photography but also practice translating the short captions for each shot. Download the app to have Вокруг света on your iPhone or iPad, or try out one of the magazine’s city guides for major European cities and New York—in Russian, of course!
First published in 1899, Oгонёк, which means “little flame,” is one of the oldest weekly magazines in Russia. The publication reached its peak of popularity in the 1980s during the time of perestroika and glastnost, thanks to its pro-Western, pro-capitalism lean. Today, it still offers strong reporting on world issues.
Russian News Podcasts
The beauty of listening to downloaded podcasts is that you can listen to them any time, anywhere you want to.
The News in Slow Russian offers both free content and more thorough teaching for paid subscribers. Transcripts are shown for each story, so you can follow along with the announcer as he or she speaks.
Some words and phrases in the transcript are in bold, indicating that a translation will pop up if you hover your cursor over the words. After you feel comfortable listening to the slow-speed broadcast, try challenging yourself by listening again with the speaker speaking at a regular tempo.
You can pick from several story categories, such as animals, science or people—whatever suits your interest.
Daria Molchanova is a Russian historian who also teaches Russian to nonnative speakers. Her service is similar to The News in Slow Russian, but she offers mostly human interest and cultural stories, such as whether Halloween is celebrated in Russia.
Daria first reads her story in Russian very slowly. Then she goes back to translate each sentence into English, pointing out any unusual grammar constructions that she encounters in the Russian text.
A Russian and English transcript is shown below the audio player, so listeners can follow along while Daria reads aloud. In the Russian text, a couple of words or phrases are boldface and are defined lower on the page. Daria is certified as a teacher of Russian as a foreign language, and she uses her skills to ensure her podcasts are efficient and clear.
The most important part of using the news to help you learn Russian is to pick stories you’re interested in.
Don’t get discouraged if at first you find it difficult.
With so many resources available to help you, you’ll be ready to discuss current events in Russian in no time.
Pamela Hunt is an avid language learner who studied Russian in college and reads Russian news regularly to maintain her skills. She also studied French, which she practices near her home in Vermont and on day trips to Quebec.
And One More Thing…
Learning Russian through authentic content doesn’t stop with the news.
FluentU takes all kinds of real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences, as you can see here:
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? FluentU makes native Russian videos approachable through interactive captions. Tap or click on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab. Easily review words and phrases with audio under Vocab.
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.