Making your own tomato sauce is easy.
Marcella Hazan’s famous recipe calls for only four ingredients: tomatoes, butter, onion, salt.
But many people still buy jarred sauce. Maybe because it’s slightly easier.
Or because no one has ever told them, “Hey, just throw some butter and tomatoes in a pot! Seriously! You can’t screw this up!”
Sometimes, a bit of straightforward encouragement is all you need.
When it comes to learning Russian online, especially if you’re a beginner, the smallest obstacles can seem like a reason to just give up.
You might balk at the idea of learning to type in Russian. Or you might wonder what reference materials or texts you should have on hand to support your online learning.
This is sort of like fussing over what ingredients to put in your spaghetti sauce. “How much oregano and olive oil do I add? When do I add it?” You just want someone to tell you what to do. Or better yet, to tell you that all the fuss isn’t necessary.
This post is the beginner Russian version of a super simple, obviously good tomato sauce recipe that you can’t screw up.
Of course, learning Russian as a beginner isn’t really as easy as following a short recipe. You still have to make decisions on your own and carry them out. But we’re here to help with both of those things.
Once you get started, you can add your own variations to your study routine as needed.
But for now, you don’t really need anything except the beginner-friendly, online Russian learning resources that are easily accessible below.
Just like when you’re hungry now, you don’t really need oregano.
Tips for Learning Russian Online as a Beginner
Before we get into the resources, here are a few things you can do to make learning Russian online easier on yourself.
- Bookmark online help and reference materials. You don’t need to buy a Russian-English/English-Russian dictionary, but you should have one that you can easily access on your phone or computer.
You should also have a few other reference materials bookmarked, like forums where you can ask native speakers questions and sites where you can get insight into language usage. We’ll go over all of this below.
- Stick with one or two main course resources at a time. There’s plenty of room for experimentation in learning, but when you’re just starting out, it’s important to not mess with the flow of information too much. Sticking to just one or two regular learning resources at a time will help you get into a rhythm with your study routine and build a strong foundation in the language.
- Set up a Russian keyboard option (even if you don’t use it all the time). Hey, don’t get discouraged and close the window—you don’t have to do this right away! There are alternatives to typing in Russian all the time, which we’ll cover towards the end of this post. Just consider that this is something that you’ll probably want to have set up as an option within the first few weeks of starting to learn Russian.
Ready to learn Russian from scratch? Let’s dive in!
Learn Russian Online for Beginners: Your #1 Resource Guide
Russian Beginner Resources for Regular Online Learning
As a beginner, you’ll want to do a bit of thinking about what you want your main learning resource(s) to be. There are various factors to consider, but the major one is your learning inclinations. Do you need structure? Hate structure? Do you lack the motivation to slog through a more traditional course, no matter how engaging?
As long as you’re honest about your feelings and preferences, it should be fairly obvious which courses are best for you.
Learn Russian from RT
This is a Russian learning resource from the RT network, which is funded by the Russian government and free to you. As you can see from the home page, there are options for learning letters and sounds if you’re an absolute beginner.
If you can already read Cyrillic, you can jump right into the lessons, of which there are 100. These lessons include cultural information, sample dialogues and audio—everything you need to learn the language as a newbie.
Lessons are typically based around grammatical subjects, so the site has a similar flow to a textbook, but with more interactivity and engaging features. If you feel like you can stick to a course daily for at least a few months, using this one will help you build a strong foundation of Russian knowledge.
Tip: You need to enable Flash to use this course.
Russian Language Learning from Real Russian Club
Looking for something a bit more personal? Would you rather learn directly from a real teacher? Daria takes you through this course with a series of friendly whiteboard videos, accompanying notes and homework.
Russian Language Learning is also designed for complete beginners but incorporates a bit more hand-holding than the Learn Russian lessons. It’s an especially good option for learners who enjoy creating their own notes, as it encourages you to make up your own examples and gives you everything you need to do so. It currently includes 10 video lessons of about an hour each.
Like the Learn Russian course, this one is free. However, it’s not as extensive as the RT course or some of the others on this list. This is more of a starter course for beginners who need a push. Once you complete this one, you can more confidently tackle one of the others.
FluentU gives you a combination of independent learning and structure while incorporating the ability to learn Russian from native-language video. This involves taking authentic videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turning them into personalized language lessons.
When you use FluentU, you’ll be able to easily navigate your learning while catering to your personal interests. You’ll have access to a huge database of Russian-language media that’s been sorted by level and into categories for your convenience, paired with interactive bilingual captions and split into vocab and dialogue tabs with audio. Customized quizzes allow you to “learn” a video by working to memorize the key words in it.
As a beginner, you can start with the videos in the Beginner 1 or Beginner 2 section, depending on your current level. You’ll be able to select from simple videos like the Russian-language version of the Baby Shark Song, a cute dog food commercial or a Soviet-era cartoon. If you learn one new video every day, or even a couple of times a week, and keep up with reviews, you’ll be well on your way to intermediate Russian before you know it!
FluentU keeps track of all your learning for you, so you never need to worry about when it’s time to review. You also don’t need to spend time learning any material you already know. It gives you a complete learning system right up through the advanced levels that you don’t have to work to maintain yourself.
Plus, you can try it out for free and access it through the website, the app or both.
Super Easy Russian from Easy Languages
Brought to you by the popular Easy Languages YouTube channel, this playlist lets you dive right into learning complete sentences, even as a total beginner. The first video takes you around a house, learning simple phrases to describe common actions like picking up a book, putting on headphones, watering plants and even petting a cat!
All the sentences introduced aren’t only physically demonstrated by Anya, the host, but also captioned in Russian, Romanized Russian and English. The rest of the videos in the list follow a similar format while taking you through other typical settings and scenarios, such as a park, a kitchen and a forest.
Super Easy Russian won’t teach you grammar as actively as some of the other courses on this list, so this may be a good resource to practice with while you use a different course for structure. What’s great about it, though, is that you can dip in and out for listening practice as you like. It’s a fun, free, low-stress way to hear simple spoken Russian.
Complete Russian Language course for Beginners A1 from Siaso Academy on Udemy
This is another video lecture course designed by a native Russian speaker. Like all the other courses on this list, this one is appropriate for complete beginners but also promises to help you with speaking confidence, which is something that can be hard to come by if you don’t focus on it specifically. Unlike the other courses, this one also offers a certificate of completion.
The course includes 45 video lectures that add up to a total of 4.5 hours, with accompanying PDF files. It may be best for those for whom making a commitment to Russian is important. By making a monetary investment in a course that has a clear beginning and end, you may feel more obligated to stick to your studies than if you were casually studying with a YouTube playlist.
Technically, it costs $199.99, but the online course resource Udemy tends to regularly offer temporary discounts on its many fantastic language courses, so if you bide your time, you may be able to snag this one for much, much less. The course also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and is a bestseller on Udemy.
Like Super Easy Russian, this is a vocab-based course that puts emphasis on sentences rather than grammar, so it may be useful to combine it with a more structured course. On the other hand, it does have some decent structure itself, so if you’re more of a hands-on learner who likes to discover a language rather than having it explained to you, you might consider using this as your main learning tool.
What you get are 100 lessons that can be reshuffled into games and quizzes or simply played through with audio files.
This course is totally free and is available as an app. There’s really no downside to trying it out.
Duolingo is all about getting to know a language. It’s not the most practical course by far, but it’s one of the most popular and enjoyable.
If you’re struggling to get started with learning Russian, or know that you’ll suffer from a lack of motivation, Duolingo can be great for keeping you on your toes. It uses sentence-based quizzes that get you playing with the building blocks of the language through listening to, reading and recreating it.
Duolingo won’t get you used to authentic language or take you past the intermediate level, but it’s one of the easiest courses to stick with. It combines well with courses that do offer access to authentic language, like FluentU or Easy Languages.
Also like FluentU and 50Languages, Duolingo comes in app form.
Handy Online Tools and Reference Materials for Russian Beginners
So now we’ve gone through some courses that you can use for your main online learning method, but what else do you need? Here are some resources to have on hand and keep coming back to.
Which ones you’ll use regularly will depend on your personal needs, but you’ll want to bookmark at least a couple of these.
This site is a great general reference to have on hand for learning the basics of the Russian language. It covers grammar, vocab and culture topics, and also links out to other resources like blogs, online libraries, newspapers and magazines.
As most of the questions you have as a beginner will likely be pretty basic, this is a good site to visit if you want to try to find answers to those questions yourself.
Part of what can make Russian seem difficult is just the sheer amount of information you have to memorize. It’s important not to get discouraged early on and as a beginner, having easy access to an organized version of that information can be a godsend.
This part of the RT Learn Russian site is actually a bit more extensive than the name “Grammar tables” lets on: It has everything from lists of numbers, to countries and nationalities conjugated for gender and number, to case explanations. It’s sort of like a series of back doors to the essentials of the RT lessons—here, you can just get the info you came for and go.
Linguee is a dictionary and so much more. By looking up a word in Russian or English with the other language selected, you can find side-by-side comparisons of real-life Russian and English sentences.
For example, if you type in a Russian word, you’ll get a definition and then examples of how that word is used on real Russian-language websites (and also how the same site has been translated into English, or vice versa).
It can be such a deflating experience to look up a word in a dictionary and find every usage except the one you’re looking for. Linguee can make this experience much less common.
Of course, sometimes you don’t need such an advanced breakdown of one word, but just a solid definition and some examples.
Reverso is a good site to use as a simple, everyday dictionary. You can search for words in either Russian or English, and find definitions from the Collins dictionary, along with a few examples to help you get the gist of usage.
WordReference is another dependable resource for simple lookups, but it has the added cool feature of a fairly active Russian-language forum.
Part of what makes the forum so effective for communication is its rules and moderation. It’s important to follow the rules yourself for best results and continued access. As long as you do follow the rules, this is an excellent place to get friendly, helpful answers to your nagging Russian language questions.
Okay, so back to our discussion of keyboards. Look, it’s easy enough to set up a keyboard on your computer, but it does take a while to learn how to type using a new alphabet. And unless you’re planning to switch all your internet activities over to Russian, it’s sometimes just not convenient to be tapping back and forth all the time.
Whenever you need to generate some Russian text—whether it’s to insert in a field for your Russian lessons, for using Russian social media or just for practicing your Russian writing—without switching your own keyboard to Russian, this online Russian keyboard is a great resource to have bookmarked.
It also makes it possible for you to put off typing in Cyrillic for a little longer if you feel that’s just too much right now.
The name doesn’t lie! You’ll feel very cool studying your Russian if you have this tool on hand, albeit in a thoroughly geeky way. Conjugations and declensions are generally some of the biggest pains in language learning, and cases in Russian can seem like a gigantic hassle—but the right resources can make all the difference.
Check out how awesomely the Cooljugator allows you to instantly break down Russian nouns into their case- and number-appropriate forms and you might start getting a little giddy at the idea of learning how to instantly break them down in your own mind.
In the meantime, the Cooljugator is there for you as a source of endless support. If you don’t have a particular word in mind, you can explore declensions through the list of common Russian nouns.
With the above resources, learning Russian online is foolproof. Even for beginners.
Some of the best recipes have simple ingredients.
And if you use the right ingredients, even if you don’t get the proportions quite right, the end result isn’t going to be bad.
In fact, it’s probably going to be quite delectable.
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer who just recently learned how to make her own tomato sauce and is enjoying talking about it knowingly and with a hint of condescension, as if she’s been doing it for years. She blogs about books at Lit All Over.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.