You spend so much of your life online these days, shopping, catching Pokémon, planning travel, playing games, looking for a date…
Why not use some of that time to learn Russian?
After all, it’s the answer to a number of classic language learner problems.
Do traditional classroom settings bore you?
Do you just not have the time, money or right schedule to attend formal classes?
Or maybe, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, you prefer to be alone with your thoughts, away from other people?
But you still want to learn Russian!
No matter where you’re currently at in your Russian learning journey, online courses can hold the key to improvement and advancement for you.
Maybe you already know some Russian, but you want to learn some more. Maybe you’ve already spent a significant amount of time with Russian, and you need to find a way to retain what you have learned. Either way, we’ve got you totally covered.
You’ve got to try some online resources for helping you to learn or improve your Russian!
That being said, it’s definitely a challenge to find what’s really good out there in cyberspace. If you do a simple Google search for “learn Russian,” the choices will be overwhelming. You’ll see that there’s everything from full courses, reference materials, grammar drills with explanations and proficiency exams to videos, music and podcasts.
Where do you start? How do you know what’s good and what’s bad? How do you know what’s right for you?
Keep reading, and you’ll discover the best resources to learn Russian online.
Learn Real Russian: 13 Outstanding Resources to Learn Russian Online
If you’re like a lot of people, you probably spend much of your Internet time finding ways to entertain yourself with various media.
Just imagine how productive you could be if you were to spend that time listening to Russian music, watching Russian movies or even getting caught up on the latest Russian TV shows—learning Russian every minute you do so.
Don’t underestimate the power of this leisurely approach.
Media is a powerful tool for language learning. You can fully immerse yourself in the language and everyday expressions will be repeated over and over again, giving all the reinforcement necessary for words and phrases to stick in your brain. You’ll get a sense of the rhythm of the language as native speakers speak it, and you’ll learn some important cultural references that all speakers of that language know. Cool, right?
Here are four great online media resources—plus a bonus site!—you can use to learn Russian in this way.
During Soviet times, everything was controlled by the state, and movies were no exception. In fact, there was only one film studio: Mosfilm.
Despite this monopoly, there was a number of incredible films made by this one studio, many of which you can now watch online on MosFilm’s own dedicated channel (linked above): comedies, dramas, musicals—they’re all here! Many even have subtitles in Russian, some in English.
So, kick back with some popcorn and maybe a dictionary and fully immerse yourself in the world of classic Soviet cinema. You’ll be entertained while you’re surrounded by Russian language and culture.
Pesni Music Lyrics
YouTube, RuTube, Russian radio—they all play Russian rock music! But how are you ever going to understand what they’re saying? Sometimes rock music in your native language can be hard enough to understand.
Never fear, Pesni is here! You can search in English or Russian, by band or group name, and find lyrics to thousands of Russian rock songs, some including guitar chords, in case you want to play and sing along. Memorize some key lyrics and work the vocabulary and grammar into everyday conversation!
Current events are a great way to increase your language proficiency. You already know what’s going on in your native language, so you know what they should be saying in Russian. Listen in for key words to see if you’re correct!
One great set of podcasts is the BBC’s “Пятый этаж” or “Fifth Floor.” What makes this such a great language learning tool is that you can download the podcasts and take them with you. Plus, you can read related items, looking for words in common between the two media.
There’s no getting around it, though, authentic language is challenging at an early level of your Russian language study. Everyone seems to be talking so fast! But what if you could actually understand authentic language at authentic speed?
Back in the times of the Soviet Union, news broadcasts were read slowly and deliberately so that those whose first language wasn’t Russian could still understand what was being said. This tradition has carried over into modern times. You can experience all the joy of a slowly-read yet authentic news broadcast with Simplified Russian News, care of the National Capital Language Resource Center. If the speed is still a bit too fast, there are transcripts available to help you follow along. Once you feel comfortable with the speed here, you can give the BBC another shot!
It’s a lot of work to find all of the media resources that you might want. What if you want to sample lots of different options until you find fun, entertaining, fascinating content that is at just the right language level for you?
Ultimately, you might discover that what you want is a complete, full-immersion course that contains many of the types of materials found above.
Plus, the videos are all naturally entertaining since they come from the shows, movies and channels that native Russian-speakers enjoy on the regular. You can watch documentary footage, television show clips, funny commericals and more all while learning the Russian language!
Take a quick look at what FluentU has on offer for yourself:
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 information to give you a 100% personalized experience. You’ll get extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website, or better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.
In order to understand what you’re listening to or reading, you might need the help of a dictionary. Sometimes Google Translate just doesn’t get it right. Sometimes you just need something a bit more official or that offers different features.
So, try these online reference sites to help you learn Russian vocabulary.
ABBYY Lingvo Online Dictionary
No matter how well subtitled or glossed a text is, you’re always going to need to look up certain words, whether to determine exactly what they mean or what other shades of meaning they might possess. (The only exception to this might be FluentU, where you’ll have an on-screen dictionary with in-context usage examples right there).
But when the time comes to look a Russian word up, why not turn to the best online resource for this task?
What makes ABBYY Lingvo so valuable at any level of learning is that, on the English to Russian side, it gives you the part of speech for each word (using Russian abbreviations!), a variety of translations into Russian (standard, colloquial, slang, etc.) and pronunciations of the word in British and American English.
On the Russian to English side, it gives you the Russian pronunciation read by a native speaker, the gender, the definition and some sample phrases using the word.
What if you’re not a native speaker of English? It also provides translations from Russian into 18 other languages, all with the same features. No matter what your native tongue, this site can help you learn Russian.
Thematic Lists of Words
Maybe you have a specialized interest? Anatomy? Travel? Sports? Health? Ancient archaeology? Look no further than the “Aнглийская лексика по разным темам” “English vocabulary on various themes”!
While this site is really created for Russians learning English, if you know enough Russian to identify categories such as the above and select the set of vocabulary that you want, you’ll find a list of Russian words related to that theme and their English definitions. It’s very handy if you want to learn vocabulary by specialized themes, especially beyond those listed in a typical textbook.
Ways to Interact with Speakers of Russian
Maybe you want to talk to or interact with someone in Russian, but you don’t have the opportunity where you’re living. Why not try one of the following?
italki is a site where you can take professional classes with experienced instructors who are native speakers of Russian—you can find a variety of options for your budget—get tutoring help from the online community, or just find a conversation partner. If you’re interested, you can probably find a way to trade instruction in your native language for instruction in Russian.
The advantage of this site is that, although it does have a monetary cost, you’re conversing with native speakers. If you don’t live in a community where you can easily find speakers of Russian, this could be an excellent choice for you!
The Polyglot Club
The Polyglot Club is not as immediately interactive as italki, but it’s free. Here you can type in words, sentences, questions or longer entries, and other users will weigh in to offer suggestions or to make corrections.
If you’re interested in working on your written discourse, this is an excellent site to try. You can even ask for help writing in different styles, depending on whether you want a more formal or a more colloquial way of communicating.
Grammar and Phonetics
It’s hard to call yourself proficient in Russian if all those words and phrases that you know have the wrong endings or are pronounced incorrectly, so here are some sites that will help to perfect your grammar and your phonetics.
Russian Grammar YouTube Channel
Do you need an explanation of hard and soft consonants, verb conjugations, vowel reduction, the dreaded verbs of motion?
Why not try the Russian Grammar channel, where you can find five to ten minute explanations of nearly any Russian grammar topic you might need. It’s a great way to brush up on a topic you might have forgotten or even learn something new!
Russia Today Grammar Tables
While Russia Today is correctly labeled as one of the Kremlin’s chief propaganda instruments, their website also has some awesome Russian language learning resources!
For example, if you need a handy reference site for nearly any grammatical topic, you can find it on RT’s “Grammar Tables” site. If you’re using a textbook to learn, it’s a great add-on resource.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to learn without a book, you can print out the various tables and make your own!
Russia Today Phonetics Lessons
RT also provides a site to learn Russian phonetics. As you know by now, Russian has a different alphabet than English (and most other languages), and even those Russian letters that roughly correspond to familiar sounds aren’t always pronounced exactly like them.
To get them down accurately, you’ll need to listen to an experienced language instructor or a native speaker, the latter of which RT provides. Listen, repeat, and you’ll sound like a native in no time!
In addition to the two pages cited here, there’s lots more available on this site: play around, explore and when you’re done, go back to Russia Today and try to listen to one of their Russian-language news broadcasts to see how well you understand!
Testing Your Russian Proficiency
Once you’ve learned some Russian, you’ll want to see how well you have actually mastered it. Here are some online opportunities to test yourself to see what you really know!
Liden & Denz Free Proficiency Exam
If you would like a preliminary judgement as to your level of Russian, try the sample exam at Liden & Denz.
It will only rate through the intermediate level of proficiency and, of course, their goal is to get you to sign up for their on-site courses, but you can take the exam for free, and it will give you an idea of your Russian language proficiency according to the Common European Framework.
Maybe after taking the exam above, you’ll realize that you need to work on certain grammatical constructions, thematic topics or, maybe, you want to increase your knowledge of Russian culture.
It’s all at Russificate, where you can select the exam of your choice and take it for free. It won’t give you a proficiency rating, but it will drill you on what you need to practice, and then you can try that proficiency exam one more time.
Ultimately your goal should be to take and pass the TORFL, for which you can find practice exams here. Once you pass this battery of exams, you’re eligible to obtain Russian citizenship, study at a Russian university, work in Russia or even serve in the Russian armed forces!
The best approach for learning Russian—or any language—is to utilize a combination of these and other resources, immerse yourself in Russian as much as possible, and find a way to speak with others. You can do all that when you learn Russian online!
If you do, then soon you’ll be able to read about that Underground Man or speak with President Putin about his latest antics, all in Russian!
Jonathan Ludwig has 25 years of foreign language teaching experience. He has successfully directed language programs, taught and mentored current and future teachers, and is always looking for new and exciting ways to engage and educate his students.
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