When you’re traveling, it feels like there’s something different in the atmosphere—as if the air itself is soaked with the region’s language.
Every time I’ve returned to the U.S. from Russia, I’ve thought, man, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to import some of that Russian air with me?
As it turns out—you can. Even if you’ve never been to Russia.
How, you ask?
Simply by tuning in to live radio.
In Russian, when you’re broadcasting live, you’re в эфире, which literally means “in the air.” And thanks to the internet, that air is accessible anywhere you have a connection. We’re talking about portable immersion.
It’s time you harnessed the power of radio to immerse yourself in an authentic Russian learning experience.
Why Listen to Russian Radio?
Listening to Russian radio will help improve your understanding of not only the language, but also Russian-speaking culture. Here are some of the different benefits Russian radio has to offer language learners:
- You’ll get immersed in authentic Russian. This is the best reason to listen to the radio in Russian. You’ll hear native Russian accents and get more accustomed to the rhythms and patterns of the language. There’s a kind of thrill in surrounding yourself with authentic language—it’s real and it’s alive. Listening to the radio is like swimming in a river of Russian.
- No visuals and no rewind means you’ll fine tune your ear. Without pictures, gestures, facial expressions or other non-verbal cues, you’re left with only your own two ears to help you understand. All of this is a great workout for your active listening skills.
Plus, with live radio, you can’t rewind to listen to tricky sections again. The speed forces you to let go of things you don’t understand and quickly piece together the things you do in context, which provides essential practice for real-world conversations with native Russian speakers.
But remember, there’s no test and no pressure, so you can relax and start over if you miss something. The radio will always keep going.
- If you love music, it’s a great way to discover new favorites. Once you’ve learned a few Russian songs and become familiar with famous Russian musicians, listening to the radio will help you expand your knowledge of contemporary Russian music.
When you hear a song you like, see if you can catch a line or two from the chorus, then Google it. (This is how I discovered Alla Pugacheva’s “Песенка про меня.”)
- You can hear the Russian side of the story. One of the many advantages of knowing a second language is that it opens a whole new perspective on the world. Instead of depending on English-language media for all your news, you can triangulate with information from foreign-language sources. (This may be something you’re already doing in print, if you’re reading Russian news sites.)
If you’re passionate about current events in the world, listening to Russian radio (especially talk radio) is a great way to get the Russian side of news stories, at least as it’s publicly presented.
- You’ll get a peek into everyday Russian life. Commercials, weather reports and other “small stuff” can teach you a lot about a culture. It’s like walking the streets of a Russian city, reading billboards, studying ads and taking in the trappings of daily life.
How to Get the Most Out of Learning by Radio
So we’ve established that the radio is a pretty awesome tool for learning Russian. But what’s the best way to go about doing it?
- Know your goals and listen with purpose. If you can define why you’re listening to radio in the first place, that’ll help you choose the best station for you—and it’ll also make it easier to develop a routine.
Do you want to soak it up while it’s playing in the background or do you want to listen intently? Are you scoping out new Russian music or do you crave information? If it’s focused listening practice you want, do you need practice with understanding the big picture or picking up on details?
Decide what you want out of your radio experience and choose your station accordingly.
- Focus on what interests you—but now and then, try something new! As you’re getting used to Russian radio, stick to what you know you like, whether it’s a particular news program or a genre of music. That way, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself and form a habit.
Every now and then, though, do a little experimenting. Try a new station, an unfamiliar genre, an opposing perspective—or maybe just a broadcast from a city outside Moscow. Branching out will help you expand your view of Russian culture and discover things you didn’t even know you’d like.
- Don’t worry about understanding every single word. Radio runs pretty fast—and as I’ve already mentioned, there’s no rewind button. So as you’re listening, pick up what you can and don’t stress out if you miss the rest.
Of course, if you notice a certain unfamiliar word or phrase, by all means take down notes and run for the dictionary after the program finishes.
- Don’t skip over commercials—or the weather! Between programs, if you hear the word реклама (advertisement), don’t tune it out! This stuff may be boring in your native language, but when you’re learning a new language and culture, it’s gold.
This is where you get a taste of ordinary life: a glimpse of what people are buying, what they’re worried about, what piques their interest. Even the weather forecast can be helpful in a similar way. There’s a strange feeling of closeness you get when you know how the weather is right now in a city halfway across the world.
- Download radio station apps and listen on the go. Because most major radio stations broadcast online, it’s easy to download an app to your mobile device and take it with you on the road. Often, there’ll be an app store link on the station’s website, but you may also download a centralized app to get access to multiple stations in one place.
One such app comes from the station Радио России, which we’ll discuss in more detail below. With this free app, you can even stream minor stations from cities outside Moscow.
- Explore the station’s website for news, podcasts and archived programs. Another plus for modern technology! Not only can you stream a прямой эфир (live broadcast) online, you can also search through the station’s archives and find interviews and shows that interest you on demand.
Not all stations have this feature to the same extent, but Радио России and other major stations have extensive archives organized by topic. This is a serious treasure trove of audio resources—don’t miss it!
- Make sure that in addition to radio, you get some visual learning, like with the videos on FluentU. Radio can do a lot for your listening skills, but FluentU provides a visual element to your learning with videos.
The Top 10 Radio Stations for Learning Russian
If you’re just getting your feet wet with Russian radio, try a station meant for a broad audience such as Радио России. Rather like a public TV channel, it offers a wide range of programs including news, interviews and educational shows, as well as music (though there isn’t as much music here as you might expect).
This station is part of the state-owned ВГТРК network, which also encompasses Вести FM, Маяк and Радио Культура (see below). Their websites are linked, so you can easily switch from one station to the other by using a top bar menu.
Bonus: On the website, you can listen to programs on demand by clicking Все программы (all programs) in the header and browsing through a list of topics. Below the live broadcast player, you’ll also see a color-coded list of popular categories, including Про деньги (money), Культура (culture), История (history) and Здоровье (health).
As Вести literally means “news,” that’s what you get from Вести FM—lots of news! Explore their website to read articles and listen to audio recordings, or simply click Слушать (listen) in the header to listen to a live broadcast.
Whether you browse the recordings or wait for a live show, you can choose from a variety of programs, including the morning current event talk show “Полный контакт” (“Full Contact”) from Russian journalist Владимир Соловьёв (Vladimir Solovyov). (Note that this is a morning show in Moscow, so plan your listening time accordingly!)
Every information source has its spin, and if you want to diversify your news, Вести FM has a worthy counter in Эхо Москвы. Here you’ll find smart and interesting programs for the discerning listener (but again, no music).
One journalist to watch out for is Дмитрий Быков (Dmitry Bykov), a clever, cultured and rather less government-friendly writer who appears on the show “Один” (“One”). Outside of journalism, he’s a poet and biographer whose work has satirized Russian culture, including the government.
Feeling a little nostalgic?
Маяк, the oldest of the five ВГТРК radio stations, got its start in 1964 and was a major station in the U.S.S.R. If you tune in now by clicking Слушать (listen) on the home page, you’ll likely hear older pop music than recent hits—that is, Alla Pugacheva rather than Sergey Lazarev.
As with other ВГТРК stations, though, you’re more likely to hear a talk show, interview or radio play. Check out the Шоу (shows) tab to find various programs, including a 158-minute reading of the conclusion of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” (Follow the date tabs back to Dec. 8 to start the marathon from the beginning.)
If you’re more interested in music than talk or news, Авторадио is a good place to start. Here you’ll find music including new hits, concert coverage and a range of other programs covering everything from cars to sports. And if you need at least a small dose of news, there’s that as well.
As this station’s translation “Auto Radio” could imply, this is something you’d turn on in your car or for some background music.
Go to the website and click Слушать Online (listen online) for their live broadcast, or download their mobile app from the iTunes App Store or Google Play.
All you art and culture lovers out there—this station is for you!
Often you’ll hear classical music on Радио Культура, but this isn’t a strictly classical venue. Far more often you’ll find discussions on topics like books, music and theater. Essentially, this is the place to look for interviews with modern Russian artists, directors and critics.
As with Радио России, it’s easy to browse this stations’ archived programs, either by searching under Все программы (all programs) or by clicking one of the color-coded buttons reading Театр (theater), Кино (cinema), Книги (books), Музыка (music) or Архитектура (architecture).
All you need to know about Юмор FM is summed up in their slogan: “самое веселое радио” (roughly, “the most fun radio”).
This is a station for the lighthearted. That means you’ll find plenty of cheerful pop music to keep you in a good mood—but that’s not all. The true highlight of Юмор FM is their focus on шутки и анекдоты (jokes and funny stories) collected from the internet and television programs.
Their website also features funny memes in Russian—making this the perfect opportunity to work on your Russian humor!
Just a warning, Радио Шансон is probably only for dedicated Russophiles… but if you’re curious about the musical phenomenon that is Русский шансон (Russian chanson), in all its cheesy glory, you can start your explorations here. You can even choose between the regular Шансон (chanson) channel, Романтический шансон (romantic chanson) or Шансон без цензури (uncensored chanson).
Go on, download the app. You know you want to.
My former students would shake me if they found out, but I like to listen to Радио Шансон because it makes me feel like I’m in Russia again, speeding down the highway in a cramped маршрутка (fixed-route taxi bus). I’m not sure why, but маршрутка drivers in Novosibirsk always seemed to have this station playing.
When you feel like time traveling, Старое Радио offers a range of vintage radio options, including Старое радио (old radio), Музыка (music) and Детское радио (children’s radio). Old radio and children’s radio include radio plays that are excellent resources for listening practice because they are spoken at a leisurely pace, with clear pronunciation and emotional expression.
If you want to listen on the go, there’s even a мобильная версия (mobile version) available, complete with a cool vintage radio layout.
This website isn’t so much a station as an index of stations—making it an awesome resource for discovering new music, Russian or otherwise. Browse online radio by genre, theme (for example, “holidays”) or decade, or choose a station devoted entirely to a single artist or group.
You can choose from Профессиональное (professional) or Персональное (personal) radio collections, and in either case you can use a search bar in the header to find the artist or genre you want.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s an online radio station out there for you. Don’t get overwhelmed by the choices! Just start somewhere—and make it a daily habit to listen, whether actively or while you’re driving or cooking.
Here’s to a little Russian air in your daily life!
Randi Anderson is a writer, teacher and traveler hooked on language learning. She has studied several languages, most recently Russian—which she learned while living and working in Siberia. You can follow her writing and other adventures on her website, RandiAnderson.com.
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