Oprah calls it an “Aha!” moment.
When you get a great idea spontaneously, as if it appears out of thin air.
Here is one such idea that occurred to me one morning a few years ago over cereal and Russian cartoons on YouTube.
My son was in a phase where he wanted everything spelled out, and would ask me about words in both Russian and English (we are a bilingual family). I was a great speller in English, but in Russian… not so much!
I had left when I was a kid and my writing skills had never fully developed.
When he asked me to spell a Russian word and it was written right on the screen (through the magic of subtitles), that’s when my “Aha!” moment hit.
Are you ready for it?
In fact, anyone can work on their Russian with the help of subtitles!
Below, we will look at why subtitles are helpful in learning a foreign language, as well as seven of the very best resources for utilizing subtitles to learn the Russian language.
Why Are Subtitles Helpful for Learning Russian?
Here are three of the main reasons that subtitles can help you learn Russian more efficiently:
- Subtitles offer an opportunity to experience Russian words in both a written and oral form. This helps you with developing listening comprehension and reading skills at the same time.
- Subtitles are available on all types of videos, which are easy to select according to your level of Russian fluency. You can start with Russian cartoons that are easy to understand and move on to more challenging sources, such as song lyrics.
- Subtitles are a great affordable tool to apply to your Russian learning routine—for example, you can first learn to spell a word, then listen to its pronunciation and try to spell it yourself with the subtitles off. They allow you to challenge yourself and create clear steps for improving your Russian at a low or non-existent cost and with easily available materials.
Learn Russian with Subtitles: 7 Tools to Make Captions King
Here we present seven online resources that utilize subtitles to help you master the Russian language. You will notice that this list tends to get more challenging as you move along, thus helping you to learn the easier concepts first and move on to the more difficult and advanced material later.
Note that it can be quite challenging at first to get used to reading subtitles and keeping up with the images on the screen (a big reason why some people refuse to see foreign movies).
This is why some of these sources only have some of the words subtitled within the video or are only partially in Russian, which gives you time to focus on the important lessons rather than trying to read everything that is being said.
However, you will gradually get better at reading in Russian, and then you will be able to really benefit from the sources at the end of this list, which include full Russian subtitles for some authentic content like movies and songs.
(Note for using sources on YouTube: If your subtitles don’t automatically turn on, hit the “CC” button on the bottom of the video.)
RussianPlus presents this five-minute video, along with other helpful videos that will teach you the ins and outs of the Russian language.
Learn the 33 Russian letters, how to pronounce them and words that include them in Russian and in English.
The cool thing about the subtitles in this video is that they allow you to learn the Cyrillic letters of the alphabet in lowercase, while the actual video presents them in the capital form. Another benefit is that although the video moves rather quickly, the subtitles linger on the screen, giving you more of an opportunity to focus on the spelling of a word.
This second resource offers cartoons for kids. Starting your learning process with content geared towards children is beneficial as the speech is slow and easy to understand.
This video focuses on animal sounds in Russian and may be especially helpful for your reading skills. While animal sounds may not be the most pressing item on your list when learning the language, they help you to learn simple combinations of Russian letters, the pronunciation of which you just practiced in the video above.
This will provide you with the building blocks to formulate longer Russian words as you improve your Russian reading and listening skills.
No matter what part of your Russian language learning journey you’re undergoing currently, it’s always a great time to start using FluentU. Remember what we said about subtitles being available on all types and levels of videos? That’s even truer here.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons that start with bilingual, interactive captions. However, we also include educational and entertainment-geared videos for kids in our library, so you can start learning Russian with authentic content from the very beginning.
This makes it easy to apply the same format to learning with subtitles later on—moving from learning letters and basic words all the way up to interviews, interesting stories, Russian TV clips and more. But FluentU isn’t just about watching videos—you can take the information you’ve learned from the subtitles and strengthen your knowledge of it through quizzes that are completely customized to you, your level and what you’re interested in learning.
Learning with videos on FluentU is ultimately a more streamlined, reliable and efficient way of learning with videos from YouTube—these are real online videos, but unlike with many other sources, you can be assured that the captions are accurate and that you’re equipped with all the information you need.
Once you learn the Cyrillic letters and combinations, you can move on to mastering the most basic and common Russian terms and expressions.
This is one of the videos that Education World has released on YouTube for learning Russian.
It’s a 91-minute video that dives right into helping you start and keep up with common conversations in the Russian language.
Each expression is written in Russian, translated into the English language and pronounced. This is all included in the video itself, and you can use the captions in addition if you like.
This is a helpful resource for foreigners learning Russian because each word/term is said twice and is presented with examples of usage.
Russian cases are difficult to learn, but they are a must for any language student who wants to speak properly while sounding intelligent and intelligible.
Provided by Real Russian Club, this is a six-video series that you can focus on to master Russian cases.
Some parts of these videos and their subtitles are in English, but this can be helpful for learning one of the more difficult parts of Russian.
The videos provide their own Russian subtitling for key words, so you can learn the spelling, with the changed ending highlighted to showcase the usage with each case. You can also turn off the English subtitles and just focus on the Russian language in the video and the written words that are presented.
All six videos are short, just under six minutes, and hosted by Daria, a native Russian. (Come to think of it, the number 6 is pretty prominent in this video series).
Фильмы с субтитрами (Films with subtitles)
Next, you can test the vocabulary, expressions and rules of grammar you have learned thus far by watching full Russian movies! Many of the options on this YouTube channel come with Russian subtitles. Others come subtitled in English, and you can use both to your advantage.
Remember that you likely won’t understand everything, but this resource will give you a chance to hear Russian spoken by real Russians and learn more about Russian culture. Plus, it will be your first opportunity to focus more efficiently on subtitles as the rate of speech will be faster and will require more attention!
- Check out the film “Афоня” (“Afonya”), a lighthearted comedy from the Soviet era, made in 1975. This is the story of a plumber who doesn’t have a lot of money, but a huge zest for life. See how love changes him in this story, which focuses on the universal message that we all must grow up sometime.
- Another notable movie is “белый тигр” (“The White Tiger”), a story about a Russian tank operator. You will notice that this movie has English subtitles. Once you are advanced enough, you can mute the sound and try to translate from the English subtitles back to the Russian language, then listen to the audio and see how close it is!
Even if you just concentrated on these two movies, you would learn a lot of language as well as a lot about Russian history and experience—which is portrayed here as difficult and plagued by wars, but full of happy people focused on living a good life.
Song lyrics can be really hard to understand, especially in a foreign language. But familiar Disney songs with both English and Russian subtitles help make understanding easier!
On this playlist, you can find music videos from “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and more.
Although this material is more advanced, you can use the context of what you already know to fill in the blanks. Plus, the subtitles will show you everything you are not able to understand by now.
Challenge yourself by only focusing on the English and then the Russian subtitles to translate from each language into the other!
After going through all the resources above, you will have perfected the ability to learn the Russian language with subtitles.
You will see how rewarding it is to learn spelling and pronunciation while also hearing native Russian—and learning a bit about the Russian people and their culture!
Renata Ilitsky is a professional content writer with over 10 years of experience. She specializes in creating unique and engaging content for any industry. To read some of Renata’s other work, please view her writing portfolio.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.