You’re a savvy Russian learner.
You know that in order to achieve a high level of proficiency in Russian, you need to work hard.
You also know it’s a good idea for language learners to spend some time abroad.
Which is totally fine with you because you really, really, really want to go to Russia…
…but you just can’t swing a trip right now.
So what can you do to give yourself a full Russian-language experience at home?
How can you completely immerse yourself in Russian without leaving your apartment?
Fear not, because we’re about to help you bring Moscow to your doorstep.
What Is Immersion?
Don’t you need to be in-country to achieve full immersion?
Not at all!
In fact, the concept of immersion as a language-learning technique was designed for the language classroom. How could language teachers ensure that students are fully immersed in the language while they’re there? How could language teachers create the conditions that allow their students to use the target language all the time?
This is what brought authentic materials into the classroom, led to communicative language learning and later to task-based language learning.
If a teacher provides materials and conditions that can promote immersion, then students can become immersed in the language in the classroom.
But what about at home? Are you already fretting about how to create a full immersion environment at home? Don’t!
Below are some tips to help you create that ideal immersion experience for yourself.
6 Superb Tips for Attaining Full Russian Immersion at Home
Tip 1: Create a Russian Corner
Devout Russian Orthodox believers often created an icon corner at home so they could be reminded of their faith and be able to pray there.
Devout Communists replaced the icon corner with a Lenin corner so they could be reminded of their commitment to Communism and the Soviet state.
It wouldn’t be too surprising these days to find houses with a Putin corner!
So as a devoted Russian language learner, you can imitate this traditional Russian idea by creating a Russian corner in your room.
What might you put there?
Anything that reminds you of Russian and your desire to learn Russian; anything that might inspire you to one day take that trip to Russia.
Buy some Russian posters—either of Russian movies or of famous Russian landmarks—and hang them on your wall. Put a desk in the same corner, add a bookshelf and put your Russian books there. Make sure you have access to some music by some of your favorite Russian singers, add some DVDs of your favorite Russian movies or Netflix ’em, and while you’re sitting there, be sure to listen, watch and hunt down more online Russian language resources. Also make sure to leave some space on that desk so you can read your books or write in your Russian journal.
Everything in this corner should remind you of your commitment to immersing yourself in Russian; everything you do in this corner should be in Russian!
Tip 2: Label Everything with Russian Words and Phrases
Every good Russian language teacher will tell you to label anything and everything that you own in Russian as you learn the word or phrase for that item.
And you should do that, whether or not you’re learning in a traditional setting or independently. If you’re just starting out, Vocabulary Stickers are a great option. They’re fun, colorful labels representing the most important words in a language that you can attach to everyday items at home or work. They’re even conveniently coded by grammatical gender, so you learn the gender of each word as you learn the word itself.
Connecting the written word with the actual item gives you visual reinforcement.
But there are ways to make it more interesting:
- Every week—set a certain time aside—take your old labels off and see if you can attach each and every one without making a single mistake. If you do, or if you can’t remember a word, then start over until you get it right.
- If you’re studying on your own, add new words every week. Make your labels in your Russian corner, attach them to the items and stare at each until you’re sure that you’ve got it. You’ll find out the next week if you really do or not!
- Do you have friends who drop by? If they’re studying Russian, then label their items in Russian as well. Have them help you: See if you both remember what the item is the next time they drop by. Maybe you could even make them a name tag with “friend” written on it, along with their name.
Come to think of it, you can do this with your family! Make tags that say “mom,” “dad,” “brother” and “sister” (maybe even “cat” or “dog,” but good luck keeping anything on them!). Ask them nicely if they will wear them. If not, ask them if you can label them on your label-reattachment day, just so you remember the word.
Over time, you can also add adjectives to your nouns. Or, even better, make separate labels for nouns and adjectives, so you can mix up the adjectives each week and, thus, learn new phrases.
Tip 3: Use Technology
You use technology every day. You’re tuned in to the news, to popular culture, to social media sites almost every moment of your life. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to escape!
But, if you’re trying to immerse yourself in Russian, you don’t want to escape. Rather, you should find a way to use the available technology to help immerse yourself more and more deeply. Take what surrounds you in English and make it surround you in Russian!
Use Audio Media
Whether you’re sitting in your Russian corner or out for a walk while listening to something on your phone, audio media is a great way to immerse yourself in Russian.
You can listen to music, you can watch Russian TV or movies (the Soviet movie studio MosFilm even has a dedicated YouTube Channel where you can watch all the classics of Soviet cinema!), you can listen to podcasts, you can watch cartoons. It’s all just a click away!
Some of these sites will have subtitles; others will not. Some you will understand; others you will not. But whether or not you understand or are even listening actively, just having the sound of Russian playing in the background will help you immerse yourself in the language.
It’s a lot of work to track down audio sites yourself, or to read through blogs and decide what you want to try, and maybe you don’t want to take—or even have!—the time to track down these resources yourself.
If you really want to maximize the at-home learning experience, you’ll definitely want to check out FluentU!
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.
Use Print Media
You have books on your shelves in your Russian corner.
But maybe you want more?
There are a number of Russian bookstores online. And, if you have a Russian grocery store in your city, take a look around—they might have a book section as well.
But one word of warning about buying books, especially if you’re a beginner in Russian: So many new language learners run out and buy children’s books, but be careful if you try that for Russian. Many use diminutives or other cute phrasings that can be harder to understand than Russian simplified readers or other near-authentic materials that are just as good for beginners.
Russian instructors know that Russian literature can be daunting in its original form, and many have spent time editing works so that they are accessible for learners at all levels. Instructors at Middlebury, for example, have created this tripartite literary reading site, where the first option for each text is for early learners, the second for intermediate and the third for advanced. Go here, and you’ll be reading samples of real Russian literature, but at a level that’s appropriate for you!
What if you love books so much that you’re afraid you’ll buy too many for your Russian corner? There’s also “print” media available online: You can read Russian news, Russian blogs, even read about the Russian government on its official site.
(You can also buy Russian audiobooks, so you can listen as you take that daily walk.)
You might not understand everything, but you’ll surround yourself with the written Russian word, and that’s sometimes all it takes to proceed to that next step in learning Russian!
Use Your Electronic Devices
Do you have a computer? A tablet? A cell phone? You must have one of those if you’re reading this blog.
Most devices allow you to select the language in which it presents information to you. Why not switch your device to Russian? You’ll be reading Russian every time you use it!
Use Social Media
Do you have a Facebook account? Did you know that you can change the language? It’s as easy as going to “Settings” and “Language” and then choosing “Russian.”
If that’s not enough for you, you can always join the Russian version, vKontakte, where everything can be in Russian from the start!
Do you have a Twitter account? Same deal! You can even send tweets in Russian. Some teachers require you to send micro-writings in this form. Get a head start and do it yourself.
Tip 4: Keep a Diary or Journal in Russian
Maybe keeping a diary sounds a bit ambitious for a beginner, but even if you’re just getting started on your Russian studies, you can write something.
It’s as easy as setting aside five minutes a day.
The trick here is to teach yourself to think not in English and then translate into Russian, but to think and to write—and, hence, to immerse yourself—in Russian!
Of course, you will have to look up new words, but limit the number each day and make sure that you use them over and over again so that you really learn them.
Here are some ideas:
- Remember those labels you made? Create a written inventory of everything you own, and then describe each item with descriptive and possessive adjectives.
- Start writing a biography. What’s your name? Where do you live? Where and what do you study? Add to it as time goes on. Over time, it will turn into a written Russian-language elevator speech you can present to anyone!
- Write about how you spent your day: What did you do in the morning, the afternoon, evening? When do you go to sleep, wake up? What happened during the day that made it stand out? Or frustrated you?
- Did you meet anyone interesting today? Write about them!
- Did you read one of your Russian books? Watch a Russian movie? A TV show? Listen to some Russian music? Write about it!
- Do you have a reaction to the news? To an election? Write about it!
All of this can be as simple as “I liked it!” to a few sentences describing something to a full-blown essay discussing what you saw, read or listened to in depth, complete with analysis.
It really doesn’t matter. As long as you write something—each and every day!
Tip 5: Plan a Trip to Russia (Even if You Don’t Take It Right Away)
You can’t go to Russia right now, but why not plan a trip there anyway—using only Russian-language resources?
Do you still have space on the wall in your Russian corner? Buy a Russian-language map of Russia. Get yourself some pins, and select the cities you’d like to visit.
Now research them!
If this seems a little bit daunting, if you fear that your Russian-language ability isn’t quite ready for a full-immersive travel planning experience, do what Russian teachers suggest to students who are a bit concerned about their first trip to Russia: Start in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg is a Western-designed city, constructed to look like Amsterdam, and, as such, limits the amount of culture shock a visitor from the West might experience.
Even better for the armchair traveler, St. Petersburg has an official travel site that’s in both Russian and English, as does one of the most famous art museums in the world: the Hermitage.
Try the Russian first, and switch back to the English for help, until you feel a bit more comfortable. Then dive into searches for yourself!
On the other hand, if you want to do everything from scratch yourself, go to Google’s Russian site, switch your keyboard to Cyrillic and search for sites in each city you wish to visit: find a place to stay, research some museums, track down some restaurants—do they have food that you want to try? Look at train or plane schedules. Or for how to rent a car.
Maybe you want to stay for longer? Research apartments! Look for furniture to buy or rent. Research the exchange rate and see how much you’re going to spend. Create a budget—Russia is more expensive than you might think.
Then take all this information and put together your very own virtual travel guide, just like Lonely Planet. As a matter of fact, you can get yourself some excellent travel guides and phrasebooks about Russia from Lonely Planet. These will give you tons of serious insight into the language, culture, customs and etiquette of Russian-speaking destinations.
Another resource you may find useful for this project, especially if you’re closer to a beginner level, is Russian Accelerator. It’s a video course that’s considerate of the needs of those learning Russian quickly for the purpose of travel. (It teaches you how to communicate confidently and read signs, for example.) Using a fast-track course like this that’s geared towards travelers may help create a sense of urgency even if you’re not going to Russia anytime soon.
Read up on the history and contemporary culture of where you want to go, again only using Russian language sources. Write up summaries to add to your travel guide. Look at concert or play schedules. Find out how you can buy a ticket or reserve a seat in advance.
Keep updating it as your budget and desires change until the day comes when you can finally go to Russia. You’ll be ready to go, and you’ll have the Russian language resources that others won’t because you’ll have been immersing yourself in your trip for a long time!
Tip 6: Find Real Russians
Speaking with others is a great way to immerse yourself in Russian!
If you’re in a scheduled class, they’ll likely encourage you or even help you to find real Russians with whom you can converse outside of class.
But what if you’re trying to learn independently? Then, depending on where you live, this might be a challenge, but there are always ways.
Does your town have a Russian cultural center? They’re usually staffed by Russian volunteers who will be happy to speak to you. While you’re there, pick up a schedule of events and try to attend some for a full Russian immersion experience with real Russians!
Does your town have a large refugee or immigrant community? Is one of the groups Russian? If so, step up and volunteer to work with them. Help them get settled in, find their way around town, go shopping. They might not know much English, and what better opportunity to immerse yourself in Russian conversation than while doing something good for others?
And if you’re in a small town, with none of these possibilities, go back to technology and find a conversation partner that way: italki, MyLanguageExchange and Conversation Exchange are but three possibilities. Make yourself comfy in your Russian corner and talk until the wee hours of the morning! The italki platform is the most popular among language learners for good reason—you can find free partners to chat with, get feedback from natives on your Russian writing, and hire a private Russian tutor at very affordable rates.
Whatever method you choose, what’s most important is that you surround yourself with as many Russian sounds and produce as many Russian words as you can as often as you can.
And when you think you’re ready, and when you have the time, hop on a plane and go to Russia!
You’ll have already planned the trip.
Jonathan Ludwig has over 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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