I take great pride knowing a language that less than three percent of people in the U.S. speak:
However, when I was preparing for a trip to Latvia and Estonia, two countries where Russian is spoken, I realized that my language level wasn’t as great as I thought it was.
Looking back, it does make sense. I was only nine years old when I left Russia, for one thing. When speaking with family, I would substitute English words and phrases if I didn’t know their Russian equivalents. And the shows I watched and books I read? Those were all kid-oriented, as I only watched cartoons and read in Russian to my kids!
But hindsight is always 20/20.
Now I needed to figure out what to do about it.
In this post, I’ll focus specifically on the resources I used to get my listening skills up to par. While speaking skills are prioritized by many language programs and courses, it’s often harder to find valuable listening practice at any level.
The six sites below gave my Russian listening the kickstart it needed. Follow in my path to take your comprehension skills from “wha…?” to wonderful!
How I Trained My Ear in Russian with 6 Listening Practice Tools
Check out the six Russian audio sources below that I used to move my Russian skills to advanced!
Before you start perfecting your Russian listening skills, it’s very helpful to know your starting point.
Language Trainers provides free tests to verify how much Russian you actually understand. The link above is the one I used—it tests intermediate Russian as I figured that I’d be somewhere on that level. There’s also a Russian elementary listening test if you feel that you’re at the more beginning stages of learning Russian.
The tests feature a listening component (in Russian) along with comprehension questions (in English). You have to listen to the short clip and then drag the correct answer to the right location or select from multiple choice options. Once you take the test, fill out a quick questionnaire with your contact information and your results will be emailed to you.
Once you know where you stand with your Russian skills, you can choose the appropriate sources for your learning needs.
If I was going to understand real Russian speakers on my trip, I needed to practice with real Russian audio.
That’s where FluentU came in.
FluentU provides authentic Russian videos—like movie trailers, YouTube clips, news reports and more—that’ve been transformed into language learning experiences.
Each video comes with interactive captions. If you don’t understand something as you’re listening, just click for an instant definition, isolated native pronunciation, visual learning aids and more. There are English captions you can toggle on or off if you’re still building your Russian comprehension foundations. You’ll also get tailor-made flashcards and practice exercises after every video to ensure you remember your new vocabulary.
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find something that works for you at any stage of your learning journey. FluentU also suggests new videos based on what you’ve watched, for truly personalized practice.
It’s an entertaining way to build your vocabulary while absorbing the sounds of native Russian speech—and you can take it anywhere with the FluentU mobile app. Check out the FluentU trial to start training your ear for free.
This YouTube video helps learners practice listening with more than 40 minutes of Russian audio. The video features an image and then phrases a question, which is followed by a short dialogue by native Russians that contains the answer.
Answer a quiz at the end to see if you understood everything that was said.
The video includes discussions about a range of topics, including choosing an apartment, booking a hotel room (perfect for me as I was planning my travels), ordering food and so on! It’s a great opportunity to get familiar with a variety of vocabulary.
If you enjoy this video, the team that made it also puts out a podcast for Russian learners called RussianPod101. There are more than 1,000 audio and video lessons that are designed to be informative as well as entertaining and culturally relevant. Plus, there are tons of extra learning materials like PDF notes, flashcards and more. See everything that's available through RussianPod101 here.
These audio dialogues from the Russian learning site Russian for Free will let you hear native speakers in natural conversations. I utilized the intermediate and advanced dialogues to improve my Russian for my trip, but the site is perfect for students of all levels!
Topics center on the everyday, such as housework, family members, holidays, traveling and more.
For focused practice, this site offers the transcript for the dialogues in both English and Russian. This way, you can listen to the audio and try to understand, while also having the ability to look for words and phrases you didn’t understand.
I also found it helpful to use the transcript to practice saying the sentences myself after I heard them.
When practicing Russian, one thing I try to focus on is the latest Russian words and phrases. Remember, I left when I was nine, so my “modern” Russian slang is probably the equivalent of American slang of the early ’90s—how cool does as if! or chillin’ sound nowadays?
This podcast by the site Очень по-русски (Very Much Russian) provides a variety of episodes about all kinds of topics, but they’re not ones you’ll find anywhere else. Every single episode is centered around a funny, unique or lesser known slang term or idiom in Russian.
I listened from my computer when I had time and downloaded mp3 files to listen to while I exercised or was on the go. Each podcast has a transcript with English translations to help you reinforce or double-check what you heard.
I have to say that this site helped my Russian credibility a ton while I was traveling, as I busted out with terms that no one expected!
Note that this resource is intended for intermediate to advanced learners.
After working on the five sources above, I felt a major difference in my Russian skills. I even tried my very best to speak to family and friends solely in Russian. I felt the ultimate test was to try and understand Russian music.
We all know that lyrics are difficult enough to understand in your native language—how many times have you grooved to your favorite jam without really knowing the words? Listening practice through music is definitely for the advanced Russian student, and I was ready!
I found RusRadio.ru, an online music channel, so that I wouldn’t just hear the words to the music but could also see the performers’ lips move, allowing me to imitate the facial gestures required to speak Russian.
Thanks to my preparation, my trip was a huge success! I could comfortably ask for directions and actually understand what I was being told.
However, you don’t need to have travel plans to utilize my guide to the best listening practice sources in Russian. You can use them to advance your comprehension from the comfort of your own home.
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.