The famous saying tells us that if there’s “no pain,” there’s “no gain.”
But sometimes it feels like there’s more pain than gain when it comes to learning Russian.
Shhh, just listen.
That doesn’t have to be true when it comes to learning Russian!
It’s true! And we’ll show you how.
As second language learners, we know listening involves many skills. It’s the first step to becoming fluent in a language. Since this is the foundation on which we build all other language skills, let’s make sure it’s strong (and make sure the process is as fun as possible).
If you’re just starting out on your journey of learning Russian, we’ve got some entertaining ways to get some listening practice. Follow the tips in this article and you’ll be well on your way to understanding others and picking up some words and phrases to start laying that foundation.
There won’t be any (physical) pain, but lots of gain!
Why Is Russian Listening Practice Important?
- Listening practice or audio learning of any kind improves listening comprehension. When you’re learning to listen in Russian, it can be hard to hear where a word stops and the next word begins. Because of this, you might not even be able to understand the words you’ve already learned.
The more often you practice listening or opt for learning through audio, though, the more words you’ll pick up. Listening to authentic Russian resources intended for native speakers will help intermediate and advanced students progress towards fluency. However, listening options that are learning-based will gently guide any level of learner towards better listening comprehension without being overwhelming.
- Additionally, listening practice improves your Russian pronunciation by exposing you to native speakers. Everyone has an accent in any language. Surely, you’ve heard people who speak English with a recognizable accent of some kind. If you practice listening to Russian spoken by native speakers, though, your pronunciation will improve. Not only will this make you sound more like a native, it will also make it easier for native speakers to understand what you’re saying when you speak Russian.
- Finally, listening practice teaches you new Russian vocabulary words. Inevitably, there will be some words you don’t know whenever you listen to something in Russian. When listening to authentic resources intended for native speakers, you’ll probably encounter quite a few new vocabulary words. Learning-based listening practice, on the other hand, usually paces the introduction of unfamiliar words so as not to overwhelm learners.
Regardless of your level or choice of listening content, practicing Russian listening will teach you not only how to pronounce words, but also how to use them in context.
Steps to Maximize Learning Russian Through Listening Practice
If you’re one of those people who can’t recite the lyrics of your supposed favorite song, you’ll need to put in a little more effort when learning Russian! Below are some steps to maximize your Russian listening experience:
- Practice active vs. passive listening. All listening isn’t created equal. Passive listening occurs when you’re multitasking, such as having music on in the background while talking on the phone. Becoming an active listener requires you to focus on the task at hand only. Be sure to free yourself from any other distractions while listening to ensure you take something away from the content.
- Listen and repeat. The best way to learn Russian is to pause whatever you’re listening to and repeat it. This will help you learn correct pronunciation.
- Pause to look up the meanings of (some) words. Since you’re only beginning to learn Russian, you’ll need to stop and look up the meanings of some of the words you don’t know. This may not happen as often as you think since some words mean the same in Russian and English (such as “computer” and “taxi”).
- Practice saying difficult words. Russian is infamous for long and difficult words that are full of consonants, accent marks and neuter signs. If you want to master the Russian language, practice saying difficult words when they’re spoken to improve your pronunciation.
Russian Listening Practice: 14 Audio Resources for Mastering Russian
Videos for Listening to Russian
YouTube offers both authentic and learning-based videos. Authentic videos focus on real Russian—the sort of language that native speakers use with each other. Russian learning channels on YouTube focus more on speaking in a manner that Russian students can understand, and learning channels focus on covering topics that Russian students will benefit from.
For instance, Россия 24 (Russia 24) is a state-owned Russian TV station that offers a YouTube channel featuring authentic news clips.
The YouTube video 46 Minutes of Intermediate Russian Listening Comprehension from RussianPod101 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.
You might imagine that many authentic YouTube videos are best, or only suitable, for advanced learners. But that’s no longer the case. FluentU’s Russian program offers the best of both worlds, using authentic videos in a learning-based context.
But you’re not tossed in without support! Each video is captioned, and every word is annotated. If you don’t know what a word means, you can refer to its in-context definition and several example sentences. You can also see other videos across the site that contain that word.
What’s more, FluentU also offers Quiz Mode, which converts videos into Russian lessons by creating exercises and flashcards from video clips, pictures and example sentences.
Plus, FluentU is tremendously flexible. You choose what videos you watch, so you choose what you learn. Additionally, FluentU uses the learner’s history, so questions are appropriate for your level and build on what you’ve already learned.
Russian Movies with Subtitles
Reinforce what you see with what you hear by watching and reading subtitles from these sources:
Are you surprised that movies can actually be a tool for learning and not just a distraction? It’s true! This YouTube channel offers various Russian films with English subtitles, so you can learn about Russian culture while learning the language.
Since you’re only starting to learn Russian, you’ll have to read the subtitles to understand the content of the films. But as you improve, try to watch without subtitles to test your knowledge.
Some options on this YouTube channel include:
- “Сорок первый” (“The Forty First”) — This is a Russian classic from 1956 about life during the war in the 40s.
- “Служебный роман” (“Office Romance”) — A film with a lighter theme, this is about office romance in Russia.
- “Анна Каренина” (“Anna Karenina”) — This is a must-see film for those who have read the novel by famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
Netflix is known for offering a ton of movies in various languages. It doesn’t have as many Russian movies as, say, Spanish or Chinese ones, but the ones it does list are fantastic for learning the language and taking in Russian culture.
Netflix provides English subtitles for all its films, and it’s even known for having subtitles in Russian for certain Russian movies. This gives you the opportunity to brush up on your reading abilities, too.
Here are a few Russian movies on Netflix right now:
- “Dovlatov” – This Netflix original film follows the true story of writer named Dovlatov in the 1970s. He struggles with wanting to stay in Russia while his writings are rejected by the oppressive regime.
- “Gagarin: First in Space” – This is a great movie choice for history fanatics. You’ll learn about Yuri Gagarin, the first man to visit outer space.
Entertaining Russian Audiobooks
Books serve many purposes—they educate, entertain and expose us to times, places and situations different from our own. Check out these resources for audiobooks in Russian:
The best part of Loyal Books is that all of the audiobooks are absolutely free! They make searching for books easy with pictures of the book’s cover. Plus, all of their content is screen reader friendly to help those with visual disabilities.
Here are our top picks from their library:
- “Поэмы” (“Poems”) — Listen to 35 poems from the famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin.
- “Записки из подполья” (“Notes from the Underground”) — This is an existentialist novel from 19th-century writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky.
- “Предложение” (“A Marriage Proposal”) — Listen to this amazing play by famed Russian author, Anton Chekhov, about a marriage proposal.
- “Aesop’s Fables” — This audiobook features a collection of fables collected in Greece between 620 and 564 BC, translated by Russian author, Leo Tolstoy.
While these texts might seem difficult for a beginner, it’s important to remember your purpose isn’t to understand every word (you won’t), but rather to get a feel for the language.
If you’re going to learn Russian, you must understand that Russians are extremely proud of their authors and poets. Getting acquainted with the works of Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can help you immerse yourself in the Russian culture and learn more about Russian history—both important parts of learning a foreign language.
Amazon has a wealth of Russian audiobooks available for purchase. They offer a handy way to sort the books by topic, such as politics, fiction, children’s books, travel, romance, etc.
Amazon users who have a Prime membership can listen to some of the titles for free with an Audible trial or subscription.
Some titles worthy of checking out:
- “Твои первые сказки” (“Your First Fairy Tales”) — This CD with audio fairy tales is perfect for those just beginning to learn Russian. Since they’re designed for children, they feature easy-to-understand language.
- “Гарри Поттер и философский камень” (“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”) — Not only will this audiobook be entertaining, it’s perfect for beginners who have read it in English. You can hear its Russian translation with the content in mind, giving you a heads up on what’s being said.
Educational Russian Podcasts
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.
SBS Russian is a great podcast for listening to the news in Russian.
The episodes primarily focus on the goings-on in Russia and Australia. You’ll listen to clips such as “Victoria bans mobile phones at schools,” “Russian community is outraged over travel agency collapse” and “Calls for strong government action as drug deaths spike.”
There’s also a regular “This week in Russia” segment to keep you up to date on the culture and events in the country.
Speaking Russian is an educational podcast that actually deals with learning the basics of the Russian language.
It’s an ideal podcast for beginners, as it deals with simple concepts like how to address people in Russian, how to say goodbye, how to count and how to say the days of the week.
Episodes are under five minutes long, so Speaking Russian is perfect for learners with limited time on their hands.
Authentic Russian Music
Russian Musicbox is an online website that serves as an interactive music channel featuring live programming. It has popular clips of the best Russian music from the last few decades, as well as current hits.
Just like MTV, Russian Musicbox features music and entertainment, such as interviews, film industry events and reality shows.
This resource is perfect for beginners because the site can be viewed in either English or Russian, helping to make navigation of the site a little easier for new Russian speakers.
Be sure to tune in for favorites like “Раскрутка” (“Raskrutka”), a reality show where young Russian musicians showcase their talent and the “Top 10” show to get familiarized with Russian top hits.
This is Moscow’s Dance Radio station featuring music videos, clips and other programs. It’s extremely convenient because the music can be heard online or through an Apple, Windows or Android phone or tablet.
Station.ru allows users to pick between different streaming radio stations. The stations list many of the artists’ names in English to help Russian newbies understand who they’re listening to and add their favorite artists to their lists to hear more of their music.
Check out the channel, DFM Спокойной ночи, голыши! (“DFM Good Night, Nudes!”—a play on a popular Russian children’s nighttime show, “Спокойной ночи, малыши!” [“Good Night, Little Ones”]). This station offers relaxing music to help you fall asleep. And since the music is slower, it’s much easier to understand the lyrics than on fast tracks.
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.
Online Russian Courses
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 to learn Russian online.
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 it comes to Russian listening practice, there’s a lot more gain than pain. With videos, movies, audiobooks, podcasts, music and online courses, you’ll gain more than you ever imagined.
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