How to Speak Russian
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
Why did you decide to learn Russian?
The first thing you need to figure out is why you’re here reading this page at all. Why do you want to know how to speak Russian?
Are you looking for a better job where your language skills will come in handy? If so, you need to tailor what you learn to fit your needs. You should focus on more formal language and business vocabulary, as well as terminology specific to your field of work.
Did speaking English start getting boring and Spanish seem too easy? The Russian language might just be the perfect challenge to take on. You should take special note of what learning methods work best for you because this is a sign that you just might have the language learning bug.
Or did you fall in love with someone who happens to have a Russian accent? In that case, you need to start learning phrases that will allow you to express your affection for your beloved. Having perfect pronunciation may not be of prime importance because any native Russian speaker (who’s just as crazy about you) will probably find your accent in their language rather cute.
How much time do you have for your language learning?
Depending on your schedule, you might have as much as an hour or as little as 15 minutes every day to learn Russian.
After evaluating your availability, double-check to see if there’s any extra time you can squeeze in. Perhaps an audio lesson during your commute? A Russian music playlist during your workout? Lunch with your coworker from that Russian-speaking country? Get creative.
Once you’ve come up with your final estimate, make sure not a minute of it is spent on idle fluff that doesn’t really teach you anything. If you’ve been using a resource that isn’t really helping you improve your speaking skills, toss it and replace it immediately. Your time is too precious to waste!
Total time to learn Russian
Maybe the reason you’re learning how to speak Russian has a timeline on it, and going at your own pace is out of the question. Unless you’re planning on learning conversational phrases and nothing more, planning ahead is what’s in order.
For example, maybe you’re taking a vacation to meet a family that is native Russian speakers and you want to surprise them. Perhaps you’re going on a business trip to Eastern Europe in a few months and need to know how to speak Russian with some degree of fluency. Maybe your volunteer organization will be offering services to Russian speakers in a short period of time and you’d like to help them.
If any of the above is true for you, you need to learn how to speak Russian with a schedule.
Use S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals. You need to chart your path to fluency and see how far along you are at any given point.
This will take lots of extra determination and discipline. You will need the motivation to practice vocabulary daily, refine your Russian pronunciation, learn the Russian alphabet and perhaps hire a private tutor or enroll in a language course.
What is your learning style?
If you’re a visual learner, you should focus on books and video-formatted media with more to see than hear. Fun YouTube videos about grammar, classic Russian language movies with subtitles and the occasional textbook will likely work well.
FluentU has an extensive library of authentic Russian videos with engaging visuals, and this provides motivation to keep studying Russian and improving your skills.
If you’re an auditory learner, your resources should include music, audio courses and podcasts. Another great way to learn is through Russian conversation. Find yourself a native speaker (who isn’t also an English speaker) and set up a language exchange.
If you’re a learner who thrives on movement, look for ways to incorporate it into your study time, even if it’s just as simple as taking notes. You could try acting out new verbs as you learn them (e.g. mime taking a bite of food when you learn the verb “to eat” in Russian). Practice your verb conjugation by pointing at the people each form refers to, and see if you can sign or gesture the difference between the nominative case and the accusative case.
Read the Cyrillic Alphabet to Speak Russian
No Russian language learning journey could get started right without learning to read the Russian alphabet.
At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “I want to know how to speak Russian, not how to read it!” But because it is more or less a phonetic language, being able to sound out a written Russian word will actually be very helpful.
To see how easy it is to get started, read the following Russian words: мама, кот, так. They translate, respectively, to “mama,” “cat” and “so.” Even if you didn’t know what the second and third words meant at first glance, you probably had some idea of their pronunciation immediately. Read them out loud. This is just a sample of how reading can get you to speak Russian in short order. It means you can turn any text into reading/speaking practice.
While you definitely will need to learn very foreign-looking letters and sounds to read and speak Russian well, it’s far from being the incomprehensible script people often think Cyrillic is.
To continue learning to read Russian, read along with a transcript from a recording of a Russian conversation. Try sounding out some of the more common Russian words, then check to see how well you did. Make a habit of selecting a few example sentences from a textbook (if you’re using one) and reading them aloud every day until it feels natural. Then, select more material to practice with. Being consistent with this can make learning to speak Russian easier in the long run.
If you maintain a balanced diet of reading, you will speak Russian in a more interesting and engaging manner. This is because books often use interesting turns of phrases and cultural idioms that can liven up the spoken word as well.
Start Learning the Basics
Before going far with your Russian, you need to learn what you absolutely have to know first. Conversational phrases and emergency words are a great place to start.
Here are a few examples to get you going:
- Привет (Hi — informal)
- Пока (Bye — informal)
- Где туалет? (Where is the bathroom?)
- Помогите! (Help!)
- Я не говорю по-русски. (I don’t speak Russian.)
- Полиция! (Police!)
- Мне больно. (I’m in pain.)
- Где больница? (Where is the hospital?)
- Вы говорите по-английски? (Do you speak English?)
- Я американец/американка. (I’m an American.)
Most common words
After learning the basics, you need to work smarter, not harder.
This means that you should focus on learning the words most commonly used by a native speaker.
One way you could do so is by finding a frequency list online and working from that.
Alternatively, you could enroll in a language course. Some language learners find they benefit from this kind of structure. So if you’re one of them, consider locating one or potentially a couple of free language courses online.
Russian grammar can feel brutal, but only if you let it.
Most language learners (even of other languages) feel compelled to spend extensive amounts of time learning grammar rules and even more time trying to put the grammar into practice when they speak.
Speaking Russian doesn’t have to be this painful. You should only learn enough to be able to intelligently analyze why sentences are put together a certain way in authentic content, not enough to give a college-level dissertation.
You didn’t wait until learning English grammar to start speaking it, did you? Then avoid trying to learn more Russian grammar than native speakers know. Let it come to you more naturally by absorbing it, not by consciously focusing on it.
Turn your interests into study opportunities
The best way to learn Russian is by making it fun.
To do this, think of what you specifically enjoy doing in English. If you like watching TV, what genres most interest you? Comedy? Documentaries? Sports? Drama? Find the Russian equivalent of things you like.
If you’re having a hard time figuring this out, try logging what you spend your free time on over the course of a week and include some details. For example, instead of writing, “I read a book,” write “I read a book about marine life.” After the week, review the log and see what aspects of your free time you can turn into Russian practice sessions.
Once you know what you like doing, think of how you can Russianize them.
For example, if you’re a fan of classic literature, try out some Russian historical dramas. If you like gaming, see if you can change the system language within your game or console.
You could even find dubbed versions of movies and TV shows originally in English or translations of your favorite books.
Focus on conversational Russian
How do you know if your Russian is conversational? Use it in conversation.
Learning to speak Russian involves actually speaking it with a high degree of regularity. Getting outside of your comfort zone is key to becoming proficient in any new language, and Russian is no exception.
You could look for a community of native speakers locally or perhaps do a language exchange over the Internet.
You will struggle to put sentences together at first but eventually, you will get comfortable conversing in Russian. That’s when the fun starts!
You Can Succeed!
How to overcome language plateaus
Once you just start speaking Russian, there can be a tremendous feeling of excitement as you begin to understand Russian more and more.
Eventually, however, you will wake up one day and feel that you’re not making any more progress. You may feel confused, defeated or discouraged. This means that you’ve hit a language learning plateau. They will come and can’t be avoided entirely.
The key is knowing how to handle them. There are two main strategies to do that.
- Incorporate new elements into your study routine. Spend more time speaking Russian with native speakers, watching videos about a new topic and practicing writing out Russian letters smoothly. To improve your pronunciation, try speaking English with a Russian accent for some periods of time.
- Stay with what has worked before. If you’re already using high-quality learning resources with sufficient variety, chances are that you need to just stick with that. Even if you don’t feel like you’re getting any better at Russian, patience will pay off in the long run.
Your secret weapon against feeling overwhelmed
From the moment you start learning Russian, you will encounter a time when you feel lost in a forest of the Russian language. You’ll be watching a movie and be unable to figure out what’s going on halfway through it, or be in the middle of a conversation with a Russian and only be able to manage a blank stare in reply. Maybe it will come from trying to read a news article and only seeing a vast sea of unfamiliar words.
The good news is that the problem is quite manageable. You won’t be able to avoid it completely, but you can lessen its intensity and frequency.
The answer is comprehensible input. Devote some time to materials you can easily understand right off the bat. This will help you feel encouraged and motivated to keep going.
Another thing to remember is that being overwhelmed can be a positive thing. That feeling you have when your brain feels like your body does after a workout means that you actually learned something. Just as exercise strengthens muscles, mental work strengthens the mind.
Laugh off and learn from language mistakes
Speaking Russian is no easy feat, and you will make the occasional mistake. Even native Russians do!
So don’t worry about it. Learn what you did wrong and try not to repeat it, but most importantly, look for the humor in it. Remember these occurrences because these are the stories you will want to share once you reach fluency.
Don’t forget that Russian people are not going to get angry with you if you do make a mistake in your pronunciation or anything else. Do you feel upset when someone who is trying hard to learn English mispronounces a word once in a while? No! If anything, you likely think it’s rather endearing.
Keep a good attitude, work hard and expand your horizons constantly. Before you know it, someone will walk up to you and say, “I wish I could speak Russian fluently like you!”
Try Our App Today
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Every video is brief but packs a powerful punch—with the help of intuitive learning features, you can fit language learning into your schedule without sacrificing effective study time.