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Why you should learn to speak Russian

Learning to speak Russian can be an exciting challenge. It opens up a whole new world of ideas and possibilities. Many great thinkers and writers such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky penned major works in this language, and reading them in their original form can be a rewarding experience. That’s not the only reason why it’s beneficial to learn to speak Russian though. It’s one of the most widely spoken languages in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It’s an official language in 5 countries, and is widely spoken as a lingua franca in many regions. It also shares roots with many other Slavic languages such as Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech, which can help considerably when learning these languages or traveling in these regions.

Russia itself is a vast country, with many beautiful and historic places. Unfortunately, only about 5.5 percent of Russians are able to speak English as either a first or second language, so being able to speak even a little bit of Russian is important if you plan to go anywhere other than the major tourist hotspots of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

A trip on the world famous Trans-Siberian Railway is one such example. This almost mythical train journey is one of the best ways to experience the vast beauty of this country and visit some of it’s most far-flung locations which you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. While it’s possible to make the journey without speaking Russian, your trip will become infinitely more interesting and memorable if you’re able to interact with the people you’re sharing your journey with, and soak in the famously warm hospitality of the Russian people.

Fast facts about Russian

  • There are over 140 million native Russian speakers.
  • It’s an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and unofficial but widely-spoken in Ukraine, Latvia, and Estonia.
  • It’s an Indo-European language on the East Slavic branch.
  • One of 6 official languages of the United Nations.
  • It’s the most geographically widespread language in Eurasia.
  • It’s written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

Learning to speak Russian

The first thing you’ll notice when you begin learning Russian is that it’s written using the Cyrillic alphabet. There are 33 letter in Cyrillic, some of them are exactly the same as their Latin counterparts in English such as A, B, D, K, L, M, O, T, and some of them look the same, but are pronounced differently such as r which sounds like ‘g’, and some of them look completely different but make familiar sounds like ф which sounds like ‘F.’ There are only a few characters with completely new sounds which you will need to remember.

Overall, Russian is considered a pretty difficult language to learn, and there’s a reason for this; Russian has a lot of rules. However, the good news is that, unlike other languages like German, there are very few rule exceptions. For instance, there is a pretty set rule for determining what is masculine, feminine, and neutral. Just look at the last letter of the word:

  • If it is a consonant, or “й”, the word is masculine.
  • If it is “а” or “я” it is feminine.
  • If it is “о” or “е” it is neuter.
  • If it is a soft sign “ь” then it could be either masculine or feminine (though this is rare).

There is also a lot of flexibility in how sentences are constructed, and you can often leave off the subject pronoun as well because it is implied in the verb conjugation.

Where Russian gets tricky though is with the case declensions; Nominative, Accusative, Prepositional, Genitive, Dative, and Instrumental. These control how the words in the sentence relate to each other i.e. who is doing what action to what object. This is a part of English that has more or less disappeared, so it can be difficult for English speakers to get used to. There are 6 cases in Russian, which is more than the 4 which appear in German, however far less than the 18 which appear in Hungarian.

Ways to learn to speak Russian

There are a variety of ways you can choose to learn to speak Russian, and thanks to the Internet, a lot of them are even free.

 Classroom

This is the most traditional way to learn a foreign language, and it’s very likely that you’ve tried this method already in high school or university. It can be a good way to mix all 4 aspects of language learning (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) in one setting. However, many people find that it to be too tedious and too much of a time commitment to fit into their already busy schedules.

Private Lessons

Just like in a classroom, this can be a great way to get to know another language. Learning directly from a native Russian speaker allows you to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Russian the way it’s actually used. If you’re looking to master the language in the shortest amount of time, this one-on-one method is ideal. On the other hand, private lessons can be quite expensive, and a skilled, qualified teacher can be hard to find. Another equally good options is to find someone who wants to learn your language, and give each other lesson.

A/V and Books

If you’re more of the independent study kind of person, you might want to try learning Russian via audio, video, and books. This can be an effective method granted you have the willpower to stick with it. However, this method doesn’t provide you with any personal interaction with the language which you would you get from speaking with native speakers, and you’ll most likely only learn Russian “by the book,” not the way Russian speakers naturally speak.

Software

Computer learning is getting to be a quite popular way to learn a new language. Many programs utilize natural learning methods which help you associate words in your target language directly with the places, things, and situations they refer to instead of having to rely on translation. As with any solitary learning method though, this can lack a certain level of social interaction which is almost the whole point of learning a new language.

Travel and Immersion

This is a wonderful way to get to know a new language as well as experience the cultural context in which it is spoken. One might argue that it’s not possible to truly learn a language without learning the culture as well. However, this one requires the time and money it takes to travel to a foreign country, and not everyone has that luxury. You should also be a bit versed in the new language before you arrive, or plan to take classes there, or you might find yourself in a bit over your head.

Online

There are a lot of websites which offer to teach you to learn Russian online, and a lot of them are even free (or quite reasonably priced). This is a great way to “dip your toe” into learning a new language if you’re unsure if it’s something you’d like to commit your time and money to. However,  advanced language learners could become frustrated with the slow pace, and elementary level material offered by many of these courses.

Apps

Language learning apps are one of the best new tools available to language learners. Now, it’s easier than ever to find and connect with fellow language learners all around the world, and practice speaking with native speakers of practically any language. It’s a language learning revolution, and it’s happening right in your front pocket.

Learn Russian with Tandem

Tandem Teachers is a combination of all the best language learning methods out there. It’s a fun, easy way to get individual instruction from qualified language teachers whenever and wherever you are. With Tandem you can:

  • Get one-on-one instruction with the click of a button.
  • Learn from professionally-trained teachers chosen by us for their skill and experience.
  • Work with a variety of tutors to find one who fits your style.
  • Lessons can be as short as 15 minutes! You can easily fit language learning into your busy schedule.
  • The first lesson is FREE!

Your first lesson on Tandem Teachers is free, so get started today by downloading the Tandem app from the app store. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s easy. Don’t put off learning a new language any longer. Get started now!