This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest resources that have worked for you in the comments.
I first started studying Russian seriously in the summer of 2015 primarily because I it was a language that was on my language wish list for a significant amount of time. I loved the sound of the language, but I was always a bit intimidated by the Russian alphabet and Cyrillic script. I ended up learning Croatian, another language that was close to my heart, as a step towards the Russian language and in 2015, I finally decided to take the leap.
Finding the right resources is an important step whenever one first starts to learn a language, and so, I’ve assembled this guide to share some of the books and language learning materials I have used and found to be effective.
The Russian Language
The Russian language, ру́сский, is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It is the eighth most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers (around 144 million) and one of the languages of the United Nations. It’s closest relatives are Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Rusyn.
Russian is an East Slavic language and according to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, it is a Class III language for English speakers. This means it’s amongst the more difficult languages for English speakers to learn.
Russian is written using the Cyrillic script and it has 33 letters in its alphabet. Many of these are false friends with letters in the Latin alphabet which can often be confusing for learners. When learning, it helps to including transliterations of the words in your notes until you’ve mastered the Russian alphabet. You can get our free PDF Printout of the Russian Alphabet here to help you get started.
So why would you want to learn Russian? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I believe don’t that choosing languages for “practical” reasons is as effective for learning as choosing a language because you want to learn it. I suggest the same for you. For me, Russian was a language I desired to learn for personal reasons and a deep interest in the culture and history of Russia. That alone gave me plenty of motivation to work at it. Plus, I really enjoy speaking it.
Hear the Russian Language
So, let’s look at a few resources you can use to help learn Russian.
How to Decide Which Russian Language Resources to Pick
Language learning texts and resources can get real expensive real quick. So rather than going at it randomly or by trial and error (which you’ll probably have to do some of anyway), I’d like to make a suggestion first.
The ability to use and understand a language is based upon four basic abilities: reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Depending on what your goals are, all four may not be necessary.
Let’s say, for example, you hope to take a trip to Moscow in six months. What language skills will you need? Basic communication and comprehension and basic reading (street signs, etc). You probably won’t ever have to write in the language. So, in this case, you might focus on developing your speaking and listening skills. If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out the audio or audio/text resources and the online resources below.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is to read Russian literature. In that case, learning to speak and understand the spoken language aren’t necessary and you can dedicate your energy to text. If this describes you, I suggest checking out the text and online resources below.
Ideally, you should probably develop some skill in each area, but the areas you focus on need to align with your goals regarding the language and how you plan to use it. I highly suggest picking resources based on this alone. Don’t get distracted with the temptation of shiny, new books (like me) and only buy materials you think you’ll actually use. You’ll save yourself a headache and a lot of money. Money that you can put aside for a trip to Russia!
A Few Things To Consider Before Taking on Any Language
- What is your motivation behind learning Russian? Take a moment to write down your language learning goals. It increases the odds of you achieving them. You can also join us as part of our Clear the List goal setting linkup!
- How many hours a day are you willing to study a language? Set realistic expectations for your progress.
- How do you plan on studying Russian? Are the methods that work for you available?
- You should setup up the Russian language keyboard on both your computer and your phone. It will help you with spelling and make chat easier on Skype/HelloTalk/etc.
- Be accountable. I keep my blog to help me be more accountable and use AskMeEvery to keep track of my daily study.
Russian Audio Resources
- Pimsleur Russian // You can try a Free Lesson here.
- Librivox // get audiobooks read to you in your target language for free!
- TuneIn // Russian Language Radio.
- A Spoonful of Russian // My favourite Russian podcast
- Ochen po Russky
- A Beginner’s Course in Spoken Russian
Russian Audio & Text Resources
- Glossika // Glossika is a fantastic text and audio resource.
- RussianPod101 // Also an online resource, but it provides you with both audio recordings, text transcriptions and more.
Russian Text Resources
- Harry Potter in Russian // You can also try filtering the Amazon Book search results to Russian – Russian Books on Amazon.
- Here are quite a few children’s books in Russian.
- Lang-8 // Get your writing in your target language corrected by native speakers.
Online Resources for Russian
- iTalki // A great site where you can find language tutors or language exchange partners.
- Speak in a Week // Another great resource from Benny Lewis that gets you speaking your target language quickly.
- Memrise // My favorite flashcard app.
- Children’s Library
- Free Regional Television
- Tatoeba // sentences translated from any language in Russian.
- Master Russian
- Learn Russian // Requires you to create an account, but it is a free resource.
- Russian Podcast // These podcasts are entirely in Russian, but they offer free PDFs of each of the lessons.
- The Russian Alphabet // A free PDF printout.
- Learn with Oliver (formerly Antosch & Lin) // A flashcard based system with audio and a variety of exercises to help you learn your target language.
Russian Language Video
This series has been extremely helpful for me:
- This is хорошо // A comedic Youtube channel.
- This thread on Reddit // Tons of Russian films with English subtitles.
- Weekly Russian // A YouTube video series.
- Disney songs in Russian with Subtitles
One of the best ways to learn a language is to listen to music in the language. It not only helps with improving one’s accent, but it also can increase overall comprehension. Plus it’s fun to translate the lyrics of your favorite songs. Here are a few artists I enjoy.
- Foreign Language Music Blog // a great blog with music in various foreign languages with lyrics and their translations.
Learning about the culture that is tied to the language you’re learning is so important – the more you love the culture, the more you’ll love the language and vice versa. Discovering a new culture also enriches your life, particularly if it’s one quite different than your own. I highly recommend it if you haven’t started already!
Here are a few books on the history of Russia and it’s culture. You can also check out television shows or movies. I don’t suggest cartoons or films for kids because a lot of the language is often invented and you won’t get as much from it as you might from a drama geared towards an older audience. But if cartoons are your thing, go for it!
- Culture Smart! // A great series with introductions to various cultures around the world. For Russian, you can get started with Russia, Kazakhstan, or Ukraine.
- Christmas in Russia // A guest post on Eurolinguiste with Russian holiday vocabulary, a recipe for kholodets and how Christmas is celebrated in Russia.
Related but Not Specific to Russian
- Here are some great tips from Omniglot on learning a language with a different writing system from your own.
- We also wrote a post on Cases, an important grammatical feature of the Russian language (as well as many others).
A Quick Note
If you’ve been learning Russian, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the language learning tools you’ve found helpful. Please leave me a note in the comments! The same goes for if you have any questions. I will be more than happy to respond and I look forward to hearing from you!