Ask anyone what they think of the Russian language, and you’ll likely hear the same answer: Difficult! And if you believe the negative stereotypes about Russia, the lack of interest in its language seems understandable — it’s a cold, distant, unforgiving place. Why learn Russian when you can go the less arduous route of learning a Romance language, or even learning German, which belongs to the same language family as English?
Let’s put it this way: are you the kind of person who’s going to be that easily intimidated by a bunch of funky-looking letters? What if we told you you can learn the Cyrillic alphabet in just two days? What’s really standing between you and being able to read Tolstoy in his native tongue?
Anyway, if you need more convincing, here are 10 of our best reasons to learn Russian.
Why Learn Russian?
1. Russian Is One Of The World’s Most Spoken Languages
On the list of the most widely spoken languages globally, Russian comes eighth. Believe it or not, it’s the most spoken language in Europe. In terms of sheer geographic access, learning Russian will open doors for you — not just in Russia, but also in Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Israel. It’s also a popular second language for much of Eastern Europe because of Russia’s lasting political influence.
2. Russia Is The Largest Country In The World
Russia is a mind-bogglingly large country. Fun fact: It’s actually the biggest country in the world by area, and is significantly larger than the runner-up country, Canada (Russia has 6.6 million square miles, compared to Canada’s 3.8 million). In fact, it crosses 11 whole time zones. Imagine just how much there is to discover in this endless country! A few examples: Russia has a full 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From the Kremlin and Lake Baikal to the Golden Mountains of Altai — there is immense cultural and ecological wealth to be found in Russia.
3. Russians Don’t Speak A Lot Of English
If you’re going to heed the call to adventure, you probably shouldn’t count too much on your English. Russia has some of the lowest rates of English proficiency around. Only about 5 percent of Russians have a command of English, and in the majority of Russian cities, you’ll find almost no signs written in the Latin alphabet. Not exactly a tourist’s dream. So if you want to conquer the lands of the old Russian Empire, you can’t get around without at least a basic knowledge of Russian. It’s definitely worth tackling the Cyrillic alphabet and learning some phrases in order to connect with the locals on your trip!
4. Russia Isn’t A World Away
No question about it — the land of the Tsars has a quality of remoteness, straddling many of the cultural traditions between Europe and Asia. Maybe that’s why so many people think that Russia is somewhere way off in the distance and has nothing in common with the English-speaking world. But actually, you can fly to St. Petersburg from London in just a little over three hours, which is shorter than the time it takes to get to Athens. Even for individuals based in the U.S., Canada and Australia, most of Russia’s top travel destinations are in continental Europe, so it’s not out of the way if you’re planning a grand tour of Europe!
5. Learning Russian Is A Challenge
And that’s a good thing! In this way, Russian lives up to its hype. It’s one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn, owing in part to its complex grammatical structure. And the Cyrillic alphabet seems so foreign that it’s enough to put some people off of learning the language. It’s actually not nearly as scary as it looks. Remember — you can tackle it in two days. And when you do learn it, you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment! Getting to grips with its idiosyncrasies means leaving what is familiar behind and throwing yourself into the unknown. Yes, it’s scary at first, but you’ll feel amazing once you start forming sentences.
6. And Also, Learning Russian Is Easier Than You Think
When I say “you,” I mean anyone who’s never attempted to learn Russian. There are two main challenges when it comes to learning Russian, and the Cyrillic alphabet isn’t one of them — with a little dedication, learning those 33 letters is a breeze. Most of the shapes of letters are the same or similar to Latin ones, so you’ll just need to readjust how your brain associates letters with certain sounds. The difficulties lie instead with a couple of grammatical rules, namely the declensions and the perfective and imperfective forms of the verbs. Sounds like nonsense now, but it’ll make sense later. Even so, these barriers are still easier to overcome than drinking the Aral Sea dry!
7. Russian Is A Beautiful Language
This is admittedly a rather subjective statement, but it has a nugget of scientific truth: most people find languages with a rich variety of vowels appealing. Italian, for example, has the vowels A, E, I, O, U and characteristic diphthongs. This is one reason why Italian sounds so melodic to foreigners. Russian is the same way — even if it doesn’t get much credit for it. As a bonus, this Slavic language also has an astounding wealth of consonants, creating a captivating musical quality. Just listen to the Red Army Choir for a rich example. I’m no singer, but when speaking Russian, I feel as though I can actually carry a tune!
8. Russian Is A Language Of The Future
The fact is, Russian is far less popular as a second language than, for example, Mandarin — another language even more difficult for English speakers to grasp. This low popularity is a shame because there are a number of economic opportunities currently arising in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. You may be surprised to learn this too, but it became the internet’s second most popular language in 2013, replacing German, and has remained in that position since.
9. It’s Also A Language Of The Past
Russia is heir to a rich historical and literary tradition. And if you’re the kind of person who values history and literature, you might consider it a lofty (but worthwhile) goal to one day be able to read the works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Akhmatova, and Pasternak in their original form.
10. Russian Is Part Of A Larger Family
As soon as you learn a bit of Russian, a whole range of other languages is suddenly accessible to you. Russian is a member of the Indo-European language family, and specifically the Slavic family. Even with just a beginner’s grasp of Russian, you can quickly understand the other Slavic languages.
There are three subfamilies:
- the East Slavic languages, which all use the Cyrillic alphabet (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian)
- the South Slavic languages, which either use the Cyrillic (Bulgarian, Macedonian) or Latin (Croatian, Slovenian) alphabets
- the West Slavic languages, which use a modified Latin alphabet (Polish, Czech, Slovak)
There is a Russian proverb: “It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times” (Лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать). So I will spare you my other 90 reasons to learn Russian and let you discover this marvelous, mysterious language for yourself!