If you have always wanted to learn Russian, you’re nowhere near alone; tens of thousands of people study the language every day around the world. And it’s no wonder! Russian is a language that captures a rich culture and history. The language can take you around the world, from Russia to Eastern Europe and Central Asia and even to the United States.
But you might have a lot of questions about why you should learn Russian or what it takes to get started — or why it’s even worthwhile at all. The good news is you can rest assured that learning the Russian language is an effort worth undertaking. With the right tools and technology to guide you in your journey, you’ll see your efforts pay off in so many ways.
Basic Russian Lesson For Beginners
Why Learn Russian?
Learning any new tongue is a challenge that can open up your mind to new perspectives and help you connect with all types of people across boundaries of land and language. When it comes to learning Russian, these reasons are especially true.
To start, if you know the Russian language, you open yourself up to a whole world of Russian speakers that spans continental borders. There are roughly 153 million people on Earth who speak Russian as a first language, and millions outside of that who speak it to some degree, making it the eighth most spoken language worldwide. And Russian is the official language of 4 countries!
You’ll obviously find Russian all over Russia, but did you know that there are whole populations of Russian speakers in places like Ukraine, Poland, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Mongolia, and even China and the United States? And that’s just a few. Most of the countries in the former Soviet Bloc still have a heavy presence of Russian speakers. Russian is the most popular spoken language in Europe, and the most widespread language in all of Eurasia. And were you aware that Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and the second most widely used language on the Internet?
You might want to learn Russian for its links to other world languages. Russian, a Slavic language, is closely related to all of the other languages in the same family, like Polish, Ukrainian and Czech, among more than a dozen more? If you ever want to learn the other Slavic languages, there’s no doubt that if you learn Russian, you’ll have a learning advantage right from the start!
Benefits Of Learning Russian
Picking up a new skill can help you express your creativity, stimulate your mind, and discover new sides of yourself along the way. Learning a new language like Russian is no exception! Here are just a few of the many ways you can make a positive impact on your life if you learn Russian.
- Learn Russian For Travel — When the spirit of adventure strikes, don’t let language barriers hold you back. When you have Russian in your back pocket, you have a passport to many new corners of the world. Learning Russian not only means you’ll be able to navigate new cities by reading road signs, menus, and train tickets; it also lets you connect with the new people you meet there. It’s often said that the best way to explore a new place is through the eyes of a local, and learning Russian lets you branch out of tourist hotspots and into the real world as the native speakers see it. Whether it’s the streets of St. Petersburg or the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, you’ll be more equipped to venture off the beaten path and explore all the Russian-speaking world has to offer when you have Russian in your linguistic repertoire.
- Live The Russian Language Abroad — Whether you’re looking to enroll at a foreign university and have a more alternative college experience, find a job at a hostel that lets you hit the tourist hotspots by day and work at night, or retire in a place with a slower pace of life, living abroad is hands down the best hands-on approach to getting the most immersive language experience possible. By placing yourself in an environment where you’re obligated to speak Russian, you’ll fast-track your journey to fluency. Your life can take on new twists and turns when you move to an unfamiliar place, and there’s so much of the Russian-speaking world to explore. When you learn Russian, you open up a gateway to a robust, colorful, and novel life adventure!
- Build Your Business Russian Skills — Today the world is more connected economically than ever before. The sweeping tides of globalization mean that companies and organizations today are operating across international borders and boundaries. If you’re a professional looking for ways to stay competitive and current in the global market, learning Russian is a no-brainer for success. Eurasia is an emerging market full of opportunity for businesses. Learning the Russian language is a fantastic way to connect with colleagues in other countries, score new clients, build strong relationships with Russian-speaking partners and investors, and to show off the multicultural, international, and inclusive nature of your brand.
- Use Language To Train Your Brain — Building any new skill is a surefire way to expand your intellectual horizons. Learning Russian is an especially sound way to keep your brain flexible and nimble, especially as you grow older. Picking up a new language involves making connections between words and what they represent, taking apart and putting together grammatical structures, spontaneously speaking and thinking on your feet, sticking with a challenge when it’s frustrating and confusing, and a whole lot of active listening. There are few better ways to exercise your mental muscles than by learning Russian.
- Immerse Yourself In Russian Culture, Unfiltered — Learning Russian opens you up not only to a better understanding of the language itself but also of the arts and culture of the world that speaks it. To read the literature of decorated Russian-speaking writers like Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky is to engage with the language in some of its most beautiful, melancholic and colorful expressions. Through the lens of Russian you get a more active immersion in more contemporary Russian-language media like podcasts, radio shows, audiobooks, and TV shows. The stories and recipes of culinary creations like borscht, the dialogue of famous Russian films, and the lyrics of classic Russian songs all become accessible to you when you learn the Russian language. And if you’re from a family with Russian-speaking elders and ancestors but you don’t know the language yourself, learning Russian is an excellent way to connect with your heritage.
Learn Russian Basics: Russian Lesson For Beginners
Learning The Cyrillic Alphabet, Russian Pronunciation And Russian Accents
For many Russian learners, one of the most daunting barriers to getting started is often the fact that Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. On the surface, Cyrillic looks a lot different from the Latin alphabet used by many major world languages like English, German, Spanish and French, to name just a few. It can seem intimidating to have to start from scratch learning a new spelling system.
But the good news is that learning how to read and write with the Cyrillic alphabet isn’t actually too difficult. Some language experts say that you only need two days to learn the Cyrillic alphabet!
Luckily, there are only 33 letters to learn, and several will already be familiar to you. Cyrillic is a blend of Greek, Latin, and Old Slavic symbols, so you’ll be able to recognize some of the letters — like A, K, M, O and T — right off the bat. But beware of symbols like B and H that actually sound different from what you’d expect in English (B makes a “v” sound, and H makes a “n” sound, for example). And then there are letters like Й, Ы, Я and Ж you might not even have seen before, so you’ll have to learn them for the first time.
When it comes to speaking Russian, you’ll want to sound like a native speaker by mastering Russian pronunciation. Learning to pronounce words in Russian means mastering the elusive rolled “r” sound that doesn’t exist in English. It also means learning about the difference between strong and weak consonants and between stressed and unstressed vowels, all of which will factor into play in your Russian pronunciation learning journey.
Don’t worry if you can’t master the Cyrillic alphabet, a typical Russian accent or the trickiest of Russian pronunciations right away; it takes time and practice! The best way to remember these rules is just to practice over and over, especially by reading texts out loud. Watching Russian TV and movies or listening to Russian-language podcasts, radio and film can certainly help you master Russian pronunciation and sound like a native Russian speaker.
Learning Russian vocabulary isn’t as hard as you might think. It takes time and practice, you’ll find there are a lot of Russian words and phrases that are connected with English expressions you already know.
You’ll be happy to learn that there are quite a few cognates between Russian and English — words in Russian whose meaning you’ll likely be able to figure out pretty easily because they stem from the same root word. When you read the Cyrillic and sound out the Russian words компью́тер (“computer”), па́спорт (“passport”), атом (“atom”) or дире́ктор (“director), for example, you’ll realize that though some of these words look different in Cyrillic, they actually sound very similar to their English equivalents.
When it comes to unfamiliar Russian vocabulary words you will need to learn, there’s no wrong way to master them. Some people prefer to use flashcards to learn vocabulary. Others find success with the sticky note method, asking a friend to quiz them on a list of words or something else entirely. It’s up to you!
Basics Of Russian Grammar
Russian Verbs And Russian Verb Conjugations
Verbs are key elements of any Russian sentence. Whenever you want to express that someone or something does some action or is something else, you need a Russian verb.
Russian verbs exist in an unchanged form called the infinitive, which is the same form as the English construction “to X” — like “to run” or “to eat,” for example. In most cases, you can recognize a Russian infinitive because most will have the ending -ть, like in the verb понимать (“to understand”), or even the endings -ти in verbs like идти (“to go”) and -чь (“to be able”).
To be used in actual Russian sentences, these verbs in their infinitive forms need to be conjugated, which is a technical way of saying that each Russian verb requires a special ending depending on the subject of the verb (who or what is doing the action of the verb) and the verb’s tense (past, present or future).
Verbs in Russian also have a special characteristic known as aspect, which means that they essentially come in two forms, called the imperfective and the perfective. As you learn more about Russian verbs, you’ll get a much better sense of how to use aspect, but the gist is that verb aspect describes the view of a Russian speaker towards the action he or she is referring to — including the completed or ongoing nature of the action and how important it is to emphasize that completeness. It’s a concept that’s unfamiliar to many native English speakers, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice!
Knowing how to conjugate Russian verbs and master the concept of aspect is essential to being able to express yourself in Russian, and you’ll likely spend a large part of your Russian learning journey focusing on the grammar of Russian verbs. Once you master them, you’ll be well on your way to speaking Russian with fluency.
Each Russian noun has a gender, meaning it’s classified as masculine, feminine or neuter. This doesn’t mean that every person, place, object or idea is inherently male, female or neutral; it’s just a system of grammatical categorization that exists in Russian and many other world languages that affects how speakers use these languages.
You can clue into the gender of a Russian noun in almost every case by looking at its ending; words that end with a consonant or -й, like Хлеб (“bread”) and музей (“museum”) are almost always masculine, while those ending in -я or -a are overwhelmingly feminine, such as неделя (“week”) and лампа (“lamp”). Neuter nouns most often end in -o or -e, like ухо (“ear”) and здание (“building”).
There are, however, several exceptions to these rules, and these irregularly gendered nouns must be learned and memorized separately. A major part of learning Russian nouns involves recognizing their gender classifications, so it’s important to practice this concept!
Learning Russian nouns also means becoming intimately familiar with the Russian case marking system. The general rule is that Russian nouns can take one of six cases — called nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental and prepositional — depending on the role they play in the sentence, like whether they’re doing the action of the verb or having the action done to them, for example. Depending on their case, nouns and pronouns take a different form, usually by changing their endings. For example, the noun капитан (“captain”) can take five different endings depending on its case: капитан (nominative), капитана (accusative/genitive), капитаном (instrumental), капитану (dative) and капитане (prepositional).
Though learning about Russian gender and case marking on nouns can seem like a major challenge, there are some saving graces, especially the fact that Russian doesn’t use definite or indefinite articles — the words “the” and “a” or “an” in English. In languages like German that also have gender and case marking on nouns, figuring out which of the many forms of “the” or “a” to use can be a nightmare. But in Russian you won’t have to deal with that problem!
As you learn Russian, you’ll get to know the rules governing how Russian nouns and adjectives behave in certain situations. It’s all part of the process of learning Russian grammar!
Basic Russian Phrases And Russian Greetings
To speak like a native Russian speaker, there are certain must-know Russian phrases and expressions that will help you navigate your way through a conversation.
The best place to start, of course, is with “hello”! There are many common greetings in Russian to choose from, the most popular of which include Привет! (“Hello!”) and the slightly more rough-sounding Здорово!, which you could follow with a firm handshake and translate as “howdy.”
You can also choose among Доброе утро (“good morning”) if it’s before noon, the stylistically neutral and polite Добрый день (“good day”) until the end of the work day, and if it’s later, Добрый вечер (“good evening”).
You’ll get familiar with basic Russian phrases like Как дела? (“How are things?” or “How are you?”) or Как жизнь? (“How is life?”), to which you can respond Отлично! (“Great!”), хорошо (“OK”) or ничего особенного (“Nothing special.”), among many others.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’ll want to talk about who you are and perhaps where you’re from. To introduce yourself, you can say Меня зовут X (“My name is X”). To find out other people’s names, you can ask Как тебя зовут? (“What is your name?”) in a more familiar context and Как вас зовут? if you want to be more formal.
The way to say where you come from in Russian is Я из X (“I come from X”), and to ask where someone is from, you can say Откуда ты? (“Where do you come from?”) in informal settings and Откуда вы? in more formal ones.
To say goodbye in Russian, пока! is a classic and casual go-to, but there are plenty of other great options — like the slightly more formal but almost always appropriate До свидания!. Other ways to say goodbye until another time include До завтра! (“See you tomorrow!”), Увидимся! (“See you around!”) and До скорого! (“See you soon!”).
There are many other useful conversational Russian words, phrases and expressions you’ll get to know as you learn Russian, from да (“yes”), нет (“no”), Спасибо (“thank you”) and пожалуйста (“please” and “you’re welcome”) to где X? (“Where is X?”) and Вы говорите по-англи́йски?, or “Do you speak English?”
When you learn these Russian phrases and hundreds more like them, you’ll be better able to communicate with native Russian speakers with ease.
Ways To Learn Russian
There is no right answer when it comes to how to learn Russian — or any new language. With so many options for your language journey, it’s no surprise that choosing a learning style or method can be overwhelming!
Of the millions of people who speak and study Russian as a non-native language, you’ll find folks who have used all sorts of resources to learn the language, some free, some fairly cheap, and some more of a financial investment. There’s no right combination, and it’s up to you to decide which methods work best for you to learn Russian.
What's The Quickest And Easiest Way To Learn Russian?
You’ll find that the fastest and easiest way to learn Russian is the way that offers you the least amount of friction — so if you can’t stand shuffling through textbook pages or you get bored flipping Russian flashcards, you might want to stick to a method that’s more exciting or engaging. Knowing yourself is key to success. Here are just a few of the ways to learn Russian quickly:
- in a __classroom setting__ or with one-on-one instruction from a __Russian teacher or tutor__
- with paid or free online __Russian courses, classes, software or apps__
- with __Russian media resources__ like __podcasts__, __playlists__, __books__, __movies__ and __TV shows__
Learning Russian In The Classroom
Russian is among the top studied languages in school systems and universities around the world. Russian classroom learning is the most popular option for learners in grade school or university settings. It allows more intensive, regular study with feedback from teachers who know the Russian language and can correct mistakes as they happen and teach content in an interactive way. Depending on how large a class is and how engaged the teacher is, learning in a classroom might be a less personalized experience, but having other students to talk to and practice with is a valuable resource for a learner of any language.
Though full-time students make up a large proportion of Russian classroom learners, plenty of adults enroll in Russian classes, too. Many cities and communities offer free or fairly cheap language classes, and you’ll be very likely to find them in popular languages like Russian. Though a full-time job might limit your schedule, a commitment to a once- or twice-weekly Russian class after work or on the weekends can really improve your Russian language skills in a measurable way.
Learning Russian With A Russian Tutor
Private Russian tutoring offers a more tailored learning experience than traditional classroom learning with many of the advantages. Having a skilled Russian tutor at hand who can help you perfect your pronunciation and work with you closely on the aspects of Russian that cause you trouble is a great way to improve your skills fast — without a teacher needing to split time and attention among multiple students. And Russian tutoring doesn’t have to be inconvenient at all; many sessions can and do take place over video call instead of in person.
But the often steep costs of such individualized instruction can be a barrier to many learners. Well trained master Russian tutors often charge high hourly rates for their lessons, so finding a top-quality, budget-friendly option can be challenging.
Software and Online Russian Courses
There are many top-notch, expert-designed online Russian courses and programs that run from reasonably priced to very expensive. They allow you to learn Russian on your own time and are often more interactive and engaging than many free courses and resources. Plus, many of the best products out there are constantly updated with new, fresh material, so you can get the most relevant Russian learning experience available.
Can You Learn Russian For Free?
All of the above options have one thing in common: they cost money. For those learners who want to be more conscious of their budgets or are okay to spend more time finding and working with more cost-effective content, there are still plenty of options to learn Russian for free or for cheap!
Free Online Russian Courses And Apps For Learning Russian
There’s no shortage of free Russian courses, apps and content you can find on the web and on your phone. From Russian grammar wikis to online forums and Russian classes, you’re sure to find hundreds of options that might do the trick. Some of them are better than others in the ways they’re organized and how thoroughly they explain new concepts, so take them with a grain of salt.
Be aware that the tradeoff of a free product is that it usually sacrifices quality. Much of the content that’s in free apps or that’s scattered around the web comes from user-generated translations that are rarely verified and are often inconsistent or riddled with errors. These lessons often focus on writing and reading without much of a way to improve listening and speaking skills. And be wary that free interactive Russian lessons like these can often be basic, poorly designed, messy, rigid, and just downright boring — not to mention littered with ads.
That’s not to say these Russian resources can’t be helpful! But it’s important to know how and where to fill in the gaps in your language learning journey when certain content isn’t enough.
Learning Russian With Native Russian Speakers
Tandem learning is a technique where two people who speak different native languages meet up to help each other learn, swapping roles as teacher and student. For example, if you spend one hour teaching a friend who’s a native Russian speaker something about English, he or she would then spend the next hour teaching Russian to you. This is an effective method when both people are able to commit significant time and thought to the partnership, but keep in mind that not everyone is a good teacher. Explaining why your native language works the way it does is often easier said than done; you might understand English grammar subconsciously and use it flawlessly all the time but not be able to explain to a Russian person or Russian speaker the rules that govern how you’re supposed to use that grammar.
Immersion Russian Learning
Russian immersion programs or some form of immersive Russian language travel are definitely the most extreme and intensive ways to learn a new language, and they’re not for everyone. (They’re also not technically free if you count airfare to a new place and all the costs of living associated with wherever you go.) But without a doubt, immersing yourself in a new culture and a place that doesn’t speak your language and surrounding yourself with native Russian speakers will force you to make rapid progress in Russian or another target language as you struggle to communicate and understand those around you.
Of course, you’ll want to start with at least a little foundation in a new language before picking up your life and plunging yourself into a completely foreign locale. Using resources like Babbel, language textbooks and Russian classes, and practice with Russian native speakers can all help you prepare before you make a big transition through Russian immersion.
Useful Russian Media To Learn Russian For Free Or Cheap
When you don’t have access to Russian classes and teachers or even native Russian speakers, there are still plenty of Russian media resources to help you get on your way to fluency in Russian. Most of them can be accessed for free online or from a library or found for very cheap — or even through a subscription for a streaming service like Netflix or Spotify you’re likely already paying for!
Books To Learn Russian
If you like to read, you’ll find a whole range of literature written in Russian that can help you master the Russian language. There are thousands of Russian books that make great learning resources for beginner and intermediate Russian learners, from fairy tale poems like the famed Pushkin’s Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке (The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish), ideal for beginner learners, to longer, more substantive reads like the advanced Soviet-era literary classic Доктор Живаго (Doctor Zhivago)
Using books to learn Russian is a great way to sharpen your reading skills and to understand how the Russian language is used in a whole wide range of contexts, from historical fiction to fairy tales to personal essays to collections of short stories to nonfiction and everything in between. Reading books in Russian helps you move at your own pace, and you can stop to consult a Russian dictionary if you need extra help along the way. Keeping a language journal of unfamiliar Russian words and expressions helps you build your vocabulary. Plus, you can get some extra speaking and Russian pronunciation practice by reading the book aloud.
Learning Russian With Audio Lessons, Russian Songs And Russian Podcasts
There are many online Russian audio lessons you can find that can teach you the basics of Russian vocabulary and grammar without needing to look at a page or a screen. Russian audio lessons are great for multitasking; you can listen to them in the car or in the background of another activity, like commuting to work, cooking dinner or taking a walk in your neighborhood.
Similarly, Russian podcasts and Russian audiobooks are a great way to learn passively while you do something else that requires your visual attention. Luckily, there are lots of audio resources to pick from, and many of them are free. Russian podcasts like Russian For Cats are great for beginners and feature mostly English with Russian expressions mixed in, and others like Ракета: Simple Russian are suitable for learners who are more ready for an all-Russian listening experience.
And listening to Russian songs can be a great learning method, too. With songs, a chorus or group of lyrics is often repeated more than once, giving you plenty of opportunities to hear lyrics over and over. You can find many playlists of Russian songs on Spotify that are often organized by proficiency level, too, from beginner playlists to more advanced ones.
It’s important to keep in mind that to really master a language, you’ve got to do more than just listening to it; you’ll probably want to supplement audio with ways to practice writing, reading, and speaking Russian, too.
Learning With Russian TV Shows And Russian Movies
Watching Russian movies and Russian TV shows is an excellent way to connect with the Russian language in a fun, engaging format. You can find a lot of good Russian-language content of all different genres and for all learning proficiency levels on streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime.
When you’re watching, you can choose to display subtitles in Russian for some extra reading practice. Try to avoid watching media dubbed in your native language, as you won’t end up hearing any Russian! If the dialogue is too fast, you can pause what you’re watching to give yourself a chance to process what you’re hearing and look up and write down unfamiliar words. And when you use movies and TV series to learn Russian, don’t be afraid to break them up into chunks to give your brain some rest.
Learning Russian With Babbel
The goal of learning any language is to have real-life conversations with native speakers. So a language learning app should be designed to get you to that goal in the best way possible. It’s important to dedicate the time and effort to practicing with discipline, but outside of your own personal commitment, you’ve got to have technology that knows how to help you most effectively along the way.
Luckily, Babbel is designed by a team of language experts, educators, and designers who know all about what it takes to get the most out of learning a new language — so you are guaranteed a top-quality Russian learning journey that’s capable, engaging, and yes, even fun.
Here are the key ways Babbel Russian lessons are crafted to get you having real-life conversations in Russian with confidence, and all for less cost per month than your morning coffee.
The Full Spectrum Of Language Learning
Learning a foreign language is an endeavor of many dimensions. It takes a lot of skills and patience to learn how to start speaking on the spot, to write a text to a friend, or to translate dialogue you hear from a TV show in your target language.
We know how to make these elements work together to your advantage. Babbel’s lessons are interactive and cover all the aspects of learning Russian — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — with multimedia Russian content to train your ears and eyes. Our speech recognition feature even helps you hone your Russian pronunciation, too.
Russian Learning On Your Terms
One of the best parts of learning with Babbel is being able to fit lessons in seamlessly when you want them and where you want them. Our bite-size lessons take roughly between 10 and 20 minutes to complete and can be squeezed into your already busy schedule, whether you’re on your commute or waiting for a pot of water to boil as you cook dinner.
With Babbel, you can pick and choose the topics and themes that are most relevant to you. Taking a trip soon? Brush up on the Russian you’ll need for travel and navigating new places. Need to sharpen your Russian for an upcoming business meeting? Our Russian language courses have you covered.
The iOS and Android apps are fully integrated with the web application. And your progress is saved in the cloud and synced across all devices — so you can learn Russian anytime, anywhere.
Learn Russian — And Make Sure It Sticks
What good is committing to learning a foreign language if you’ll forget it before you even have a chance to use it? That’s why your personalized Babbel Review feature is optimized to help you retain the information you’re learning.
It takes advantage of the concept of microlearning, or bringing back information in short bursts to help you hold on to it better. You can practice writing, listening to, and speaking the Russian phrases, terms and expressions you’ve learned in your earlier lessons to lock them into your brain.
For Russian Learning, Try Babbel
We’re committed to making sure you get the most out of learning Russian. We offer a free first lesson in every language so you can get a feel for if Babbel works for you. And if you don’t like it, we have a 20-day money-back guarantee — no questions asked.
Try a free Russian lesson with Babbel and see for yourself how quickly you’ll be on your way to speaking Russian with confidence — like you’ve always wanted to!
Check out our other learning topics about Russian:
How To Speak Russian