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Is Learning Russian Hard?

By Jon, published on 31/10/2019 We Love Prof - AU > Languages > Russian > Russian, a Hard Language to Learn: Myth or Reality?

According to the Mosalingua ranking of 2015, Russian takes 3rd place on their list of the most difficult languages to learn in the world, just behind Arabic and Mandarin!

Suffering from its negative reputation, the Russian language is only very little known to our compatriots. An unpopularity that can be explained by its complicated grammar, incomprehensible alphabet and vigorous accent.

  • But is Russian really so difficult as people claim?
  • Is it really impossible to become a polyglot in Pushkin’s language?

Here are our answers!

Why Learn Russian?

Everyone has their own reasons for learning a new language, but here are just some of the reasons why it is so beneficial to study Russian, as suggested by Babbel.com:

1. Russian Is One Of The World’s Most Spoken Languages

2. Russia Is The Largest Country In The World

3. Russians Don’t Speak A Lot Of English

4. Russia Isn’t A World Away

5. Learning Russian Is A Challenge

6. (But) Learning Russian Is Easier Than You Think

7. Russian Is A Beautiful Language

8. Russian Is A Language Of The Future

9. Russia Is Growing In Popularity

10. Russian Is Part Of A Larger Family

Are you surprised by any of these facts or statements? If not, then you may be surprised by how easy it actually to learn Russian as a second language!

The Ease of Learning the Russian Language

Belonging to the sub-category of Slavic languages, Russian is one of the Indo-European languages, in the same way as Spanish, French or Italian.

Take a Russian language course here.

The Russian Cyrillic alphabet may be different, but it’s not so difficult to learn as you might think.

It is easy to imagine that the common historical context of the countries of Europe has played a role in possible similarities between languages.

Indeed, the official language of Russia includes, certainly, its own specificities, but also some similarities with the French language!

Moreover, according to a survey conducted by the Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies in 2014, 10% of Russians believe that French would be the most useful language, after English, German and Chinese.

The Russian population is, therefore, already seduced by the learning of French, mastering the language in just a few years thanks to the concomitance of both languages.

Why not make the reciprocal true and find a tutor to take you Russian courses?

The Russian Alphabet is Simpler than it Seems

The basis of learning Russian? The Cyrillic alphabet, of course!

Although this unknown alphabet may, at first, frighten the English-speaking reader, the Cyrillic alphabet is actually much easier to remember than it suggests.

The Russian alphabet has 33 letters (only 7 more than the Latin alphabet) and is composed of:

  • 7 latin letters,
  • 9 Greek letters,
  • 15 Russian letters,
  • A soft sign and a hard sign.

For any anglophones who have studied Ancient Greek at school, the first 16 letters of the Russian alphabet can be assimilated into just one or two sessions of Russian classes in New York (or elsewhere).

Calligraphy is also easy to access: the Russian signs are very similar to variations in our capital letters and are very easily reproducible, unlike the signs of kanji for example, which change direction according to the orientation of a trait.

What’s more, learners of Russian can choose to study Cyrillic cursive writing that allows you to learn Russian calligraphy more naturally and quickly, although typographic writing is still essential for working on the computer via the Cyrillic keyboard.

Find a Russian language course here.

The Russian Language: Easy Rules to Learn

As in our mother tongue, the Russian language is a bicameral language, composed of vowels and consonants.

The Moskva River is Moscow’s central waterway.

The student will be able to find a common base for English in terms of word formation!

At the level of conjugation, the student with a latin-based understanding of conjugation will be able to blow through their studies in just a few minutes: the Russian conjugation, is far from being as complex as the French conjugation (for example)!

Russian speakers use only two simple forms:

  1. The present,
  2. The past.

And four modes:

  1. The indicative mode,
  2. The imperative mode,
  3. The gerund mode,
  4. The participle.

As in Molière’s language (French), there are six Russian personal pronouns:

  1. я,
  2. ты,
  3. он,
  4. мы,
  5. вы,
  6. они.

These three singular and three plural pronouns are in fact virtually unused by the natives, since the conjugated forms of Russian verbs are quite different, and cannot really be identifiable without personal pronouns.

Finally, the syntax of Russian words is easier to master than the English syntax: Russian does not recognize a defined or indefinite character to a subject. The lack of article is palliated by the place of the subject in the sentence, indicating if the latter is defined or indefinite.

In an interview with Russia Beyond Headlines on January 27, 2017, Russian student Anna Soloviova explains:

“If foreigners put themselves in Russian language classes from their childhood, (like Europeans do) for English, it would not seem difficult for them. In Russian, the horror of grammar stops at A2 level. After, it’s freedom and unlimited pleasure to speak, read and write an absolutely beautiful language. “

It’s simple, we tell you!

What are the Challenges of the Russian Language?

Almost Impossible Pronunciation

For young learners of the Russian language, the most complicated part of learning is pronunciation!

Members of the Kremlin Regiment, Russia’s honor guard.

The Russian language is an accent language, unlike English: the tonic accent of Russian words moves from one form to another, making learning difficult for English students. To become a true Russian-speaking expert, it will be necessary not only to learn the Russian alphabet, but also the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), particularly useful for using English-Russian dictionaries.

Here is a small summary of the pronunciation of the Russian alphabet:

 

Complex Linguistics

Unlike English, the Russian language is an inflectional language, that is to say that Russian words change their form according to their grammatical relationship to the other terms of a sentence. These unpublished rules are a real headache for our compatriots!

Within the Russian language, there are ten grammatical declensions:

  • The nominative,
  • The genitive,
  • The dative,
  • The accusative,
  • The instrumental
  • The prepositional.

Before going to the oral expression, therefore, the student must each time make the effort to think about the form to give to the word. It is therefore his whole system of linguistic thought that the pupil of Russian must modify, most languages not being inflectional languages.

Another concern for anglophone students is the formation of verbs!

In Russian, there are two forms for a verb:

  • The perfective, which describes a past action that is totally finished, or a single action, or a future action.
  • The imperfective, which describes a present action, an action that repeats itself in time or an unfinished past action.

In an interview with Russia Beyond Headlines on January 27, 2017, Russian student Natalia Blinova explains:

“I remember reading my illustrated book a hundred times in a row. But I always hesitated: he came where he came from? What is the meaning ? Where is he now? Has he stayed or is he already gone? For example, to translate the Italian verb andare (go), we have different verbs in Russian, because it is sometimes “going to a specific place” sometimes “going there by means of transport”. “

What’s more, students must take into account the prefixes that can suddenly change the meaning of a word.

It will therefore be necessary to be motivated to speak Russian fluently as a true native of the country of Tolstoy!

How Long Does it Take to Learn the Russian Language?

To become a bilingual Russian and English speaker, the student will have to acquire all the basics of the language of Dostoeivki.

Holy Trinity-Saint Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery.

It will be necessary for them to be unbeatable on:

  • Russian grammar,
  • Russian culture,
  • Russian expressions,
  • Russian greetings,
  • Russian pronunciation,
  • The phonetic transcription of new Russian words,
  • The Russian Cyrillic alphabet etc.

At first, the Russian student can choose to learn the language as an autodidact to revise the most basic Russian vocabulary. The student will have to make the effort to learn alone, even if he takes Russian lessons London or elsewhere around the UK, in order to facilitate his memorization of words.

To remember the Cyrillic alphabet, it takes about 1 month to know by heart the calligraphy and pronunciation!

Using interactive exercises makes learning more fun, but also and above all can help you to to learn Russian for free. However, it will usually take the standard Russian courses to learn the language properly.

The student can take Russian classes:

  • In language school,
  • In high school,
  • In College
  • In University (undergrad or postgrad),
  • In private lessons outside or at home (learn Russian in Bostson, New York, Chicago, Miami …).

With personalized support, the student can remember all the basics of the language in less than 6 months!

Finally, the most recommended way to learn Russian quickly is to travel to Russia. During a language immersion study, the student will be able to discover Russian culture but also all the linguistic expressions of Russian everyday language.

It takes 1 year of language training for a student to perfect their Russian and be able to hold conversations with a native, while it takes at least 2 or 3 years for a student staying in the United States. Moreover, the language exchange allows one to work on their Russian pronunciation and their tonal accent.

So now you know details about the learning process and what you can expect of your learning journey, shall we think about the ways in which you could learn this interesting language?

Teach yourself Russian using Textbooks

Of course, it is always recommended to hire a tutor or to attend a class when starting out with a new language, but if you are confident then you could always try teaching yourself some of the basics using educational textbooks. Below are a few that might be of interest to you:

The New Penguin Complete Russian Course for Beginners

The last edition of this classic textbook is from 1996, but it’s still a classic for students of Russian and a best seller on Amazon.

The book is designed for students learning on their own or as a supplement to coursework and includes 30 lessons with intermittent review exercises. The book focuses on functional conversation above all else, with an emphasis on useful vocabulary and essential grammar.

Russian for dummies

This classic series also covers several languages, and the language books are generally a surprisingly good resource! Written by several different authors, this book is a great place to start for anyone learning Russian. The second edition was recently revised ahead of the 2018 World Cup. The book contains a full list of essential vocabulary, basic grammar, an overview of Russian culture, and a CD to work on your listening and pronunciation.

Assimil – Learn Russian for English speakers

Assimil is a tried and tested method for learning foreign languages! The various authors working at Assimil have packed all their Russian knowledge into one book that will carry you from the start all the way to the advanced intermediate (European B2) level.

Once you’ve finished with the ‘With Ease’ series, you can also move on to the “Perfection’ series which focuses on advanced knowledge, idiosyncrasies, and Russian idioms.

Learn Russian Online

Websites, applications, original language movies, the classics of Russian literature via PDFs… All media is useful when trying to learn Russian for free (or almost) and especially trying to learn Russian on your own using only the internet as your toolkit.

We recommend the following websites in order to progress with Russian vocabulary.

Memrise

Language learning can be done in a number of fun ways and Memrise is one of them. The memory card game allows you to learn quickly and have fun. And besides – it’s free.

Easy Russian

Among the essential websites that will help you to learn Russian, trust in Easy Russian. It is certainly the most complete in terms of lessons, and contains playful articles and cultural essays about Russia.

Learn Russian with Free Games

Some language-learning apps and websites have exercises that use audio and visual prompts to make learning easier.

What’s more, some websites offer free games for practising Russian grammar, either thematically or according to the grammatical divisions familiar from Russian courses.

  • Digital dialects offer a series of language games on subjects as simple as the alphabet, Russian numbers, types of fruit, food, the days of the week and other common words and expressions of the Russian language.
  • Russian for Everyone has four different types of games for various themes of Russian words – both for spelling using the Russian alphabet (hangman), combination visual/audio games and combination visual/word games – and grammar games focusing on nouns (mostly in the nominative case), adjectives and verb conjugation.
  • Influent is more like a video game: you explore a world and collect Russian verbs, nouns and adjectives – practising Russian pronunciation and spelling all the while – that you can string together to form phrases and sort into your own custom vocabulary lists.

Using Language Apps for Russian Learning

Sites and apps such as Duolingo and Babbel have various exercises and can really help you advance in a way that is easy and convenient – using your mobile or tablet!

Babbel

Babbel, perhaps the best-known language learning application, is certainly a good choice to start with; it consistently receives positive reviews and has been downloaded over a half a million times!

As with everything, this app has its good and bad points; the main one being that it comes with a fairly steep price tag. If you were hoping for more cost-effective apps for language learning, this would not be it.

However, there are plenty that do provide learning tools and resources at a more reasonable rates and some at no cost – like Quizlet, for example.

Duolingo

If you were looking for a completely free app to learn Russian with, Duolingo would be it!

This app plays like an addictive video game until you realise you’re getting some serious learning in!

Spaced repetition learning has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to learn anything, languages in particular. The folks at Duolingo ran away with the concept, creating an engaging, easy to use interface that is most effective.

They boast that anyone could learn a language in as little as five minutes per day. You, the serious language learner, will probably find yourself spending more than one Pomidoro flicking back and forth across your screen.

Learn Russian with a Tutor

It’s great that you have the determination to learn Russian on your own, using all of the tools, utilities, channels and websites available. However, your language skills won’t truly be tested until you engage in conversation with someone who speaks that language.

You could travel to Russia for this, or find a Russian penpal.

Besides travelling to Russia and surrounding yourself with native Russian speakers, your next best option would be to find a tutor, online or in person, to converse with you.

This is when Superprof can come in.

With a Superprof tutor, you know what you’re getting upfront because each tutor builds their own page, listing their credentials and experience, and declaring which method of contact – via webcam or in person they prefer. Note: most Superprof tutors will be happy to come to yours or meet you online, as you prefer.

Something else Superprof tutors gladly do: offer their first hour of lessons at no charge, so you can see if that Russian speaker is truly right for you.

there are more than 800 Superprof Russian tutors scattered throughout the UK. Surely one must be close to you? If not, how about meeting them online for a nice conversation, once a week?

What are you waiting for? Maybe a good reason to learn Russian?

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