One of the things I get asked the most is if I have any Russian learning tips on memorizing words, choosing the verb aspect, and so on.
Please don’t get me wrong: I love receiving messages, but sometimes it gets frustrating to write the same tips for learning Russian over and over again.
That’s why I decided to sit down, gather all the answers I’ve sent over two years (mostly to my Italian readers) and write this post with my 15 Russian learning tips.
I’m most definitely not a teacher, but I have spent years and years studying the Russian language, so I think I have a say and I can share some useful ideas, tips and tricks.
All of these tips for learning Russian come from my direct personal experience. Just because something worked for me doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for everyone.
Well, let’s get started!
- Learn Russian cursive alphabet as soon as possible
- Focus on your interests
- Use colors
- Choose the right tools
- Read a lot and aloud …
- … but keep away from fairy tales!
- Mind the pronunciation from the very beginning
- Avoid using subtitles
- Have a plan
- Listen to Russian music and SING!
- Dive into the language
- Use word associations
- Don’t rush
Here are my 15 Russian learning tips:
1. Learn Russian cursive alphabet as soon as possible
Learning Russian requires a lot of writing: starting from endless lists of new words in your notebook, to summaries and even essays later on.
The problem with Russian is that it has two different alphabets: print and cursive. And as I already wrote in this post about Russian cursive alphabet, cursive is much more difficult to read, of course, but also infinitely faster to write.
That’s why you simply HAVE TO get used to writing Russian cursive from the very beginning.
“What if I write texts and take notes on my computer or smarphone?”
Don’t do that. Several studies show that handwriting amplifies the brain’s ability to memorize information, while when we type on the keyboard our brain focuses only on the act of typing.
You don’t trust me? Read this paper from Princeton University and University of California: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.
Then grab your pen and write in cursive!
2. Focus on your interests
Once mastered the basic grammar, it will be up to you to learn the words, verbs and expressions you need to enrich and improve your Russian. One of my best tips for learning Russian is to do so starting from your own interests.
For example, I’m a huge fan of Disney and I know by heart entire songs or even scenes from my favorite cartoons in Italian.
I used to watch the same cartoons, but in Russian. I already knew the dialogues very well and I could focus on the grammar and the words the charachters use to express a concept that I already had in my head.
And then, again, I used to write down all the new things I learnt.
This same method can be applied to movies, TV series, or even to entire busjects. If you are keen on fashion, you should probably start by watching or reading about fashion because:
1) You have the knowledge required to understand a text or conversation simply from the context, even if there are some (or many) words you don’t understand;
2) You are going to use those words often as you talk about your interests.
3. Use colors
Russian grammar can be terrifying and confusing because there is a lot of categorization going on. Just think of perfective and imperfective verbs, unidirectional and multidirectional verbs of motion and the cases.
Colors can help you a lot in both memorizing and placing every word in the right category.
During my first years of university, I used the blue pen for the sentences containing imperfective verbs and the black one for those with perfective verbs. Then for the verbs of motion I bought two news pens: red and green.
This may sound unusual, but it works! Read this: The Influence of Color on Memory Performance.
In short, each color activates different parts of our brain and allows it to create associations. This is very useful, for example, when we study the regencies of cases in Russian: if we underline in yellow all the verbs that support the instrumental, when we read a verb that our brain remembers as “yellow”, we will automatically also know which case holds .
The only cons: you’ll spend a fortune on highlighters and colored pens.
4. Choose the right tools
They could not be missing among my Russian learning tips: dictionaries and platforms.
Russian is one of those languages in which a single word can have a hundred different meanings depending on the context.
I always recommend Multitran online dictionary because it not only translates words, but also shows all the different meanings. If necessary, it also conjugates verbs for you. For clarity of layout, however, perhaps this is nicer.
In any case, sooner or later you will need tto learn how to conjugate Russian verbs. Follow the link to read my post about Russian verbs conjugation rules.
If you already have decent command of Russian, then look no further than Викисловарь.
5. Read a lot and aloud …
I have this problem with English: when I read something in my head I sound like Queen Elizabeth during the Christmas speech, but as soon as I open my mouth my very British accent turns into a flow of hideous sounds that have little to do with English.
That’s right: reading not only helps you from the point of view of Russian words and grammar structures, but it can also help you to articulate sounds better.
Read something in your head, then look up for the words you don’t know and translate the paragraph. Once the content is clear, read it aloud (which by the way also helps to memorize the words).
Not knowing how to pronounce a word is no longer an excuse! Wikitionary’s “voice” function for words or Yandex translator’s robotic voice are enough to find out which letter is stressed.
6.… but keep away from fairy tales!
“Fairy tales are written for children, so they must be simple!” How logic is that?
Well, unfortunately it doesn’t apply to Russian ones, which are very difficult and, above all, a waste of time.
Russian fairy tales are beautiful, but very old and thus are packed with obsolete words, verbs and realia that are hard to translate, understand and you will never, ever use in everyday life conversation.
Just go back to the second Russian learning tip in this list and start with Russian blogs on topics that you are interested in!
7. Mind the pronunciation from the very beginning
I had some amazing Russian teachers; their only flaw was being a little too “soft” on pronunciation. When I arrived to Russia for the first time I knew the grammar rules and had decent command of the spoken language, but I had to re-learn how to pronounce many words correctly.
The struggle was real.
Someone might think: “Oh well, they are going to understand me anyway“. No, they won’t!
Also, sooner or later the day will come when you want to “speak better” and it will be much easier to do so if your brain has memorized the words correctly.
Pay particular attention to “аканье” (the “o” being pronounced “a”) and “иканье” (the “e” being pronounced “i”) and remember that “с” in Russian is never read “з” and the “ь” is there for a reason, master the hideous letter “ы”.
8. Avoid using subtitles
Among the tips for learning Russian people ask me most frequently is: “Where can I find movies and TV series in Russian with subtitles?“.
I wrote a whole post about where to watch movies in Russian. But are you really sure you need subtitles?
There are conflicting opinions on the benefits of subtitles for language learning. In my opinion, it all depends on your goals.
If you want to learn new words and expressions then yes, feel free to watch anything you want using Russian subtitles or even in your own language.
On the other hand, if you watch to improve your listening skills, then DO NOT use subtitles at all.
I’m sure that subtitles distract attention from the dialogues and as a result you simply read the subtitles instead of really listening. And it is even more so for Russian – no matter how good you are, reading Cyrillic is harder than Latin letters.
9. Have a plan
In my opinion, learning Russian takes a plan: things should be studied in a certain order – the one that most Russian grammar books give you.
Of course, you should also refer to other books, movies, YouTube and a little bit of everything, but a good grammar book is essential not to “get lost” in the language.
If you are studying Russian at university, in a school or you are taking private lessons, the teacher will show you the path.
However, if you want to study Russian on your own, instead, start from a good Russian grammar book.
10. Listen to Russian music and SING!
Russian music has taught me a lot about Russia and the Russian language. I have always loved listening to Russian POP, studying the lyrics by heart and understanding their meaning.
Music has helped me in more than one situation (and more than one exam): every song you know offers you a great deal of ready-made and correct sentences that you can use at the right time.
And there’s more! Singing your favorite songs by imitating the original is an excellent way for practicing pronunciation, working on the articulation of sounds and remembering the accents of words.
11. Dive into the language
I think we will all agree: to really learn a language, you have to immerse yourself in the environment in which it is spoken. That is – you have to interact with native speakers.
And the sooner you start doing it, the better!
Now, clearly the best thing to do would be going to Russia; nothing stimulates growth like being forced to speak!
If you can’t, you should definitely make friends with the Russians who live in our city, see each other a few times a week, call each other, chat. Personally, I have learned a lot more from my friends than from books.
Among other things and apps available, I love using italki (with my link you can get a $10 discount) for practicing French and Mandarin Chinese I’m currently learning.
I hate translating and still realize how important it is to learn Russian.
Translating from your language into Russian not only helps you draw parallels between sentence structures, but also forces you to do research and find and use new words that will be also easier for you to remember.
But of course translating is not enough. Then you ideally should give the translated text to a native speaker to correct your mistakes.
13. Use word associations
A simple and also fun way to memorize new words is to associate them with other words that you already know.
It is not difficult, you simply link two words by assonance. For example, I remember that long time ago there was no way for me to remember the word “salesman” – “продавец” (pronounced pradaviets).
This was until a friend of mine suggested to me: “It sounds like a Prada salesman!“
From that moment on I have never forgotten that word again and I started looking for associations for all the words and verbs I found it difficult to remember.
Believe me when I say that studying on and off leads nowhere!
One of my most important Russian learning tips is to take a daily dose of Russian.
Doing homework is important, but it’s not enough. At least go on social media, read the posts, listen to the stories and try to understand. Listen to music, watch TikToks, do whatever you want, but do it EVERY DAY.
15. Don’t rush
Perhaps the most valuable of all of my 15 Russian learning tips!
It’s OK to feel the pressure of exams, but don’t forget that studying Russian is an investment you make for your future and personal growth and you should be doing it your way and at your own time.
Do not pay attention to others, stop feeling like everyone is doing better than you.
Continue to do it your way, try my tips for learning Russian and I’m sure you’ll get to your goal!
And these were my 15 Russian learning tips. Here are some other posts you may like!
Did you like these tips for learning Russian? Do you have any questions?
Leave me a comment!
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