Russian has a reputation for being rough and difficult to learn. Yet despite that, (it’s true!), Russian is a fascinating language, enriching anyone who attempts to learn it. In this post, you’ll read about the history and linguistics of the Russian language, why you should learn it, my personal experiences of learning Russian as well as general tips on approaching the most spoken Slavic language.
History Of Russian
Russian is a Slavic language and is one of the ten most spoken languages in the world. Tracing back to 500 A.D, Slavic belongs to the tree of Indo-European languages. Eventually, the Slavic language split into three groups: West Slavic, East Slavic & South Slavic. Russian, along with Belarusian and Ukrainian, are ‘East Slavic’ languages. Regardless of the Slavic tongue, the literary & religious language of Old Church Slavonic could be easily understood.
During the time of Peter The Great, Russian was modernised and French was adapted as the offical language of the Royal Courts. (Thus, French words entered Russian). The Russian language was also shaped through the Mongol and Tartar conquests, and for hundreds of years, various dialects of Russian were formed.
Two innovative individuals associated with the Russian lanuage are Alexander Pushkin (who translated foreign words into Russian) and Mikhail Lomonoso, who formed Russian grammar.
Russian is written in the Cyrillic script (created by Clement of Ohrid) and named after Saint Cyril (who devised the Glagolitic script). It has an alphabet of 33 characters. Russian nouns are grouped together by gender. Russian is particularly tricky due to adjectives taking many forms (depending on context). For those learning Russian, a good word order is S-V-O (Subject, Verb, Object).
Why Learn Russian?
Learning Russian is a huge undertaking. Here are five reasons why it’s worth it.
First Reason To Learn Russian: Russian Is One Of The Six Languages Of The United Nations, With 260 Million Number Of Speakers
Russian is a widely spoken language, and is crucial to understanding the culture and politics of the Russian federation. By learning Russian, you are understanding another culture (which has many misconceptions about it). If you are curious about Russia (like I am), then learning Russian is a must.
As Russian is a widespread language, it’s not hard to find a suitable online class, tutor or app.
Second Reason To Learn Russian: Literary & Historical Sources
Russian literature has many influential writers ranging from Leo Tolstoy to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. When you learn the Russian language, you’ll have access to a great range of literary and historical sources that will enhance your life and self-improvement.
Russian literature and history is vast and covers centuries of events such as the Russian Revolution, the life of Catherine the Great, the tyranny of Stalin, World War II and Napoleon’s invasion. Understand the richness of Russia through its language.
Third Reason To Learn Russian: Learn Another Slavic Language
If other Slavic languages interest you (Czech is beautiful!), a knowledge of Russian may help you learn other Slavic languages. Note: learning any language will benefit you. If you know how languages work and have experience in learning them, approaching a new language may be easier.
Fourth Reason To Learn Russian: Travel
If travel interests you, particularly in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus & Central Asia, then a knowledge of Russian is a huge advantage. As said in the first reason, many speak Russian. From my travelling experience, even knowing the most basic terms can help you enjoy your holiday / travel even more.
Fifth Reason To Learn Russian: Mind Benefits
As Russian is a difficult language (The Foreign Service Institute ranks it as a level IV language!), learning it is a challenge. But the rewards are immense: travel, cultural connections, understanding historical sources, reading Dostoevsky. But another one exists. Learning any language is good for the brain. Whether it’s creativity, critical thinking, listening or concentration, languages are beneficial.
Regardless of your age or prior experience with languages, it’s never too late to learn a language like Russian.
My Experience Learning Russian
I started learning Russian in 2017, and quit after a few months after the realisation of how difficult languages are. I was impatient, eager for results, and that hurt my progress. When it comes to language learning, there are no ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ solutions. It’s hard work, and those wanting a simple method are in for a shock. In 2019, I returned back to Russian, and since then, I’ve made slow progress. Although I’m still a ‘beginner’, I am slowly becoming more confident in Russian.
Here are various tips to help you learn Russian:
Balance Your Speaking, Listening, Writing & Reading
Not all areas of language learning have the same difficulty. You may ace reading, but struggle with speaking. Every learner has different aptitudes and skills, and language learning reflects that. Expect some aspects to come easier than others. However, you shouldn’t neglect weak areas in your learning. Instead, keep note of what you struggle with. Aim to make small improvements every fortnight or week. Also, it’s not a bad idea to get outside help. Perhaps a class or a language buddy is a good idea for you.
Learn The Alphabet First
The alphabet is daunting… at first. Through practice, you can master it with ease. Even better, once you understand the alphabet, you’ll quickly figure out how words are meant to sound. It’s easy to comprehend how many Russian characters sound, although some are tricky.
There are numerous benefits to handwriting notes. You can track your progress and practice handwriting in Russian (note: there are some differences to English writing!). With handwriting, you are more careful and considerate about what you write. It’s not like typing, where the words come out with little regard for strucutre.
Of course, you don’t have to handwrite everything. But handwriting is good practice for language learning.
Trust Your Mind
The human brain is a powerful information processor, even when the body is asleep. When it comes to language learning, it’s not so much about ‘conscious memory’ (what’s easy to remember). Rather, you know you’ve made progress with learning Russian when answering questions, translating words or responding to phrases becomes ‘automatic.’
It’s true: language learning is hard! That will reflect in your speaking, listening, reading and writing… for a while. The more you practice at it, the easier it will get. That doesn’t mean you waste hours staring at a single word in a textbook. Yes, you need to study ‘smart’, not ‘hard.’ But overall, how much effort you put in to your learning matters. I began to make real progress in Russian when I accepted a) it will take a while, because fluency doesn’t happen overnight and b) I must get over my fear of making mistakes if I am ever to improve.
Consider Alternative Ways To Master Russian Grammar
Russian grammar may be confusing, but it’s not worth losing sleep over. Yes, it differs to English in many ways. But the problem with focusing on grammar is it comes at the detriment of vocabulary. Beginner language learners can truly kickstart their progress
The travel vlogger ‘Bald And Bankrupt’ has an interesting approach to learning Russian grammar.
Keep Your Motivation Solid
Learning any language, especially Russian, is hard. But it’s vital to keep yourself motivated, because the only way you will improve is through practice and learning. Keep in mind your goals for learning Russian, and use them as motivation.
What are your experiences learning Russian? Comment below!
(By the way, best of luck in learning Russian 😊)