learning russian russian  on on your own method learn information

Learning russian on your own

Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud

Russian Indo-European:Slavic
Fascinating language associated with cold, communism, melancoly, raucous accents and a difficult grammar. Now that Russia is opened, the chance to talk to thousands of russians eager to explore the other half of the world or for us to visit them is an even better reason to learn this wonderful language, less difficult than usually thought.

Click for the pop-up window "10 reasons to learn russian"

Introduction - www.micheloud.com


Most russians don't except you to speak their language, but "gifted" as they might be other languages, speaking russian will help you greatly if you travel in Russia or through ex Sovietic countries.
Russian is usually considered a beautiful language, even if some consonants are a little hard on the ear.
Chic factor
Speaking russian fluently is as chic as can be, especially in Western Europe.
At least 170 mio speak russian as their mother tongue, and a further 120 mio. use it as a communication language.
Most of the ex-soviet union countries use russian as a communication language or at least understand it.
You can travel in dozens of countries with russian, be it sea or snow that you're looking for. Siberia, Kazhakstan, Turkmenistan, etc...
A wealth of books and movies wait for you, and many are accessible from the internet or at local shops if you live close to a russian expatriate destination.


Difficulty - www.micheloud.com
Many strange consonants, and one unusual vowel that stands between and i. Actually, about every consonant has a "wet" counterpart, as if it were followed by an y (per versus pyer). It's fine for the p but when you try the rolled wet r, things warm up.
Most words change with their function, genus, number etc..., so you get a lot of freedom with syntax because the relations between words are clear from the words themselves, so their position is mostly irrelevant. Nice, but on the other hand, if you understanding of the case system is less than perfect, you can have a hard time telling if it is Arkady who gave the apple to Marina or the other way around.
Extremely interesting if not easy, russian vocabulary can be divided in about 25% "free" words that you already know (like prablyem for problem) and the rest which is built a little bit like german : roots are assembled to make whatever word you need, even if the rules to do this sometimes seem a little obscure.
You can tell "imported" words after one hour of cyrillic alphabet, (you will recognize them behind the cyrillic disguise), but to pronounce correctly you'll need some time, mainly because some letters are not pronounced and the accent (which is usually not written) changes the pronunciation of most vowels. To write correctly is the last step, almost as difficult as french.
Overall difficulty
I rate this language as , that is, difficult to learn. Grammar is not simple because of the case system that changes the ending of most words according to their function (subject, object, etc...), their number and sex. Neither orthograph nor pronunciation are their to compensate this, although some parts of the grammar are really refreshingly simple.
Time needed
I gave myself two years to learn russian, and I'm at the end of year one. At my present level, I can read any text with a dictionary and a bottomless pot of coffee, make a little small talk and understand what is talked about.
Learning material - www.micheloud.com
Books and tapes
There's a wealth of material to learn russian. The best I found to begin with is :
  • Reading Modern Russian, a book that teaches you what is say in no-frills, down to earth approach. Not fancy but clear and usable, and one of my favorite books abour russian.  Buy it from amazon for 19$.
  • For advanced students, I recommend Barron's excellent Russian Slang & Colloquial expressions, well researched and very fun.
  • If you speak german and want to write in russian fluently, you might find the Russisch schreiben, aber wie ? useful. It lists useful expression in such a format that you can find them easily when needed. Too bad they don't make it in english !
  • A good book for conversation is the austere Russian as we Speak it, which I bought at the russian bookshop near the Flatiron building.
  • For people who want to check their flexions (declensions) or those who want to learn grammatical cases by inference, 5000 Russian Words : With All Their Inflected Forms is a must : it contains all the forms of nouns (Genitive plural, dative singular, etc...) of the 5000 most common words in russian.

There is also a program developped during the cold war that comes with many tapes and that you can use on your own. You can buy it from Audioforum.

Intermediate and advanced students should definitely get their hands on books published by Russki Yazik in Moscow, cheap and excellent. There are so many that I cannot recommend one in particular.

Note pour les francophones : les seuls livres d'apprentissage du russe utilisables que je connaisse en franais sont ceux dits Moscou.

(I have tested every program or book I reviewed here myself)


There are many schools in St Petersburg and Moscow, so be picky.
  • Russian Story lets you buy most russian newspaper in electronic format in their latest incarnation and at a fraction of newsstand's price. Click on the block here =>  Click to go to Russian Story (Link to russianstory.com)
  • The excellent radio Voice of Russia has news service in russian that you can listen to with real audio directly from Moscow.
  • Deutsche Wellen have a very good russian service where you can find the transcript of many sendings, all accessible through their website.
  • The BBC has also a rather good russian program, as well as Radio Canada.



Learning languages | Choosing your language | Francois Micheloud