4 Tips to Make Learning Russian Easy

A performance of traditional Cossack song and dance
The Russian National Cossack Dance Troupe. Sion Touhig / Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, Russian is not that tricky to learn, and once you have mastered the Cyrillic alphabet, the rest will come easier than you might think. After all, around 265 million people manage to learn Russian, and while for some of them (about 154 million) Russian is a native language, the rest successfully learn it as a second language.  Here are 4 key tips that will make your learning easier. 

01
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Don't Let the Alphabet Intimidate You

Vector realistic isolated neon sign of Russian alphabet font letters
Vector realistic isolated neon sign of Russian alphabet font letters. Comic Sans / Getty Images Plus

The Russian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic script and comes from the Greek. While scholars are still debating whether the Cyrillic script was developed from the Glagolitic, or alongside it directly from the Greek, what matters the most to Russian learners is to remember that the reason Cyrillic exists is that there are some sounds in Russian that are not found in English and other European languages.

Cyrillic was developed in order to create an alphabet that reflected those specific sounds, which were absent in the Latin and Greek alphabets. Once you learn to pronounce and write them correctly, Russian becomes much easier to understand.

Those Russian-specific sounds are, by the way, why the Russian accent in English can sound so distinctive—native Russians also have to learn how to pronounce sounds in English that don’t exist in Russian. 

02
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Don’t Sweat the Cases

Russian has six cases which are there to show what function a noun has in a sentence: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional

The endings of Russian words change depending on the case they are in. The easiest way to remember the correct word endings is to expand your vocabulary and learn the phrases you would use a lot anyway.

Russian has many rules and almost as many exceptions, so whilst learning them is important, it is also a good idea to simply memorize the phrases you would use in everyday communication, which allows you to begin remembering those words in their various cases.

Once you’re speaking some basic Russian, go back to the cases and look at each in detail—now you may find them to be less intimidating. 

03
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Read Every Day

Row of Russian books
El primer libro es rojo. (The first book is red.). Photo by Quinn Dombrowski; licensed via Creative Commons.

While classical Russian literature is what attracts many learners to this beautiful language, Russia has many great contemporary writers, too, so if the classics isn’t your thing, you will still find a lot of fantastic reading material.

Reading is an excellent way to expand your Russian vocabulary, learn both the correct grammar and the modern speech patterns, and become fluent in understanding the Cyrillic alphabet.

Russian is the second most-used language online in the world, which means that apart from books, there are many other ways to read in Russian, including news outlets, online forums, and the plethora of fascinating websites on all sorts of topics, all in Russian!

04
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Compare Russian and English

Learn words that sound similar in English and Russian and mean the same thing, e.g. шоколад, футбол, компьютер, имидж, вино, чизбургер, хот-дог, баскетбол, веб-сайт, босс, гендер.

Words borrowed from the English are growing in popularity in Russian both because of their meaning (where it is easier to borrow an English word than to use an archaic Russian one or to create a new Russian equivalent), and because some Russians find them more modern and prestigious. Whatever the reasons, this makes learning Russian much easier thanks to a large readily available vocabulary of English words that you simply need to pronounce with a Russian accent.