I'd like to learn Russian, any help?

The title pretty much says it. I would like to learn to a high level, as good as my english and was wondering if anyone knows any good sources to start from, relatively cheap as well :p. With all that does anyone know of any international qualifications I could get with learning Russian, after all I may as well be recognised for learning it.

You can learn Russian for free by joining the military and going to the Defense Language Institute - that’s what I did. After the one year basic course you should be able to speak, read, and comprehend Russian at about a level 3 (level 4 being a native speaker and level 5 being a highly educated native speaker). When I graduated from the intermediate course in 1987 I was at level 2+ speaking and 3+ in both reading and listening comprehension. After 12 years of barely using the language I could probably test at a level 1 speaking and about level 2 reading and listening. My language certifications have gotten me absolutely zippola in civilian life, apart from the admiration of my fellows for being so clever to be able to speak a foreign language. Unless you are willing to invest the time and money into a college degree program that relates to your language of choice, don’t expect to get much for your trouble other than personal satisfaction.

In the civilian world if you want to learn a language at that high a level then the best way to do it would be to enroll in a college that has an overseas study program. You can’t acquire a foreign language at that high a level unless you are able to be immersed. You can only do that by living in a country where the language is the one primarily spoken or by enrolling in an immersion program. Short of the military, there’s no cheap way to do that. Unless you are very self-motivated and have a very high aptitude for languages you can’t achieve real fluency with books, tapes and CD-ROMs. And by fluency, I mean the ability to think in a foreign language (I still dream in Russian from time to time).

Well, everyone has different learning styles. Have you learned a foreign language before? If so, which one(s), and how did you go about it, and what were the results?

I’ve learned Russian to the point that I’m pretty fluent and sometimes mistaken for a native speaker, but my vocabulary range isn’t as wide as in English by any stretch of the imagination. This was accomplished through 3 years of study in college, a semester in Leningrad, 2 years of grad school including a summer in Siberia, a year working with Russian-speaking refugees, various volunteer activities, and one technique I heartily recommend for quick improvement of fluency, which is falling head over heels for someone who speaks little or no English.

If you want to start off slowly and cheaply, what about swapping Russian lessons for English lessons with a native speaker? I’d recommend you some textbooks, except that all the ones I ever used were pretty awful, at least compared to the ones I’ve used to learn other languages. Where do you live? What kind of local resources are available for practice and immersion? Here in Chicago we’ve got radio, TV (only a few hours a week, unless you have cable or satellite), several small newspapers, and of course you can always rent films and check books and tapes and CDs out of the library. But you probably need to get some grammar fundamentals down first. If you’re in the Chicago area, I have some other concrete ideas for you.

Well, down the road it’s possible to do an internship, or teach English overseas, or join the Peace Corps, or any number of things that don’t require joining the military or having scads of money. They will take some work and ingenuity, though.

Point taken…what I was trying to get across is that learning a language fluently is a significant investment - whether it’s time or money. Learning Russian didn’t cost me a penny, but I had to commit 6 years to the Navy. You seemed to have invested a significant amount of both time and money too (not to mention emotional involvement :)).

Something inmplied by the previous posts, but not stated outright is that Russian is not a language that can generally be “picked up on the side” by native English speakers. It is one of the more challenging languages for English speakers to master (not the most challenging, but more so than, say, French or German).

Community colleges (and even some high schools) often offer relatively inexpensive night classes for introductory-level language. That could get you started.

ni pukha ni pera! (that means “good luck.”) :slight_smile:

(the proper response is k chortu, meaning literally “go to the devil,” … kind of along the lines of “I don’t need your luck”)

If oyu just want to give it a try alone first, I’ve used the Pimsleur language tapes and thought they were really good. They’re not that cheap, but I’m sure they’re a lot cheaper than taking classes. Of course, if you get really serious then some real lessons would be best, as others have mentioned previously.

Just to go amazon.com and search for “Pimsleur Russian”.

One inexpensive resource to check out is your local Russian community. Look for any Russian grocery type stores. Typically you will find flyers for Russian language classes, taught by Russians, that are reasonably cheap. An example of what I’ve seen here is:

$40.00 per month which includes a weekly hour long instruction.

Granted, it will be no where near the level that an immersion program will give you but it is a start.

Of course, after 2 years of marriage and over 5 years in the relationship with a Russian, I’ve yet to take a course. Yes, I am ashamed. :frowning:


That’s not what I intended to say. Actually, Russian is much easier to learn than most other languages because it has so few irregularities. It’s usually a safe assumption that the grammar rules apply, gender is fairly straightforward, and verbs are generally conjugated the same. The hardest part is understanding what case to use when using verbs of motion. Loosely put, you have to know how you are going, how often you intend to go and whether you will be coming back to choose the right case.

What I was responding to was the OP’s desire to learn it as well as (I’m presuming) his native tongue. I spent a year and a half in total immersion and when my language skills were at their finest I spoke Russian about as well as a Russian adolescent. Any foreign language requires immersion for extended periods of time to achieve the level of proficiency that the OP implied. Idiomatic expressions, such as the one you provided, are a big obstacle in speaking like a native. Ni puha ni pera, literally means “neither fur nor feathers”. It is customary to say this to a hunter going on a trip. It is sort of like wishing an actor luck by saying “break a leg”. Both expressions make little sense to someone from another culture, and that is the type of language sense that extended immersion gives you. As I said - even after a year and a half of immersion did not give me native-level proficiency.

But Russian is absolutely a language that an English speaker could become conversant in with a little effort. You don’t need to memorize volumes of grammar rules - Russian grammar can be put into tables that fit onto 3 letter sized pages. You don’t even need to learn a ton of vocabulary to become conversant - many Russian words are constructed from very common roots and prefices and suffices, so if you don’t know a word you can often construct it and be near right. That also means that you can develop good reading comprehension by deconstructing roots and prefices. And fortunately, there has been a recent boom in the availability of books in Russian. Many by American authors. Reading “Catcher in the Rye” in Russian is a lot of fun.

Anyway, sorry for the confusion…I never meant to imply that learning Russian is difficult. What I meant is that a high degree of fluency in ANY language is difficult to achieve without years of work. And I just also realized that I didn’t answer the OP’s question very well either. For a few bucks you can get some good CD-ROM self teaching courses in most languages, and these are a good place to start. I like the CD-ROM courses because many of them have pronunciation tools that are a better guide than tapes. Use this to develop a basic understanding of the language and a basic vocabulary. Then apply it by reading books in Russian, watch Russian films and radio if you can. Even better, if you live near a big city, pay a visit to the Russian community and go to restaurants and shops. When you walk in and say “dobrij den’ (DOBE-ree DYEN)”, you will get a big smile in return.

[slight hijack]

Could someone point me to a sound file of someone saying palatized sounds? I tried learning Russian some years ago, and the biggest hurdle for me (and the thing that eventually made me give it up) was that I had no idea how to pronounce the palatized sounds.

[/end hijack]

Wow, GWvet, I guess you’re experience is wildly different from mine. I studied 3 years in college with native speakers and spent a summer in Bulgaria using Russian as my primary means of communication.

Perhaps if you already have a knowledge of Latin, German, or another language that uses the concept of declention, it would be easier to pick up. I believe the Defense Language institution rates Russian in the second-most-difficult group (the most difficult are tonal languages and Arabic) in terms of difficulty for English speakers. For the Basic course, Romance language programs take 25 weeks, Chinese & Korean take 63 weeks, and Russian takes 47 weeks.

Thanks a lot for all the advice, makes you grateful for the boards. I knew that this wasn’t gonna just fall in my lap and from the sounds of it I have a lot of sources to choose from.
Thanks again :slight_smile:

Since you’re looking for advice more than facts, I’ll move this thread to IMHO.

moderator GQ

My high school Russian teacher (15 years ago) started using the textbook Russian Face to Face at some point, and liked it enough to make some of the published supplementary materials for it.

As others have pointed out, one of the best things about Russian is that the voacabulary is so predictable, and it’s often possible to accurately predict what a word will be in Russian once you know the various rootwords and the common prefixes (often derived from prepositions) and suffixes.

I spent a semester in St. Petersburg and a summer in Novosibirsk in college (10 years ago), but made the mistake (mistake relative to discipline in learning the language) of associating with my fellow English speaking students too much and thus didn’t learn as much as I could have if I had fully immersed, which is what must be done of course to learn a language and its idioms and idiosyncrasies well.

[hijack] What program were you with in Novosibirsk, and what year? It wasn’t CIEE in 1995, was it? That would just be too weird.

It was indeed the CIEE program, but I was there in 1994. Seems they stopped having a program in Akademgorodok a couple years later.

I can’t offer any advice on a good way to learn Russian, but I can warn you to stay away from a certain text book. I don’t remember the exact name or author (I believe the author’s last names starts with an L). However, if one of the first phrases in the book is “How do shockworkers live?” (Kak zhivoot Üdarniki?), drop it. I spent an entire semester ‘learning’ from that book. Then I took intensive Russian over the summer. As I struggled with that, I lifted a Russian sentence from the above mentioned text book and the professor told me I was wrong.


Oh, no way! I was in St. Petersburg under CIEE in '95-'96.

nocturnal_tick, pozdravliaiu tebya za to, chto xochesh’ izuchat’ russkii iazyk. I wish you all the best of luck.

As to starting… the book I used before going to study Russian at UIowa and then Georgetown was the New Penguin Russian Course, which has probably gone through a couple editions since I used it back in the late 80s. But it’s a great self-instruction course - it has short quizzes at the end of every chapter and answers at the back of the book. The grammar explanations are short, clear, and concise - if a point proves confusing, five minutes’ re-reading the explanation usually helps.

Couple that with a really good dictionary (as a wannabe freelance translator, I strongly urge you to avoid anything by Hippcrene!) and you’re well on your way to basic fluency.

Can’t say that I blame them. I believe it was the only program where they went through a for-profit organization instead of dealing directly with the university, and the Russian program administration tried to fleece us out of extra rubles at every turn. I had to chew them out over our phone bill in particular, plus they kept trying to get us to make our own copies of course materials, which was something we’d already paid for them to do. Very annoying. I would have been better off if I’d taken up my ex on an offer to arrange an informal internship with the Academy of Sciences, where he worked, but then I would have had to deal with getting a visa and funding, so it was easier just to take the scholarship money from CIEE and do that. Big mistake.

*Way! *I did CIEE in Leningrad in 1989, when it was still Leningrad. Boy, were those wild and crazy times. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Were you in that Godawful decrepit dorm on ul. Korablestroiteley?