In our previous article we told you about why you should be learning Russian. If we managed to convince you, the next logical question is: can you do it? Is Russian language hard to learn?
Today, we will try to tell you about what to expect if you decide to learn Russian, and even give some useful pieces of advice to those already learning it.
It’s true that Russian cannot be called the easiest language in the world, but fortunately, it is still far from the top 10 most difficult languages as well.
One thing stopping people from starting with the Russian language is the inscrutable Cyrillic alphabet. However, it is not as difficult as it seems: Out of the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet, 6 ones look and sound exactly as the English ones, so it leaves you with only 27 to learn. Out of those 27 ones: 10 will look new to you but have a familiar sound, 2 have no sound at all, 9 will look and sound new. The trickiest part of the Russian alphabet is the 6 letters that look the same as in English but sound completely different.
But even looking completely different, the Cyrillic letters have roughly the same geometry as the English ones (if you compare it to Arabic or Hindi, for example), so it’s not so hard to remember them. Plus, once you have learned them, they have a quite consistent pronunciation, unlike English letters.
With a proper motivation, you could learn Cyrillic alphabet in a day. Even the trickier letters disguised under the English outlook will surrender completely within a couple of weeks of practice.
To help you with that, there is a very good site here.
Once you will have learned the Russian alphabet, you will be surprised by how many Russian words were adopted from English or have the same etymology, especially the ones of the 20th century. You can check some of them here.
This is even more true for French: thanks to Peter the Great there are a lot of French words in Russian, even more than the English ones. So if you speak French by any chance, it will be even easier.
Placing the Russian accents is another stumbling block for those starting with Russian. Let us tell you more about them:
Every word in Russian has an accent. If a word only has one syllable, that’s easy, that one is accentuated. But for the words with two and more syllables, placing the accent in a wrong place can completely change the meaning of the word. And there is no way to know where the accent should fall unless you learned the word earlier. Worse, when you conjugate a verb or decline a noun, the accent can unpredictably move to another syllable.
The absence of rules about the accents makes even the Russians themselves confused. On the Russian Internet, you can find sites that tell you where to put the stress in certain words. There are even double standards for some of those words: you can place the accent on one or another syllable and it will be considered correct in both cases (it’s mostly true about conjugated verbs).
What makes up for it is that there are not too many words that change meaning when the accent is switched. So if you mess up a word or two while speaking, it will be ok in most cases. Just remember to learn the Russian words together with their accents from the start. With time you will start noticing some patterns and be able even to correctly guess the accent.
English speakers might find it a bit hard that the Russian nouns have genders: feminine, masculine and neuter. But so is in French, except for the fact that in Russian, there is a set of rules that defines which noun has what gender depending on its ending, and in French, you should memorize the gender for the most of the words.
There are, of course, verb conjugations, but Russian only has 3 tenses: Past, Present and Future. Quite a difference with French, and even more so with Spanish where they have something like 16 tenses. But how do Russians make it with only three tenses? Thanks to the two verb aspects: imperfective and perfective. When you learn Russian verbs, you should memorize them in pairs (the imperfective one and its perfective counterpart). This simple trick will save you a lot of confusion along the way.
There is something in the Russian language that unites it with Spanish: the ability to completely omit the personal pronouns in a sentence and still understand what it is about judging by the form of the verbs. You cannot do that in English nor in French.
The flexibility of the sentence structure is one of the undeniable perks of Russian. Unlike English, where the words shall go in a certain order to make sense, in Russian you can completely mix the order of words without altering the meaning.
Except for some level of unpredictability described above (or not mentioned here), there is an actual rule-based system in the Russian language, and most of the words follow those rules (with some exceptions, of course).
The most notorious of those rules are the Russian declensions: you are supposed to change the ending of the words depending of their role in the sentence. That is, actually, exactly why you can change the order of the sentence and still make sense. There are six declensions (cases) in Russian, one of them is the initial form of the word – the Nominative case. The students of Russian language can get easily overwhelmed by the abundance of different endings to learn, but with time and practice they will all fall into recognizable patterns.
If you want to nail the Russian declensions, we recommend you the following exercise: break the sentence structure and figure out how all the words are related to each other. You can also practice the Russian cases with this series of lessons.
At this point you might have understood that learning Russian is a commitment. It won’t go by itself unless you consciously push it, meaning practice regularly.
The key to success is to be motivated, and then it’s totally doable – ask anybody who learned it to the conversational level.
And it’s not so far from the English language as it might seem and comparing to such languages as Mandarin, Arabic or Hindi.
The best advice we can give your about learning the Russian language is to keep practicing. As for the pronunciation, you should not pay too much attention to the rules (in the different parts of Russian the pronunciation differs a bit) but try to mimic the native speech.
To start learning Russian today, you don’t have to go too far. The Internet offers an abundance of free and paid websites to learn and practice Russian language on your own (for example, a network of free websites Learn Russian 101), as well as online Russian schools with professional teachers (for example, Russificate).
Learning Russian will keep your brain healthy, broaden your horizon and give you a lot of opportunities to meet interesting people, find jobs, visit amazing places and have unforgettable experiences!
Let us know what is your experience with learning Russian in the comments!