Archive for the ‘Learn Russian - How to’ category

The Best Way to Learn Russian

February 21st, 2010

I get asked that question a lot: “Say, what’s the best way to learn Russian?” What a lot of people will say, almost flippantly, is, “Go live in Russia.”

Gosh, thanks buddy. Real practical advice.

And you know what? Even if you could easily just move to Russia, that would NOT be the best way to learn, at first. I know many American and British men who live here in Sevastopol, and they all know scarcely a word of Russian between them. So, living here is not going to do anything. You can learn Russian right at home, where you live now. It’s not where you live, it’s how you learn and how you study that makes the difference.

First, you need a multiple-attack plan for learning. You don’t want one of those Audio Only courses, nor do you want one of those only Pictures programs. No One Trick Pony is going to work. You need to be learning on different levels, with different approaches. For example, some words are best learned through mnemonic devices. (See my learn Russian phrases PowerPhrase videos, for example.)

But there’s lots more words that don’t fit neatly into such sentences. You need to learn them — and all words, really — through the contextual method. (Click here for some articles about Contextual Learning and how it helps to learn Russian.) Not that learning Russian has much to do with learning words.

Yes, I probably need to repeat that: Learning words is not the same as learning a language. Language has rules for how words need to change, and how they can go together. These rules are called grammar. If you really want to learn the language — to be able to have conversations and to understand what people are talking about — you need to be shown Russian grammar correctly.

Unfortunately, most courses either ignore teaching grammar (because it IS devilishly hard) or teach it totally wrong, using charts and tables as if it were chemistry.

So, you need a course that teaches words and phrases in various ways, depending on the words themselves. And a course that teaches grammar as simply and clearly as possible. This is done via Pattern Recognition. You are shown the patterns of the language, and learn how to extrapolate. But what you don’t need to be bogged done with are all the laborious names and nomenclature for grammar. Do you know what modal verbs are in English? Perhaps not, but you certainly are a master at using them, even new verbs, because you understand the patterns.

Finally, you need a course that takes careful review into account. By careful, I don’t just mean a course that asks you the same question each week. No. You can (and should) do that on your own study time. The course itself needs to have you work with your Russian vocabulary. Ask you questions where you are forced to use existing vocabulary in new ways.

That’s what a superior course in Russian should do, and is in my opinion the best way to learn Russian fast, or any language for that matter.

Don’t settle for less.

How to Learn Russian: Contextual learning Part 2

February 20th, 2010

Let’s learn some new words online today related to language. We’ll be doing this by seeing the words in context and deducing the meaning naturally. if you missed the first part of this series called How to learn Russian contextual learning part 1 check it out. Here goes part 2…

I didn’t know the meaning of the word “obsequious” so I looked it up in the slovar.
(Pronounced: sluh-VAR)

English is my native yihzik, but I’ve been studying the Russian yihzik for seven years now and speak it almost fluently.
(Pronounced yih-ZEEK)

I always forget how to spell the slovo “tomorow.” Are there two R’s or just one?
(Pronounced: SLOW – vuh)

Z is the last bukva of the alfaveet.
(Pronounced: BUKE-vah and al-fah-VEET)

In this restaurant the other day, I was very unhappy with the food and the service, so I told the waitress, “Excuse me, I’d like to govoreet with the manager.”
(Pronounced guh-var-EET)

I always have the Russian news station playing on my satelite radio because it’s important to slushat to lots of Russian speech.
(Pronounced SLEW-shut)

Let’s review those words.

What is a slovar? A slovar is a book which has the definition of virtually every word in a particular language.

What does yizik mean? A yizik is a systematic means of communicating using sounds or written symbols.

What is a slovo? A slovo is an utterance, or its representation in writing, which communicates a particular meaning based on context.

What is a bukva? A bukva is a written symbol which represents a spoken sound, or part of a sound, and is a component of an alphabet. A bukva doesn’t usually have meaning on its own, but is placed together with other bukvi to spell words.

What is an alfaveet? An alfaveet is the letters of a language, arranged in order by custom.

What does govoreet mean? Govoreet means to express something with speech.

What does slushat mean? Slushat is when we make an effort to hear something.

Let’s use them in new contextual situations. “Mom, how do you spell the slovo ‘exaggerate’?” — “I don’t know. Look it up in the slovar.”

The English alfaveet has 26 bukvi, but the Russian alfaveet has 33. The spelling, though, of Russian is easy. It’s the grammar that makes it such a difficult yizik.

When the telemarketer called, a little girl answered the phone. He told her, “Hi, I’m calling from Wizard Marketing. Can you give the phone to your mommy, I need to govoreet with her.”

The guitarist turned away from the stereo to yell at his noisy roommates. “Hey, can you guys be quiet? I need to slushat to this song, because I’m performing it next week.”

Note how we didn’t actually define what these new words meant. We used them in context, which is the only way Russians know these words, too.

How to Learn Russian: Contextual Learning Part 1

February 4th, 2010

This is the first in a series of articles intended to drill in the meaning of Russian words via the potent technique known as Contextual Learning. Contextual Learning is an effective method for drilling the meaning of new words and phrases deep into your language centers, and takes advantage of your own natural ability to learn language. Yes, your own natural ability. You learned one language really well, didn’t you? English? If you did it once, you can do it again. So, get ready to learn….fast!

The words we’ll be learning today:

дождь (Pronounced “dozht”…Sounds like the word “dough” + the end of the word “washed”…the “sht” sound at the end. So, you could spell it: dough-sht…dozht.)

снег (Pronounced “sneg”.)

What we’re going to do is put these Russian words into English sentences so that the meaning is totally clear from context. This is how you learn new words in English, isn’t it? And guess what? There’s no difference! A word is a word. If you can learn a new English word form context, then why not a new Russian word.

Watch how simple this is:

“Don’t forget to take your umbrella,” my mom called out to me. “All those dark clouds, looks like we’re in for some dozht.”

Here’s the other word:

I grew up in Phoenix, and didn’t see sneg until the time my Dad took me skiing when I was eight.

Let’s try them both again, in new sentences:

I left my car window open for ten minutes while I popped into the grocery store, and sure enough my whole front seat got soaked when it suddenly started to dozht.

I loved it as a kid, waking up in the morning on a weekday in winter and seeing a drifts of sneg on the ground…you just knew school was going to be cancelled.

So, obviously, “dozht” is the Russian word for “rain” and “sneg” is the word for “snow.” Try to make your own, and incorporate the words into your vocabulary. I like to insert them into idioms, like: “The outdoor event will be held, dozht or shine.” Or, “Frosty the Snegman.”

Resources: contextual learning

TEACH YOURSELF RUSSIAN | How to teach yourself Russian

September 27th, 2009

It’s easy to teach yourself Russian, as long as you have a powerful motive for learning, and a proven method to follow. You obviously have the motivation – a compelling reason to learn – or you wouldn’t likely be reading this. Be it the prestige that comes from speaking an exotic language, the money that will come by taking your business international, or just the adventure that awaits you in Russia, you need to dwell on your reason. Dream a little every day about the thing that pushed you here – the prestige, the success, the adventure – and that dream will fuel your daily study.
“I’m motivated!” you exclaim. “Now how do I start learning Russian?”

Well, you’re going to start at the end of this article. Right after I explain how to teach yourself Russian. There are five things you need to do:
Learn to read Cyrillic. Daphne West has a great book on it. I have no affiliation to Ms. West or her publisher, and I don’t sell the book. Go to and type in “learn Russian”. You could also watch my free videos here on How to read Russian.

Learn the most useful and practical phrases first…the ones that relate to you and your situation. If you’re learning for business, you should start with basic phrases about meetings and contracts, etc. (Again, go to and type in “business Russian”.)

If you’re learning for travel, I recommend learning these 30 words first.
If you’re corresponding with a woman on the web, you should know basic expressions useful in these kinds of relationships. I have a short article on this to get you started, called 17 Russian Phrases For Love (

Next, make flashcards. There’s no way around this. English on one side, Russian on the other. There are electronic devices which do this, plus applications for iPhones and whatnot, but I still recommend actual cards. The act of writing the cards yourself is part of the learning process. Study your cards in short intervals throughout the day. Try associating study time, perhaps, with mealtime. Instead of reading the paper at breakfast, you can study your cards. This way – between breakfast and lunch – you won’t need to set aside much additional time for studying.

You need two forms of audio to augment your flashcards. One type needs to be a recording where someone prompts you, “How do you say _____ in Russian?” You need to then hit pause until the answer comes to you, then listen to check the answer.

The second audio you need is a growing collection of the words and phrases you know, spoken first in Russian, by a native speaker. You again hit pause, and try to determine what was said, before hitting play for the answer.

Much of my time that I spent studying Russian was simply the preparations of these recordings and flashcards. But you are learning as you prepare them. You are, after all, your own teacher.

Finally, you need feedback from a native speaker. For most self-learners, this is the toughest part. Often, a student won’t get any feedback at all on their pronunciation until their first trip! But there are alternatives. For example, I went to my local university and placed an ad in the student newspaper looking for a Russian tutor. I didn’t want lessons, I just wanted to be sure she could understand me.

If you don’t have a university handy, you might find a Russian speaker online who could help, but services like Skype are not nearly as common in the FSU as in the USA. Getting feedback is the toughest part of the self-teaching process. If you don’t have any luck finding help, you can always feel free to try our innovative program, the R.A. Method.

So there are the five things you need to do. With those five things, and solid motivation, you absolutely can teach yourself Russian!

Good luck!

Learn Russian Now: In Context

September 21st, 2009

Learn Russian Now! just follow along

I’m here for exactly one reason: To help you learn Russian now. We’re not waiting, you and I. We’re…



Huh? Oh, I meant, “Now!” Seechas is the Russian word for now, though it oddly also means, “In a moment!” which is the very opposite of now. In any case, try to work it into your speech. Like, “I’ve got to head out right seechas or I’ll miss my flight.”

I usually teach basic Russian words this way, sneaking them into English sentences, but let’s have a little fun. I want to show you a useful Russian curse word. It’s not so bad that your babushka will smack you for using it…

but it comes in handy when things go bad. For example, if you miss your flight, you might yell out, “Yo my yo!” (Which could be written “yo mai yo.”)

“Yo my yo! I forgot my keys at the office!”

Stub your toe? “Yo my yo!” Anyway, keep your eyes open for that mildly profane phrase in the following story:

So, I was on the beach here in Sevastopol, Ukraine. Out of nowhere, this incredibly krasivaya blond girl lays her towel next to mine. I mean, she was a perfect 10, one of the most krasivaya girls I’ve ever seen here…or anywhere, for that matter. My heart starts racing, and I haven’t even said anything yet. I’d brought a six-pack of Heineken, because I was expecting my good droog Michael to show up, so I took a bottle and turned to the krasivaya blond, “Hi. Say, want a pivo?” and offered her the Heineken.

“Da, spasibo!” she said, with a big, friendly ulibka!

I stuck out my rooka, palm up: “That’ll be five dollars, pozhaluista.”

She laughed, knowing I was just joking. And there it was again, that broad, krasivaya ulibka on her face. She puts the pivo down on the sand and rifles through her beach bag. “Yo my yo!” she yells, out. “I left my wallet at home! I don’t even have money for the marshrutka ride home.”

“Well, I bet if you flash your krasivaya ulibka at the marshrutka driver, he’ll let you ride for free.”

This is a true story, by the way. What happened next is I got her mahbilni, and zvonil her that same night! What a great day at the plyazh!

Must-See List of Resources For Learning Russian – Intermediate

September 11th, 2009

Russian Video Blog’s list of resources for learning Russian.

The problem with most link pages (i.e. lists of websites deemed useful by someone) is that there’s usually FAR TOO MANY listed. When I ask the waiter at a French restaurant what he’d recommend, I don’t want him to read every single choice off the menu. Instead, I want his expert opinion on that small percentage of his establishment’s fare that is of the highest quality. It’s a problem endemic to the whole internet: Too much information is no better than not enough. In any case, here’s my expert opinion on that small percentage of Russian related websites that are worth the time.

Please note that they are all for at least intermediate-level students.

National Capital Language Resource Center:

This site is an incredible resource. First, it has Russian speakers reading news stories in slightly simpified speech. That alone makes it a valuable resource for learning Russian. But they also provide transcripts AND an explanation of words that are likely new to an intermediate student. Here’s how best to use this resource: First off, go straight to listening. Do NOT read a word about the newscast you’re about to listen to. Then, listen to it straight through to get the gist. Then, listen to it a second time and transcribe the whole thing, or at the very least, the parts you don’t understand. The process of transcription is not to be underestimated as a tool for mastering a language.

A Taste of Russian Podcast

These guys, Sergei and Alexsei put out great podcasts. As with the NCLRC site, they are completely transcribed in English. The new words are bolded, and then explained at length in the remainder of the podcast. The lexicon is hip and up-to-date. And they’re very approachable. Write them a question, and they’ll find the time to answer, and perhaps even do a podcast based on your request.

UCLA Business Russian:

Good, clean Russian. Here, the speaker brings up a business term and then discusses its meaning and application in Russian business structure. The podcasts are all in Russian. I didn’t transcribe these, but as I listen, I make sure I catch every word, even if I don’t know the meaning. That’s another vital part of mastering a language: You must learn to recognize words, not necessarily understand them (you can always stop the person you’re speaking with and say, “Oops, I’m sorry. What does ‘невыносимыйэ mean?”)

Golosa: George Washinton University

Great videos, shot on location, supplemented by a highlight of new words. True, the videos are NOT transcribed, but that’s the fun: You must listen, sometimes numerous times, to catch everything. Meanwhile, you’re seeing people’s homes and work and how they relax, etc.Culturally enlightening and linguistically indispensable!

Learn How To Speak Russian: Find Your Passion

September 8th, 2009

Learn how to speak Russian and the world will be your oyster. Russian, after all, is one of the major world languages. Get a grasp of it, and all sorts of opportunities come your way: International jobs, once in a lifetime trips, lifelong relationships, plus the opportunity to experience a sense of mystery and belonging.

This blog, of course, is all about learning how to speak Russian. Search and you’ll find videos where you can learn your 1st 30 words and phrases, or read articles on pronunciation or grammar. The thrust, though, of this article is simple: Encouragement. You absolutely can learn how to speak Russian, and all you need is desire…

…and clear instruction.

I can provide the second – clear instruction – but desire comes from within. For me, it came from an urge to see the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and a longing for something different. Europe seems so touristy, and Asia too exotic. And Latin America? Who needs that if you’ve lived as I did in Phoenix. But Russia? The enemy? The land of spies and supermodels, borscht and bear hats? I’m in!

So, I ask you: Where does your passion come from? Are you a student, hoping for an exciting job? With Russia becoming a major player on the oil market, there’s a treasure chest of opportunities there, and knowing Russian will be the key that unlocks them.

If you’re not a student looking for a future made brighter by a knowledge of Russian, maybe you’re an adult, in search of your Russian past. It’s estimated that since 1820, well over three million Russians immigrated to the U.S. Those roots grew into a tree with a whole lot of branches, i.e. descendants, and there are tens of millions now in the U.S. with Slavic origins. Knowing where you came from is a great motivator, and I hope you find who and what you’re searching for. And to be sure, knowing Russian will be indispensable to you, not simply in the logistics of traveling, but in getting to know the people…your people.

An article addressing a person’s passion for learning Russian would be incomplete without mentioning a primal – and common – motivator: To meet Russian women. If this is your passion, I congratulate and encourage you! Women from Eastern Europe are sexy, smart, chic and feminine. It makes for an alluring combination which draws thousands upon thousands of men each year from all corners of the globe. We men are all moths, drawn to the beauty of the Slavic flame.

So find your passion about this incredible language and the amazing people here in Russia. It’s the easiest way to learn how to speak Russian!