Archive for the ‘Learn Russian - How to’ category


September 4th, 2009

It was a command welling up from deep inside me. A compelling voice, chanting over and over: Learn to speak Russian! I ignored the voice at first. Who wouldn’t? Are you kidding me? Everyone knows that the Russian language is one of the toughest in the world. Better I should take up something less challenging, like organic chemistry. Or particle physics. But no, I had to go and listen to my inner voice, and start learning Russian.

Im glad I did.

What started it all was an inkling of an idea to visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. (That’s Russia, by the way, not Florida.) How cool would that be? A trip to Russia. That’s not a story people get to hear every day. Sure, the wall had been down for twenty years, but there’s still that lingering cold war, double-agent feel about a trip to the Motherland.

But why is my inner-self insisting I learn Russian? Haven’t I ever heard of translators? Or tours? What possible good can come of such a huge endeavor as language learning? Turns out, the answer is: A whole darn LOT of good can come from it.

First, the feeling of independence. When you learn a bit of Russian, you suddenly free yourself from the reliance on tours and guides. You are free to experience things at your own pace. There’s no white-haired guide from some cruise ship you’re on, holding a little red flag high in the air so her minion of museum hoppers from your cruise can scuttle after her like sheep to their shepherd. This way, she cries out. We’re off to the African Wing. No thank you. If I want to stand here in front of the Rembrandts all day, then that’s just what I’m going to do. A bit of the local language gives you the freedom to choose where you want to go, and when. That alone is worth everything you’ll ever pay to learn Russian.

Independence has its price, but the friendships and relationships a bit of Russian will bring are indeed priceless. As but one example of countless: A young woman and her grandmother once asked me to photograph them outside St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg in 2004. I knew just enough Russian to understand the girl’s question, and to answer her that Sure, I’d be happy to take their picture. From there, I was invited on a two-day personal tour of the city and its palaces.

We’re still close to this day, Julia and I.

As my language got better, I returned again and again to Russia, like a young musician trying to sit in with the old hands during Jam Night at the jazz club. I wanted to practice my new phrases with native speakers. To jam with them, as it were. To learn from them, and gain their respect. This kid can talk! I wanted them — the local native speakers — to say. Learning Russian had turned from a hobby to a compulsion seemingly overnight. My inner voice was no longer insisting I merely learn Russian, but master it. Developing relationships and becoming fluent that wasn’t enough anymore. I needed to be tested.

My inner voice got its wish in the summer of 2006 when I put on a guitar master class for fifty musicians in Moscow’s largest music store. Is this really where my compulsion for learning Russian had landed me? On stage, in front of a crowd of native speakers? But the presentation was a hit, and lead to a host of other opportunities.

In fact, I’m living out one of those opportunities today. It’s the end of summer 2009, and I’m writing this from Sevastopol, Ukraine. I live here, on the shore of the Black Sea, with my beautiful Ukrainian fiance. I teach guitar in town, and play in a popular local group. I’m immersed in the language now, speaking exclusively Russian morning til night with students and store clerks, my friends and my fiance. Delighted by all this chattering, and at peace in its new surroundings, my inner voice is finally quiet.

For now.

Tips to Learn Russian Fast

August 19th, 2009

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just snap your fingers and BOOM! you could suddenly speak Russian?

The way technology progresses, I’m sure there will come a day when we’ll all be able to upload any language we want directly into our brain, like in the movie THE MATRIX. Sci-Fi musings aside, there still are things you can do to learn Russian fast.

First, learn to read Russian. If you think it’s too hard, think again. Given the right training, most people can learn to read in a few hours, and feel totally comfortable after a few weeks. If you haven’t already gotten started, be sure to watch this post on learning to read russian videos.

Meanwhile, boost your confidence by learning a slew of cognates. A cognate is a word which is very similar between languages. The words for television, computer, telephone, music, guitar, piano, doctor, etc are extremely similar in Russian and English, and require you only to slightly Russify your pronunciation. This is a way to acquire vocabulary fast.

Most people know about the benefit of using flashcards, where the English word is written on one side, and the Russian version on the other. They realize the cards are important, but few end up using them. Also, there are better ways to construct a flash card that lends itselft to learning Russian fast. Go to Target, WalMart, a grocery store go somewhere and buy yourself some index cards. Blank on one side, lined on the other. Cut them in half so that you have twice as many to work with. For 99 cents, you’ll end up with 200, and that’s a lot of new Russian words to add to your vocabulary. Once you start working with them, be sure to put a mark by the words that you miss. The more marks a word has, the more you need to review it. And finally, be sure to flip the deck over and test yourself on the Russian words as you search for the English meaning. (For a more detailed video of how to work with flashcards try this earlier post on Russian flashcards.

The timing, though, of WHEN you review words is as important as how long you study. Pretend, for a moment, that you only want to memorize a single word in Russian. For example, chicken, which is kooreetsa. You could write the word on your study card, with the English version on the other side. And you could sit and practice that one word for two hours straight. But that would be a monumental waste of time. Instead, spend one minute reading and pronouncing the Russian word kooreetsa. Then think about something else. Maybe read a page of something on the net, or watch a few minutes of TV. And then come back to your lone study card. What was the word? If you don’t know, try giving yourself only the first letter. K— Ahh, there it is Kooreetsa!
Then, go away from it for an hour. Watch a whole TV show, or go have dinner with the family. And then test yourself again. If you get it right, you’ll need to wait much longer the next time. Try it again in the morning. Make the gaps between review sessions longer when you get it right, and shorter whenever you forget it.

Finally, give up on listening to the radio in your car. Instead, make a commitment to making your drive time your Russian study time. Download Russian MP3s to your player, or find (or make) Russian tapes for an old-fashioned analog tape player. Whatever technology you use, the effect will the same: Quality listening time while driving. Don’t underestimate the value of this method. The time you spend in your car can literally be life-changing if you use it to full advantage. We may not have immediate upload capabilities like the characters in THE MATRIX, but all the same we have time-tested techniques which will help you learn Russian fast.

Is Learning to Speak Russian Easy?

July 9th, 2009

It’s funny how goals change.

When I first got into Russian, all I wanted was to know enough to order food, hail a cab, and buy tickets to the Hermitage. But as I fell in love with the language, my goals changed. I wanted to be able to talk with people. Have conversations. To really, truly communicate.

Boy, was I naieve.

Anyway, to answer the question at hand: Learning Russian can be easy. It can also be difficult. Let me explain.

To have a conversation means you don’t just give information or ask questions — you have to be prepared to receive information, to understand the replies.

In short, to have a conversation means:

You have to know a lot of Russian words.

If this is your goal, then it can still be easy, but it takes time. Of course anything worth doing takes time as you know. You’ll want to read my next blog, because I will list for you the sources I found to be most helpful when I started getting serious about learning Russian.

Here’s a few to help you get started:

  • Make flashcards. Write the English on one side and the Russian on the other. I know, I know, it seems like school but they are great for learning. Keep them with you, and any time you have a free moment, whip them out and test yourself.
  • Study a bit in the morning and a bit at night. A bit can be fifteen minutes, or 45 minutes, but either way, it’s better to break it up.
  • Practice listening. Use the rescources on this site, or better yet, MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDINGS of your own Russian speech. This allows you to critique your pronunciation, and let’s you practice listening to the words which are in your specific vocab.
  • Don’t worry about grammar, and about making mistakes. You will be understood and people find mistakes charming. It’s a win-win!
  • By the way, if your goal is (for now) just like mine was, to learn Survival Russian, just the most important, most useful words, then definitely watch the 30 PowerPhrase videos on the site and you’ll see that learning Russian doesn’t have to be difficult. It can even be fun! Just follow the step by step process, and keep in mind the tips above, and learning to speak Russian can be easy.

    Cheers from Sevastopol,