The Best Way to Learn Russian

February 21st, 2010 by Mark Leave a reply »

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.

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1 comment

  1. Martin says:

    I see your point about living in Russia, but I don’t quite agree. Having lived abroad twice in different countries and learned the language, I have observed that it’s very much a personal attitude that decides whether or not you will learn the language. In Belgium I learned French, and all foreigners I knew spoke French. They simply considered it a done thing to do. Nowadays I live in Spain and I see Germans and English people who’ve lived here for 15 years (!) and they don’t speak three words of Spanish. They just conglomerate in towns and barrios, keep to themselves, and simply don’t bother. Sad? Arrogant? I don’t know, but my experience has been that to live abroad is the best way all round, IF you take the trouble to go out and learn from the locals.

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