Best Way To Learn Russian Fast: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

Last Update: 05/21/2024

Though a trip to Russia might not be at the top of your to-do list, its complex native language is well worth learning.

Whether you want to converse with Russian-speaking people, read the news in its original Russian version, or simply challenge your foreign language learning skills, you'll find plenty to keep you busy on your journey toward fluency.

But before you begin, you'll need a crash course in the basics.

The Russian Language And Culture

Like many European language systems, the Russian language relies on different grammatical rules to English, which can initially make it a confusing prospect for English speakers.

For example, just as in the Romance languages, you'll need to gender your nouns. There are neuter, masculine, and feminine nouns, though these are easily identified by the letters used at the end of the word – a system that's only ever deviated from in a few cases as a result of physical gender.

But unlike the Romance languages, you don't need to stress about learning ten different definite articles, because Russian speakers don't actually tend to use them that much.

That's right – when speaking Russian, you can drop the 'the'!

The Resurrection Monastery, Moscow Oblast. Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash.

How To Start Learning Russian By Yourself

The Russian language is a tricky one, not least because it uses the Cyrillic alphabet rather than our more familiar Latin one.

But while studying Russian does require a bit more commitment than the average language, it's still absolutely possible to learn Russian online and on a budget.

You'll find plenty of resources online, from free or cheap Russian courses and Russian language ebooks and podcasts, as well as lists of Russian verbs and their conjugations and those all-important feminine and masculine nouns.

To help you learn Russian efficiently and correctly, here are some of our tried-and-tested tips for success.

1. Get used to listening to Russian

The Russian language sounds quite unfamiliar to the American ear because its pronunciation is very different. But actually, once you break its sounds down, it's a lot simpler than English.

Think about English vowels – each of them can make countless different sounds, which native speakers don't stress out about too much, but which certainly make it difficult for language learners to get to grips with our hybrid language.

Russian, on the other hand, has relatively few sound options for each of its letters, and most actually just have one possible sound.

So, while you do have to learn the Cyrillic alphabet to get started learning Russian, you'll pretty quickly pick up which letter each sound corresponds with.

2. Watch Russian TV with subtitles

Our favorite way to kill two birds with one stone, and get used to listening to the Russian language and seeing it written down? Binge-watching some Russian TV shows with the subtitles on.

At first, you'll have to rely pretty heavily on English subtitles, but you'll work towards being able to watch with the help of Russian subtitles.

Oh, and we'd hate to toot our own horn, but if you watch on Lingopie, you can opt to have both sets of subtitles on the go at the same time. And you'll be able to click on unfamiliar words to get a quick definition, too!

3. Write down new Russian vocabulary every day

When you're learning a new language, every day is full of 'eureka' moments – particularly if you're an absolute beginner. That's because the vast majority of the words and phrases you'll stumble upon will be brand new to you.

Make sure to take advantage of these learning opportunities by keeping a notebook full of new vocabulary that you pick up in your studies.

This is particularly handy while you're watching movies and TV shows because you're far more likely to come across colloquial Russian sayings that you probably won't encounter in a textbook.

By writing them down, you can revisit them later and ensure they don't just go in one ear and straight back out the other. If you're looking for somewhere to start, here's a table with some of the most common Russian words:

Russian Script Transliteration English
Стол Stol Table
Стул Stul Chair
Кровать Krovat' Bed
Дверь Dver' Door
Окно Okno Window
Ручка Ruchka Pen
Книга Kniga Book
Телефон Telefon Telephone
Чашка Chashka Cup
Тарелка Tarelka Plate
Вилка Vilka Fork
Нож Nozh Knife
Ложка Lozhka Spoon
Часы Chasy Watch/Clock
Зеркало Zerkalo Mirror
Дом Dom House
Машина Mashina Car

Familiarizing yourself with these common object words can help build a solid vocabulary foundation for everyday conversations and comprehension.

4. Learn the Russian Alphabet

Samara, Russia. Photo by Pavel Neznanov on Unsplash.

One of the primary stumbling blocks that stop people from learning Russian is the Cyrillic alphabet. While some letters are the same as in the English alphabet, there are a few that are different like the Ж (pronounced as she) and the П (pronounced as pe).

There are 33 Cyrillic letters, but nearly a fifth of them are the same as their Latin counterparts, so you won't be totally in the dark.

The rest, though, will be best learned in much the same way you learned the alphabet as a child – listen, sound them out, and write them down before progressing to basic words.

Once you've got the alphabet learned, you'll have crossed one of the biggest hurdles of learning Russian, because it's a phonetic language, so everything is spelled exactly as it sounds.

5. Invest in Russian Books for Beginners

Due to its unique alphabet, it's really important that you dedicate plenty of your study time to reading and writing Russian, so you can get used to working with the Cyrillic alphabet and begin to recognize Russian words.

Of course, no one expects you to read untranslated Dostoevsky novels, but it's well worth picking up a Russian-English dictionary, some workbooks, and even a couple of easy children's books (pictures encouraged!) to get you started.

While reading Russian books provides excellent comprehensible input, it's also beneficial to actively learn common words and expressions you encounter frequently. Noting them down and practicing can help solidify your knowledge.

Here's a table with some common Russian expressions to get you started:

Russian Script Transliteration English
Привет Privet Hello
Спасибо Spasibo Thank you
Извините Izvinite Excuse me
Да Da Yes
Нет Nyet No
Пожалуйста Pozhaluysta Please
До свидания Do svidaniya Goodbye
Хорошо Khorosho Okay

Making note of high-frequency vocabulary and expressions you pick up from shows, and deliberately reviewing them, can complement the comprehensible input you receive through viewing. This combined approach helps reinforce what you're learning.

6. Speak Russian out loud when you're alone

Learning to speak a new language is intimidating – we know from experience!

But while a Romance language like French or Spanish might at least sound quite familiar as it rolls off your tongue, Russian is going to sound strange and harsh the first few times you try to speak it.

Our solution? Practice speaking Russian out loud on your own first, so you can get used to the new sounds in your own voice.

Build up confidence when there's no one around to impress, and before long you'll be able to hold a conversation with a native Russian speaker.

This leads us to our next point...

7. Make Friends with Russian Speakers

There's no substitute for a conversation with native speakers when it comes to learning a new language.

Find a language learning partner online or in a local language group, and you'll not only get the chance to practice colloquial Russian in a real-life situation, but you'll also get the chance to learn about Russian culture and its civilians.

8. Don't obsess over Russian Grammar

If you ask any language learner what's most likely to put them off their studies, almost everyone will say the same thing: grammar rules.

Learning Russian grammar rules takes a particularly solid commitment, because Russian, like all Slavic languages, uses strict and complex grammar that won't bear much of a resemblance to what you're used to.

But the upside is that you don't need to stress out about any of that right now. You can learn basic Russian words and phrases and make yourself understood before you ever need to pick up a grammar textbook.

Need help with basic Russian grammar? Here are the basic rules to keep in mind!

Grammar RuleExampleTransliteration
Nouns have gender (masculine, feminine, neuter)Стол (masculine), книга (feminine), окно (neuter)Stol, kniga, okno
Nouns change ending based on case (nominative, accusative, etc.)Я вижу кошку (accusative) / У меня есть кошка (nominative)Ya vizhu koshku / U menya est' koshka
Adjectives must agree with nouns in gender, number, caseКрасная машина (feminine singular), красные машины (plural)Krasnaya mashina, krasnyye mashiny
Verbs conjugate based on subjectЯ читаю, ты читаешь, он/она читаетYa chitayu, ty chitayesh', on/ona chitayet
Basic word order is Subject - Verb - ObjectМаша читает книгуMasha chitayet knigu
Negation is formed by putting "не" before verbЯ не читаюYa ne chitayu
Personal pronouns can often be omitted(Я) Читаю книгу(Ya) Chitayu knigu
There are no articles (a, the) in RussianКнига интереснаяKniga interesnaya
Basic present tense verb endings: -у/-ю, -ешь, -ет, -ем, -ете, -утЯ читаю, ты читаешь, он читаетYa chitayu, ty chitayesh', on chitayet
Red Square, Moscow. Photo by Chris Linnett on Unsplash.

9. Take a vacation to Russia

There's nothing quite like total immersion when it comes to learning a language – particularly when it's a language like Russian, which is so different from English.

Traveling to a Russian-speaking country is a great way to learn Russian, and conversing with native speakers will help you level up in fluency.

10. Learn Russian with Lingopie

Of course, it's not always possible to travel to Russia, and there are only so many grammar lessons and Russian courses you can take before you simply need to test your listening and speaking skills in the wild.

One great way to do that is by streaming Russian movies and TV shows. We've got loads to choose from on Lingopie. Here are some of our favorites to get you started.

Russian Movies & TV Shows on Lingopie

Practical Magic

Practical Magic on Lingopie

What do you do when you're in your thirties, single, and starting to feel a bit desperate? Resort to magic, of course.

Return to Yourself

Return to Yourself on Lingopie

After suffering a sexual assault, Lena's life changes – and the hunt for her attacker gets increasingly complex.


Flight on Lingopie

A conscripted soldier returns home to avenge his family's death after a tragic plan accident – but when he falls in love, his plans for revenge become a little more complicated.

The Russian Language: Key Traits and Characteristics

The first time you hear the Russian language spoken, you might be taken aback by how harsh it can sound when it's not your native language.

That's because it doesn't have the same Latin roots as many of the European languages we're used to hearing, and is made up of very distinct sounds for each letter of its alphabet.

When spoken, it uses a monosyllabic emphasis to set the tone of the sentence, which can sound quite forceful to an untrained ear.

But with time and practice, Russian will sound familiar, friendly – and totally comprehensible.

Why You Should Learn Russian

Need some incentive to study Russian? We'll let the country speak for itself.

Russia is a beautiful country worth visiting

Having visited Russia myself, I can attest that learning the language opens doors to fully appreciating this nation's incredible cultural treasures and natural splendor.

In Moscow, conversing in Russian allowed me to connect with locals who eagerly shared the deep significance of sights like the colorful St. Basil's Cathedral domes. In St. Petersburg, speaking the language brought the city's opulent palaces and museums to life through passionate guided tours.

From bargaining with vendors at local markets to deciphering road signs on cross-country road trips, Russian proficiency immersed me in the genuine experiences that make this country so spellbinding. Without the language, much of Russia's authentic charm and wisdom would have remained inaccessible.

If you dream of drinking in all of Russia's cultural riches and wild, natural glory, taking the time to learn its language will prove an invaluable investment.

Russian is spoken by hundreds of millions of people

Having studied Russian, I've experienced firsthand how widely spoken this language truly is across the world. Trust me - proficiency in it opens up communication with 258 million Russian speakers globally.

During my travels, I found the language extremely useful, not just in Russia itself, but throughout former Soviet nations. From ordering meals at cafes in Kazakhstan to conversing with friendly locals in Kyrgyz markets, my Russian skills enabled me to connect with people in a way simply not possible through English alone.

Because it was the de facto official language of the Soviet Union, most residents of former Soviet countries can speak Russian with some degree of proficiency, which further widens the scope of its use.

Speaking Russian will enable you to learn other languages

As someone who gained fluency in Russian, I've been amazed at how this linguistic knowledge opened doors to comprehending other Slavic tongues. The rewards of this became clear during my travels across Eastern Europe.

In Ukraine, I found myself able to understand snippets of conversations and read signs and menus with relative ease, thanks to the close similarity with Russian. While Ukrainian has distinctive grammar and vocabulary, my Russian base provided an invaluable shortcut.

The same held true in Belarus, where the languages share even more overlap. Whether chatting with locals in Minsk or exploring small rural towns, my Russian skills allowed me to navigate basic communication without struggling to interpret an entirely new system.

This cross-comprehension extended to other Slavic languages like Polish, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian too. Though I didn't study them formally, Russian gave me a scaffolding to decipher words, sounds, and structures that felt somewhat familiar.

Russian culture is fascinating

Matryoshka dolls. Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash.

As someone who studied Russian, I know for a fact that the language allows you to access deeper layers of meaning behind the nation's iconic art, literature, and history.

Classic novels by titans like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy come alive when you can appreciate the nuances of the original Russian text. Reading Pushkin's poems or watching acclaimed theatre productions of Chekhov's plays allows you to drink in the masterful language craft firsthand.

Beyond literature, my Russian skills helped me understand the symbolic weight behind architectural wonders like Moscow's ornate subway stations or the contrasts between lavish imperial palaces and stark Soviet Brutalist styles. Touring these sites with Russian-speaking guides yielded fascinating cultural contexts often lost in translation.

Even something as simple as exploring Russia's diverse cuisine became richer when I could fully comprehend menu descriptions and converse with vendors at local food markets about specialties and ingredients.

Useful Russian Words And Phrases For Tourists

Learning the complexities of Russian history is fascinating and, some might argue, necessary – but it won't help you order a meal in Moscow or find the nearest train station. For that, you need practical vocabulary.

Here are a few words and phrases you'll need to know to get around a Russian-speaking country:

Russian Script Transliteration English
Здравствуйте Zdravstvuyte Hello
Спасибо Spasibo Thank you
Пожалуйста Pozhaluysta Please/You're welcome
Где...? Gde...? Where is...?
Как пройти к...? Kak proyti k...? How do I get to...?
Сколько стоит? Skol'ko stoit? How much is it?
Не понимаю Ne ponimayu I don't understand
Говорите медленнее Govorite medlennee Speak more slowly
Туалет Tualet Toilet/Restroom
Выход Vykhod Exit
Вокзал Vokzal Train station

Mastering these basic phrases for greetings, directions, shopping, and getting assistance can go a long way in helping you navigate Russian-speaking regions with more ease and confidence.

FAQs relating to how to learn Russian by yourself

Before you start relearning the alphabet, you've probably got a few burning questions about how to learn Russian.

We've collected and answered some of the most common to help get you on your way.

Is Russian an easy language to learn?

Russian, like any Slavic language, is widely considered one of the hardest spoken languages to learn – but that certainly doesn't mean it's impossible.

Often, people are put off by the fact it doesn't use the English alphabet, but if you're happy to commit to picking up the Cyrillic alphabet, you'll be off to a flying start in your language learning journey.

Like all other languages, learning Russian is all about keeping an open mind, immersing yourself in the language, and practicing with native Russian speakers whenever possible. You might be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.

You can always start learning the language on YouTube and working on your confidence to finally overcome shyness when learning a new language.

How long does it take to learn Russian by yourself?

Dedicate ten hours of study to the Cyrillic alphabet alone – yes, really! After that, though, your journey towards fluency depends on a few factors.

By putting aside half an hour every day to practice Russian – whether that's reading, writing, listening to a podcast, or watching a Russian TV show – you can be speaking and understanding simple Russian sentences in just a few months.

Of course, total fluency – that is, speaking at a native level – will take considerably longer.

That's a language learning journey of a decade, but you'll be able to make yourself understood in Russian-speaking countries much sooner than that.

What should I learn first when learning Russian?

Before you do anything else, you'll need to master the Cyrillic alphabet. This doesn't need to be intimidating – in fact, it can be done in a matter of a few hours.

Try Lingopie's handy video series, which will help you pick up the new letters and a few common Russian words.

Kremlin Clock, Red Square, Moscow. Photo by Roman Gauz on Unsplash.

How many months does it take to learn Russian?

How long is a piece of string? Your language learning process isn't on a set timeline, and the amount of time you want to dedicate to learning Russian will depend on what you want to achieve.

If you want to speak like a native, it'll take years to master Russian at this highest level. However, if you simply want to be able to travel to a Russian-speaking country without constantly pulling out a translation app, you could get there in a matter of months.

Particularly, if you take the time to identify your unique learning style.

Can I learn Russian in 6 months?

While total fluency will take years of practicing Russian and will likely require you to spend time in a Russian-speaking country, it's absolutely possible to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, plenty of Russian words, and the basics of Russian grammar in six months.

That'll be enough to hold basic conversations with complete sentences and read and write at a beginner level.

Is learning Russian useless or useful?

With nearly 300 million Russian speakers worldwide and many more who speak similar Slavic languages, it's very useful to learn Russian. And even more so in our current global political climate.

Understanding Russian will help you understand Russia because you'll be able to comprehend news and media from Eastern Europe.

Summing up: How to Learn Russian by Yourself

While the Russian language is undoubtedly a tricky one, there's no reason why you can't learn to speak Russian reasonably competently in just a few months.

To get you started on the right track, why not dive into Lingopie's stocked archive of Russian movies and TV shows?

Sign up for a free trial today and learn Russian now!

And if you're still unsure, why not do some more reading? Here's an article on The Best Way To Learn Russian On Your Own to help you decide.

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